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Inside Politics

Judge Warns Trump To Watch What He Says About Evidence; Judge Says Trump's Right To Free Speech Is "Not Absolute"; Special Counsel's Trail Schedule Collides With Election; GOP Rivals Court Iowa Voters Ahead Of 1st Debate; Iowa Gov Doesn't Rule Out Endorsement; AG Garland Appoints Hunter Biden Special Counsel; David Weiss, Who Oversaw Hunter Biden Probe, Named Special Counsel; Filing: Hunter Biden Plea Talks Break Down. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 11, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, "keep politics out of this." A federal judge warns the former president to watch his words and that the law must come before the campaign.

Plus, Iowa not so nice. Hecklers turn up the heat and grill Mike Pence serving up a side of gears with their deep-fried Oreos and calling the former vice president a trader for doing his job, and smoke is enough. A powerful Republican says, he doesn't need to wait for direct evidence that Joe Biden reaped rewards from his son's business dealings before sending subpoenas to the president's family.

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

Up first, a win kind of coupled with a warning. The federal judge presiding over the Trump 2020 election trial sides with the defense and rules against, an attempt to totally restrict what their client can do or say with evidence.

But that judge did establish clear limits to how Trump can use what he learns from the lawyers in public and this is important. She issued a stern warning to the former president. One, that everything he says is now under scrutiny. Another was that the campaign will take a backseat to what happens inside her courtroom.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is outside the federal courthouse. Katelyn, wow, it sounds like that judge is trying to make very clear, she is in charge at as is, she believes the rule of law.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Dana, not even that, this is going to set the tone for this entire case going forward. It's not just that this judge is in control here. It is also, that justice comes first. That is the thing to underline from this hearing that she reiterated over and over again to the lawyers on both sides here.

Some of the quotes today really were astonishing with how much Judge Tanya Chutkan was emphasizing that bigger picture idea that justice comes first. This isn't about politics, and there can be limits on a person's speech, even if they are running for president and especially, when they are a criminal defendant so that they may have a fair trial.

One of the things Judge Tanya Chutkan, said in court today, Dana, was the fact that he is running a political campaign currently has to yield to the administration of justice. And if that means, he can't exactly say what he wants to say in a political speech, that is just how it's going to have to be.

She's saying that that is not just about how much Donald Trump will be able to disclose evidence in this case that he's learning from the Justice Department. One of the decisions she made today was, yes, she can tailor things in the way that Trump's team wants. The only sensitive evidence that they get will be protected and have a specific set of rules around how they can be handled and spoken about.

But also, she is saying that anything that Trump is learning that is sensitive, especially what he's learning from witness interviews, he's not going to be able to share more broadly. And on top of that, the other important thing is that he's under bail conditions, and he's not going to be able to speak in a way that intimidates witnesses, period. Dana?

BASH: So interesting. What a morning at the federal courthouse there. Thank you so much, Katelyn. And here to share their insights, CNN's Alayna Treene, former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, and another former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. Nice to see you all. What a Friday it is.

First, I'll start with the two of you who have been, obviously in federal courts before. What do you make of the two things? Let's start with the admonition from the judge. And the -- first of all that, it's not just about that free speech is not limited and that he has to be careful politics aside.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Those are completely uncontroversial statements that are made controversial because you have a former president the United States, who's your defendant, but the idea that someone's comments or public speech ought to bend the knee to the criminal justice system is something that isn't really new.

If you have a defendant who is making public statements that might jeopardize witness safety or the integrity of evidence. Or as she says, the administration of justice. then you have to put restrictions on what they say. So, yes, it's Donald Trump, but this isn't that big a deal legally.

BASH: No, not no, legally.


WILLIAMS: Right. But again, we don't live in fantasy lawyer land, we live in the real world and there are consequences to all of this. BASH: Yes. No. And then on the sort of substance of what they were in court for on this protective order. She pretty much gave the Trump team what they want or at least the latest proposal that they were giving to her.

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's interesting one, just to follow-up on what Elliot was saying. I mean, in some senses, the whole defense is on the First Amendment, even though this is limited to what he can say, a free trial. So, it's kind of an interesting situation for her.

The limitations that she's imposing here, I think it's mostly, I think agreeing what the Trump team wants some. She is causing a fight over the definition of what will be sensitive and the obvious solution. She says, no big blanket order, only what sensitive would be protected.

The obvious solution to that for the prosecution is just to designate very broadly, what's sensitive. The downside for that is you're going to get a lot of litigation over that definition. And you could end up going batch-by-batch over what is sensitive, which could cause more delay as well.

So, it's all sort of a double-edged sword here. I'm here to statement about the aspect of this is not going to be political, I find really intriguing because obviously, it has political consequences. Garland has made such a big effort never even mentioned the word politics. In some senses, I think now what's going to happen is Trump's team is going to seize on that and say, yes, now you're finally acknowledging that politics is part of all of this.

WILLIAMS: One quick point, you know, this idea that, you know, did one side winner did the Trump side, get what they wanted or so on. When we think about the rules of court as exists, and this goes back to the constitution as well. They really exist largely for the protection of the defendant and his ability to get a fair trial.

And the kinds of things that can really screw up or conviction down the road are errors you make here and taking rights away from the defendant. So, judges tend to be really cautious about looking out for defendants, even ones that are political candidates and say a lot of nonsense (crosstalk).

BASH: You know, that's such an important point, because the system, we should reiterate this, the system is set up to protect defendants' rights.


BASH: And that includes when that defendant is a former president. He is a citizen of the United States. I want to bring in the political calendar. And the fact that if you kind of look up on the screen. We're talking today of, just about the sort of beginnings of this.

The trial that this judge proposed was to start on -- is to start on January 2, 2024. You see how close that is to the Iowa caucuses. And it's not as if it will be done by January 15, which is the date of the Iowa caucuses. What we don't see on the screen there because we don't have the exact dates, is that's just the first of the primary and caucus contests.

I mean, you have New Hampshire, you have South Carolina, and then, and then, and then, and then, and then. So, the way that this is set up right now, the trial and the deciding elections for the Republican nominee are supposed to go hand in hand and be at the same time.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Right. I mean, that's something that Donald Trump's team is very much leaning into. We saw the former president tweet about this yesterday, railing against prosecutors asking for that January 2 trial start date, because if they agree to this, if the judge agrees to set it in early January, he is going to have to spend crucial time in the primary election season in court.

And clearly it puts him on a collision course between his legal battles and his presidential campaign. And one thing I actually found very interesting from what the judge said today was that if Donald Trump or anyone and his team makes inflammatory statements that will want -- that will give her the motivation to want to have a trial even sooner.

And so, of course, though, Donald Trump and his team want to delay this as much as possible, as they've done with the other with the classified documents case and other legal battles that he's facing. They want to try to delay any sort of trial until after the 2024 election. Of course, that's not what special prosecutors want. They want it to be very speedy. But this is what we're going to be seeing, playing out over the next week or so as the Donald Trump responds to this potentially.

BASH: I mean, their whole strategy in each of these cases has been delay, just in the way that they have proceeded with some of the just basic rudimentary, like, does co-defendant have a lawyer, that's in the Mar-a-Lago case. Your experience, both of you being in these federal courts. How likely is it that this date that the judge proposed January 2, 2024, to start this election trial will slip?

WILLIAMS: So, I'm also curious about Shan's view on this too, because we all just go back and forth on this. I think the thing that will be the hardest of all the deadlines she said, they have 10 working days to pick a jury. It seems to me that that's very aggressive and ambitious for what will be a controversial trial.

I mean, you're going to have to find 14 people who either don't have views about Donald Trump or a certain that they can set them aside pro or con, and that seems really aggressive. The rest of it actually seemed pretty reasonable for a fast and aggressive trial.


WU: It is fast and aggressive. I'm not that concerned about the 10 days for the jury selection. I think it could be done because some judges really just like a barrel through that, I do think, I mean generally trial dates tend to slip some anyway. I mean, so it's bound to slip from that date. I think what Trump's team hasn't played yet is the specific scheduling issues. We talked about the our caucuses soon there'll be other dates, soon there won't be just generally that he's busy. Here's a specific date, he can't be here and that's where the issues are really going to get either.

BASH: Yes. So fascinating. And we have a lot more to go on all of this multiple-cases and that we're looking at. Up next, we're going to go to Iowa. The state fair is happening there. And former Vice President Mike Pence just took the stage less than a day after an angry heckler accused him of being a traitor.



BASH: Now to Iowa where minutes ago, Mike Pence wrapped up his bear side chat with the state's governor Kim Reynolds. The event lasted 25 minutes. For the first 24 minutes, the Republican presidential candidate spoke about his faith immigration and parents' rights.


MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For me, for my family faith is what's most important. I couldn't be more proud of that part of an administration that made the largest increased investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan crisis at our border is 100 percent man made, that man's name is Joe Biden. We have got to make it clear that parents don't co-parent with government as president of the United States. We're going to protect America's children from gender transition.


BASH: It wasn't until literally the last minute that the former vice president addressed the elephant at the fairgrounds.


PENCE: You know, I was always loyal to President Donald Trump, until the day came, that my oath to the constitution required me to do otherwise. But I'll always be proud of the record of the Trump-Pence administration.


BASH: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in Des Moines. Jeff, I know you spoke with the state's governor, Kim Reynolds about the state of the race. I want you to get to that. But also, before coming on, we were talking about Mike Pence, and you were observing the kind of reception he was getting. Yes, he was heckled. But you said that, that more broadly, it seems like there's a bit of a different dynamic. Explain?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Dana, there's no doubt that many Republicans who are interested in turning the page and moving forward are giving Mike Pence a shot. We talked to one voter after that, who said she has it narrowed down to either Mike Pence or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. So yes, of course, former President Donald Trump has many supporters, but that's just half the party.

So as the former Vice President Mike Pence, of course, from Indiana, very familiar with state fairs. As he's been working through these crowds, he has been getting a strong reception from at least that one half of the party.

But as you said, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, she's been rolling out the welcome mat for all of the candidates here. She has been holding these conversations with them. All have accepted the opportunity, except Donald Trump. They have been squaring off back and forth.

Trump has accused her of not supporting him. He said, I supported you in your race. But we sat down with her yesterday. And she's been neutral in the race so far. But she left open the door to the possibility of offering her endorsement or recommendation later in this cycle. Let's watch.


GOV. KIM REYNOLDS, IOWA: It's really important that they feel that they have kind of a fair shot and they're welcome here in Iowa. And I want Iowans to have the chance to interact with them.

ZELENY: So, you're not ruling out potentially an endorsement at the end of this process?

REYNOLDS: I don't think you should ever say, never say never, never. You know, I just will wait and see what happens. But I've made it clear. You know, I'm, you know, probably looking at neutral, especially at the beginning of this.


ZELENY: And she went on to say that she believes there could be many surprises in this race. She said five months is indeed a long time. Of course, I asked her about the indictments facing the former president, and she said Iowans will have to make up their own judgment on that.

Well, Dana, tomorrow here at the fair Iowans and others visiting from across the country, we'll get a chance to size up and see both former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and other candidates as well. Several will be visiting at the fair here and sort of dueling appearances. But as we talked to voters, important to keep in mind, many are still sizing up the field and keeping an open mind on this. So, this race, five months to go and many open questions. Dana?

BASH: Jeff, thank you so much for that great reporting. As always, here with me at the table is POLITICO's Eli Stokols, and Laura Barron- Lopez of the PBS NewsHour, and CNN's Alayna Treene is still with us.

Really interesting comments that we just heard from the Iowa governor about the notion of the possibility that she might endorse, that she likely well, I mean, we'll see what happens. But also, about how wide open it seems on the ground in Iowa, despite what the polls are showing.

ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: I guess, it would seem that way If you're at the fair, and you're, you know, seeing crowds come out to see Mike Pence or the other candidates who are there. And there's obviously a romance to the fair. And it's a great opportunity for candidates to go out and meet with voters where they are and to show more human side.

But I'm a little skeptical that this is -- that some candidate, I mean, I was there when Donald Trump came in in his helicopter in 2015 landed. You know, there was a time when if you only spent an hour at the fair and you showed up in a suit, you would have there would have been bad headlines. Trump spent 45 minutes.

BASH: Stand by. I'm sorry, I'm going to go to Merrick Garland.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today to announce the appointment of David Weiss as a special counsel, consistent with the Department of Justice regulations governing such matters. In keeping with those regulations, I have today notified the designated members of each House of Congress of the appointment.


In February 2018, after being nominated by the former president and confirmed by the Senate. Mr. Weiss was sworn in as the United States attorney for the District of Delaware. Mr. Weiss had been a career prosecutor, having served previously in the office for more than a decade.

Beginning in 2019, Mr. Weiss in his capacity as U.S. attorney, and along with federal law enforcement partners, began investigating allegations of certain criminal conduct by, among others, Robert Hunter Biden. That investigation has been recently referenced in federal criminal proceedings in the district of Delaware. And as noted in those proceedings, and other public statements by Mr. Weiss's office, that investigation remains ongoing.

In February 2021, U.S. Attorney Weiss was asked to remain as U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware and in that capacity to continue to lead the investigation. As I said before Mr. Weiss would be permitted to continue his investigation, take any investigative steps he wanted, and make the decision whether to prosecute in any district.

Mr. Weiss has told Congress that he has been granted ultimate authority over this matter, including the responsibility for deciding where, when and whether to file charges and for making decisions necessary to preserve the integrity of any prosecution, consistent with federal law, the principles of federal prosecution and departmental policies.

In a July 2023 letter to Congress, Mr. Weiss said that he had not to that point requested special counsel designation. On Tuesday of this week, Mr. Weiss advised me that in his judgment, his investigation had reached a stage at which he should continue his work as a special counsel, and he asked to be so appointed.

Upon considering his request, as well as the extraordinary circumstances relating to this matter. I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint him as special counsel. This appointment confirms my commitment to provide Mr. Weiss all the resources he requests. It also reaffirms that Mr. Weiss has the authority he needs to conduct a thorough investigation and to continue to take the steps he deems appropriate independently, based only on the facts and the law.

Mr. Weiss will also continue to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware. As special counsel, he will continue to have the authority and responsibility that he has previously exercise to oversee the investigation and decide where, when and whether to file charges.

The special counsel will not be subjected to the day-to-day supervision of any official of the department. But he must comply with the regulations, procedures and policies of the department. Consistent with the special counsel regulations at the conclusion of Mr. Weiss's work, he will provide me with a report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by him.

As with each special counsel who has served since, I have taken office, I am committed to making as much of his report public as possible, consistent with legal requirements and department policy. Today's announcement affords the prosecutors, agents and analysts working on this matter, the ability to proceed with their work expeditiously and to make decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.

The men and women undertaking this investigation are public servants, who have dedicated their careers to protecting the citizens of this country. The appointment of Mr. Weiss reinforces for the American people. The department's committed meant to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters.

I am confident that Mr. Weiss will carry out his responsibility in an even handed and urgent manner, and in accordance with the highest traditions of this department. Thank you.

BASH: You just heard there, Attorney General Merrick Garland making a very significant announcement at the Department of Justice that there will be now a special counsel, looking into the Hunter Biden matter. It is the same individual, the U.S. attorney in Delaware who has been investigating.

What it means, though, is that David Weiss, who is the again U.S. attorney in Delaware, who has been investigating, will now have more powers than a typical U.S. attorney. It is important to also note that what the attorney general said was that this is at the request of David Weiss. He requested the powers of the special counsel.


A lot to unpack here. I believe that we have Kara Scannell, to talk about what this means. Kara, take it away?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. I mean an unexpected announcement today by the Attorney General Merrick Garland, appointing David Weiss, who has been overseeing this investigation as a special counsel.

So, as Garland said that will allow David Weiss the ability to investigate this independently. It will allow him to investigate anywhere he needs to. There had been questions about venue in this case, because he is the U.S. attorney for Delaware, and some of the conduct or alleged conduct had taken place in other jurisdictions.

It's also a bit of a reversal because both Garland and David Weiss had previously said, he didn't ask for special counsel status and all the authority that he needed in this case. But now, according to Garland, Weiss asked for that status on Tuesday, and he was granted that. So, as Garland said, it will also mean that David Weiss will be providing a report with any prosecution decisions or declination at the end of this.

And this is something that the House Republicans had been raising as a question here because there were IRS whistleblowers who come forward saying, that some of their investigative efforts were stymied during this multi-year investigation.

So, it is something that House Republicans have been scrutinizing and appointing a special counsel could alleviate some of that scrutiny, but it raises a lot of questions about just what else they might be investigating. And I noticed that Garland had said that they will be able to investigate criminal conduct by Hunter Biden, among others. That is a question here of who else they might be looking into.

And remember, this investigation had spanned some five years and had looked abroad conduct including, foreign lobbying, including potential money laundering, and it had narrowed into the guilty plea that they had reached last month that fell apart in the court hearing.

And just now, Dana, we're getting word. I'm looking at a court filing, where prosecutors asked the judge to vacate the court order, asking them to come back and work out their guilty plea, because as they write that this is the prosecutors' writing in this motion to the judge, that, you know, that order was set in place as they were continuing to work toward a guilty plea.

They write, but that is no longer the case, following additional negotiations after the hearing held on July 26, 2023. The parties are at an impasse and are not in agreement on either a plea agreement or a diversion agreement. Therefore, the government believes the court's briefing orders should be vacated.

So, you know, that shows us that this deal that they were working toward on tax misdemeanor charges and a diversion on a gun possession is now being torn up. And this investigation is now continuing with the appointment of a special counsel who has broad powers, Dana?

BASH: And that really is the key here. That was the turning point, Kara. What happened in that courtroom, that federal courtroom in Delaware when the Hunter Biden legal team thought they were walking in with Hunter Biden. David Weiss and his team walked in.

They had planned to just kind of get a stamp on this plea deal for a couple of misdemeanors and a tax charge that would be diverted down the road. And then it all blew up, and it all fell apart for various reasons. Fair to say that it was because of that, that we are where we are.

SCANNELL: I mean, Dana, it certainly seems that way. Both the prosecution and Hunter Biden's team, you know, they walked into that courtroom today with a deal that they had signed and agreed upon. I mean, they shook hands in the courtroom at the start of the proceeding. And they actually signed the paperwork, then it was the judge that was pushing and asking questions about it. And where that first hit the snag was about the scope of this tax agreement.

BASH: Exactly.

SCANNELL: You know, Hunter Biden's team believed that it covered everything that the prosecutors were looking into, including foreign lobbying, including money laundering, and prosecutor said that wasn't the case. It was narrowed to just taxes to gun and to drug charges.

In the live moments, though, Hunter Biden's team then said, OK, fine, we'll agree to that. And they were moving forward with what appeared to be the guilty plea. But then there, the diversion agreement on the gun possession hit a snag because the judge raised questions about whether it was constitutional. And that's when she said to both sides, you have 30 days to go back and try to work this out.

And the big question has been, would they still agree to those initial charges, even this narrowed immunity deal? And apparently, they are not able to do that.

BASH: Yes. Thank you so much for putting that in context. Appreciate it. Back here. Elliot, I want to ask you about well, there are so many things here. But first just about what is going to happen now. Let's start with David Weiss himself. He is a special counsel.

As I mentioned, well, the attorney general says explicitly, we have here in the supporting documents that this is happening, the special counsel idea of a special counsel is happening because David Weiss who is now the special counsel asked for it. Given what happened in that courtroom and frankly what a mess it was.