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Soon: First Televised Hearing In Trump's GA Subversion Case; This Hour: McConnell To Privately Address GOP Senators; GOP Senator: McConnell "Absolutely" Wrong Leader For 2024; WH Faces Masking Debate Ahead Of Biden's High-Stakes Trip. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 06, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, the cameras turn on in Fulton County, Georgia, a real reality TV show. Soon we go live inside the courtroom where Donald Trump will face accusations that he tried to steal for 2020 election.

Plus, doctors in doubt, an explanation from the Capitol physician fails to quiet some GOP concerns about Mitch McConnell's health. Today the Kentucky Senator gets a chance to answer the hard questions head on. And quote, we continually believe every bad thing people say, the man who managed President Obama's reelection tells Democrats to chill out and believe in the data that says Joe Biden has a clear path back to the White House.

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

Up first, lights, camera, court. Today the Trump case gets beamed into your living room or onto your phone. And it is going to be a preview of what our next year could look like, everyone's eyes and attention glued to Georgia. And the election submerging case against the former president of the United States.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Atlanta. We're expecting the judge to come into the courtroom soon. What are you seeing and hearing there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're just about an hour away from this televised event, much different from the past federal hearings or Trump's New York charges. We will see these proceedings broadcast live. And today will be the first big test for Fani Willis whose desire has been from the very beginning to charge all of these 19 co-defendants together. Will that happen? Or will these cases be separated?

Initially, Wednesday was expected to be a very busy day of arraignment hearings. But as of 1:30 yesterday, all of these co-defendants had waived their arraignment and entered pleaded not guilty to the charges that they're facing.

So instead, today's main event will happen at 1pm where a judge Scott McAfee will consider motions from former Trump attorney, Ken Chesebro as well as Sidney Powell. Both of them are asking for speedy trials. And they're also asking for their case not just to be separated and severed from their co-defendants, but also to be severed from one another.

It was last week that Chesebro's attorneys filed a motion saying that they shouldn't have to go at this trial with Sidney Powell because they're not accused of operating the same scheme. Powell's attorneys meanwhile had entered a motion saying that the only way for her to receive a fair trial is if she is tried by herself.

So, a big day here, big test for Fani Willis. We're also expecting judge McAfee to ask her for a good faith estimate as for how long this will take, if she charges all of these 19 co-defendants together or if these cases are separated.

The bottom line is that we're going to be for the first time seeing these proceedings broadcast live and as well, seeing what the judge and his actions are and perhaps get an insight as to how soon this election subversion case could go to try. Dana?

BASH: So, interesting. Thank you so much, Nick. Appreciate it. And here with me to talk more about this CNN's Carrie Cordero, CNN's Evan Perez, and CNN's Paula Reid, and in Atlanta, former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan.

I want to start with you down in Georgia. J. Tom Morgan, what are you looking for, as this court proceeding starts in a little while with the cameras fully on?

J. TOM MORGAN, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY, DEKALB COUNTY, GEORGIA: Well, Dana, that's how this case should be tried is where the American public can see what's going on. As Justice Brandeis said, sunshine is the best form of disinfectant. And I think that the public should be able to see each and every emotion in this particular one.

As she said, Chesebro and Powell are trying to get a speedy trial. They are absolutely entitled to a speedy trial. But they don't want to be tried together. Chesebro's argument that he doesn't know Powell will not hold legal verdict here. Because this is a RICO case with tentacles going in many different directions, many different schemes, but for one purpose overturned the 2020 election. I doubt that the judge will sever their cases, but it will be severed from everybody else.


BASH: So, interesting. And Evan Perez, just for people who are tuning in and hearing words like sever, and you know saying, OK, this is a pretrial hearing. What does it matter? We just heard from J. Tom about the notion of the speedy trial and that is, at its core, what this is about and why some of these, you know, total them up. 19 defendants are saying we don't want to be part of the quicker trial that is expected from some of the defendants like Chesebro.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And look, I mean, for the defendants, you know, they do have that right. They have a right to try to get to trial, to try to -- if they can declare their names. And so, that's partly what's at work here. But, you know, I think Fani Willis is making the point that this is one case. And look, I think a lot of us have some doubts as to how the logistics of this will work. Because we have 19 defendants, and of course, hanging over all of this is the question of whether this even remains in judge McAfee's court, right, because we know that we're still waiting for the federal court to rule whether Mark Meadows gets to remove his case to federal court. And if that goes, does that affect -- how does that affect the other defendants?

So, a lot of this -- a lot other is riding on this hearing today, but it's also like kind of suspended animation while we wait to see what happens from the federal question.

BASH: Yes. That's such a good point. In the meantime, though, it is going to be in judge Scott McAfee's court. Let's just look at a little bit about him since he is going to be a name and a face at least in the short term that people will be quite familiar with. He was named to the bench just in February. He was Inspector General under the Georgia Governor Kemp, former Assistant U.S. Attorney, former Fulton County, D.A., quite young.

Paula Reid: Quite young and inexperienced, objectively very inexperienced judge. This is someone who has experienced about a decade of experience as an attorney in various roles, but virtually months, I think now have experienced on the bench. And this is the case of a lifetime, even for a very experienced judge.

We've seen at the federal level, at least one judge, Judge Chutkan has been on the bench for over a decade. I mean, this still challenges her almost every single day. So, we're watching very closely to see how he handles these significant questions. They sound mundane right, scheduling, logistics subgroups, but they're really at the heart of this case, particularly this question of scheduling.

We know this has been a central tension between prosecutors and defense attorneys, the former president really keen to push this back after the 2024 election. And prosecutors want to move these cases along as quickly as possible. So, it's going to be fascinating to watch how he handled this.

BASH: And of course, we need to say it, we are going to be able to watch it huge and soon, really within the hour. Stephen Carter, who is a professor at Yale Law School. Carrie, said, "I suspect that the most likely viewers are exactly those most likely to view the proceedings through the lens of confirmation bias. What they thought about the former president's guilt before the trial, they will think afterwards."

That might be true. But is that relevant when it comes to people just being able to see something as important as this on television as opposed to having to read transcripts? Or, I mean, we like having reporters in the courtroom, but you know, to have to rely on that.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. Well, I certainly wouldn't want to prejudge how the American public is going to watch this trial. And look, we have a really, really long way to go before we actually would see the former president on trial in the courtroom. I mean, we still are at the pretrial stage where his co- defendants are making motions, and it's still unsettled as to whether some of the speedy trials will take place.

So, I think we're even just a really, really long way away from getting to that point. And this is the law in this jurisdiction. The Federal Courts don't have cameras in the courtrooms, this particular court does. And so, it speaks to the functioning of the rule of law, that there is not exceptions being made in this case, despite the fact that there's a former president who was one of the defendants.

BASH: And I want to go back to Georgia to J. Tom Morgan. We just going off. So back to the discussion about this judge. What do you know about him? What should we expect?

MORGAN: I know he's a former prosecutor, and he's tracked many cases. So at least this is a judge who is familiar with the courtroom, the courtroom is his sandbox. On the other hand, as everyone said, he's very young. He's very inexperienced as a judge. This is a case of a lifetime, but I'm not sure I would want it out there only being a judge for six months.

BASH: That's very candid view. Evan, I want to talk about the federal probe. And Jack Smith, the special counsel, he had some very tough words for the former president, the client, the person who he is prosecuting in two cases. He said, "such a require I talked about the need for the former president to stop with the social media posts."

Such a requirement would grind litigation in this case to a halt which is particularly in feasible given the pressing matters before the court including the defendants daily judicial statement that threatened to prejudice the jury pool in his case, as described in the government's motion. Can you put all that in there (crosstalk)?


PEREZ: There's something else at work here and beyond just the accusation against the former president. And I think what's at work is that they know, Donald Trump and his lawyers are going to make the request that the argument that this trial should not happen in Washington that this trial should be moved to West Virginia or someplace like that, where Trump believes he could get a more fair trial or a better jury. That's really what he -- what's at work.

And what the special counsel is doing is, is laying the groundwork saying, well, you know, if you are -- if you want to say that you can't get a fair trial here. If you want to say that the jury pool in Washington is prejudiced, then you're doing some of that work.

And then putting it on -- putting him on notice before the judge to sort of make sure she understands, and she sees what's at work. And obviously, she's very, very aware. She's very aware of what he's doing, like she's already warned him about it. So, I think that's, you know, the beginnings of more of this to come.

CORDERO: The one thing though, that I do think the judge and the prosecutors are going to need to be mindful of is to not get dragged into First Amendment litigation that will actually have the effect of dragging the case on and on.

I think the former president, his team would probably like nothing more than then to be able to look at some issue that is restricting his speech in some way or an argument they can make, because that will play into their delay effort.

BASH: So much happening now that is going to set the table for the next year, maybe even longer on all of these legal fronts for the former president and his co-defendants. Thank you one and all. Coming up, Mitch McConnell faces this conference behind closed doors for the first time since freezing in front of cameras. Again, can he quell concerns about his leadership? New details after a quick break.




BASH: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is back to business. This hour the 81-year-old will address his entire conference for the first time since his latest freeze up. This morning he took to the Senate floor to warn the White House about Russia's war on Ukraine.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER: Since Putin's escalation in Ukraine, President Biden has not been as decisive as many of us would have preferred, is certainly not the time to go wobbly.


BASH: Let's go live to Capitol Hill, CNN's Manu Raju is there. So, Manu, you are waiting for this meeting to begin. But not surprisingly, you've already talked to many of McConnell's fellow Republican senators. What are they saying?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They still have a lot of questions. While we have seen some information put out by the GOP leaders' office, including that notes came that came from the Capitol's physician's office ruling out some serious medical conditions as a reason for those to freeze up moments. There is still questions about one, what actually caused that freeze, and two, whether or not he could actually continue in the job and continue as Republican leader even passed this Congress.

Those are the questions that the leader himself is expected to address behind closed doors. This is the first time they'll have met since the Senate left for a five-week recess. Remember that first freeze occurred right before the recess. Then they went home. And at the end of this congressional work period back home, he froze up again.

So, these questions have persisted in the hallways. And according to Senator Josh Hawley, who was one of Senator McConnell's critics. He said that this question traveled all the way back to Missouri. He said he was heard from constituent after constituent asking questions about Mitch McConnell.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY, (R-MO): In my home state of Missouri, I was asked everywhere I went about Senator McConnell before the most recent incident, and then absolutely afterwards. And I mean, everywhere I went to the Missouri state fair, farmers meetings, business meetings. So, my view is that 2024 is an awfully important election for Republicans. We should have taken back the Senate last year, we didn't. This is our shot to take it back. And I just hope we're going to be focused on that.

RAJU: Did you worried that he's not the right person to bring you guys back to the majority?

HAWLEY: Oh, absolutely.


RAJU: Now, Hawley is among the minority in his conference at the moment. But that feeling does persist among us that small contingent of members have questions. How many other members also share that view? One of them was Senator Tommy Tuberville. Yesterday, I spoke to him, and he has supported Senator McConnell in the past. But he said he still has those concerns about whether McConnell can get them back into the majority.

So, those are all the questions that the leader himself will have to address behind closed doors. He does have support from his potential successors. But how much more support? That's the question in the weeks and months ahead. Dana?

BASH: And absolutely is the question, Manu, and I'm sure you are probably envisioning this as well, people and McConnell roll throwing things at the TV, listening to Hawley talk about what happened in the midterms, because McConnell would argue that they didn't take back the Senate because of Trump backed nominees in the Republican Party are those who are peddling election lies, but we can talk about that in another segment.

Thank you so much for that report. Get back to us if you hear more from inside the meeting, which will start momentarily.

Here to share their reporting and their insights, Laura Barron-Lopez of the PBS NewsHour, Margaret Talev of Axios, and CNN's Eva McKend. Eve, I want to start with you because I know that you were very focused before coming in and joining us as we're so happy that you did. You focused in your previous world on the Kentucky delegation. McConnell is a senior senator from Kentucky. His junior Senator Rand Paul had this to say about McConnell.



SEN. RAND PAUL, (R-KY): Well, I've practiced medicine for 25 years and it doesn't look like dehydration. To me it looks like a phone call, a neurological event. That doesn't mean it's incapacitating, doesn't mean he can't serve. But it means that somebody ought to wake up and say, wow, this looks like a seizure.


BASH: He was not ophthalmologist.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Because McConnell is such a legendary figure in Republican politics. Most Republicans are reticent to criticize him to question him. What I found in my time covering the Kentucky congressional delegation is what House Republicans -- Kentucky House Republicans said privately about him, differed from what they said publicly.

So, we see Senator Paul, which the two of them have never gotten along. Senator McConnell in 2010, actually endorsed his opponent and never wanted Senator Paul to be in the Senate, in the first place. And then also ideologically, they are very far apart. Senator Paul is really against all of his government spending, and also vehemently anti-war, but he has never been really motivated to kiss the ring. And so, he's perfectly comfortable taking this position and raising questions about the leader's health.

BASH: Which does if you kind of look at it beyond the Kentucky delegation, tell the story of what's going on right now at this moment. They might change in the meeting that they're going to have momentarily. But you have the Josh Hawley's of the world, the Rand Paul's of the world. Those who were not thrilled with McConnell's leadership, taking advantage of a moment right now, where his health and his leadership perhaps are in question.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: I do think that's what you're seeing playing out, even if everything that Dr. Paul is saying is true. I mean, look, we don't know yet because Mitch McConnell is not the most effusive, it's not like he's going to come out and be like, I just met with my doctor, here's everything he said.

So, we don't know whether this is all the aftereffects of having fallen and having a concussion or whether the concussion has exacerbated an underlying condition that they already had. We don't know whether it in any way impacts his ability to serve. It's not like he's landing fighter planes, you know, what I'm saying he's a politician. And if he is able to conduct his job when if he has a medical condition, doesn't really matter, necessarily.

But I think you are seeing these fissures inside the Republican Party. And to your point, I was thinking the same thing as we were watching that, like, it's a little bit rich that some of the people who were saying, there's so much at stake in 2024, the party has to move on, are not treating the former president with the same sort of a lens.

But having said that, I think all that really matters for McConnell, is whether his leadership team and the majority of the party is intact. BASH: Let's listen to a couple of other Republican senators and what they're telling our colleagues on Capitol Hill, Tommy Tuberville and Mitt Romney.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE, (R-AL): Can he do it? I mean, it's like being a quarterback. I hope he can. I'd love for him to stay as leader. But you know, it's happened twice now and what, six, seven weeks.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R-UT): And the reality is that we may expect that Mitch McConnell will check out for 20 seconds a day. But the other 86,380 seconds in the day, he does a pretty darn good job. I'm firmly behind his remaining as our leader.


BASH: This is my favorite thing that Mitt Romney maybe has ever done. He calculated the number of seconds in the day and then subtracted 20 seconds from it in order to give that soundbite. I mean he really deliberately did that.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: Yes. He did or his staffers did, so he could deliver that sound, right? But I mean, Romney represents, as Manu said, the majority of the conference right now, which is that the so far and his leadership team so far are saying that they are behind Mitch McConnell, that they want him to continue on in his capacity.

Yes, there are some who support him right now that say if it happens again, then does that change the calculus for even more members? Because of the fact that yes, they are heading into a cycle where Republicans in the Senate are hopeful that they can win back the Senate because the map is more favorable for them there than it is in the House.

The House is a totally different story where a lot of strategists, both Republicans and Democrats I talked to think that the House is going to flip, no matter what. But the Senate is potentially gettable for Republican?

MCKEND: And then also really quickly, McConnell has also staved off I think some of the more extreme elements or wings of the party. He has certainly tried to. So, you have a lot of incentive for Senator Romney to stick by him. And then there's also no shortage of people in Kentucky sort of waiting in the wings to replace McConnell.

BASH: Yes. No question. Thanks, guys. Standby because coming up, to mask or not to mask. President Biden's, what's the difference ahead of a big trip, just days after the First Lady tests positive for COVID- 19. Plus, stay tuned for the first televised hearing of the former presidents Georgia case. All the latest on that, coming up.



BASH: The White House says that they are closely monitoring President Biden for any COVID's symptoms ahead of his high stakes trip to India, which starts tomorrow. The First Lady tested positive on Monday. The White House says the president who has tested negative for the virus will wear a mask indoors, but that he might remove it when standing at a distance from others.

CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz joins me now. Arlette. the president's exposure to the virus could complicate this trip.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. It could if President Biden were to test positive before his planned departure for India tomorrow. But the last known a negative test that the president received was just yesterday.