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Rudy Giuliani Lands in Atlanta to Surrender; Giuliani Meets With Legal Advisers Ahead of Surrender; Trump's Absence Soaks Up GOP Debate Spotlight. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 23, 2023 - 12:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: The year was 2007 and Rudy Giuliani was the man at the center of the stage.


RUDY GIULIANI, INDICTED TRUMP CO-CONSPIRATOR AND FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: I believe we had a president who made the right decision at the right time on September 20, 2001 to put us on offense against terrorists. I think history will remember him for that. And I think we as Republicans should remind people of that.


BASH: That was back when he was running for president, didn't get very far there. But a lot has happened since then. It is of course now 2023, and Mr. Giuliani is still at the center. But now, it's a story of which he is trying to defend the choices of a former president and ones he made alongside him. The context of course is so different for him now. Very soon, the former mayor is going to surrender in Fulton County, Georgia, for allegedly conspiring with Donald Trump to steal an election. Before making the morning plane ride to Georgia, Mr. Giuliani shouted his innocence.


GIULIANI: I'm the same Rudy Giuliani that took down the mafia. I'm fighting for justice. I have been from the first moment I represented Donald Trump (inaudible). Don't know how many times he has to be proven innocent and they have to be proven to be liars, actually enemies of our republic.


BASH: My panel is back with me. And Jonah Goldberg, you think of Rudy Giuliani from -- the way back machine (ph), obviously post 9/11. But, of course, as he was mentioning, before that, the reason he became mayor is because of the work that he did as U.S. attorney, as a prosecutor in New York and the name he made for himself. Talk about that and kind of where we are today. It's almost hard to wrap your mind around, isn't it?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, I mean people forget -- I mean forget 9/11, where I think he performed fantastically. George Will famously said that Rudy Giuliani's turnaround of New York City was the single-most successful act of conservative governance in a half century. And now, he has sort of -- Giuliani has become a punch line and there are all sorts of theories out there as to why. Basically, everybody agrees that it's sad and tragic to one extent or another. There are some people who think there are some adjectives you should throw in there.

But, for me, the problem is that even if you think he's not guilty of this crime or that crime or the Georgia statute doesn't line up perfectly, he's transparently obviously guilty about lying about so things that got us into this mess. I mean this is a guy who literally said that votes in America are counted in Italy. This is a guy who has clearly -- we're not supposed to say crazy anymore, neuro-divergent about a lot of things. And it's really sad to watch. If he had had loved ones around him, they would pull him aside and pull him away from cameras and microphones.

BASH: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: But they are. So it's really sad.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: You know what? Dana, it makes me think -- look, this is not Giuliani just in a vacuum. We see this with a lot of people. I think about Mike Flynn. You know, even how business executives who are founders like the overstock guy who shows up in some of these documents, who are people who did real things in their lives and got caught up in this crazy -- I'll say it -- crazy web of lies around the election and around so many other things, whether it's (inaudible) or others.


I mean, it's a phenomenon that tends to -- so be -- Trump seems to be surrounded by people who are the victim of the same kind of problem. And it's not just Trump and the people around him, but also Trump supporters. I mean millions of people buy into these very same lies. So, I think it's part of a broader picture here of a country and very prominent people within that country just simply not being able to tell fact from fiction. And in the case with a people with a responsibility to tell the truth, not being willing to do the right thing and follow the law. And that's the story of Rudy Giuliani, but it is also the story of so many other people who are part of this sad saga.

BASH: Yeah, that's such a good point. The difference, of course, and I know you were sort of getting to this, is that Giuliani isn't just a consumer of these lies. He was a chief peddler of these lies, not just to America, but he was egging the former president on. And Kaitlan, you and I spent a lot of time talking to the former New York City mayor during the Trump Administration when he was acting as counsel in various ways, including the first impeachment of the former president. Listen to what he's saying now as it pertains to the role that he has as the president's lawyer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GIULIANI: They are destroying my right to counsel, my right to be a lawyer. They are destroying his right to counsel. It's not accidental that they have indicted all the lawyers. I have never heard of that before in America.


BASH: Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR OF "THE SOURCE": I mean it's just remarkable. When you talk about the Trump Administration days, Rudy Giuliani thought that he was going to be Secretary of State or Attorney General, or was beginning to get a high-ranking position in the Trump Administration when Trump first took office. Of course, how that administration ended the first term was with Rudy Giuliani being someone that Trump put in charge of pursuing these election lies, when the people that did work there, people like the Bill Barr, did not want to do so.

And part of the reason Rudy Giuliani finds himself in the position he's in is because -- with the lack of legal fees or legal bills being paid by Trump is because Trump is unhappy that he was ever able to -- never able to uncover that fraud. I mean that's because it doesn't exist. You can ask any Republican in the State of Georgia or the broader U.S. that question. That's in part why Trump won't do that because he essentially holds him responsible for not being able to find the fraud that didn't exist.

BASH: Wow, it is really through the looking glass stuff. OK, guys, standby. Coming up, more on the breaking news outs of Georgia. But first, I will have a one-on-one with the man who oversaw the primary debates the first time Donald Trump ran for president. Former RNC Chair and Wisconsin native, Reince Priebus will join me here in Milwaukee, live next.


BASH: And now, brand new CNN reporting, Donald Trump may not be here in Milwaukee tonight, but his allies on Capitol Hill most certainly are here. What's their strategy as they vie to represent the former president who is not at the debate? CNN's Melanie Zanona is here with me and has details. So Melanie, his congressional backers are already here. I certainly have seen at least people with them in Milwaukee. What is their strategy?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah. While Trump may not feel the need to show up to the debate tonight, but he did feel the need to have a strong presence there. I'm told that his team asked a number of his loyal Capitol Hills allies to show up tonight and act as surrogates to help shape the pro-Trump messaging. That includes Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, even Kari Lake who is weighing a senate bid, all of them are expected to be or try to be in the spin room and really pumping up Trump after the debate.

They have also already been trolling Ron DeSantis last night. They were passing out bingo cards sort of mocking and predicting what DeSantis might say. But, Trump really early on has leaned on his congressional support to help legitimize and boost his candidacy, particularly among the Florida delegation as a way to take a jab at Ron DeSantis who, of course, is also from Florida.

But, the support of these Republicans, Dana, has become even more crucial for Donald Trump as he looks to House Republicans to use their majority to defend him. In fact, I'm told that they even asked -- he even asked members on the plane to Iowa last week for an update about a potential impeachment inquiry into President Biden. So clearly, Trump keeping very close tabs on all the different way his allies are looking to defend him. Dana?

BASH: Yes, that is for sure. Thank you so much, Melanie. And as you see, I have with me a guest who is no stranger to Wisconsin. He's a Wisconsin native, also knows a lot about the way Donald Trump thinks. Reince Priebus is former White House Chief of Staff, and former Republican National Committee Chair. Thank you so much.


BASH: And chairman of the -- that's right, yes. You are back in it.

PRIEBUS: So, back home and never have we had a day as hot...

BASH: It's really hot guys.

PRIEBUS: this ever.

BASH: Yeah, it's very hot. The cheese is melting everywhere.

PRIEBUS: So, I'm sorry for you all.

BASH: Let's talk about what you're looking for tonight. Is this basically a race since Donald Trump is not on stage, for second place?

PRIEBUS: It really is. It kind of reminds me and it is no offense to anyone, because they can take the tough love. This debate tonight is a little bit like the first debate that we used to have before the main stage. And one of these folks might emerge. Maybe a couple, but certainly not all of them. And it may never happen. Maybe they won't catch Donald Trump. But that's certainly the way it feels out here today.

BASH: You -- as I mentioned, you were RNC Chairman last time. And you tried to help navigate Donald Trump as a first-time candidate...


BASH: ...through this whole process. His campaign argues, "He has already won this evening's debate because everything is going to be about him." Is that true?

PRIEBUS: It might be. I mean it's hard to beat someone without talking about them. The problem, though is that when... [12:45:03]

BASH: Well, they are going to talk about him.

PRIEBUS: Right. Which means -- which is a problem because if you poll Republican voters, and there are some polls out today that you may have seen that says that a majority of Republican voters don't want the candidates bashing Donald Trump. Yet, they have to beat Donald Trump without everything not being about Donald Trump. When you watch the news, everything is about Donald Trump. It's a very difficult situation that all these other candidates are in.

BASH: Well, when you think about the field of candidates right now, you wouldn't be able to answer this question when I would be interviewing you back in 2016, but now I hope you can.


Who do you think has the best chance to break out tonight?

PRIEBUS: I don't think I can answer it now because I don't want to. I just -- they are all sort of in the same boat. There just isn't anyone in particular...

Do you think Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, they are all in the same boat?

Well, I mean, maybe not as much Asa Hutchinson, but certainly Christie, Vivek, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, I mean I think they are all sort of just tied within four points or five points of each other, and no one yet has broken out as being the person to take on Donald Trump. And maybe it's because they are 40 points or 50 points behind.

It's sort of like, we got to have these conversations, but not acknowledge the most obvious thing, which is Donald Trump is 40 points ahead.

BASH: Yeah, we are acknowledging that.

PRIEBUS: On a bad day. I know you are.

BASH: Yeah.

PRIEBUS: But -- so you have to analyze, "OK, well, what's all these other people going to do?" They have a couple of months. By the end of September or middle October, if you're not within striking distance, you ought probably not be running because you're going to run out of money and you are not going to have volunteers.

And the last thing is, there are filing deadlines that are happening this year in 17 states. And if you don't have money and you don't have volunteers and you don't have the polling, you can't make it.

BASH: Filing deadlines is (inaudible) October.


BASH: Yeah.

PRIEBUS: In some states, the papers are being pulled in October. This idea that it's early, it's not that early.

BASH: So give us your sort of -- quantify that, if you will. If a candidate is not at a certain level of polling or a certain level of cash in the bank...


BASH: At what point should they just say, lights out?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, they are going to know it because they are not going to have the people to do the filings. I mean, even if you move forward through this year, the primary in Iowa is January 15th. Super Tuesday is 50 days later. How are you going to make it 50 days with no money, no volunteers to Super Tuesday.

BASH: Yeah.

PRIEBUS: Back that up to this year, your filing deadlines, if you don't have the money, you can't make it.

BASH: Last question. Let's just say the field is cleared. There's only one competitor against Donald Trump. Even in that sense, do you think Donald Trump is beatable, honestly?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, if it's one-on-one and you're within 15 points or 20 points, maybe. But that's how dramatic this shift has to be in order for this dynamic to change.

BASH: Reince Priebus, thank you so much.

PRIEBUS: Thank you.

BASH: I won't thank you for the entirely hot weather. But we will be back.

PRIEBUS: Our apologies. It's unusual, I promise.


BASH: Nice to see you.

PRIEBUS: All right.

BASH: And up next, surprises, stuns, shockers, what unexpected moments -- well, we can't expect them if they are unexpected, but what we're looking for in tonight's debate. That's coming up.


[12:52:13] BASH: Right now in Atlanta, Rudy Giuliani is meeting with his legal advisers and soon, we will see him make the trek to Rice Street, the Fulton County jail, and surrender. Here in Wisconsin, where I am, it is crunch time. Only eight hours until the first debate of the 2024 election cycle. Our great reporters are back to tell us what they are watching for tonight. Kaitlan, I will start with you. What are your thoughts?

COLLINS: I think one thing that will be really fascinating to see is specifics when it comes to abortion. I mean we have seen that be such an animating conversation throughout the country, ever since Roe v. Wade was overturned. And so, where do these candidates stand on whether they support a federal ban, if they do, at how many weeks? All these issues that you have seen some of them, including Donald Trump, who obviously won't be on that stage tonight, sidestep the issue. I think that's going to be something fascinating if they are pressed on it with follow-ups.

BASH: Jonah?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I'm very curious whether Chris Christie can maintain discipline and really focus on going after Donald Trump or whether or not he will, as has often been his style, be an all-purpose critic of anybody who says anything he doesn't like and that sort of diffuses his message into his personality of being confrontational.

BASH: Abby?

PHILLIP: Kind of teeing off what Jonah just said, I expect tonight is going to be a lot about the showmanship. It's going to be dominated probably by Christie, by DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy. And I was surprised, I spoke to Marc Short, one of Mike Pence's advisers, last night. He teed up a lot of attacks from Pence on Ramaswamy. So, we might see unexpected characters trying to show some toughness on that debate stage by going after the sort of rising star, young buck in the Group of the eight that will be there or perhaps it might seven if Doug Burgum doesn't make it.

BASH: Yeah, and I was just going to say that. Jonah, I mean it is -- he was going to be at the edge of the stage, but it was still a sitting governor, Republican Governor Doug Burgum. He may still come tonight. He's going to do a walk-through behind me in a short while. But when you look at sort of the totality of the field, what is striking to me is Vivek Ramaswamy because he has no testing. He's never been through anything like this before. And my understanding is that, despite what he says on social media, he's not really doing a lot of prep.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. He shares with Donald Trump a certain, often in error but never in doubt quality. He think whatever comes out of his mouth just sounds awesome and works for him, and that quality actually gets a lot of attention and kind of goes viral and appeals to a lot of people. I find it exhausting.



BASH: And then the question I still -- I will just end with this. One of the questions I am looking for, and one of you mentioned the Chris Christie of it all, is whether or not he is going to have a moment a la Marco Rubio back in 2016 where he effectively ended Marco Rubio's campaign with a one-two punch rhetorically towards Marco Rubio. He says that his focus very much is on the front runner and getting through the front runner and getting under his skin. So that will be fascinating that will be fascinating.

Thank you guys so much for your insight, for your reporting, for all of it. Great to see you. It's great to see you. Thank you so much for watching "Inside Politics." Don't forget, after tonight's debate, we are going to give you critical context and political analysis, everything you need. Anderson Cooper and I will be hosting "The Post- Republican Debate Analysis" live on CNN at 11:00 p.m. right here on CNN. See you then. Thank you so much. "CNN News Central" starts right after a quick break.