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Pro-Trump Lawyer Dodges Questions After Fulton Co. Booking; DeSantis, Ramaswamy Center Stage For First GOP Debate; Special Counsel Rebukes Trump's Call For 2026 Trial In Election Subversion Case. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 22, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Moments ago, outside the Fulton County Jail, reporters caught up with John Eastman, who was just booked on charges in the Georgia election subversion case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe you were given any preferential treatment at all?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that the others in this case have a standing on that, people with meadows.

EASTMAN: No comment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did they do a mug shot?

EASTMAN: No comment.


BASH: No comment. We're going to continue to go back to our reporters as they see more activity outside the jail where all 19 defendants, including the former president, are expected to turn themselves in.

Now to the official lineup for the first Republican debate. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy will share center stage tomorrow night in Milwaukee. On either side of them, Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, Chris Christie and Tim Scott will stand in the number five and six positions. And on the wings, Asa Hutchinson and Doug Burgum. Eight candidates total. Donald Trump, of course, is not among them.

Instead, the GOP frontrunner pre-taped an interview with fired Fox News Anchor Tucker Carlson, which is expected to be released somewhere as Trump's Republican rivals spar for the spotlight on the conservative network. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is already in Milwaukee. Jeff, what are you seeing and hearing there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, all the candidates are preparing their deep in debate prep sessions for the event tomorrow night. There is no doubt Donald Trump is not going to be on stage, but he will be likely in questions and in the minds of many of these candidates.

But when you talk to Republican voters here and Republican strategists here, they believe this creates an opportunity for some of these challengers. And you said right in center stage, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Can he prove that he is the true sort of heir apparent, if you will, or the second leading candidate? We will see tomorrow night that he is deep in debate preparation sessions, as are all of the other candidates.

But when we talk to voters -- and we've been spending some time here in the suburbs of Milwaukee, of course, a key swing state -- they are interested in hearing from all of the candidates, and that underscores the fact that this is a new moment in this campaign. This is the opening bell, if you will, for the summer primary.

So every candidate has an opportunity, and some have more risks than others. Dana?

BASH: Opening bell, that's a great way to put it. It certainly doesn't always feel like that. It feels like it's been a longtime, but that's very important context.

Thanks so much, Jeff. See you there tomorrow.

ZELENY: You bet.

BASH: And let's talk about what we're going to see. First, let's just look again at this stage. It's really interesting to see who's where given where they have come from and the experience that they have. Obviously, you see Ron DeSantis there Vivek Ramaswamy right next to him.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's remarkable. When he first launched, it was like, who, right, for a lot of people. And then to see him be at center stage is obviously a credit to the campaign that he's run and the appeal that he clearly has with a lot of Republican voters.

You know, I think what will be interesting to see tomorrow is which candidates benefit from Trump not being there and which candidates suffer for it. Some of them were obviously looking forward to showing how effectively they can go after him, like Chris Christie, perhaps. And doing so without Trump there looks a little bit different, right?


Other candidates will be, like, Ron DeSantis, will be happy to have all the attention focused on him, but also facing a lot of the attacks as a result.

BASH: Let's hear a little bit from -- you mentioned Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie -- let's start with Ron DeSantis on how he's kind of his mindset and as he's prepping for this debate.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will get people that have never voted Republican to vote for us. That's what we did in Florida, and that's how you win big. We've been losing a lot of winnable races because we're not attracting people beyond some of our own party members, and that's not good enough.


ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is really interesting because I think for much of DeSantis' campaign, thus far, he's actually been playing to the right of Trump. And I've heard some Republicans in Congress and others that have actually privately wished that he would kind of stay away from the culture wars and actually focus criticism on the Biden administration or the economy, maybe earlier to win over some of those independents.

You talked to many people following this race, and they would actually say that DeSantis has seemed to keep the focus on trying to galvanize Trump voters in Trump space rather than just independents and maybe voters in the suburbs.

BASH: Which begs the question whether or not how he's going to deal with the Trump factor because they're all going to deal with it even though he's not there. Listen to what Chris Christie said on that.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For some folks, they believe this is the political calculus, that somehow Donald Trump will be defeated by the legal process, and that when he is, if they're the ones who have said nothing bad about Donald Trump, that they're more likely to inherit the Donald Trump voters.

Well, I'll tell you something. If you want to know what a failure that strategy is, talk to me or Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.


LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR: He's not wrong that most of these candidates are waiting for Donald Trump to falter and for something to happen where he is not in the race. They are hoping that they can slide by and be next in line to be that heir apparent to him.

But every single Republican I have spoken to says that the stakes are highest for Ron DeSantis. He has had a floundering campaign, a very tough summer. He's had a reset. Donors have fled his campaign. His poll numbers have sagged. And so out of all the candidates, most of them, Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson, others are trying to introduce themselves to voters to get more voters to know them. But for Ron DeSantis, the stakes are extremely high.

BASH: And then, of course, there's again, as I mentioned, the Trump factor. Rick Santorum, who also ran for president, said the following. "It's really hard to run against a martyr. All these things that these indictments bring with them are almost off limits because it looks like you're piling on."

And think about that. And then I also want to bring in some reporting from Alayna Treene talking about the fact that members of the Trump team and surrogates, they're planning on traveling to Milwaukee and working on a resolution with the network as well as the RNC. This is according to two Trump advisers.

They believe they're going to get credentials after Fox kicked them out of the spin room, saying if you're not going to have your candidate here, you have no reason to be inside the spin room at the debate.

DIAMOND: Yes, it'll be really interesting to see how that ends up because, you know, Fox or RNC, whoever was the decider in that initial decision has a point that if he's not going to be there, then why should he be allowed to take advantage of the spin room afterwards.

But I think regardless of whether those folks are in there or not, the conversation is still going to be about Trump during the -- before the debate, during the debate, after the debate, it is going to continue. And I think on the Ron DeSantis point, the other question is which Ron DeSantis are we going to get? Because we've seen him take so many different strategies in the course of his campaign so far. So we'll see which one ends up on the stage.

BASH: OK. We'll see you guys tomorrow from Milwaukee.

And, in fact, a quick programming note, make sure to join me after the Republican Presidential Debate for CNN's post-debate analysis. Anderson Cooper will give you critical context as well. He was going to help break everything down, everything you see and hear. So watch us live tomorrow night at 11:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

Still ahead on Inside Politics, is he troubled? Is he qualified? Republican voters sound off on President Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential race. The woman who helped conduct a new focus group joins me next.



BASH: Now, despite four indictments and an overflowing well of legal woes, Republican voters remain largely devoted to former President Donald Trump. That's according to a new focus group from the New York Times. The Times sat down with 11 GOP voters for the first four nominating states and found, "In all of the focus groups we've done -- this is our 41st -- Mr. Trump has never come across so well positioned as compared with his rivals as he did in this one". Republican strategist and pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson moderated that panel and she joins our conversation. Wow. I mean, that's a big statement, 41 focus groups and he came off the best that he's ever done now, especially in the context of what we've been talking about all hour.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If there was any thought that the recent challenges that he has faced both in court and perhaps in the court of public opinion, if they are -- the Republican voters are just saying no, this is not sticking with me yet.


That right now, in fact, a lot of the things that have caused Donald Trump to slide in the polls with Republicans, I think back six months ago, shortly after the midterms, Republicans were a little bit wobbly. You did see someone like a Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, doing better. That is all very much in the rearview window. They think Donald Trump can absolutely beat Joe Biden, and he's their guy.

BASH: I love this word association. Train wreck. Sit down. Troubled. Eager. Innocent until proven guilty. Leader of the pack. Qualified. Vocal. And then, well, let's just start there. I mean, did any of this surprise you, given the 40 others that you've done before?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Not really. And what's fascinating, too, is that even though you had some of those people say things like train wreck or some of those words were not all necessarily positive, they still nevertheless think that he's probably the right choice headed into November, and they certainly think that he could beat Joe Biden.

So to me, perhaps that was the most surprising thing, was that even though not all 11 of these voters said that Donald Trump was their first choice, not all eleven of them had all nice things to say. They nevertheless are not buying this argument that Donald Trump's baggage right now makes him unelectable.

BASH: This is something that was really striking. Kimberly from Nevada on the question of Trump's electability. "All the downsides -- it doesn't matter. In the position that we're in right now, we need Trump. It's do or die. We're right on the edge. It's not good. Do you realize if Biden had died in office because he's older and ailing, do you know who would be our president? Kamala Harris. I just realized that. And I was like, oh, my God."

KANNO-YOUNGS: This is -- this comment reflects actually something that I would hear when I was reporting on Harris earlier this year. And we went around trying to assess if she would be involved in the strategy among Republicans trying to criticize the Biden administration. And they were saying that feeling right there is what factors into some of the criticism you're hearing now of a vote for Biden is a vote for Harris.

You're hearing that message more and more from critics of the White House and critics of the Biden administration here. It's fascinating, and it seems like one factor in for this base here is also a little bit of if not Trump, then who and also, looking at the alternative.

It actually reminds me of some of the comments that you've heard from Republicans who have wanted the former president to focus more on this administration rather than talking about or attacking judicial systems or talking about the previous election here.

This also reminds us that there's some subtext, and maybe this is a reason why Republican candidates are not talking about the indictments too much because of these voters here. I think that's --

BASH: Oh, I thought you were going a different direction with the subtext -- Kamala Harris.

DIAMOND: There are subtext there too.

BASH: There's a lot of them. It is really interesting because you are seeing Kamala Harris out on the campaign trail more. We're going to see her probably even more so with a targeted message on some of the issues that she has already been talking about. And we're definitely hearing a lot more of this from Kimberly, Nevada out of the candidate's mouths about, oh, this isn't just about Joe Biden, it's about Kamala Harris.

CALDWELL: Yes. This is actually the strategy, one of Nikki Haley's prime strategies.

BASH: Yes.

CALDWELL: That's what she says on the campaign trail over and over again. And she knows that there are those fears that Kamala Harris would be president, whether they're steeped in racism or sexism or whatever it is, or just -- those are the subtext I was going --

BASH: Those -- yes.

KANNO-YOUNGS: That's a part of it, too.


KANNO-YOUNGS: I mean, multiple things can be true at the same time --

CALDWELL: That's true.

KANNO-YOUNGS: -- with this criticism.

CALDWELL: It is true. But I will say that there's also Democrats who are also concerned about this. Democrats you talk to privately know that this could very well be an effective attack against Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Even though Kamala Harris has actually kind of hit a stride right now. She's had a relatively good few months, but her first couple of years has just really soured people's opinions of her.

DIAMOND: Yes, I agree. And I also just wanted to come back to what Kristen was saying about the Trump comments, which is what struck me was how a lot of these folks who support Trump seem to recognize a lot of his flaws. They're pretty clear eyed, right, about his flaws, his disadvantages, the baggage that he may carry but they just -- but it doesn't change their support for him. It doesn't change their opinion from him.

And it reminds me of like, back in 2016 on the campaign trail, I wish you would tweet less, but I still right. And now it's, well, I wish she wasn't indicted, but still.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Yes. For Republicans, they just feel like the stakes in this election are too high. They're willing to go with a candidate that they know is not perfect because they nevertheless think that Biden is weak enough that we can beat him anyways. And we need someone, in their view, like Donald Trump who can really achieve the outcomes that they're looking for.

BASH: Fascinating. Fascinating data. Thank you so much.

And coming up, Special Counsel Jack Smith claps back at Trump's defense team. What choice words did he have for them? That's next.



BASH: Today booking sheets for a pair of Trump co-defendants, including John Eastman, the legal brain behind the election subversion scheme. That's in Georgia. Here in Washington, the special counsel is busy fending off a Trump demand to push one of his trials to 2026.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now. Tell us more about that filing, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Dana, the special counsel's team is telling the judge here that Trump's lawyers are just vastly overstating how difficult it's going to be to dig into and review all of this discovery. Because, of course, Trump's team has said they need this trial to start no sooner than 2026, and they're attributing it mostly to the 11.6 million pages of documents that are being handed over during discovery.


The special counsel, though, is shooting back. They're saying that that much time until 2026 is unwarranted unnecessary, mostly, they say, because Trump and his team are already familiar with most of the material already. The Special Counsel saying at least 3 million of these pages are from the Secret Service. An additional 3 million pages are from people or entities associated with Donald Trump.

So the Special Counsel here trying to make the point that the review of these documents, despite the fact that they're 11.6 million pages, it won't actually be that cumbersome. And plus, they said they've structured this material in such a way that it can be easily searched via keywords.

So we're seeing this flurry of legal filings this back and forth about the proposed trial date on paper now. But, Dana, on Monday, the parties here, the two sides, they'll be in court in front of Judge Tanya Chutkan, they'll be hashing this out before the judge. And it's possible that on Monday or soon after, the judge here could set a trial date.

And we'll see just how close it is to the January 2024 date the Special Counsel is requesting, especially because that date is just a few months away from now. So we'll see it'll all play out in court on Monday. Dana?

BASH: We'll be watching. Thank you so much for that reporting, Jessica.

And thank you for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after this.