Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Supreme Court: Presidents Have Immunity For "Official Acts"; Trump: "Big Win For Our Constitution And Democracy"; Ruling Likely To Hamstring Jack Smith's Election Subversion Case; Steve Bannon Reports To Federal Prison To Serve 4-Month Sentence. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 01, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. And we start with a monumental Supreme Court decision on the power of the presidency. The highest court in the land just ruled that Donald Trump is entitled to some level of immunity from prosecution for the actions he took in the final days of his presidency. It could put big parts of the election subversion case against him in jeopardy and sets a critical new precedent for future commanders in chief.

The split 6-to-3 opinion was authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, who writes in part. We conclude under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of presidential power requires that a former president have some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts during his tenure in office. At least with respect to the president's exercise of his core constitutional powers, this immunity must be absolute.

He also said that there are some parts of what the president does that is less certain, which we're going to get to in just a minute.

Now, Justice Sotomayor wrote on behalf of the courts, liberal justices, quote, with fear for our democracy, I dissent. The justices sent the case back to a lower court for a decision about what counts as an official act and what doesn't.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Paula Reid are both outside at the Supreme Court. Kaitlan, I'm going to start with you. Excuse me, Paula, let me start with you, actually -- because, Kaitlan, you're amazing, but she's got a legal degree. So, I'm going to start with her, and I certainly don't.

Tell me what you think based on the way that this decision was written the majority by the chief justice about whether or not the district court really is going to be able to decide. We know about the timing, but maybe even ever about these critical questions about the former president's conduct leading up to end on January 6.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, they're going to have to try because the Supreme Court is sending this right back down to the district court. They've given Judge Tanya Chutkan a test that she now has to apply to -- apply to this indictment. They are saying that former presidents have absolute immunity for official acts related to their core constitutional power.

And in speaking with sources familiar with the Trump legal teams thinking, they believe this is a major victory because they believe not only will any charges related to official acts be tossed out. They also think that this will cover key evidence that Jack Smith would need to prove what's left his case.

So, this will require additional proceedings, additional briefings, likely some hearings, possibly more appeals. The biggest thing from this decision today, Dana, is not only a test, only not just for former President Trump but for future presidents before the country related to immunity. But it also signals to us that it is unlikely and probably impossible for whatever is left at this trial to go before November.

BASH: Yeah. Which we knew was the likely scenario, but this steals the deal. No question about it. Paula, hang on. Because Kaitlan, I do want to talk to you about what you're hearing from Trump world. You, I know have been talking to not only the former president's attorneys, but his campaign.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: Yeah. I mean, it's not the full immunity that Donald Trump has been claiming for months that he believes that he has, but it certainly is hard to see how they could get any more of a win out of what we are reading in the Supreme Court decision today.

It's exactly what his attorneys, his legal team and his campaign had been predicting that it was kind of split the baby and say, no, there is not this blanket immunity for everything a president does. But it does say there is immunity for what he does.

That's an official act and not for what is considered an unofficial act, but they're in is where the complication lies. And that is an important complication for Jack Smith's case here in Washington. But also, as Paula noted, all of the cases that Donald Trump is still facing from Georgia to Florida, to the one here in Washington.

So, Trump himself is posting in all caps saying, it's a big win for our constitution, for our democracy. He says he is proud to be American with exclamation point. But here's where it's going to be the key question, which is what this means for the case here in Washington. And how quickly it can proceed and what Judge Chutkan is going to do.

Because a little -- a little part of this that is incredibly important in this opinion is where Chief Justice John Roberts is saying that what they did -- what a president did that is an official act that cannot be used as evidence to bolster accusations related to unofficial acts.


That includes interactions with the Justice Department, here that would mean Donald Trump's conversations to try to put Jeff Clark a loyalist as the acting attorney general in the final days of his administration to do his bidding to overturn the election. It says there's a presumption of immunity when it comes to his dealings with Vice President Pence.

And that the judge here has to decide whether or not his behavior has influenced campaign on Pence can be considered part of this. That is a key decision here. And that is why this is being viewed as such a big victory within the Trump team. Because one, it's not a black and white answer. It's complicated. And two, it's going to delay this case even further and they hope pass the election.

BASH: I mean, really fascinating. What a day. Kaitlan and Paula, we couldn't have done it without your expertise and your amazing reporting. Thank you so much. And I've got some other great attorneys and analysts here with me at the table. CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, Elliot Williams and Elie Honig, along with former FBI Director and CNN analyst Andrew McCabe, and former attorney Bill Brennan is with us. And we will get to you in one second, Bill.

I just want to start off with the big picture here. I read one quote, and I'm going to read one more from the chief justice kind of summarizing this lengthy -- his opinion. And of course, there are concrete reasons and the dissents we'll get to in a second.

Under our constitutional structure of separated powers, the nature of presidential power entitles a former president to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his conclusive and preclusive constitutional authority. And he is entitled to at least presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts. There is no immunity for an official act. So that sums it up.

Now, Elliot, I want to start with you. I don't -- excuse me, Elie, I want to start with you. I don't want to get into the specifics quite yet about the January 6 case because I want to do that in a minute. But because this is precedent setting and this is about the country going forward, and how presidents can and cannot be immune. Talk about it with in that big picture context.

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY & CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, we love this expression. No person is above the law. And I think today confirms that we have to modify that a bit with a little footnote, except in many circumstances, the president, it's just a reality. We can no longer pretend that the president is just any other person and shouldn't be treated differently. It's not quite at the level of the president is a king. I think that's a bit hyperbolic.

But what the Supreme Court has done today is vastly expanded the powers of the presidency and made it extraordinarily difficult, arguably, as a practical matter impossible to even prosecute a president for anything he does, while he's in office. So, this opinion in large respects was as expected.

We talked about in advance. All of us, I think, have said on air. It's not going to be an all the way win, all the way loss. It's probably going to create some tests about within or outside the scope of the official job, official acts. But the Supreme Court went even further here to promote and expand the powers of the presidency.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I would agree. And I think what they also did was leave open a series of really profound questions that are going to be quite difficult for courts at all levels to sort out. Number one, what did they decide, ultimately, is an official versus an unofficial act. And that will require detailed fact finding from courts to figure that out. Number two, who decides?

So, you know, we'll talk about the Georgia case in a moment. It's a state case that relied on some official acts of the president. Do you have to now file a separate federal lawsuit to sort that out? Does the state judge in Georgia for that? So that's big.

And then as we talked about, in this, quote, this idea of evidence of official acts cannot be used to establish an official act bill that eviscerates virtually any chance of ever holding a president accountable because every day a president does something official. A conversation with his attorney general is an official act in some way. So how do you figure that out? It's just sort of a mask that they left this way.

BASH: I'm glad you brought that up because I was reading that. And I thought, you know, I'm not a lawyer, but I think you have to use evidence in order to prosecute pretty much anything. All right. Let's talk about the specific case that the indictment I should say, that brought this all the way to the Supreme Court.

Of course, this is about January 6, and everything around it. And we just kind of broke down going through the majority opinion. What they said is and is not considered immune. Let's just look at this. Conversations with DOJ, immune -- total immunity. Anything that the president talks about with the attorney general, anybody else, immunity cannot be prosecuted, no matter what. Alleged pressure on Vice President Pence, so presumptive immunity remanded for review, meaning, it's going to go down -- back down to the district court.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: To an evaluation of the substance of the conversations to see whether or not they fall within the scope of the deal.


BASH: OK. Thank you. OK. So, let's put that back up. Alleged pressure on state electors. We know about all of this that conversations that he was having with people in all these states -- these key states that he was trying to maybe squeeze some more votes out of or maybe change the results, again remanded for review.

MCCABE: That's right. And it seemed the court really keyed on this factor that those allegations took place between the president and others who are outside of the -- outside of the scope of his staff. Essentially, those are outsiders. And so therefore, it's a ball in the air to be determined by the -- by the district court. BASH: OK. Last his own conduct, allegedly inciting violence. Those are my words, not the words of the -- of the majority. But that's effectively what he was charged with doing, his actions that led to what happened at the Capitol, January 6, again remanded for review.

MCCABE: Again, a very fact-based review is what you would need to determine each one of those alleged acts or elements of conduct against his responsibilities. However, proving that it's become enormously tougher for the prosecutors now, because they cannot rely on any evidence that falls within the scope of his official duties.

So, all of that very key evidence conversations with members of his staff, with members of his other executive branch agencies that's out because it's covered by immunity. So, the prosecutors have potentially some very high hurdles to get over him.

BASH: OK. So, Bill Brennan, thank you for your patience. I wanted to kind of set the table for our viewers because this is a lot. And we thought we would kind of try to pare down what did and did not happen in this majority opinion. So, if you were Jack Smith right now, is there any way that you can change the indictment against former President Trump to fit within the parameters of the decision?

WILLIAM BRENNAN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: That he's in a tough position because you could really make an argument on all the open cases and even the closed case with judgment, John, with regard to this case. But let's take the Jack Smith case. You have to read the immunity decision in context with the Fisher decision that came down last week.

There is four counts in that case. Toba (Ph) of obstruction that Fisher dealt with. And two, hear a fraud on the U.S. and fraud on the voters. The Fisher decision basically said, unless there's a documentary connection, you know, simply being merely president or making verbs and making statements. That's not enough.

So, I think it was weakened on Friday with regard to those two accounts. With regard to today, this blanket of immunity has spread further over the presidency. These acts now have to be determined on a factual basis, whether the court does that as a matter of law or, you know, you can make an argument that a jury would have to do it if it's factual.

But he's either going to have to pare down the case, or I guess he could try to -- I don't know where the statute is dismissed and recondite. That case is in serious trouble. You could then take this argument and apply to the Georgia case, that if when the president called the secretary of state, he was immune, were the effects there.

You could really make -- if you really want to stretch it, you could make an argument that part of the case tried in New York dealt with the dealing would say Hope Hicks and others in the administration, where they official acts.

I mean, this -- the more I read this case, it's a thick, wide-ranging opinion. When I first glanced at it, it seemed like a win in favor of the former president. The more I digested it, it's -- this thing is really far reaching. And it's a landmark decision to seal the line from judge -- the Justice Gorsuch. It really is one for the ages.

BASH: Yeah. Landmark decision. You don't hear that very much. It's saved for a really key cases. And there's no question that this opinion falls right in that. Stay with us because I want to turn to the dissent, Carrie. And there was -- the dissent was written by Justice Sotomayor. We also had from Elena Kagan -- no, no, from Ketanji Brown Jackson.

But I want to start with Justice Sotomayor. And I believe I'm going to pull up just for the control room. The first Justice Sotomayor, never in the history. So, this is what she said. Never in the history of our republic has a president had reason to believe that he would be immune from criminal prosecution if he used the trappings of his office to violate the criminal law.


Moving forward, however, all former presidents will be cloaked in such immunity. If the occupant of that office miss you uses official power for personal gain, the criminal law that the rest of us must abide will not provide a backstop. With fear of for our democracy, I dissent.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a very strong statement by Justice Sotomayor. And it's understandable from the context of how broad the majority seems to interpret immunity in this case. The majority doesn't just say that the former president is immune for official acts, which it makes very clear. It also really broadens it out.

And there's a part that I want to point to. In the opinion, where it says, the immunity we've recognized extends to the outer perimeter of the president's official responsibilities, covering action, so long as they are not manifestly or palpably beyond his authority.

And so, I think, although the court in this case really hands it back down to the lower court in this specific case involving former President Trump. It is tipping the scale for the lower court to really take a very expansive view of what official acts are. So, this is a court of confusion in some ways. It tosses so many things back to the lower courts.

BASH: And let me just give one specific example that she was talking about. Sotomayor, she talks about. What if the president orders the Navy SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival, immune Organizes a military coup to hold on to power, immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon, immune, immune, immune, immune.

HONIG: I'm not sure that's accurate. I mean, it's a bit hyperbolic. But I think what that does is nicely underscored that we're going to have some really difficult decisions to make. It's not clear whether there would be immunity. I mean, a district court judge could easily look at that scenario and say, no way.

I find that ordering and assassination of a rival through SEAL Team Six. That's out of the scope. So, I don't necessarily agree with that extent. But she's right, we now have some very difficult problems to wrestle with.

MCCABE: I think she's a lot closer to right than wrong.


MCCABE: I think that when you combine with -- you combine her concerns with the way they articulated this vision again, and again, and again, they come back to this idea that, oh, this immunity is absolutely necessary. Not only is it constitutionally required by separation powers, but if without it, a president would be chilled from taking bold and decisive action. They repeat that again and again.

So basically, what you have here is the Supreme Court imposing its judgment that that principle that we must have bold and decisive presidents is more important than the principle that Justice Sotomayor is advancing, which is it's just -- we should have presidents who obey the law.

BASH: Wow. It's really -- it's going to take a very long time for us to digest what this actually means. Don't go anywhere. We have former -- excuse me, we're going to talk about former Trump adviser Steve Bannon who apparently is now in prison. But before he reported in grand fashion, he hosted one last broadcast. What he had to say is next.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: We are outside of the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, and you're hosted tonight by federal prisoner numbers 05635509.





BASH: More breaking at this hour, former Trump strategist Steve Bannon just reported to a federal prison in Connecticut to begin a four-month sentence for defying January 6 committee subpoenas. CNN's Sara Murray is live from outside the prison. Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's Dana, Steve Bannon spoke to reporters for a while out here as one of his last acts before reporting to federal custody. He of course, as you would expect, called himself a political prisoner. He insisted that he has no regrets. And he talked about how his right-wing podcast would live on with a variety of guests hosts without him there.

Now what happens when Steve Bannon on those gates as he has this federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. Is first he goes to this processing systems and he shows up. He goes through a metal detector. He's a strip search, and then he goes through a mental health evaluation. And then you're assigned your housing unit. And this is where Bannon is going to be for the next four months. It's a low security prison. It's not the minimum-security prison, also known as Club Fed that he had hopes to go to because he has charges coming to trial. In another case in New York, that's (inaudible) later on this summer.

But again, Bannon now going through that processing, going into custody here in federal prison in Connecticut, and defiant essentially up until the last amendment. Although, and speaking to people (inaudible) in recent days, they said, he was of course hoping that Supreme Court would stare him at the last minute, something that did not happen, and did have some apprehension as you might expect about becoming an inmate at federal prison, Dana?

BASH: Yeah. I mean, underneath you, we have one of his quotes. I'm going to be more powerful in prison than I am now. What a turn of events. Sara, thank you so much for that. He, as Sara mentioned, is in prison because he defied a subpoena from the January 6 committee.

Well, we have a former member of that committee, Adam Kinzinger, who will be here with me to react to that, and more importantly to the major Supreme Court ruling -- landmark Supreme Court ruling. Plus, he did endorse Joe Biden for president just last week. We'll talk about that as well.




BASH: Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is slamming her colleagues' decision on presidential immunity. She writes, in part. The majority's ruling in this case breaks new and dangerous ground. Departing from the traditional model of individual accountability, the majority has concocted something entirely different, a presidential accountability model that creates immunity and exception from -- excuse me, an exemption from criminal law, applicable only to the most powerful official in our government.

Joining me now a former member of the House, January 6 committee, former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Thank you for being here. What's your reaction?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's really disappointing. It's not, you know, quite as bad as it could be. You know, there was comments about unofficial action. They didn't define it obviously. This is disappointing. I mean, look, it's a tough case when the Supreme Court took it up, they knew that which is, you know, if a president -- you know, in the -- in the -- behest of being president, you know, attack somebody overseas or whatever.

There's got to be some immunity for those decisions. But at the same time, if they knew this was going to be complicated, they knew it had to be remanded to the lower court.