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Inside Politics

Supreme Court Limits Obstruction Charges Against January 6 Rioters; Biden's Debate Performance Sets Off Alarm Bells For Democrats; White House Staffers: Group Chats "Abysmal"... "Ugly"... "Deflated"; Sources: Dem Leaders Not Planning To Press Biden To Drop Out. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 28, 2024 - 12:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Kasie Hunt in for Dana Bash, who co-moderated the CNN presidential debate last night, that's triggering a five alarm fire inside the Democratic Party. We're going to get to that in just a moment.

But first, we do want to follow this breaking news. The Supreme Court just ruled that the Justice Department overstepped stepped by charging hundreds of people who rioted at the Capitol on January 6th with obstruction. The ideologically mixed six to three ruling could force federal prosecutors to reconsider charges in dozens of pending cases and may have an impact on the case against Donald Trump.

I want to turn now to CNN's Paula Reid, Andrew McCabe, Evan Perez to break this all down for us. Paula, I want to start with you. Can you explain what this means for the hundreds of defendants who have been convicted or pled guilty in charges related to January 6?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Casey, the Justice Department says it will take all appropriate steps to comply with this decision. In a statement, the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, who has overseen this historic effort to prosecute people who engaged in alleged criminal conduct related to January 6.

He says, quote, "The vast majority of the more than 1,400 defendants charged for their illegal actions on January 6 will not be affected by this decision." Now, he's correct about that, but we're still talking about hundreds of people who have been charged with this. There's also 52 people for whom obstruction is their only felony and 27 of them have already been incarcerated. So this decision is certainly some good news for them.

We could fully expect their defense attorneys will try to pursue additional proceedings to get those convictions possibly overturned. Unclear, though if they'll be successful. This opinion does leave some wiggle room for prosecutors.

The other big question is, of course, how does today's decision impact the January 6 case against former President Trump? Now, he too faces two charges of obstruction, but the conduct that he is charged with is quite different than people who are physically here at the Capitol on January 6.

He is charged related to the fake elector scheme. But it's interesting, Kasie, in the opinion of the Chief Justice, John Roberts, he nods to the possibility that the obstruction statute could be violated by creating false evidence, and this complicated opinion to figure out exactly how they can use it to ultimately get it delayed.

But, of course, the biggest question for them is another Supreme Court opinion that we expect to get on Monday about whether their client has immunity to protect him from the entire January 6 prosecution.

HUNT: So, Evan, can you dig into this a little bit more just how this ruling today could affect Special Counsel Jack Smith's prosecution of Trump?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Look, I mean, as Paula just pointed out, the Justice Department believes, and they've been preparing for this possibility ever since oral arguments. And they kind of got a sense of where this might be going. One of the things that we heard from them is that they believe that this was a very, very limited impact. They're talking about possibly 249 cases.

I think we have a graphic that shows you a little bit of the universe we're talking about. 249 cases that could be affected. There's 52 people who have been sentenced, who've pleaded guilty to just this charge. And so that is, obviously, going to be affected by this. And then there's 27 people who are still serving their sentences, again, who could be affected by this.

But keep in mind, for most of these people, there are other crimes, including Fisher, by the way, the defendant who brought this case. There were other crimes or alleged crimes that were that were charged in this -- against these people, including violence, carrying out violence against some of the officers at the Capitol that day.

And so the vast majority of cases are not going to be affected. And the Justice Department is now going to have to look to see whether there's going to be a need to perhaps adjust some of those sentences as a result of this.

HUNT: Amy so, Andy McCabe, you have run investigations like these. Are you surprised by this ruling?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I'm a little surprised, Kasie. I thought actually Justice Barrett's dissenting opinion was where the court would end up. And that's based upon a very kind of textural analysis of the statute. I think it's pretty clear what Congress was trying to do there. But, obviously, the majority of the court went in the other direction.

I think it's a probably a little bit surprising to most folks who see this court as very conservative court. It's one that typically goes right from the text of what they're interpreting. I felt like Justice Roberts kind of strayed from that a little bit. You hear a lot of references to history and legislative intent and those sorts of things. I think he did that because he was kind of impliedly acknowledging that the text -- just reading the text of the statute really might point you in the other direction.


HUNT: All right, I want to bring in our panel of reporters and analysts here. This, of course, January 6, a part of last debate. In particular, how Donald Trump answered questions from Jake Tapper and Dana Bash about this topic. Let's listen to what the former president said last night.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if you would see my statements that I made on Twitter at the time, and also my statement that I made in the Rose Garden, you would say it's one of the strongest statements you've ever seen.

In addition to the speech I made, in front of, I believe, the largest crowd I've ever spoken to, and I will tell you, nobody ever talks about that. They talk about a relatively small number of people that went to the Capitol. And in many cases were ushered in by the police. And as Nancy Pelosi said, it was her responsibility, not mine.


HUNT: So there's a lot there to dig into, Jeff Zeleny, in terms of how the former president has taken the facts of that day and kind of rewritten what happened to fit his narrative there. But, of course, now we're seeing the Supreme Court in some ways adjust how the country reacted, how the prosecutors reacted to some of these people as well.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt. And that did not sound like the same type of tone, I guess, that the former president talks about January 6 at his rallies and other things. He didn't mention pardoning and whatnot. But this case is significant and this is significant how it's viewed.

But we're only three and a half years on from that day, I guess. But we all still remember what it looked like and remember what it felt like. But, boy, it seems like a good portion of folks have forgotten the visceral part, mainly in the Republican Party who initially criticized Trump.

HUNT: Yeah, I mean, as said big picture, how -- I was on Capitol Hill for January 6, it very much colors how I think about that day and how these things play out. And I'm always very kind of upfront about that reality. And the rewriting of it definitely gives me pause, because I remember what was, quite frankly, a completely collective and unified reaction in the moment. But we have seen it move as, quite frankly, as former President Donald Trump has politicized it.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It absolutely has. And I think to Jeff's point, we've seen a portion of the Republican base rally around Trump, particularly out of the belief that he's been kind of targeted by the Justice Department on this issue. But it remains his big political liability. This is the moment in last night's debate. I think he sounds most like the 2020 version of himself, the person who lost the White House.

And I think it's the thing that you hear on the road people really hold against Donald Trump. You hear about the kind of blocking of the peaceful transfer of power. And I think his attempts to obfuscate that does not wipe away the American memory on that issue.

If Joe Biden is able to reframe Donald Trump as the January 6 version of him, that's where they want to be in this political race, because that's the version of Donald Trump Americans dislike the most.

HUNT: Scott Jennings we're going to have plenty of time to talk about the many failings of President Biden, which have already been well documented on this network in the debate last night. I think my question to you is, were you relieved that Donald Trump only went this far on January 6 on the stage last night? Because it is actually a far cry from the Donald Trump who salutes the quote, unquote, "January 6 hostages" at his rallies.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And not only did he do that, he also, in another moment, pivoted out of it rather quickly back to the things that he thought were good about his administration on the economy and other issues. So obviously, they had done some prep work on that.

I mean, look, this issue, it's hard to redefine it, in my opinion, because we all saw what we saw. You experienced it in-person. The rest of us watched it on television. And I think every single person has a memory of it. And that memory may be clouded somewhat by their partisanship, but we all saw what we saw.

Now, a lot of Republicans do think that there were people who wound up at the Capitol, who did not commit any violent acts and who didn't do necessarily anything wrong that got caught up in this legal maelstrom. And so you do hear a lot of Republicans say, can't you separate the people who committed violence from the people who didn't? That is a conversation that goes on in the party.

But at the end of the day, how could you ever unsee what you saw? And I think for both candidates, that's just a fact.

HUNT: Well, I think underscoring your point is the fact that Ketanji Brown Jackson joined in on this opinion as well. An interesting split decision.

All right, coming up, defiance and denial in the wake of CNN's historic presidential debate.



HUNT: All right, welcome back. This is yet another uncharted moment in American politics. With just 130 days until election day, people close to the president are asking this question, can Joe Biden remain in this race? The Democratic panic began just minutes into last night's debate, thanks to moments like this one. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Making sure that we're able to make every single, solitary person eligible for what I've been able to do with the COVID -- excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to do with.

Look, if -- we finally beat Medicare.


HUNT: The American people also saw this stare from their commander-in- chief, that image, and 90 minutes' worth of the video that came with it has -- shown it has the potential to completely upend this presidential race.


But this morning, the Biden team is rejecting any calls for the president to drop out. There's no basis for that, one Biden advisor told CNN. When pressed about the criticism from inside his own party, the adviser said, quote, "I don't worry about stuff like that."

This hour we're going to hear President Biden speak live in Raleigh, North Carolina. And that's where we find Kayla Tausche right now on the campaign trail. Kayla, what are you hearing from your sources of the White House?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, the Biden campaign just believes they need a little bit of time for the dust to settle and to move forward. They plan for the president to stay in the race and to debate again in September.

But I've been talking to a bunch of rank and file at the White House, and the mood inside the building is not good. They described the tone of the group chats among staffers as abysmal, ugly. They say everyone is deflated. And a lot of people chose to work from home today saying, we're just commiserating and we didn't want to do that at a desk.

But we've also been able to speak to some voters here in North Carolina, a state with a growing Black and Hispanic population, with an abundance of college educated suburban voters that the Biden campaign believes it can flip.

And the voters here today were not moved by last night's debate. They said they're still steadfastly focused on beating Trump. One that we talked to is even wearing a shirt that said free on Wednesdays. Of course, these events tend to be stocked with party loyalists, local donors, and state party officials, so that's perhaps not surprising.

But it does echo the broader sentiment, at least publicly, that we've been hearing across the Democratic Party. Here's a sampling of that.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The contrast is clear. Look at what happened during the course of the debate. Donald Trump lied over and over and over again.

MITCH LANDRIEU, NATIONAL BIDEN CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR: The president might have lost a debate on style, but he won it on facts. He won it on decency and he won it on the ideas that people think are important in the country.

GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D) PENNSYLVANIA: Joe Biden had a bad debate night, but Donald Trump was a bad president.


TAUSCHE: We'll get our first glimpse of President Biden since arriving here in the Tar Heel State just about 10 hours ago to hundreds of people on the tarmac flashing them thumbs up. We'll see whether his message is different, whether it acknowledges what happened last night on stage, or whether he chooses just to move on. Kasie.

HUNT: All right, Kayla Tausche for us. Kayla, thanks very much for that. So mere minutes into the debate, I started to hear from multiple Democrats who have been supportive of the president's reelection campaign a sampling. One said Biden looks and sounds terrible. He's incoherent. Another said simply, we are effed. And then there was, quote, "It's hard to argue that Biden should be our nominee." Another person said, if I was Gavin Newsom or Gretchen Whitmer, I'd be making calls.

Our panel is here. Jeff Zeleny, let me start with you, because you have new reporting on the calls the White House is making to try to tamp down that kind of chatter.

ZELENY: Look, from the West Wing to the campaign headquarters in Wilmington, I'm told that advisers are calling members of Congress, they're calling donors, they're calling other top supporters and trying to, A, listen to their concerns, but also trying to allay their concerns, trying to point back to what their candidate did not do last night and draw that contrast.

Standing in the spin room last night, seeing a sea of Republicans out sort of, you know, thumping their chest about Trump's performance. And very few Democrats, finally, Gavin Newsom and Senator Ralph Warnock came in and said, you know, we stand with President Biden. But so many Democrats are wondering now, talking to about a half dozen or so, it's sort of a defensive frustration. They are defending Biden, but frustrated at his performance.

Look, the early debate backfired on them. They wanted this to solidify his strength. In fact, it solidified his weakness. And one told me -- one senior adviser told me, we are in a dark place, but we're moving forward.

So, David Axelrod, you warned about this in November of 2023, much to the consternation of people around Biden. You called on him not to run for reelection. You said only Joe Biden can make this decision. If he continues to run, he'll be the nominee. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise, whether it's in his best interest or the country's. Did last night's debate show you were right then? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't want to get into that, but there is no doubt that he did -- this was a line of demarcation that they drew for him to allay the concerns that people have about his acuity, about his stamina and they've just multiplied now. And this is the fundamental, Kasie.

Look, on the issues that -- Mitch Landrieu is not wrong on the policy points and the issue points last night. I think he, you know, if you just scored on that basis, he would have done better than President Trump.

Unlikability and decency, he would have done better than President Trump, but that's not the fundamental issue that's holding Joe Biden back. It is whether he has the fitness to serve, the physical and mental acuity to serve in. And so they have a bigger problem today, without a doubt.


HUNT: Do you think, David, that it is actually possible for them to find someone to replace Donald Trump at the top of the ticket at this point?

AXELROD: Not Donald Trump.

HUNT: Excuse me, Joe Biden.

AXELROD: Yes. Listen, I think there will be no dearth of applicants if that opportunity arises. I think the problem isn't finding someone. The problem is winnowing it down to someone and dealing with competing pressures in a diverse party. It is not easy.

And I should say and stress, president is the guy who holds the cards here. If he wants to be the nominee and continue to be the nominee, he will be the nominee. The question that he has to ask himself is, is that in the best interest of the country? His whole candidacy has been pitched to defending democracy and defending the soul of America. If he becomes convinced, or if others around him become convinced that his chances of doing that are more remote than a switch would be, perhaps hell decide that the patriotic thing to do is to step aside.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. And listen, some of this is going to be the folks who are closest to him, right? His wife being somebody. You know, it seems like the only people that can convince Biden to step aside would have the last name Biden.

You know, it's probably unlikely. I think Joe Biden has a lot of faith in himself. He has a big ego. He's a stubborn man. He also has a deep faith in Americans. He genuinely believes that when given this choice in November, between him, who is obviously an older man and displayed some of that last night, and Donald Trump, who he sees as corrupt, as an authoritarian, as someone who is a liar, he believes that the majority of Americans in the important swing states will choose Joe Biden.

We'll see. And people around him, for months have sort of believed the same thing and dismissed the polls.

HUNT: And I just want to kind of remind everyone, and you can jump in, Astead. We've actually heard this from President Biden himself. He has acknowledged that he wouldn't even be running at all if not for Donald Trump. And there is something really to turn over in your mind about the reality possibly being that Biden staying in may ultimately end up in a Donald Trump presidency. When you consider that this is how Joe Biden says he felt about it, watch what he had to tell -- he told reporters after he made some off the cuff remarks at a fundraiser.


REPORTER: Would you be running for President if Trump wasn't running.

BIDEN: I expect so. But look, he is running and I just -- I have to run.

REPORTER: Would you drop out if Trump drops out?

BIDEN: No, not now.


HUNT: Remarkable moment. Astead?

HERNDON: Definitely. But there's times in which they've set the opposite of this, too. There's been moments when he said he was always thinking about running for a second term.

I think it's important to bring up the American people and where they are in this equation, because I frankly don't think they're in the room. I mean, Americans have said consistently that they wanted someone else to be the nominee.

I mean, if you look at every piece of evidence we've had for the last two years, the majority of Democrats have said they wanted a different nominee, have said they wanted an open primary. Have said that their vote for Biden in 2020 was a sense of an emergency lever and not a sense of eight years.

The people who have made the decision to turn that four years into eight years is President Biden and those rounds in the party who have really cleared the way for that. And so I understand that the political system creates an incentive to kind of put the incumbent in the position to do whatever they want to do next. But the American people, based on every piece of evidence we have, have consistently said that that's not where they were. And frankly, they were just not in the equation.

And so I think that it's not really fair for us as of now to say, oh, he had a bad debate, what is there to do about it? I think the real question is, why weren't they having that conversation a year ago? Why weren't they having that conversation over the long portion of evidence where this has been clear?

AXELROD: Because one of the issues here is, there is a real utility to primary campaigns. That is how candidates get vetted and tested and we find out if they're up to. Just ask Governor DeSantis, who's sitting back in Tallahassee right now.

HUNT: They're in crucible (ph).

AXELROD: Yeah. And so the absence of that makes this complicated. You know, there's a risk assessment element to this, throwing someone who's untested into the maelstrom of national politics, into a race with Donald Trump.

HUNT: Yeah. Well, let's play out that hypothetical, Scott Jennings, because I have to say I did hear from some Republicans last night who said, well, the only mistake the Trump campaign made was doing this debate while Democrats still had time to replace Biden.

JENNINGS: Yeah, I don't think they're going to replace him. I was thinking -- I didn't sleep much last night, because I'm so worried about the president and I'm worried about what we've been told about the president by the White House, the White House press secretary, his campaign. We've been told a lot of lies by a lot of Democrats and a lot of people on the government payroll about his fitness for office.


But I think I was staying up overnight thinking about the movie Titanic and specifically the string quartet that was playing on the deck. They're going to ride it out and they're going to play the music, the people around them, and this ship is going to sink and they're going to have no one to blame for Donald Trump coming back but themselves. It is squarely on their shoulders.

AXELROD: Then they will be playing jaws.

HUNT: I was just going to say a quick response to that. Because it does seem -- and if you're Joe Biden and this is so existentially important to him --

AXELROD: I think this is something he needs to consider and those around him need to consider, what does he want his legacy to be? He has a record he's proud of. I think justifiably so. He did save the country back in 2020 from Trump. And we saw what happened in the aftermath that underscored how important that was.

But the question is, if he then becomes a vehicle by which a very unpopular Donald Trump, who, by the way, did not do particularly well last night, becomes president again, what does that do to his legacy?

HERNDON: They framed it as he's the only person to beat him, when he might be the only person who can lose to him. And that's the big change from four years ago till now.

HUNT: All right. Pretty incredibly high stakes, I should say.

All right, up next here, Joe Biden may have lost the debate, but as we were just discussing, does that mean Donald Trump won it? We're going to break down some of the conspiracies that he spread and lies that he told last night and how he would not commit to accepting the election results.