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Inside Politics

Sources: Trump Plots Counterprogramming For GOP Debate; NYT: Defend Trump And 'Hammer' Ramaswamy, DeSantis Allies Reveal Debate Strategy; NYT: DeSantis Preps Christie Attack Line For Debate; Poll: Trump's Lead Widens As DeSantis Hits Record Low; Feds Arrest Woman Who Left Racist Voicemail Threatening To Kill Judge Assigned To Trump Trial; Georgia Grand Juror Names, Addresses Posted Online; Trump Flirts With Legal Lines In Truth Social Posts; Giuliani Made A Mar-A- Lago Trip To Ask Trump For Money. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 17, 2023 - 12:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, they just put it online. And now everyone knows, Ron DeSantis gets hundreds of pages of raw research and debate advice from his Super PAC. What they want him to do? Who they want him to hit? And how they want him to copy the man who likely won't even be on stage?

Plus, the permanent split screen, Georgia prosecutors propose a timeline that would put another Trump trial side-by-side with the Trump presidential run. And love is blindness. New CNN reporting about how Joe Biden doesn't want to see or hear about his son's legal problems. And the concern inside the campaign and is making the president numb to it very real reelection risk.

I'm Phil Mattingly in for Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first today, Donald Trump versus Fox News part, do three or four or five in a different language. Sources tell CNN, the 2024 Republican frontrunner is not planning to participate in Wednesday's debate on the network and is even proposing some counter programming. Now, where have I seen that before?


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You see the House is packed and literally this took place less than 24 hours. We had less than 24 hours to do this because they said, listen, I'm not going to do the debate out of respect for myself. I won't do it because it would just be wrong. But I got to, you know, I love Iowa. I'm here. We got to do something. Isn't that better than this debate that's going on -- sleeping, right? They're all sleeping. They're all sleeping, everybody.


MATTINGLY: Now that may seem like a million years ago, but that actually happened. That was Trump boycotting a different Fox News debate during the 2016 GOP primary that won in Iowa, then Trump hosted a fundraiser for veterans in Iowa, just three miles away from his Republican rival. So, will history be repeating itself? It's a very open question right now.

But let's go live to CNN's Alayna Treene, who has got a ton of reporting on this and has trumped the last couple of weeks if people try to figure this out. What are you hearing right now from Trump world?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, Phil. We are hearing that Donald Trump is most likely not going to be on the debate stage next week. But I did hedge in my story, and I'll hedge here as well, that this is Donald Trump we're talking about. I have covered him for many years. And his campaign has even told me that, listen, he could always change his mind at the last minute.

But as of now he was not planning to attend. I think we'll probably hear him say something of the sort soon. But he is talking about counter programming. He has been personally throwing out ideas of potential other interviews he can be giving, including a potential interview with Tucker Carlson. He's also talking about potentially calling into other shows during the debate.

Now, of course, I have to note. Donald Trump is openly feuding with Fox News right now. He is, you know, criticizing Rupert Murdoch. And we know that Tucker Carlson also has left Fox News. So, there could be some motivations there behind the scenes.

But some interesting things I've picked up, Phil, is that one, Donald Trump, his team is trying to set up some surrogates to be there in his place. People like Congressman Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz, both of Florida, as well as Kari Lake, the former gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, as well as some members of Donald Trump's team.

They want them in the spin room to, you know, defend Donald Trump even if he is not there. I'm also told that Donald Trump has been telling people even this week that he does think that Fox News is worried about. He's worried about the ratings for this debate. The news executives from Fox went to Bedminster last month and encouraged Donald Trump to participate and Trump thinks that that was a sign that they're worried about ratings.

And one other thing I just want to point out, Phil, is that Donald Trump is also in amid all of this facing that indictment in Georgia. He is expected to surrender next week, I am told. And this could all be setting up a potential collision course with those debates.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I mostly appreciate the hedging. That is a veteran move by veteran reporter.

TREENE: You got to do it. Yes.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Alayna Treene, thanks so much. Now I want to turn to something that has to do with the debate. It's fascinating. It just broke a couple of moments ago. A DeSantis debate strategy in plain view for him and to some degree for his rivals. New York Times got its hands on hundreds of documents dumped online by the Maine Super PAC backing the DeSantis campaign. And the memos give detail we rarely see an outline for quote, must dues for DeSantis when he takes the debate stage in Milwaukee next week.


Attack Joe Biden and the media three to five times, state his positive vision two to three times, hammer Vivek Ramaswamy in a response, and defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack. It's very specific. The memo also says DeSantis should follow the wisdom of the late Roger Ailes, his orchestra, pit theory and quite literally create drama.

The memo, the times writes, comes complete with a complete recommendation for a Trump style insult. Take a sledgehammer to Vivek Ramaswamy. Fake Vivek or Vivek the fake. OK. Ailes, of course, is the now deceased former CEO of Fox News. The network hosting the debate.

Let's get insights right now from CNN's Jessica Dean, CNN's John Avlon, and Shane Goldmacher of The New York Times, who's part of the team behind this reporting. Appreciate the timing. Very helpful for our conversation here.

But I'm also very fascinated. We were joking before the show, you know, the old days of Super PACs still figuring out just how clearly, they could push through the alleged lines that exist was like the role of a candidate that they can pick up and put into ads. This is not that. This is a full-scale debate cornucopia to some degree.

SHANE GOLDMACHER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. I mean, the centerpiece is what you were just reading from, which is this memo, which is the Super PAC strategy, they think that Ron DeSantis should deploy on stage. And frankly, it's interesting that they're writing that out, right. Like the Super PAC is not inside the campaign, they can't legally talk to Ron DeSantis.

So, the only way they can tell them what they think he should be doing, is by posting it on the internet somewhere, and usually don't post in a place where other people can find it so easily. And this was on the website of Jeff Rose company. He's the main chief strategist for the Super PAC.

But yes, it's not just that memo. It's a series of research documents about his rivals outlining where he -- they think DeSantis should be hitting them and really notable who he's focused on. The Ramaswamy stuff, who is not a candidate on anyone's radar is suddenly rising.

And in fact, in the private polling that they also posted on this website, it showed some of the same things we've seen in public polling, which is him reaching 11 percent in New Hampshire, that's a real threat to Ron DeSantis. And so, DeSantis is obviously not wanting to hit Donald Trump. We've seen them on the campaign trail.

And this memo makes clear like, well, maybe you should defend him, maybe the way ahead is defending him. And this has been a dubious strategy for Republicans for years, but that's certainly the one they're outlining.

MATTINGLY: I want to get to the idea -- that idea in particular, you know, Chris Christie obviously has been fully on attack mode with the former president. He's made clear that, A, he wants him on the debate stage, trying to taunt him into debt and onto the debate stage and is ready to go after him.

I mean, if that's the case, in your story, that says, "the debate-prep memo also urges Mr. DeSantis to defend Trump when Chris Christie attacks him with a specific suggestion for the attack line. Trump isn't here, so let's just leave him alone. He's too weak to defend himself here. We're all running against him. I don't think we want to join forces with someone on the stage who's auditioning for a show on MSNBC."

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's why the consultants get paid the big bucks as those sorts of zingers folks. Look, you know, this whole thing is fascinating and great scooping by Shane and his colleagues. But it shows first of all, the utter absurdity of these laws that have been put in place, where PACs can't talk to the candidate. So, they post detailed memos online for them to find.

It also pulls the curtain back on the strategy, and look, the strategy of attacking Chris Christie, that's, you know, not unexpected, but they're thinking about eventualities. The fake Vivek, you know, that someone came up with the rhyme and got to take cash on that one. But I think it also shows how Canvas is.

Now we're going to have Ron DeSantis bingo card during the debate, to see if he indeed hits Joe Biden in the media three to five times, to see what all these lines get used. And that's never a good day, because for candidates struggling with authenticity, to now have the game plan released, that's going to make it even more difficult to climb that ladder.

MATTINGLY: I want to get a little bit more on the DeSantis campaign to protect dynamic in a second. But Jess you've been on the ground, the Ramaswamy kind of burst right now. We've seen it in public polling. Shane makes clear, there's private polling is showing the same thing. It's been kind of a steady climb. Nobody's really gone after him.

And I was texting with somebody this morning, a Republican campaign official, not with the DeSantis campaign, saying how long are you guys going to hold off here? And the response I got was essentially, there's a lot there when we want to launch, it's just not time yet. It seems like it's about to be time.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's probably going to be time. For a lot of them, I think we're going to see that play out on the debate stage next week. And I will tell you. I was in Iowa. A couple -- it was probably about a month ago now, several weeks ago for the freedom or the faith -- the faith initiative that Mr. Vander Plaats hosted.

And there're obviously is a roomful of evangelical who are very conservative voters. And we saw, it was one of the cattle call events, many people spoke. Vivek Ramaswamy got a ton of applause, attention. People seemed very into him in that room. You know, we see the bus traveling with him.


He's getting a lot of attention and he's getting a really hard look from some of these -- some of these voters that really like where Donald Trump is on a lot of things. And we see Ramaswamy go even more extreme on some things, even farther, further right as it were. And he certainly is getting a look and we're seeing that in the polling. So, to your point, I think for a lot of these campaigns, especially DeSantis, it's probably time.

MATTINGLY: The idea that Trump has a level of softness in his numbers in Iowa is one that I think is pervasive across campaigns that are losing him by 30 points. But I think we see it in some of the public polling as well. So, you have to take out the guy who's rising to some degree or woman who's rising to some degree.

AVLON: Right, because you're trying to cover up the other real estate. We know from polling, you know, 37 percent of the Republican primary vote in one poll is hardcore with Donald Trump, no matter what, which means that you've got a super majority who's looking for an offering. And so, they're all competing for that. And so, it's not a surprise, they're going to go after Vivek.

But look, I mean, DeSantis also is coming at this from a position of weakness. You know, Shane's scoop is not good news for DeSantis land, but it's just the latest bit of bad news for DeSantis land, because they need to create a clear contrast and regain that momentum as the apparent alternative, which they've been losing to a bunch of other candidates who are now getting a second look in places like Iowa and elsewhere.

MATTINGLY: So, to that point, the Super PAC and the campaign, again, not legally allowed to talk. This is kind of how Super PACs and campaigns communicate, not to this level that we've ever seen. But that dynamic has been fascinating to me. It doesn't seem super positive all the time. Where is it right now?

GOLDMACHER: Yes. There's been real strategic disagreements, the DeSantis campaign has gone through three resets in the last month already. And the last one was actually a pretty notable one, the campaign manager was layered. And they brought in a deputy campaign manager who had been overseeing much of the Super PACs' operations in the early states.

So, he's really bringing the Super PACs' knowledge directly inside the campaign. And so, I expect a little bit more seamlessness between those two because of that movement. But look, I think that, when you think about the Christie part of this memo, and you think about the Ramaswamy part of this memo, what you're really looking at is the box that DeSantis finds himself in, right?

He wants to hit the anti-Trump people to win some plaudits from the pro-Trump people, like hitting Chris Christie is going to be popular with Trump fans, and he needs to win over those Trump fans. And the other side of it is, Ramaswamy has taken those Trump fans from him on that hard right that you're talking about. So, we need to get him to, right?

And yet, there's Donald Trump and there's nothing in the memo about hitting Donald Trump, right? The guy in the front of the PAC who may or may not be on that stage, isn't the main focus. And this is of course, a little bit of a repeat of what we saw in 2016.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Very much so. All right guys, stay with us. We got a lot more to get to. Again, great scoop by Shane and the team. Coming up, new chilling threats against the judge and jurors involved in the cases against the former president. Donald Trump and his accused co- conspirators now have eight days to surrender in Georgia.




MATTINGLY: Now, the calendar the campaign, the courts downright crazy. Georgia prosecutors put a trial on track to trample all over the election calendar and glue cameras to a courtroom in the heart of the presidential nominating race. Also dismissed this as an accident or a series of unfortunate unconnected events to the former president's soliciting online at your own peril.

Federal agents arrested and charged. The Texas woman with threatening to murder the federal judge, presiding over the Trump 2020 election case. And the online Trump mob puts the ordinary people who served on the Trump grand jury under extraordinary threat.

CNN's Paula Reid is live in Washington. Paula, walk us through what this woman Abigail Jo Shry is accused of doing here.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, Phil, she is accused of calling Judge Chutkan's chambers on August 5, and leaving a threatening voicemail or threatening to kill the judge or anyone else who quote goes after President Trump. Now, I will remind you, of course, Judge Chutkan was just assigned a case that was brought by federal prosecutors.

But in this voicemail, she allegedly says, you are in our sights, we want to kill you. She also allegedly made threats against Chutkan's family, and also in a separate instance made threats against Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and people in the LGBT community.

Look, Phil, federal judges, they do receive threats upon occasion. This one we are told was not necessarily operational. But again, when the former president mentions your name on social media, it certainly raises your profile and makes you arguably more vulnerable to these kinds of threats. And this woman is currently in detention and will have her first court hearing on September 13.

MATTINGLY: And, Paula, what more do we know about the online doxing of grand jurors that were made public in the indictment from Georgia?

REID: Phil, this is incredibly troubling, but probably expected because on the third or fourth page of that indictment, they listed the names of each of the grand jurors. That is the policy in Fulton County, Georgia. This doesn't happen at the federal level and in many other states and other places. But in Fulton County, apparently in the interest of transparency and knowing who brought this indictment against you, they do list these names.

And now pictures, profiles, even home addresses purporting to be those of these grand jurors have surfaced online. Now we have no way to verify this information. Now, many of these appear to match the people listed in the indictment. The indictment is a public document, but it's unclear if these people who have been doxed are actually the same people or if they just have the same name.

And Phil, even one of the witnesses who's testified in this case, former state Senator Jen Jordan. She said that threats like this could have a chilling effect when they eventually have to choose a real jury to hear this case. People are going to realize what's at stake in and may not want to participate.


MATTINGLY: Yes. It's a great point and a huge concern. Paula, stick with us. Also, here to share their insights, former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, Elie Honig, former New York state prosecutor Joey Jackson. And Joey, that's the part that I want to pick up on right now. These grand jurors were not there because they volunteer, they weren't there because -- they were there because they had to be. And now, they're facing this. What does that do going forward?

JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it's problematic, Phil. I mean, you expect people to participate in the process, and you want them to participate, and you want them in doing so to feel protected and to feel that they could render conclusions as grand juries that are consistent with laws and facts without political retribution or any harm. And so, you have to imagine that this would kill them.

Now, obviously, there are very important distinctions as Elie certainly can tell you as well, regarding what grand juries do. They are not trial jurors. They're jurors to make an assessment as to whether there's probable cause to believe a crime was committed. And the subjects of the proceeding committed it. It's not proof beyond reasonable doubt. And that only needs to be a simple majority.

But the people who do that and hear many cases in order to participate now and moving forward need to know that the government protects them. So, I know the laws in Georgia are different as it relates to transparency. Perhaps they should be reconsidered moving forward to have grand jurors not have concerns about their health, their safety and their family.

MATTINGLY: Elie, I do want to ask you about Paula's reporting that the woman that was arrested for threatening Judge Tanya Chutkan. I want to read something that she said on the voicemail, I believe. If Trump doesn't get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, profanity.

It was interesting. We're talking to Michael Moore this morning former prosecutor in Georgia said, the judges get threats, right. It's not a new thing, necessarily. But this is the federal authorities in fast here.

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Yes. Nothing will mobilize the federal authorities like a threat against the judge or a prosecutor or any of our official apparatus. They took this seriously. They acted quickly. They made the arrest. This woman is actually behind bars right now, because of this.

Look, the feds have to be on the highest alert here. Because we know that nobody has a platform and a microphone like Donald Trump. And it's not speculation, it's proven fact that people act on his words. We've seen it so many times over course, January 6, we've seen other examples of lone wolves. And that's really the fear, by the way at this point is, individual actors who see things on their social media feeds who decide to take action, even in the form of a threat or God forbid, worse than that.

So, this is going to be a recurring problem. We've got four different cases happening now. We've got all sorts of people who are vulnerable. All the authorities have to be responsible for this and prosecutors have to be on top of that as well.

MATTINGLY: One thing, Joey, that I wanted to, we're trying to figure out right now, the kind of line that Trump would have to cross to, given the fact that these cases are live right now. Bring down some kind of sanction, bring down some type of change. You know, you have the Trump on Truth Social saying, if you go after me, I'm coming after you. His campaign later said, he was talking about a Super PAC that attacked him. Timing doesn't necessarily match up there.

And then, you know, if I'm reading reports that a failed former Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan, misspelled will be testifying before the Fulton grand jury. He shouldn't. How is that not crossing a line, I guess?

JACKSON: So, judges have a lot of discretion. And if a judge gives you the indication that you're not to talk about certain things, you don't talk about it. Now, some judges will give you a second chance and other opportunity. Like people, they have different fuses. But there has to be rules of decorum.

If we're going to talk about right, everyone being equal in the eyes of the law, that should not only apply failed to criminal prosecutions, it should apply to the decorum and the standards that the judge sets. And so, when you look and examine this, we know right, that words have consequences.

Look at what we're seeing. We saw, you know, harkening back. Do you remember the speaker's husband getting attacked, right? People could be unglued. And so, watch what you say, mind what you say. And I think there would be a point where a judge will say, hey, you know what, come with me, and perhaps secret service will be with him in a cell.

HONIG: Sorry. This is a really difficult situation for judges and prosecutors. Because in a normal case, someone says something like that, especially the comment about Geoff Duncan, you shouldn't testify. You would immediately as a prosecutor go to court and ask for a person to be locked up or at least have their restrictions up, but it's hard -- because yes, (crosstalk) he's the former president.

MATTINGLY: Paula, I do want to ask, one of the co-conspirators in the Georgia case is Rudy Giuliani. He's an unindicted co-conspirator in this special counsel's case as well. You get this great reporting last night with our colleague Kaitlan Collins. About Rudy Giuliani, who we know has had some financial issues because of our colleague, Katelyn Polantz actually going down to Mar-a-Lago to talk to Trump about needing help on this front. What did you learn?

REID: Yes. Rudy Giuliani is currently facing seven figure legal debt. And we learned that back in April, Giuliani and his longtime friend and attorney Rob Costello went down to Florida to plead with Trump, to help Giuliani with these bills.

Now, we've learned they had at least two meetings while they were there, and we're told that Trump and his Trumpian indirect way, did agree to provide some help but didn't commit to an amount or a timeline. A month later, the Trump aligned PAC Save America did pay over $300,000 worth of bills that Giuliani was facing, but otherwise, he hasn't received any additional money.


And look, the big question going forward is whether Trump is willing to as he's usually very reluctant to do this. But dig into his own pocket to pay Giuliani's bills. If for no other reason than to keep him in the fold, we are told that aides who are close to the former president are concerned that if Giuliani is this vulnerable in terms of his bills, if Trump doesn't help him, then he may be more apt to cooperate.

This is, of course, something that parallels the situation with Michael Cohen. And they are really trying to avoid, having anyone else who could be really helpful to prosecutors, right, go out and turn on the former president. So, we'll see if Giuliani gets any more help with those staggering legal bills.

MATTINGLY: Elie, to that point. What's your response to kind of this dynamic right now?

HONIG: Well, look, the two biggest reasons that people cooperate in general is one, they're facing prison time, which Rudy Giuliani now is for the first time, and two, finances. That said, I'm not cooperating Rudy Giuliani in a million years of how to prosecute, and I've cooperated with people who've done way worse things than Rudy Giuliani has, I mean, murders, I put them on the stand. The problem with Rudy, he's not done anything nearly as bad as that, but his credibility is zero. He has the least credibility of any human being I can think of. So, I don't see him as a viable cooperator for prosecutors. Maybe I'm wrong, you have the defense view. I'm with you.

MATTINGLY: OK. That is interesting and exactly, from the time perspective what we need on television. All right guys, thank you very much. Appreciate Paula. A great reporting, as always. And up next, brand new CNN reporting. How does President Biden really feel about the latest chapter in his son's mounting legal troubles. We'll have details next.