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Trump Scraps Monday News Conference; Trump Team Seeks 2026 Trial Date In Jan 6 Case; Trump Asks For April 2026 Start To Federal Election Trial; Barr: Trump Can't Delay Trials Because Of 2024 Election; Trump's Rivals In Atlanta Days After GA Indictment; How 2024 GOP Hopefuls Are Preparing For First Debate; DeSantis: "I Think Everyone Should Debate If You Qualify"; Christie Previews "Simple" Debate Strategy: No "Canned Lines". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 18, 2023 - 12:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome. Today on Inside Politics, the former president's pardon play. Donald Trump's lawyers make a Hail Mary request for an April 2026 start to the 2020 election trial, and the try to make sure the case never sees the inside of a courtroom.

Plus, a game of risk. New reporting outlines how Republicans plan to conquer a Trump plus debate, well another Republican warns his party appears poised to fulfill the textbook definition of insanity. And President Biden invokes the whole enemy -- my enemy is a friend theory of foreign policy. Today pushing to neighbors to put aside a generation of bad blood and send a message to the country, just a couple of blocks away, China.

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

We're going to start with this. Up first, two questions. Do you know what you're doing on Monday? Do you know what you're in April 2026? The answer is no. For me both of them. Donald Trump, though, has plans for both. More specifically, Mr. Trump knows where he won't be on Monday. And what he hopes he won't have to do more than two and a half years from now.

We start our coverage today with CNN's Sara Murray in Washington. Sara, let's start with Monday. What won't Mr. Trump be doing?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, sadly for him, he has canceled this press conference he wanted to have where he could talk all about the baseless allegations of voter, fraud, especially in a state like Georgia. He was encouraged not to go through with this. Obviously, he has a number of pending legal matters that this would not look great for.

Here's what he said on social media. My lawyers would prefer putting this, I believe, irrefutable and overwhelming evidence of election fraud and irregularities in formal legal filings. Now, of course, we will wait to see whether his attorneys actually do include any of what he calls irrefutable evidence that's been refuted many, many times in these court filings. But I do think there was a lot of concern about the former president going out there with this pending case in Georgia, as well as the federal election interference case.

MATTINGLY: Murray, I'm not an expert, but I'm picking up some skepticism about the content of the proposed Monday press conference. That is no longer. I do want to ask though, you know, Trump's attorneys filed the request last night, it more or less makes clear. They never want the federal election case against their clients to see the inside of a courtroom. What date are they laying out? Why?

MURRAY: Yes. They are suggesting April 2026 for this trial. You're not hearing the year wrong. The federal government DOJ had suggested January of 2024 as a trial date. And in this court filing last night, Trump's attorneys that raise a number of issues.

They point out one, that he has a lot of other legal matters on his hands, which is certainly true. He's obviously got the criminal case when it comes to the Mar-a-Lago retention of documents. He has the Manhattan hush money case. He also has this Georgia case that he's juggling. But they also lay out just the amount of evidence that they have to go through.

The amount of discovery they have to go through. Related to this case, they say it's 11.5 million pages of documents. And they've included a very handy visual aid in their court filing of what those 11.5 million pages of documents would look like if they were printed out compared to the Statue of Liberty. That's the first little block you see there. And then the Washington monument, the second little block you see there.

So again, it's up to the judge to decide when this trial date is going to be, but this is how the Trump team is framing it and they're filing last night.

MATTINGLY: You know, as a print reporter in your former life, Murray, at the Wall Street Journal. The show don't tell aspect here. That's, you know, you appreciate that. Sara Murray for us in Washington. Thanks so much. And here to share their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, and Temidayo Aganga-Williams, a former lawyer for the January 6 committee, and CNN Perez -- Evan Perez is live for us in Washington.

Temidayo, I want to start with you and kind of what Sara was pointing out. You know, you read through the actual filing itself, and I'm going to pull this part up. It says, even assuming we could begin reviewing the documents today, we would need to proceed at a pace of 99,762 pages per day to finish the government's initial production by its proposed date for jury selection.

That is the entirety of Tolstoy's War and Peace cover-to-cover 78 times a day -- every day from now until jury selection. It's good writing to some degree. And I appreciate that. But I think it is a valid point because while 2026 seems a little bit perhaps long, in terms of a timeline. This is a real issue in terms of their ability and the ability for a fair case to be able to proceed in terms of the defense team having the opportunity to do what they need to do. Is that accurate?


TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER JANUARY 6th COMMITTEE LAWYER: Well, I think what's the accurate is that there is a large -- there's a large amount of documents to review. But it's not I think fully accurate to think about each specific number of pages right, because lawyers are well versed in handling large amounts of discovery. This is what we do all the time.

But what lawyers also do is have targeted reviews that are geared towards the actual evidence that's going to be admissible at trial and relevant to their case. I think what's important here is that Donald Trump and his team have been aware of the contours of this case for a long time.

The committee effect will be put on a trial to the American people with this exact same evidence, our hearings, our report laid out the details of what Jack Smith's case, really is going to look like. So, I think the idea that there -- this is all coming afresh is not quite an answer here.

MATTINGLY: Yes. But it totally undercuts the graphic. If you targeted a church (Ph) doesn't actually give them that. Evan, you know, I think to some degree, you watch how this has proceeded in terms of what the special counsel's office put out for their date, what Trump's lawyers put out for their date. I work under the assumption there's probably a middle ground here that everybody knows would be the more likely date. Is that accurate?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, I mean, if they get the split the baby approach from the judge, I think they still win, right? There's a lot of time between January -- next January and April of 2026. And that's not where this judges head is at.

You can tell already from what she's been saying from the bench, that she does not think this needs to be delayed that much. And so, I think one of the things that you'll hear is, she'll point out that, for instance, you know, that graphic is a snazzy and beautiful as it is, it's just this is deceptive, right?

Because a lot of those pages are email headers, a lot of them are not really relevant to the case. A lot of things that was produced as part of this investigation are not the things that they're going to use as part of this trial. And they know that. And so that graphic is kind of BS, you know, for the purposes of really trying to make your argument to that -- to the judge, right.

I mean, the fact is, that there's a very small number of pages that are going to be relevant for this case, and they know where to find those. That's when in fact, the Justice Department will provide a roadmap for that, and they don't have to buy that because they already know a lot of the allegations and the testimony from some of the witnesses. So, it's going to be a lot less difficult for the judge to cut through that, I think. MATTINGLY: Kaitlan, you know, we heard from the former president yesterday, his sit down interview with Larry Kudlow. I want to play something to that. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: They have four of them now, if you look, I mean, this is not even possible. Four, over the next, last couple of months. And, frankly, it discredits everything. And they're all very similar in the sense that they're -- there's no basis for them. It's a disgraceful thing. And Republicans can't get -- let them get away with him, Republicans have to be tough.


MATTINGLY: I'm less interested in his actual comments themselves than what's happening behind the scenes with his legal team, in particular, how they view the four indictments and whether there's a basis for?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: Well, I think the one that they're the most worried about actually happening next year is this case in Washington. They've seen how Judge Chutkan has handled this. They know she's moving pretty aggressively. So, as ambitious as Jack Smith's January 2024 trial, ask was, they are also doing that and making an aggressive move with the April requests. They know that it's not going to happen in April 2026.

But they looked at not just the discovery here and the level of evidence that Evan was pointing to, but they looked at other cases, and how long they took. Of course, the circumstances of this are different in the sense of, it's the former president, he's on trial. He's also running, and he was the Republican frontrunner right now.

And so, I think they're worried though, that she is going to set a pretty aggressive timeline. And to the point, though, about the attorneys knowing what's coming, the attorneys that are handling this are pretty new to the team. I mean, the two that had been handling it, Jim Trusty and John Rowley had been new to the primary ones working on January 6, they departed the team over the summer. And so, it is fresh faces that are on Trump's legal team. Are they using that to their advantage? Yes, probably.

MATTINGLY: But do they also know what they signed up for? I assume so to some degree, maybe that's for -- -

COLLINS: I think one of the attorneys -- look, some people wonder why attorneys would represent Trump given his history with attorneys. I think a lot of attorneys look at it as the opportunity of a lifetime because it's a former president. It's going to be a historic case, whatever happens here. But I mean, he has a very difficult client as evidenced by what Sara was talking about the, you know, the news conference that he canceled on Monday.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Temidayo, on the legal side of things, what Trump's lawyers did not put in their filing was anything related to trying to push this past the election explicitly because of the election. But there's no question and (Inaudible) had a ton of reporting on this that his team is not unaware of that fact. Listen to what Bill Barr said when he was asked about this.



WILLIAM BARR, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY GENERAL: They might accommodate, you know, a few days here and there. But I don't think that that should govern the schedule for pursuing these cases. You know, you don't get immunity for two years in the run up to an election just by saying. Hey, I'm a candidate, you can't draw me.


MATTINGLY: The idea here, and Kaitlan makes this point that there's no precedent for this. There's nothing in history you can point to for this. As a lawyer, if you're a prosecutor in this case, how are you looking at this, given the fact that it runs smack head into the political schedule?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, I think first, I would start with the concept of the speedy trial. And we often think about a speedy trial as a defendants' right, but the public also has an interest in the speedy trial. Anything here when you're dealing with a former president, who's seeking high office again, the public's interest in that trial happening before the election, I think is extensively high. So, I think that would be my starting point there.

As far as whether to consider the election and how the court thinks about that. I think what Judge Chutkan has made clear is that if anything that only pushes her to make a trial happen faster, not slower. And I think what's important was, she also noted that pushing this trial out allows more time to influence potential jurors. It allows more time to intimidate potential witnesses. I think she's made clear that if anything, all of these factors lean towards making the trial happen faster, not further out.

MATTINGLY: It'll be fascinating to watch them. Temidayo, thanks for coming in. Evan, appreciate your time as always. Kaitlan, you're staying with me, whether you like it or not. And up next. Brand-new CNN reporting on, an inside look at how the 2024 hopefuls are preparing for the with five days to go until the first GOP primary debates. Details after the break.




MATTINGLY: Right now, Donald Trump's leading Republican rivals are in Atlanta. Just days after the GOP frontrunner was indicted in Atlanta. The candidates are at a conservative conference, only about five and a half miles from the Fulton County jail where the former president must surrender is at some point by next Friday.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's really up to us to ensure that the 2024 election is a referendum on what actually matters for this country's future.

SEN. TIM SCOTT, (R-SC): It's time to fire Joe Biden. It is time to fire Merrick Garland, and it's time to fire Christopher Wray. We need to clean out the entire DOJ.

MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I always stood loyally by President Donald Trump and took my oath to the constitution required me to do otherwise. But my differences with the president go far beyond that fateful day. And I hope to have a chance to debate him with him.


MATTINGLY: Six candidates total are set to speak at the two-day event hosted by radio host and frequent Trump critic, Erick Erickson. The theme is forward which way. And while the 2024 hopefuls largely focused on their aspirations, their agendas, the top Republican in the state did not. Trump's litany of legal woes prompted this warning from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP, (R) GEORGIA: Democrats want us to be focused on things like this. So, we're not focused on Joe Biden's record. It's insanity that we're having to deal with this. It should be such an easy path for us to win the White House, but we have to tell people what we're for. And then we have to have a candidate that can win the election.


MATTINGLY: Now we should know the governor says he may be compelled to testify in Trump's upcoming trial. And now brand-new CNN reporting, peeling back the curtain a little bit, revealing exactly how the 2024 hopefuls are spending their final precious moments preparing for next week's first republican primary debate.

This from CNN's Steve Contorno, who is with us now. Steve, what more are we learning about how they're getting ready?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Phil, the memory of Donald Trump's past debate performance is forcing these candidates to prepare for all manner of scenarios, when it comes to Trump. Mike Pence, for example, has been holding mock debates that include Trump, and ones that don't. If Trump does not show the DeSantis camp believes that he will become the focal points of the debates.

And yes, we have talked to candidates' strategy teams who have suggested they have been studying up on the Florida governor's record in the Sunshine State, as well as his lesser-known time in Congress, trying to show a different side of the Republican governor than perhaps most voters are used to.

Now for DeSantis, though, this is going to be a new experience for him. He does not have past debates performances that are anything like what he's going to experience in Milwaukee. And I'm told that he's working with one of the best debate coaches in the industry, Brett O'Donnell, who has coached several past Republican presidential nominees.

And one of the things they are going to be working on is DeSantis' mannerisms on stage. He has a tendency to have some visual tics when he is getting a question that he doesn't like. He can gnashed his teeth, sometimes hell famous smile. And those things can be amplified when you're in front of a national audience.

So, I'm told that that's something that we're going to be working on going forward. And then for these other candidates, you know, as much as DeSantis has tried to make this look like a two-person race, the fact remains that he is actually much closer in the polls to the rest of the field than he is to Trump. And so, for someone like Tim Scott or Vivek Ramaswamy, who have seen a little bit of boost in the polls. This is an opportunity for them to continue on that momentum, and potentially carry them into the fall.

And then for candidates like Pence and others who are polling in the single digits, they're going to have a wide and large audience for one of the first times during this cycle. And this might be their last and best chance to not only get on the next debate stage, but even to continue their campaign.

MATTINGLY: Yes. That's a great point. Steve Contorno, thanks so much for the reporting. And here to share their reporting and their insights, POLITICO's Emily Ngo, and Michelle Price of the Associated Press. Kaitlan is back with us.


And Kaitlan, I want to share with you because let's start with the elephant in the room to probably I guess that was bad. Sorry.

COLLINS: Maybe not in the room.

MATTINGLY: Not in the room, maybe not in the room. And I think that's the point, right. The former president true thing, true thing on the debate. Many people are asking whether or not I will be doing debates, all Americans have been clamoring for a president with extremely high. Reagan didn't do it, and neither did I. People know my record. One of the best ever, so why would I debate? That's not the official announcement that he's not going right, but we don't think he's got.

COLLINS: No. He hasn't till Monday to make an official call. And some people had raised the question whether or not the G.A. indictments would change that. I mean, he has next week, he's going to be surrendering himself and potentially going into the debate. What I've heard is that he's been asking people whether or not he should do the debate in recent days. But I'm still deeply skeptical that he's going to go forward with it. I mean, he's not doing debate prep, he's not preparing. They've been talking about ways to counter a program, instead sending his surrogates there to Milwaukee to do the talking for him, essentially. And my sense right now is he is very much not going, but he has until Monday to officially tell the RNC.

MATTINGLY: Emily, you know, that throws a wrench into planning, your planning, potentially, because he may show up because you just never know. You know, Steve's reporting on the DeSantis planning and prep. This is obviously a critical moment, given the somewhat downward trajectory of his campaign in the last couple of months. This is what he said about the debate earlier today.


GOV. DESANTIS: It is what it is. And I think everyone should debate. If you qualify, I think you owe it to the people to put out your vision to talk about your record. Answer questions about your record and decisions that you may have made or not made. And if you're not willing to do that, then I think that that people are not going to look kindly on that.


MATTINGLY: Now, for reasons I haven't quite figured out yet is the Super PAC aligned with the DeSantis campaign, posted a camp or a debate prep memo and hundreds of documents creating another set of headlines for him. You've probably didn't appreciate it in the long game here. But in terms of the moment and the meaning of that moment for DeSantis, what do you think it is?

EMILY NGO, REPORTER, POLITICO NEW YORK PLAYBOOK: I don't think the Ron DeSantis' campaign appreciate the never back down Super PAC posting that information in such a public manner. I don't think they appreciate. So, you can turn off reporting that gives up all his health on the debate stage. But he's very much nervous.

We do on the POLITICO's homepage have a very deep inside look into Brett O'Donnell, the so-called debate wizard who has been prepping DeSantis, whether Trump decides to be on stage next Wednesday or not, his shadow is going to loom large over the debate stage.

Even if he doesn't do counter programming, as he may be planning. DeSantis has to get a sound bite up that he has to get momentum. And it's not necessarily about the substance or the issues as much as it should be. It's about getting a moment that can propel him forward that his team can put out on social media, can put into ads that makes them stand out and make them look again like a serious contender.

MATTINGLY: You know, you mentioned that piece on Brett O'Donnell, there's one quote from Ward Baker, a very well-known long serving GOP adviser says, he's William Shakespeare and Vince Lombardi rolled into one not to set expectations too high.

There was -- one of the things especially coming out of the DeSantis Super PAC release of the memo is where Chris Christie lands on all of this. We spoke to him this morning on CNN this morning. Listen to his debate prep.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll listen to the questions, answer them directly and honestly, and if someone up there says something that I believe is dishonest to call them out on it. That's it. I don't have any more complicated strategy than that. I don't know. And I don't think you need one. All the people are going through the strategy memo stuff and coming up with canned lines and all the rest of it. I've watched that canned. I think it doesn't work all that well.


MATTINGLY: The implicit references to Marco Rubio and Chris Christie's interaction back in 2016. But Christie is viewed as the attack dog. I think he wants to face Trump. He's been trying to go and Trump into showing up. What role does he play if Trump doesn't show up?

MICHELLE PRICE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, I mean, he's going to draw contrast with the other folks in the stage, mostly Ron DeSantis, who we've seen from the memos is probably being coached to not go after Donald Trump. Chris Christie is going to be on stage making a very clear attacks on Donald Trump, talking about what he thinks he's done wrong.

And he's going to put Ron DeSantis in a tough spot where Ron DeSantis is going to be trying to defend him or trying to withstand attacks from Chris Christie. And we know that Chris Christie is, he can be charismatic, and that is an area where Ron DeSantis struggles. There was one of his past debates. There was -- it was leaked that somebody wrote, be likable on top of his notebook. So, he's going to be interested in a tough spot, whether or not Donald Trump is there.

MATTINGLY: Kaitlan, I don't mean to undercut all of our efforts next week. But on some level when a candidate is plus 30. And poll after poll after poll, does the debate even matter?

COLLINS: That's what Trump's political advisers think. And that's why some people say, you know, there is some strategy and not showing up to the debate. Maybe, Ron DeSantis, and others saying you should show up if you qualify, it's important to have this debate happen in front of the American people. But Trump has a very firm grasp on the party right now.


I mean, he is so far ahead of them in the polling. I think there's a lot more potential next week for people who aren't as well known. We'll see. I mean, if the stakes are kind of higher for them, because they're going to have the biggest audience that they've ever had. Ron DeSantis, we obviously have a pretty good understanding of what he's walking into, maybe he'll surprise people. But I think it's the other candidates who may have their moment, you know, in the sun where they don't typically get a huge crowd in New Hampshire or somewhere else. That could be the moment for them. But I mean, at the end of the day when you walk out of there Wednesday night, for now, Trump is still the frontrunner.

MATTINGLY: Yes. There's no question about it does. It feels like a huge night for Tim Scott, for Vivek Ramaswamy, who also DeSantis' apparently planning to attack. We'll watch because we get paid to but also because it's important. Happening now. President Biden hosted a historic summit at Camp David more on the groundbreaking diplomatic talks he's engaged in. Next?