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Meadows Takes The Stand In Critical Fulton County Hearing; Today Marks 60th Anniversary Of March On Washington; Ramaswamy Defends Remarks Comparing Black Dem Congresswoman To KKK; Sources: McCarthy Starts To Plot Biden Impeachment. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 28, 2023 - 12:30   ET



J. TOM MORGAN, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY, DEKALB COUNTY, GEORGIA: What Mr. Meadows is doing was helping the president and others to overturn the Georgia election. And that's what the D.A. is going to argue. You're exactly right. It's a calculated risk to put a defendant on the stand at any time, certainly during pretrial motions, and usually the calculation goes against the defendant. I'm absolutely amazed that he's taking the stand.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: You are. So if he were your client, you wouldn't have done it?

MORGAN: Again, it is a calculated risk there. It seems like there were other ways that you could get this evidence out without putting the defendant on the witness stand. As a former prosecutor, I would be chomping at the bit for opportunity to cross examinee Mr. Meadows though.

BASH: Shan Wu, do you -- well, let me just actually put on the screen just because there's a lot going on today about what Meadows and his attorneys are trying to show during this hearing that's happening right now. They're trying to show, as we mentioned, that he was acting as an officer of the United States, meaning the federal government.

His conduct was related to actions under color of such office, and he has colorable federal defense. Can you put that in English, please?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, what he needs to show there is that he wants to say that everything I did was within my job description as chief of staff. That's the plain English way of doing it. And the counter to that, of course, is that, this is totally outside your job description.

You don't have any role in the elections that's at the states, and you certainly can't be trying to pressure people or coming up with schemes to overturn something that's no longer being challenged in the courts. So that's what he is really running up against here.

BASH: Carrie, I was talking to Jamie Raskin, a member of Congress from Maryland. He happened to be the lead impeachment manager on January 6th. He also is a constitutional scholar. And here's what he said about Mark Meadows and what he's trying to do here. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: Let me just think about a federal official or employee who engages in a bank robbery or a murder. Obviously, the state would get to prosecute them. After four years of packing the courts with Federalist Society bloggers, someone like Mark Meadows is going to feel a lot more comfortable in federal court.

They're trying to flee from it as quickly as possible to get into the warmer climate of the federal judiciary, which they have worked so hard to gerrymander.


BASH: Is that the answer to why, the why as he trying to change juris change jurisdictions?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think there's other reasons as well. Another reason potentially is that it gives him an opportunity to sever his case from the trial of the other defendant.

BASH: And why is that important?

CORDERO: And so that would allow him and the case, the prosecutors would have to focus just on him specifically, and the counts against him. It doesn't have the appearance and sort of the practical impact of sitting at trial with a whole bunch of other defendants who have been charged with a wide range of crimes.

So his attorneys have obviously assessed that it's in his interest both to be in federal court because they potentially think that federal defenses that he might have would be better considered there, but also I think because he would be on his own.

BASH: And J. Tom, you sort of alluded to this about the fact that anything can happen when you have a client on the stand. One of the things that he is being asked about, according to our reporters in the courtroom right now, is about Trump's interest in election fraud after the 2020 election. And he described being flooded with outreach, Meadows described being flooded with outreach about potential fraud in 2020.

Sometimes he said he had to keep certain people away from Trump in the post-election period. One of my jobs was trying to be gatekeeper. That was more than a little challenging with President Trump.

MORGAN: As I said, it is going to be an amazing examination and cross- examination. I hope the judge does not reel in either side when the questions really start flowing toward Mr. Meadows, it reminds me of something I learned a long time ago. There are two ways that fish gets caught in a criminal case. He opens his mouth where he's swimming with the wrong school of fish.

As alluded to earlier, Mr. Meadows wants to get away from the PAC. But I am, as an attorney, amazed that they're allowing him to testify. You sure know how to turn a phrase.

Thank you so much for that and for your insight, all of you. Don't go anywhere because news is breaking by the minute here.

Up next, we are going to look at President Biden and he is meeting with the family of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is the 60th anniversary of MLK Jr.'s, historic, "I have a Dream" speech. The only granddaughter of the civil rights Titan told me that she's disappointed with progress in fighting hate in America.


YOLANDA KING, GRANDDAUGHTER OF MARTI LUTHER KING JR.: 60 years later, the dream still has not been fulfilled. We are not where we need to be. And so now -- and to put it basically blatantly in plain that the -- it seems like the past generations, our parents generations have failed us. And so now we have to take on the responsibility to make sure that we do not repeat the same mistake and to make sure that we fulfill the dream.




BASH: Today, a White House audience for the descendants of an icon with a dream. 60 years after the march on Washington, President Biden and Vice President Harris host relatives of Martin Luther King Jr. and organizers of that march. The meeting happens in the aftermath of a racist attack. And one man who wants to be president opening a racial wound.


Vivek Ramaswamy leveled deafening remarks on the campaign trail. He joined me on State of the Union yesterday, and he stood firm on controversial comments he made, that remarks from a Black Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley made her like a modern day grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it is the same spirit to say that I can look at you and based on just your skin color, that I know something about the content of your character, that I know something about the content of the viewpoints you're allowed to express. For Ayana Pressley to tell me --

BASH: OK, that's --

RAMASWAMY: -- that because of my skin color, I can't express my views, that is wrong. It is divisive.

BASH: That is --

RAMASWAMY: It is driving hate in this country.

BASH: That is a debate.

RAMASWAMY: This is dividing our country --

BASH: That is a debate --

RAMASWAMY: -- into a breaking point.

BASH: To say that she represents and she is a modern version of a KKK, which as you know, is dedicated to the subjugation and violence against black people, how on earth is she a modern brand wizard of that kind of organization?

RAMASWAMY: Let's be intellectually honest and get to the heart of what this debate ought to be about.


BASH: Our great reporters are here to dissect all of this with me. Oh boy. Where do we start with this? Look, it is -- we know what he's doing and we know why he's doing it. This is a candidate who wrote a book about being anti-woke.

He is -- he's made a name for himself for a lot of reasons, and one of them is by putting out their controversial incendiary remarks. He's very much in the mold of Donald Trump in that way, and he's absolutely not backing down at all.

In fact, yesterday after he was on with me, he tweeted out a repeat of his original comments. He said -- you see, he was referring to our interview, "The remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination". That was a reference to Ibram Kendi, somebody who Ramaswamy referenced on the campaign trail.

And then again, "We don't want any more brown faces that don't want to be a brown voice". Again, a reference to Ayanna Pressley, he's quoting her. "It's racist. It make the grand wizard of the KKK proud. It's driving reactionary attacks. It needs to end".

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it sort of shows the split screen that America is facing right now. When you showed images of the 60th anniversary of the march on Washington, you see Biden is inviting the members of the family to the Oval Office, which is actually historically significant because JFK did the same thing today, 60 years ago.

And then you also hear those comments. It's just it's hard to wrap your head around it, specifically because I remember talking to voters last week in Milwaukee, Republican voters, and I remember one man telling me he was very interested in Mr. Ramaswamy, and he said he was youthful and he kind of represents a Trumpian spirit.

So it also tells you that even if Trump is wrapped up in court cases, he is the frontrunner. But if he's wrapped up in court dates and isn't the nominee, there is still an appetite for folks in the Republican Party who don't back down and say things and don't try to, you know, amend their statements. So that's something to look at as you see his polling -- Ramaswamy's polling numbers to see how they fluctuate.

BASH: David, what's your take on what he's trying to do here?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, like you said, I mean, there's no doubt he puts out provocative stuff, incendiary stuff in order to garner attention, in order to raise money off of that and the like. You know, you say he's not backing down and clearly he's not. He, you know, got back at it.

But it did seem to me in the interview with you, even at that little end of where he said, let's be intellectually honest here, I feel like he was almost referring himself. He did seem to acknowledge the game that he had put a foot here in terms of, let's look beyond my out, I mean, I'm putting words in his mouth there.

BASH: Yes.

CHALIAN: Let's look beyond my outrageous rhetoric to get attention here --

BASH: He called -- he actually --

CHALIAN: and actually talk about --

BASH: He actually called it fringe.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BASH: Called his own comments fringe.

CHALIAN: Exactly. He referred to it as fringe. So to me in that moment, it was sort of like he exposed himself for exactly what it is and for all to see. I don't -- unfortunately for Ramaswamy, if he actually wants to have the intellectually honest version of that debate, his rhetoric actually diminishes the opportunity to do that.


BASH: Which is what I was trying to get at.

DIAMOND: And you're right, because he admitted that essentially he's making these controversial comments in order to start a conversation, in order to have the conversation that he wants to have here. And I think it's so important for us to just remember that this is not a gaff, these are not, you know, accidental statements, nor is the doubling down.

It is all part of a strategy that he is molding after Donald Trump. And it's important to do what you did, which is to fact check him in real time on what he's saying, but also to acknowledge that it is a strategy, that it is a game that he's playing in order to try and, you know, bring his candidacy. BASH: He's not only never been elected anything, and that's how he's running as an outsider. He's very young. He's in his mid-thirties and the New York Times did a story over the weekend about his appeal to people in his generation and talked to a voter like you did, Rhonda.


This one in Iowa saying -- and this is a voter who's 42 years old -- "I think he accurately diagnoses the lack of identity and purpose that some -- many -- in my generation and younger struggle with, especially with the identity of our country. There's been a shift during my lifetime".

COLVIN: Yes. You know, it's interesting when you do talk to voters to sort of see them balance, you know, these controversial comments, but also their support for someone like Ramaswamy. And it does show that he does have appeal for people because of the youthfulness.

And watching him at the debate and also the days after the debate, I've been thinking that his campaign looks very familiar to the 2015 primary when there was another candidate who was only, you know, 1 percent in, and that was Donald Trump. So he is someone perhaps that people need to continue to watch.

BASH: All right, everybody, great discussion. Thanks for putting that in perspective.

Ahead, new CNN reporting. How does House Speaker Kevin McCarthy plan to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry into President Biden? We have new details after a quick break.



BASH: Impeachment roulette. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is starting to map out a Biden impeachment strategy. My colleague Melanie Zanona has learned, quote, "In recent weeks, McCarthy has privately told Republicans he plans to pursue an impeachment inquiry into Biden and hopes to start the process by the end of September". That is according to multiple Republican sources.

Melanie Zanona is live on Capitol Hill. Melanie, this is, you know, reporting that is fascinating and it really is, I think, most interesting that House Republicans you're talking to aren't entirely sold on this idea.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: No, that's exactly right, Dana. In fact, there are a number of vulnerable and moderate Republicans who are still skeptical about going down the impeachment route. They note that the GOP has yet to uncover concrete evidence that Biden indeed profited off of his son's foreign business deals.

But McCarthy is under immense pressure from both his right flank and also from former President Donald Trump to get more aggressive in this space, and that might explain why McCarthy is now trying to very seriously figure out how to move this forward.

And not to mention, McCarthy is about to face a lot of heat from conservatives in the upcoming appropriations process. He's trying to move a short-term spending bill. Let's take a listen to how he's framing those two issues.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It is a natural step forward that you would have to go to an impeachment inquiry. I would actually like to have a short term CR only to make our argument stronger. Because, Maria, if we shut down, all government shuts it down, investigation and everything else, it hurts the American public.


ZANONA: So, clearly, a direct appeal to his right flank. They're trying to get them on his side, but again, they do not have the votes as of right now. They might skip a formal vote on an impeachment inquiry, but trying to get the ball moving on the process, Dana.

BASH: Oh, that's interesting. Well, that would be very telling. Melanie, thank you so much.

Jeremy, you had a reporting about a new White House council. How does your reporting dovetail with this reporting?

DIAMOND: Yes, it's -- the White House is preparing for exactly what Kevin McCarthy seems to be gearing up for, and that is to say that they hired a new White House council who starts on the job next month, who is very familiar with Congressional Republicans investigations into a Democratic White House.

He worked in the Obama White House and the council's office. His name is Ed Sisco (ph). He managed a lot of the legal process relating to -- responding to the investigations into Benghazi as well as the solar energy company, Solyndra. So he's very familiar with this.

I think more broadly, what's important to note is this is a White House that has long believed that House Republicans are going to overplay their hand. And I think that is reflected in some of the concerns you're hearing from some of these House Republicans who say, hey, we haven't even found any, like, clear, compelling, convincing evidence tying President Biden directly to any misdeeds or ethical lapses -- legal lapses related to his son's business.

COLVIN: Yes, I think the sub headline in the reporter's notes there is that the moderates are very uncomfortable with this. And I think even if you think back to some of the things that Speaker McCarthy has said before, he said at first he wasn't willing to go into this, into an impeachment inquiry.

Now, it sounds like he's leaning toward that, and it just doesn't seem like their messaging is altogether right now. So that might be a benefit for the Biden team. But overall, I think we all saw it going in this direction, specifically because the hardliners in the house. CHALIAN: Dana, you know, the bio rhythms of Congress better than anyone, we're about to turn OK into an election season. That's when, for Kevin McCarthy, this inherent tension becomes much more difficult because it's one thing for Kevin McCarthy to constantly placate the right wing of his party until you get to election season.

And he's working with such narrow majority that when you get into the majority makers, those are not the right wing part of the conference, right? And all of a sudden, Kevin McCarthy has a different imperative immediately in front of him politically --

BASH: I mean, let's take the moderates in New York who gave in the majority.

CHALIAN: Exactly. And we keep saying moderates, but these are people in battleground districts --

BASH: Right.

CHALIAN: -- that will determine the control of Congress.


And I would also just note, if one of the big potential vulnerabilities of a Biden reelection effort is an enthusiasm problem, we're seeing that in small donor stuff, you want to know how to juice enthusiasm on the democratic side, launch an impeachment inquiry and launch impeachment and and watch will that -- what that will do to help rally Democrats to Biden's cause. We actually saw it with Donald Trump in 2019 and '20 before the pandemic hit with the first impeachment.

BASH: And that's what you were getting at, that you're hearing from the Biden White House.

DIAMOND: Yes, exactly.

BASH: And campaign.

DIAMOND: If they -- if Republicans overplay their hands, that that will increase democratic enthusiasm and that it will backfire on those swing districts Republicans who handed Kevin McCarthy the majority last cycle.

BASH: Newt Gingrich, I think, might be on the line soon. I'm going the way back machine in the 90s. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Thank you so much for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after the break.