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Inside Politics

Trump To Skip GOP Debate For Tucker Carlson Interview; Trump Rivals Gear Up For First GOP Debate; CNN Poll Of Polls: Trump Leads GOP Field By 40 Points; WSJ Editorial: Trump Has More Baggage Than British Royals; Axios: DeSantis Preps For "Dog-Pile On Ron" At GOP Debate; Trump, Co-Defendants Must Surrender This Week; Meadows Asks Federal Court To Dismiss Charges In Georgia; Poll: Trump Voters Trust Trump More Than Anyone Else. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 21, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, crafty or cowardly. Donald Trump says he's smart to skip this week's main event and maybe every other Republican debate on the calendar. A 2024 rival says, he's afraid.

Plus, the time, the place, the mugshots, the Fulton County jail serves as the setting for history. Whenever Donald Trump and his 18 co- defendants decide to show up and surrender. Right now, President Biden is flying to Hawaii to offer a shoulder to a community ravaged by destructive and deadly fires.

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

Up first, Donald Trump picks the path of no resistance and says no to this week's Milwaukee Republican debate. The former president put an end to the will-he-or-won't-he drama last night on Truth Social. His poll numbers are in his words, legendary.

So, to him his course of action is obvious. I will therefore not be doing the debates. That was a quote. Trump is betting that seeding, the stage won't hurt him and putting someone else Ron DeSantis in the center of the stage will help Trump.

We're going to start our coverage here in Washington with CNN's Kristen Holmes. Kristen, what are you hearing from your sources, not only in the Trump campaign, but in other campaigns who are actually heading to Milwaukee?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, I talked to a number of Trump advisors today who kind of walked me through this final decision. Remember, we had been anticipating he was not going to show up for weeks now. And Trump himself has been alluding to that on Truth Social and at rallies.

But they walked me through the final decision that was looking at those poll numbers. As you said, and seeing this commandingly that the former president has, and basically deciding that the risk of not showing up was better than the risk of actually showing up or the rest of showing up was greater.

And that was because of the two things. One is, you look at if this was going to be some kind of moment for another candidate. You look and see if someone could seize the limelight, get some traction, have a breakout moment. They believe that looking at those recent poll numbers, that even if that were to happen, which it could often does in these debates, that it wouldn't make up the gap there with the Trump lead.

The other part of this is Trump as a punching bag. They believe if he's not on the stage, it's harder to use him as a punching bag. But I've talked to a number of other political campaign advisors who really talked about how their candidates were preparing.

Saying that they were preparing to try and get some of that limelight for themselves, to have their own breakout moments, as I noted. And the idea is how can they differentiate themselves from former President Trump. And whether or not Trump is still going to end up taking up all the oxygen on the stage, even though he's not there.

BASH: Kristen, thank you so much for that great reporting. As always, here to share their reporting CNN's David Chalian, CNN's Eva McKend, and Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe. Nice to see you all. Happy debate week.

Let's just look first of all at who is going to be on the stage. As of this moment, eight candidates have fully qualified, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Doug Burgum, Asa Hutchinson. Your thoughts on where we are right now, David Chalian?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, where we are, is that Wednesday presents an opportunity for all those candidates not named Donald Trump, to try and begin the process with the biggest audience they will have to date to start coalescing the portion of the party that is not with Donald Trump, because that's the math of where the race is right now.

You have a dominant frontrunner in former President Trump, and then you have a bunch of other people splitting up the rest of the party. It's not that it's not attainable, it's that nobody yet has begun to coalesce that side of the party. And that, to me, is what Wednesday presents as the biggest opportunity for them.

BASH: Yes, no question. And as you make that important point, we should look at what the other candidates or the candidates who are going to be on the stage are saying and doing as they preview what we might hear on Wednesday.



CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a coward. There's no other conclusion to come to that. He's both afraid of me. And he's afraid of defending his record. MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One thing I realized about him is not over till it's over. I'm actually still hoping he shows up.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no problem with him skipping the first couple of debates.

NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Once this debate happens this week, it's off to the races.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been more attacked than anybody else. Will be ready to do what we need to do to deliver our message.

ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I expect it to be even more important without Donald Trump on the stage, because this is the first-time voters are going to be able to contrast the candidates and their positions.


BASH: You know, that's the last point by Governor Hutchinson is interesting, especially given what we see that people are saying, just for example, in the latest CBS News poll. The question is whether or not candidates should make the case for themselves or against Trump? 91 percent say that they want to hear about their own positions, and not Trump. I don't remember a poll ever getting to 91 percent. Maybe it was like puppies and ice cream but.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, and you hear that from voters out on the campaign trail. I was in Iowa last week that there is very little appetite for these candidates to sort of get in the mud. And even voters who say that they are willing to move on from Trump don't necessarily have animosity towards him. So, that's why we don't see these most of the candidates really trying to take Trump head on.

I was also at the gathering last week in Georgia, Erick Erickson's cattle call event. And, you know, with Trump not being there, he wasn't invited. In taking up a lot of the oxygen, you know, you speak to conservative voters afterwards. So, we're like, wow, I didn't know that about Governor DeSantis. Or I wanted to learn more about Vivek Ramaswamy. And I had the opportunity to do so. So that's to a smaller degree, I think what this debate can provide next week for these candidates.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and it's just -- but one thing we have to remember, they're not going to have a lot of time to make their case, there's eight of them. And time just goes like that. And they're going to be asked about the former president and how they respond to that. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of them that turn it into what their records are.

But how that is delivered really matters, because otherwise, it's going to end up sounding like music, and it's going to go into the ether. So, the really the challenge for the lower polling candidates is to have that standout moment that is authentic and doesn't seem like it's rehearsed, it's hard. It's a really hard needle to thread.

BASH: How many young people out there, hopefully, who are watching or googling music right now. You're all welcome. I want to go back to what you were saying, one of the points you made earlier, David, and that is about Trump and the rest of the field and the whole notion of them consolidating.

CNN did a poll of polls, which is looking at sort of the summary of the polls, that's an average of the polls. Thank you. I'm glad to have the political director here. And look at that. OK. This is national polls. So that means it's a national snapshot of the mood that did not help. These candidates are elected the nominee. But I mean, 57 percent and then it just falls off a cliff to Ron DeSantis at 17 percent.

So, even if there is consolidation there, that is what the Trump team and Trump himself, they're arguing is like, it's not a contest.

CHALIAN: Well, right. I mean, they're it's not right, because they -- if you have 57 percent, every one person could exonerate, the rest of it's not enough to overtake 57 percent. The issue is, in some of the early states, and what have you where he's at 40? Is there a place? This is tough, I mean, that nobody has had a lead like that and not been the nominee in national polling at this date.

So, I'm not suggesting by any means that there's a real golden opportunity just waiting for somebody to take it. But these people are running for president, and this is their shot to be able to try and convince, starting with the piece of the party that already says, I'm not that interested in Trump, I'm ready to turn the page and then build out from there, as Trump's legal woes continued. That's really the only path I see here. This is Donald Trump's race to lose.

KUCINICH: But they have to realize that while Trump won't be there, then the minute he sees one of them start to rise. It's open season. So, even if you have the candidates that are avoiding Trump, they're going to have to go through him eventually.

BASH: And it's already it has been open season at Ron DeSantis, since you have before Ron DeSantis even formally declared. You talked about some of the legal problems that the former president has. There was a Wall Street Journal editorial this morning with -- excuse me yesterday, which said Republican voters often say, they like that Mr. Trump is a fighter, but for whom is he fighting them or himself? He would carry into the general election more baggage than the British royals.

MCKEND: Yes. I mean, but it has been remarkable to see the way that conservative voters have rallied around him. You know, you go to some of those faith and freedom, coalition events. You speak to voters there and they say that they are some of them Trump supporters, or they feel defensive and even more inclined to support him in the wake of these many indictments. So, it seems as though it almost has had the opposite effect of, I think what some others would have hoped.

[12:10:00] CHALIAN: I would say, he's been successful at convincing the Republican primary electorate that it's not about him that it is about them. I mean, he makes that point all the time that he's standing in the way. But he this this weaponization, as he calls it, of the Justice Department, or these local prosecutors. He has daily in his messaging to voters, said this is about them and their way of life and protecting them from this kind of intrusion. And all the evidence suggests they're buying it.

BASH: Yes. It definitely does. Just real quick, the DeSantis campaign. They, as the former president's campaign, they're hoping, and it looks like it will be a question of DeSantis being kind of in the middle since he's pulling the most when it comes to the people who are going to be on the stage. Their campaign put out a memo and his -- there's some Axios' reporting talking about how because he's far back.

There you see it, behind Trump in the GOP polls. Republican megadonors who want a Trump alternative tell Axios they'll be watching to see whether DeSantis or anyone else has a hope of contending. That's why the Florida governor's top advisors expect the theme of the night to be 'dog-pile on Ron.'

KUCINICH: Look, he's over promised and underperformed to this point, and that is making donors really nervous. Now how he responds to other candidates attacking him. This isn't someone who really is used to being attacked and having to respond in real time. I think it's going to be very interesting, how he does that and what answers he has for some of the criticisms of these candidates have.

BASH: Now and because we are in bizarro world, pretty much every day in this campaign, we are in a countdown to President Trump's next surrender. He and 18 co-defendants are expected to turn themselves in to a Georgia jail. But when and how, we're live in Atlanta with the latest. Stay with us.




BASH: And now to this week's legal drama. The scene the Fulton County jail, the event Donald Trump and his alleged co-conspirators surrendering to Georgia authorities on charges that they schemed to subvert the 2020 election.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is where else live in front of a courthouse. This time it is in Fulton County in Atlanta. Katelyn, walk us through what is going to happen there.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Dana, there's action in two places here in Fulton County, Georgia, following the indictment of Donald Trump and 18 others. Here at the courthouse where the district attorney, prosecutors and others work, and then over at the jail. And what we are learning here on the ground, Jason Morris, Holmes Lybrand, Zach Cohen and I is that Donald Trump's attorneys are very likely to be working out his bond terms today in a negotiation with the district attorney. Now, we haven't seen them yet here on the ground. And we're not sure if we will, we have seen some prosecutors working on this case here around the courthouse complex.

But once they get those terms set, then there will be a wait for Donald Trump to go over to the jail, turn himself in and be arrested, process and have to spend a little bit of time in that infamous space that has really become the subject of a lot of looking at making sure the conditions there are OK. Because there have been so much criticism about the conditions inside the jail insects and others.

So, it's not a place where Donald Trump's lawyers or Trump himself would want to spend a lot of time. That's why he and other lawyers would be working up on conditions ahead of time, so that they can move very quickly because that is a different aspect of the criminal justice system at that jail, that Trump and others would have to face. Trump now being a criminal defendant. In four different cases, this process will look a little bit different than what he had to do in federal court when he was arrested.

BASH: I'll say, thank you so much for that Katelyn. Here with me, a former FBI director Andrew McCabe, former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams, and CNN's Evan Perez. So, Evan, what are you hearing? Well, let me just start by asking you this. And I want these other two gentlemen to add to it.

For those of us who have not surrendered to allegations and to indictments, particularly in a place like Fulton County, which as Katelyn rightly pointed out, is going to be a very different process and atmosphere that even in New York, but certainly with the federal indictments that we've seen.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He's gotten so much deference from the system up to this point. They made sure he can get in and out in within minutes. Certainly, the federal system doesn't release any mugshots. The New York State also does not release mugshots. And the Fulton County system, however, has their law allows for the release of mugshots.

And according to the sheriff there, they're going to treat him like any other defendant. He's going to show up at the jail, not at the courthouse where he's been processed, and his previous three arrests. And so that, you know, just brings the extraordinary part of this even more into extraordinary territory, right.

BASH: So, there will be a mugshot?

PEREZ: There will be a mugshot is what we expect according to the sheriff, and under Georgia law, it is releasable. So, it is possible for the first time that we're going to see one. And again, the former president, they have kind of his -- at least his fundraising arm has been very, very gleeful at the idea of this because they thought they could fundraise off it as a matter of fact, I think they created fake ones, right, at the beginning, right.

So that's where I think we're going to get into this realm of the surreal later this week, when we anticipate he's going to try to make maximum advantage -- take maximum advantage of his surrender.

BASH: I think that surreal left the building a long time ago.


PEREZ: I don't live here anymore.


ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, for each one of these events, we've talked about how important it is that the system treat all defendants the same. In that the former president go through the same steps that everyone else go through, but that has not happened yet. As Evan points out, he has been given enormous deference. I'm told they didn't even take photographs at either of the two federal processing and arraignment days, which is quite remarkable.

There's nothing offensive about a photograph and especially one that would not have been released to the public. Nevertheless, this process will be different. He's not going to be arraigned on the day he's processed. He just goes to the jail, works out in terms of his bail, which will probably be done in advance. We're hearing that from Katelyn. And then he's fingerprinted, photographed and officially booked, and that should happen.

BASH: And as your speaking, we were looking at photographs and the names of the other 18 alleged co-conspirators in this case. The first one, of course, the former president. You just heard Elliot, Katelyn talked about the reporting, about the negotiations going on today about how it's going to go down. How the bond will work and things like that. As somebody who has probably been involved in such negotiations, again, not with a former president, walk us through that.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, setting aside the question of does he get special treatment or not? The question being answered is, number one, is this person a flight risk? And number two, are they a danger to the community? Now setting aside what many people believe about the former president, you're looking at the alleged crimes, and you're looking at his ability to get out of town.

The most famous person on the planet simply is not a flight risk. And they will decide in all likelihood that they don't need to put him, to lock him up prior to trial. All the bond decision is about is just trying to ensure that the person shows up to the next hearing and they have no reason to believe.

Again, setting aside the seriousness of the crime or who it is or the defendant his notoriety. So, he's not going to be held behind bars. Now, they may set $1 amount for his bond, they may make him post something like that. But beyond that, it's business as usual. BASH: I want to also look at what Mark Meadows said, when he was -- his lawyers gave a statement to the federal court -- excuse me, to the, yes, it was a federal court. Thank you. Ask the federal court to dismiss charges in Georgia.

The lawyer said, Mr. Meadows served a critically important advice-and- assist function that has been firmly entrenched in federal law for nearly 100 years. The conduct charge here fell squarely with fall squarely within the scope of Mr. Meadows's duties as chief of staff and the federal policy underlying that role. How do we read into that?

PEREZ: No. Look, it's a real effort that they're making, and one that, you know, under normal circumstances could very well succeed, right? The former president and his chief of staff was working with him to try to ascertain whether there was fraud. And that's a very good argument that they're making.

What he's charged with is going beyond that, right? And what the prosecutors are alleging is that Mark Meadows went beyond just his normal duties. Your normal duties as chief of staff of the president does not usually include committing crimes.

And so that's what they're alleging that he did. And so that's where he is going to run up against, you know, the law, especially in the Eleventh Circuit, which does not usually favor moving cases out of state court like this.

MCCABE: Yes. The removal and dismissal are two sides of the same strategy. You have to get the case removed first, and then you make the motion which he has now to be to have the matter dismissed because you allege that you are acting within the scope of your authority. That despite their confident language in their papers, which we all expect it, and he might actually prevail on that argument.

The devils in the details, and the court is going to look at exactly what he's been alleged and what he is alleged to have engaged in, and whether or not those acts were part of his authority under federal law. And I think there's a very compelling argument to say, it was not.

BASH: I want to get your thoughts first on numbers that were really striking and the latest CBS News poll. And the question was about Trump voters, who do they trust more than anyone else? Trump 71 percent, their own friends and family 63 percent, conservative media 56 percent, religious leaders 42 percent.

MCCABE: Once again, Donald Trump has thrown the country upside down on top of its head. I think maybe you could flip that graph and go back 10 years and keep the same numbers. It is remarkable. He is probably the most effective public messenger we've ever seen in terms of delivering his own message to his audience. They believe everything he says despite the fact that he's been proven to have misled them hundreds and indeed thousands of times.

[12:25:00] WILLIAMS: And you know, it's, look, this is the playing out in real life that I could shoot anyone on Fifth Avenue and still get away with it, that you're talking about homicide there. And I think maybe that might have been a clear example. I think part of what perhaps the president's supporters are struggling with is the kinds of questions what you just asked Evan a moment ago.

It's a little bit abstract to people this question of where the line between candidate Trump and candidate aid Mark Meadows ended, and the people who work for the government did it. It's a little blurry and confusing to many people.

BASH: Intentionally, so.


BASH: Which is one of the reasons why former President Trump is candidate Trump again. Thank you guys very much. Still ahead, crisis in Maui. President Biden is enroute right now to assess the damage. We'll have details next.