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CNN TONIGHT: DOJ: Oath Keepers Leader Recorded Saying "Only Regret" After January 6 Is That Group "Should Have Brought Rifles"; Trump Says McConnell Has A "Death Wish"; Man Swims Through Storm Surge To Save Stranded Mother. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired October 03, 2022 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: The news continues. Time for Kasie Hunt and CNN TONIGHT.
KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: John, thank you so much.
I am Kasie Hunt. And this is CNN TONIGHT.
It's the biggest case, to be tried yet, in connection with the attack, on our Capitol, and it went before a jury today. Will the U.S. government be able to prove that the founder of the far-right militia group, the Oath Keepers is guilty of seditious conspiracy?
Opening statements were delivered, at the trial, for Stewart Rhodes, and four of his top lieutenants, in a federal courtroom, here in D.C., earlier today. They're accused of plotting, to overthrow our government by force, on January 6th, 2021, among other crimes. All five have pleaded not guilty.
Three other members of the Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty, to the sedition charge, as part of plea deals. Two more sedition trials are scheduled to take place, this year.
But this is the first time in over a decade that federal prosecutors have argued that Americans plotted to violently oppose the U.S. government. Their opening statement, featured videos, capturing the Oath Keepers' actions, at the Capitol that day, along with messages, and other communications, among the defendants.
Stewart Rhodes himself, never entered the building, on January 6th. But he was photographed on the Capitol grounds.
The DOJ allegedly has a recording of Rhodes, from four days, after the attack, where he says his only regret is that the Oath Keepers quote, "Should have brought rifles," end quote, on January 6th.
In the days, after the 2020 election, Rhodes did say publicly that he had people armed, on standby, to help keep Trump in power.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STEWART RHODES, OATH KEEPERS LEADER: We have men already stationed, outside D.C., as a nuclear option. And in case they attempt to remove the President illegally, we will step in and stop it.
We'll be inside D.C. We'll also be on the outside of D.C., armed, prepared to go in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: The Oath Keepers leader is expected to take the stand himself, at some point, during this trial. His lawyers told jurors earlier that the story the government is trying to tell is quote, "Completely wrong."
So, what does Rhodes' estranged wife think? Tasha Adams, married Stewart Rhodes, 25 years ago. And she joins me now.
What do you believe, his objective was, on January 6th, Tasha?
TASHA ADAMS, ESTRANGED WIFE OF OATH KEEPERS LEADER STEWART RHODES: I believe his objective was to overthrow the U.S. government, and to start as much violence, as he possibly could.
HUNT: And do you have - is there any doubt, in your mind, about that reality? I mean, can you take us inside, based on what you know, about how his mind works?
ADAMS: Every day, every minute, every second, every moment, he wasn't personally terrorizing us, as a family, he was preparing to terrorize the rest of the nation. For the last 10 years - he had always been difficult to live with.
But for the last 10 years, ever since he started Oath Keepers, really, has been nothing but a plan, to create mayhem, to create war, to kick it off, like he liked to say. He attempted that during Bundy Ranch. And it didn't take off the way he wanted. This was much more to his liking. And this fit what he was looking for all along, I believe.
HUNT: So, what's it like, to watch this man that you were married to, for so long, stand trial for this?
ADAMS: It's a moment I never thought would come, just to see him, face consequences.
A lot of people now can see how tricky he is, and how capable he is, of walking a fine legal line. And, I mean, it took a year, to get him arrested. And that's how he was in the house. Every moment was about manipulation. Every moment was about controlling the fear and feigning emergencies.
What an incredible, and also scary moment, to see this, to see him, I hope, finally facing consequences. I still have that shadow of doubt that maybe he was tricky enough. But I don't think so, after seeing what I'm seeing today.
HUNT: You mentioned the fine legal line. He is a graduate of Yale Law School. What role, did that knowledge of the law, play, in your view, in his decision, not to actually enter the Capitol Building, on January 6th?
ADAMS: Yes, he was never going to go into that Capitol. And yet, he remained at a pretty interesting pivot point, able to say, "I'm with you guys. I'm with you. Keep going! Let's go! Let's go!" and yet also able to deny that he went in.
So, he was there, to be on the winning team. He was there, to pick his sides, and to make sure he won, no matter what, and stayed out of prison, no matter what. That's very much how he does things.
HUNT: What do you think, we will see, from him, if he does, in fact, take the stand, in his own defense?
ADAMS: Yes. And I'm 100 percent positive, he will. He will fire his lawyers, if he can, if they try to stop him. He will take that stand.
He has made a lifetime study out of manipulating crowds, tactics of them, even just group hypnosis, as crazy as it sounds, but he studied those things. And he studied body language. And he grew up in a family of ministers, and motivational salespeople. And this is his forte. And he really truly, truly believes that he can control people, with his voice, when he gets in front of them.
I think he has not a clear picture of the audience he's speaking to. He has always been able to control the audience, he speaks to, choosing people, who tend to be gullible. The D.C. jury, the jury pool, is not gullible. They are not gullible.
HUNT: I guess we're about to find out.
Tasha Adams, thanks very much, for your time, tonight. I really appreciate it.
ADAMS: Thank you. Thank you.
HUNT: Cases like this are very rare. And a big part of that lies in the fact that we've never seen something like January 6th. For the most recent guilty verdict, in a seditious conspiracy case, you have to go all the way back to 1995, when Islamic militants plotted to bomb New York City landmarks.
The last time the DOJ tried a seditious conspiracy case, it was against a Christian militia group, in Michigan. In that case, the government failed to prove that the members went beyond just talking about a rebellion.
My next guest was the defense attorney, in that case, meaning, he's one of the few lawyers, in this country, to defend a case like this.
William Swor, thanks so much, for being here.
WILLIAM SWOR, ATTORNEY FOR MICHIGAN MILITIA MEMBER ACQUITTED OF SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
HUNT: So, one of the defenses that we saw, in court, today, was similar to your case, with Stewart Rhodes' attorney saying that the Oath Keepers' rhetoric was, quote, "Free speech and bravado."
So, where is the line between speech, and sedition?
SWOR: Well, that's always been a question, and it's always been a problem with the Sedition Act is that it's very vague, and it's not well-defined. It's clear that merely talking is not good enough, that steps have to be taken, to actively oppose the government.
Here, the prosecution has made a claim that they will be able to establish facts that show that these individuals were, in fact, trying to oppose the government.
HUNT: So, I want to just clarify for our audience, we're going to walk through one by one, the various arguments--
HUNT: --that the Rhodes team, is likely to make, to try and argue that their client is not guilty of this. So, one of those critical pieces is the Insurrection Act. Does their belief that they expected that Trump would declare an insurrection, offer any defense?
SWOR: Well, the Insurrection Act authorizes the President, to bring into activity, military, National Guard, and militias. Their belief that they are a militia may or may not play well with the jury.
Militias are fairly well-constructed, and fairly-established institutions. The idea that Donald Trump could reach into his pocket, wave a magic wand, and suddenly declare a group of people, a militia, does not seem to be established, anywhere, in American tradition.
HUNT: OK, fair. So, let's move on to another part of their expected argument.
They say that they had "No part in the bulk," that's a quote, "No part in the bulk of the violence." Does it matter that Stewart Rhodes' lawyer says the evidence will show that the Oath Keepers had no part, in the bulk of the violence? Does that hold up?
SWOR: Well, I'm not sure if that was Stewart Rhodes' attorney, or one of the other attorneys that said it. But, in a conspiracy case, it doesn't matter. If the activities are foreseeable, part of the agreement, then you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound.
HUNT: OK. So, another defense attorney pointed to the so-called Quick Reaction Force. That's what they had. We heard Stewart Rhodes, talk about that, a moment ago, in the show. To show that they'd only stockpiled weapons, in case of an emergency.
Does it help their case that they were prepared for January 6th, to be worse? I struggle to wrap my head around that.
SWOR: Well, the prosecution's position is that this is all of a piece that was part of a part of a plan, whether rigid or vague, to oppose the government.
By taking the initiative, and saying that it was merely a defensive posture, the defense may have overstepped, and created an expectation in the jury, that the defense would prove that this was a defensive position.
The prosecution has made much of this as a long-planned proceeding.
SWOR: And the prosecution is going to be able to try to build their case, brick by brick. But that building, it could be problematic for them. If they miss with any bricks, then the jury could say, "Well, they were positioned, but they didn't do anything. And therefore, it's a defense."
HUNT: So very, I mean, very quickly, yes or no. Do you think that the government is likely to win this case?
SWOR: I don't - I don't say yes or no. If they can prove their case? The prosecution has made a lot of claims. And if they can establish their claims? Then, they've overcome the case. If they swing and miss, on any or a significant number of their claims? The defense has got a defense.
HUNT: All right, William Swor, thank you very much, for bringing us your expertise, tonight. We really appreciate it.
SWOR: Thank you.
HUNT: And new audio has surfaced, of Donald Trump, talking about what he was doing, as rioters, were storming, the Capitol. He claims, he learned about the attack. How he claims he learned about the attack, and most importantly, when? That's next.
HUNT: January 6th was one of the most significant days, in American history. But then-President Trump says that despite ordering his supporters, to the Capitol, he initially wasn't even aware that the insurrection was unfolding.
Here's what he told The New York Times' Maggie Haberman, Author of the new book, "Confidence Man."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AUTHOR, "CONFIDENCE MAN": But, what were you doing when... How did you find out that there were people storming the Capitol? DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had heard that afterwards. And actually on the late side, I was - I was having meetings. I was also with Mark Meadows and others. I was not watching television. I didn't have the television on.
HABERMAN: You weren't? OK.
TRUMP: I didn't usually have that, the television on. I'd have it on if there was something - I then later turned it on and I saw what was happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So, that claim is in direct conflict, with what witnesses told the January 6th committee, under oath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you recall?
GEN. KEITH KELLOGG, FORMER VP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think they were - everybody was watching the TV.
MOLLY MICHAEL, FORMER EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: It's my understanding he was watching television.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you were in the dining room in these discussions, was the violence at the Capitol visible on the screen? On the television?
PAT CIPOLLONE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So, there you have it.
Joining me now, CNN Political Analyst, Margaret Talev; former adviser to then-Vice President Pence, Olivia Troye; and CNN Political Commentator, Scott Jennings.
So Scott, let me start with you. Clearly, the former President was lying to Maggie, it seems to me.
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR CAMPAIGN COMMS ADVISER TO SEN. MCCONNELL: Yes, I mean.
HUNT: What's your take?
JENNINGS: Of course. I mean, what's noteworthy, is he wouldn't talk to the January 6th committee, because he would have to do it under oath.
JENNINGS: I guess, you can lie to a journalist, when they put by an interview for their book. I mean, this was the worst day, of his presidency. What happened on that day, and his violation of his oath of office, will be the lead sentence, in his obituary. He knows it. And he's trying to slough it off, and make excuses for it. I mean, that is the bottom line about this.
HUNT: I mean, Olivia, you were working for the Vice President, at the time, of this, or you had been, in his circle.
Let me play this for you that Congresswoman Elaine Luria explained the President's afternoon, on January 6th, during this committee hearing, this past summer, and it was a very stark description accompanied by visual aids. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELAINE LURIA (D-VA): The dining room is connected to the Oval Office by a short hallway. Witnesses told us that on January 6th, President Trump sat in his usual spot, at the head of the table, facing a television, hanging on the wall.
We know from the employee that the TV was tuned to Fox News, all afternoon. Here you can see, Fox News, on the TV, showing coverage of the Joint Session that was airing that day, at 1:25. Other witnesses confirmed that President Trump was in the dining room, with the TV on, for more than two and a half hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So again, these people testified to the committee, under oath. Does this seem accurate - who do you believe? The January 6th committee and their witnesses? Or the former President?
OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY & COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER TO VP PENCE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP ADMIN CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE, DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: I believe the people that I worked with, in the Trump administration, who were witnesses to this.
Firsthand, the people, who were going in, trying to get him to call off the ugly mob. The people, who were trying to do everything in their power, to figure out how to get him to stop these people.
Because, as we saw, witnesses said during the committee hearings, that he knew that they were there for him. And so, he wasn't worried about Vice President Pence's life, at the time. He wasn't worried about the leadership of our country, at the time. He was basking in the glory, and taking it all in.
So, I think it's fascinating, to watch him, sit there, and lie to Maggie. But depending on the day, that's who Trump is, and that's what he does.
HUNT: So, Margaret? Sorry, I'm just a little - I was at the Capitol that day. So, when I listen to him, say this, and kind of think through, what we know, from other witnesses?
It's, I think, Maggie, when she was talking about this earlier today, called it startling, but not shocking. So, I guess, I should describe myself as startled, as opposed to shocked here.
But she's also said in these interviews that Trump is pretty calculating, more calculating than many people give him credit for?
MARGARET TALEV, MANAGING EDITOR, AXIOS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
HUNT: What's the calculation, in your view, behind his, what seems to me like an obvious lie, to her, about what he was doing that day?
TALEV: I mean, it's so easily refutable, and refuted so many times, by so many people, not just before the committee, all of our reporting, all of your reporting.
This is everybody around him that day, was trying to get his attention.
People were texting him, saying, "You have to stop this! Call it off!" Like, of course, he was watching it. Of course, he knew exactly what was going on. To go out of his way to try to put that distance, between himself, and real-time knowledge tells me that he understands his liability, potentially, for that day.
And because, we know, from our coverage of him, and we know, just from living, as Americans, here, over the span of those four years, that when Donald Trump wants to own something provocative, he just owns it.
TALEV: In fact, if he doesn't have total control, over a moment, but he wants to own it, he'll just claim credit for it.
HUNT: He'll take it.
TALEV: Lean onto it.
TALEV: And so, to go out of your way, to put a gap there that doesn't exist and to say, "Well, I didn't, you know, sometimes I watch TV, but I didn't know about that," and then he does a pivot, where he says, "And we didn't realize that the Capitol Police lost control that they couldn't control things," you're watching him, in real-time, there. You're listening to him, in real-time, say, "It wasn't me. It wasn't my fault." I think that's what he's doing, in that interview.
HUNT: Yes, I mean, that makes sense.
Scott, while I have you here, I mean, I got to ask you about something. And we're talking about Donald Trump. The President posted a message, on Truth Social, about someone you've worked very closely with, for much of your career, Mitch McConnell. He wrote of McConnell, quote, "He has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife." I'm not even going to say what he called the wife. You can see it there, on your screen. Suffice to say it was a racist label for Elaine Chao, who is, of course, of Chinese descent.
What is your reaction to that? What are the implications of a post like this? What's your take? I mean, why did he say this?
JENNINGS: Well, I think, why, is interesting question. I think he's insanely jealous of Mitch McConnell, because Mitch McConnell gets up, goes to work every day, in Washington. And he doesn't, because he lost.
Mitch McConnell has never gotten fewer votes than a Democrat. Donald Trump's never gotten more votes than a Democrat. And he has to live with that knowledge, that Mitch McConnell is a better politician.
And so, I also think he lives with - I think, he gets very upset that McConnell won't take the bait. He's been baiting McConnell, ever since McConnell wouldn't go along with the January 6th stuff, wouldn't go along with the election lie stuff.
And so, he's been ratcheting up this rhetoric. And McConnell simply won't take the bait, because he has his eyes on the ball, and the ball is to try to get Republican Senate majority.
So, ultimately, I just think it comes down to jealousy. But I do think the rhetoric is dangerous. It look like assassination instructions, topped off with a healthy heaping of racism to me.
And I think every Republican ought to see it for what it is. It's dangerous. It's unbecoming. It's bad for the party, bad for him, bad for the country. He ought to knock it off. And we really, really ought to think about getting a new nominee in 2024.
HUNT: Strong words, from Scott Jennings! And, of course, we do know that Mitch McConnell, in many cases, blames Donald Trump, for losing two Senate seats, for Republicans, in Georgia, and therefore control of the Senate.
Olivia Troye, thank you so much, for being here, to weigh in, with our panel, tonight.
Margaret and Scott are going to stick around for the rest of the show.
Up next, five days, after Hurricane Ian, the death toll keeps climbing, and rescue efforts are still ongoing.
An incredible story ahead. What a son did, to save his elderly mother, trapped, by raging flood waters, in her Florida home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHNNY LAUDER, HURRICANE IAN SURVIVOR, RESCUED HIS MOM FROM IAN'S FLOOD WATERS: We're looking at four feet of water. And I've been swimming forever. Oh my God!
It's a grandma boat (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: We have that incredibly strong swimmer, here, with us, tonight, a hurricane survivor, himself, also a hero. Coming up next.
HUNT: The death toll, in the wake of Hurricane Ian, has risen to at least 105 people, tonight, across Florida, and North Carolina. Five days, since the monster storm hit, more than 1,600 people have been rescued, across central and southwest Florida.
In a state that's reeling from so much devastation and loss, there still are, however, stories of hope and survival. Like this man, Johnny Lauder, of Naples, Florida, who swam nearly a half a mile, to save his 85-year-old mother, who uses a wheelchair. In a panicked call, she told him that, water was rushing into her home, and reaching her chest.
As Lauder made his way, to her home, he documented the trek, for his family. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAUDER: We're looking at four feet of water, and I've been swimming forever. Oh my God!
We're arriving to Grandma's, or I'm arriving to Grandma's. What time it is? 3:41? All right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: Wow! He got there just in time. Because, this is how he found his mother. Look at that. Her expression says it all. Wow!
But the story is far from over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAUDER: Status update for the family. It's now 6:30. It's the aftermath of Ian, with my mom. We got her up on the table, wrapped up, so she doesn't go into hypothermia. She only has one leg, so it's going to be very difficult, trying to get out of here. She basically lost everything. I live closer to the water. So, I know everything's gone as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: And Johnny Lauder joins me now.
Johnny, wow! Before we talk about how you got out, I mean, let's go back to that first video. We showed that half-mile swim. What was that journey, like? What was going through your mind, as you were trying to reach your mom?
LAUDER: You can't let stuff go through your mind. I just wanted to get there. I knew time was of the essence. She was running out of time. And you just got to stay focused, and dig, and dig, and dig, and push. I mean, if you let your thoughts get into your mind, it will slow you down. You hesitate, you won't make it. So, I just tried to push it off to the side.
HUNT: Yes, I mean, how lucky is your mother that you're a former police officer, and rescue diver, with the skills to do something like this!
I mean, when you got there? We have this photo of your mom, as you arrive. The water is up to her chest. I mean, what was that moment like finding her?
LAUDER: It was a sigh of relief.
As I was approaching the house, I couldn't get through the front door. The water was up to the windows. And I heard her screaming, inside. And she was actually on the phone, with my youngest son, who was giving status updates to her.
And it was a scare and a sigh of relief at the same time. A scare thinking she might be hurt, but a sigh of relief knowing that there was still air in her lungs. And when I got to the back window, and I got it open, I snapped a picture, so the family would know she's fine. And I've never seen her happier, to see me, in my life.
HUNT: I was just going to say, I mean she, my gosh a savior, arriving for her, in you.
And when the water did finally start to recede a little bit, you helped pull your mother out, apparently had a little bit of help, doing that.
HUNT: I mean, how did you manage to accomplish saving her?
LAUDER: Well, we only stayed behind, because my mother's a little stubborn. She's very special. I'd just put it that way. But she refused to go to a shelter.
And my oldest son lives maybe four blocks from her suite. And me and my two sons decided to stay here, because we knew when things go bad, I can be close enough, to get to her, in time. My youngest son knew that when the water was halfway down, to start making his way to Grandma's, when it was subsiding. And he made it there.
We were able to pull her out of the wreckage. But we still had a long journey ahead. The water might have been to our thighs. But to her, it was at her chest. So, we had to push her, back up that trek, the direction I came from, and try to get her to dry land.
At the same time, I don't have footage of it, but there was - because my hands were occupied, I would say another woman that was there, and her - she was Haitian, and her English wasn't too good. But I understood enough that she couldn't walk too well, because of arthritis. And she had all her belongings in a trash bag.
So, my son pushed my mom. I put that woman over my arms, and grabbed her belongings, and we made our way to the hotel. The next video that I have is us leaving the hotel, because there was no rooms, and we had to push mom back through the water, take her to my son's house.
HUNT: Wow! So, how's your mom doing now?
LAUDER: My mom has a condition, on her skin, where sores appear, and she has blisters, and open wounds. And it started after a shingles shot, doctors really can't figure it out.
But we knew after the ordeal, when I got there, first thought was to get her out of the water. I cropped table on top of table. I grabbed flotation devices, I found along the way, and I got her up out of the water, because she was shaking, like very, very bad.
And I know from my training, and how the onset of hypothermia looks like, and I wasn't going to let that happen. So, I found the only thing dry, in our whole house, was a sheet set, on a very top shelf. And I grabbed the sheets. And the first thing she said is "Not my good sheets. Don't get those wet." And wrapped--
HUNT: A mom to the end!
LAUDER: Yes. Wrapped her up, and kept her warm. But I knew that she'd had been in the water for too long, and we needed to bathe her. So me, and my son made the trek, back to the house, to get her special bench that goes in the bathtub, so she can clean herself. And it was just kind of gut-wrenching, seeing the aftermath and knowing she lost everything.
And when we got her home, we bathed. But then, the next day, we didn't - we weren't aware there was a boil notice. So, we know there's still like bacteria, even coming through the regular water lines.
So, we called the EMS. They came and got my mom. They took her to Naples Community Hospital. And as we expected, and suspected, she did have some infections, bacterial infections. But they're treating her for it. She's warm, she safe, and that's all that matters.
HUNT: She is incredibly lucky, to have you. And our hearts go out to both your mother and to you as well. I know you have lost everything. And your family has set up a GoFundMe account, to help with recovery.
LAUDER: Yes. HUNT: You can see the site here, on your screen. So, if you'd like to help.
Johnny Lauder, thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. We really appreciate it.
LAUDER: Thank you for sharing my story.
HUNT: Of course.
Meanwhile, we saw Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, and President Biden, put aside political differences, once before, during a tragedy, in Florida. Can they take the high road again? That's next.
HUNT: On Wednesday, President Biden is expected to visit Florida, to see the devastation that Hurricane Ian brought, to the state, firsthand. And while a meeting with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, is still up in the air, one thing's for sure. Both leaders have cooperated on response efforts, in recent days, seeming to set aside, their political differences, for the people of Florida.
Margaret Talev, and Scott Jennings are back with me.
And Paul Begala joins us, as well.
And, Paul, let me actually start with you here.
Because, I mean, it has been very interesting, to watch, how DeSantis handles, this moment, as someone, who is seen as a likely challenger, to Donald Trump, and who has engaged in pugnacious tactics. His critics call him a troll. He really has, by and large, seemed to set that aside, in this moment.
How do you see his performance, as Governor of Florida, in this tragedy?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's good policy and good politics. Right? He's got to take care of his people. He's got over 100 lives last. And he's got to coordinate with the President. The President's got to coordinate with the governor. This is their job. You look at their paycheck. They're each signed by the American people, the people of Florida, not the Democrats, not the Republicans.
BEGALA: I think, if I were advising DeSantis, his problems are going to come, the problems will rise, when the water recedes. By which, I mean, questions already been raised about evacuation orders. Already, we're hearing reports that property tax insurance - not tax. Property insurance rates are going to skyrocket in Florida.
BEGALA: Questions about why is he fighting culture wars, and why is he flying Venezuelans, out of San Antonio, instead of evacuating people, out of Lee County? These will come. Yes.
HUNT: Well, in fairness, that was much pretty far before this.
BEGALA: Right. But he spent millions of dollars of taxpayer money to do that.
BEGALA: For some culture war thing. I just think that, in time, this will help him, and may even help him all the way through the re- election. He seems to be comfortably ahead. But in time, this is going to dog him. He's going to have to answer some really hard questions.
HUNT: What's your take?
TALEV: I mean, politically, I think, if you look at Hurricane Sandy, right?
HUNT: Yes. That's exactly what I was jumping to.
TALEV: Was where you wanted to go?
TALEV: I think Chris Christie's handling of that was both a lesson in how to do it, and a lesson in how not to do it, depending on where you are, in the political cycle, and who you're messaging to. And I don't think that Governor DeSantis is going to give Joe Biden, like a bro hug, on the tarmac.
HUNT: Yes. I was going to say let's like break that down, for people, who might not remember this.
HUNT: You're looking, right now, or you were a second ago, at Chris Christie, with his arm around Barack Obama.
HUNT: Let's take you back to when this was. It's the final days of the 2012 presidential campaign. Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee. Chris Christie, Governor of Florida (ph), thinking about his own presidential ambitions, worried about his own state, does this with the President. Huge backlash, among Republicans.
TALEV: Yes. And I was a young, a much younger reporter, on the tarmac, watching it like!
HUNT: Me too! JENNINGS: I was a much younger political operative, sitting in Ohio, working for Mitt Romney. But I'm, "Ah! Come on!"
TALEV: But Ron DeSantis, at the time, was a brand-new - brandly-new elected member of Congress, or about to be elected member of Congress.
TALEV: And in the months that followed, he said no, and voted no, to giving that federal aid package.
TALEV: He voted no, twice. Does that make him a hypocrite, for what's happening now? It makes him the governor, for what's happening now.
TALEV: And, of course, he's doing the right thing, in taking the federal money now. But it just goes to show that that messaging, about fiscal conservatism, or going into debt, or whatever, is only messaging that you get to do, when it's not your state, in the middle of a crisis.
HUNT: Well, in the Sandy thing, I mean, we should point out, too, that this was - disaster relief had not really been a partisan sort of wedge, until the Sandy moment, when it really turned into one. And that's continued.
JENNINGS: Well, the problem is when these things get tacked on, to other spending that people don't want to do. And so, what you'll hear some Republicans say is, "Yes, we'd love to vote for all the disaster relief. But don't stick on every other, Wish List thing you have."
TALEV: Yes. But DeSantis took the COVID billions--
TALEV: --and used some of it, for what we're talking about.
TALEV: Here, he's been paying out. Our friends at "Politico" did a great breakdown, of everything he's used federal funds for, including paying bonuses.
JENNINGS: Yes. I saw - I saw them today, describe it as the "President's Wallet," as though this isn't paid for by the American taxpayer.
JENNINGS: Let me--
TALEV: Sure. I mean, teacher bonuses, police bonuses. JENNINGS: Let me say something nice, about both DeSantis and Joe Biden. I think they're both doing a great job. Joe Biden looks like he's on top of it. His FEMA Director, I've been very impressed with on TV (ph). She looks like she's on top of it. DeSantis looks like he's on top of it.
They're talking. This, we can have our political battles. And we have a major problem. I think that's ultimately deep down what voters want to know, like, "Can these guys really pull it together, if we had a big problem?" In this case, they are. So, it will help them both, to continue that.
Now, in the aftermath of it, FEMA has to follow through. We've had this, in Kentucky, where I'm from--
JENNINGS: --where they've had to follow through on the disaster issues, we have. And sometimes, they're a little slow, and somebody has to call, and rattle the cage. And I'm sure DeSantis will end up having to do that.
But, right now, I think what Americans want to see is these guys talking, joined together, working together. And they are. So, good on both of them.
HUNT: Yes. And, I mean, do we see a hug, hopefully on?
BEGALA: No. You're not going to see a hug.
But it's sort of asymmetrical hatred, to tell you the truth. Seriously! If Donald Trump, were president, and there were problems in a Democratic state? Democratic governor would show up, shake his hand, meet with him, work with him, and pay no price, from Democratic primary voters, right?
It really is, it's the MAGA base. It's not the whole party. But the MAGA extremists just, I don't know why, but they're just consumed, with grievance, and anger, and hatred. So, DeSantis does have to sort of walk that.
But already, Val Demings, a candidate for Senate, the congresswoman from Florida?
HUNT: Yes, running against Marco Rubio.
BEGALA: Who's running for Senate, as a Democrat, has said DeSantis needs to call a special session, on property insurance. This is going to be a catastrophe--
BEGALA: --after the catastrophe.
TALEV: Yes, well.
BEGALA: It's going to be a financial catastrophe, for every Floridian. And Val Demings is getting out ahead of it. I haven't heard - the governor, DeSantis been busy, to his defense.
BEGALA: But he's going to have to get out ahead, of these insurance premiums, so.
HUNT: Yes, it is going to be - it's going to be a real ding in the argument.
HUNT: There's so many people moving to Florida. But, I mean, some of this property, it's going to become basically entirely unaffordable.
HUNT: All right. Margaret Talev, thank you very much, for being with us, tonight.
HUNT: Paul and Scott, stick with us, please.
Coming up, a new era begins, in the highest court in the land. But Americans' trust has plummeted to a new low. What the Chief Justice is saying, about questions, over the Supreme Court's legitimacy? When CNN TONIGHT returns.
HUNT: The Supreme Court justices, returned to the bench, today, to begin what's likely to be another historic term, on the docket. Major cases, on affirmative action, voting, free speech, and discrimination against gay couples.
The new term comes, as public opinion of the court continues to decline, following the reversal of Roe versus Wade. Just 40 percent of Americans approve of how the Supreme Court is handling its job. And trust in the court has fallen significantly, down 20 percentage points, in just two years.
Paul and Scott are back with me.
And also, joining us, CNN's Senior Supreme Court Analyst, Joan Biskupic.
Thank you all. And, Joan, thank you so much, for being here, with us.
I mean, I want to start with the New York Times Editorial Board, which kind of captured a lot of the criticism that Democrats, in particular, have been leveling, at the court, lately. They write, "Over the past several years, the court has been transformed into a judicial arm of the Republican Party," and that the "Court's legitimacy has been squandered in the service of partisan victories."
Do you think that criticism is valid? And what kind of concern is there, at the court, right now, around these questions of legitimacy?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: You take those poll numbers? You take that kind of the commentary? And that's consistent with a lot of what we're hearing. Numbers plunged over the weekend - over the summer. And other commentators have said similar things, for good reason.
The Supreme Court reached out, in its abortion rights decision, when it reversed Roe. It has been reaching out, in several other cases, too. But everything sort of crystallized with the Dobbs opinion that reversed Roe.
And we've seen the court then not just do, what it did last session, but already take up new cases that it didn't need to hear, on racial affirmative action, on college campuses, voting rights cases, all sorts of disputes that show a very, as one of the liberal dissenters said, at one point, a very restless majority, trying to accomplish things. So, I do think that there is reason for concern.
And I do think that justices are noticing. But they're noticing in different ways. Chief Justice Roberts is in essence, in denial, about this. He says, "Oh, people just don't like our bottom line rulings. They shouldn't be questioning legitimacy."
But it's not just the bottom line rulings, at this point, because people see the court rolling back precedents that are a half century old, and voting so consistently, along partisan lines. Donald Trump said he would appoint only people, who would reverse Roe. And those three new justices, voted to reverse Roe.
HUNT: So, I'm glad you brought up the Chief Justice John Roberts, because some of our reporting has indicated that he actually tried, behind-the-scenes, to potentially--
HUNT: --mediate the Dobbs decision, and put it somewhere closer to where public opinion polls show the American people are, in terms of restrictions on abortion.
Take a look at - we can show you exactly what Joan was just summarizing, what the Chief Justice had to say, about the court's legitimacy, at a recent conference. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: The Court has always decided controversial cases. The decisions have always been subject to intense criticism. And that is entirely appropriate. But lately, the criticism is phrased, in terms of, you know, because of these opinions, it calls into question, the legitimacy of the court. And, I think, it's a mistake, to view those criticisms, in that light.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUNT: So, Scott Jennings, I want to get your take on this, because Mitch McConnell, who you've worked for, for many, many years, has been a key architect, of the court, in its current form.
HUNT: And it has been something that, I mean, Democrats were very upset with how Merrick Garland's nomination was handled, for example, among other things. I mean, do you think the way that McConnell has conducted his efforts, around this, contribute to the questioning of legitimacy of the court?
JENNINGS: Well, I think, if he were here, he would say polling numbers shouldn't have anything to do with how the court does its job.
I mean, legitimacy? What do we want the court to be subject to the whims of a popular opinion mob? I mean, that's not what they're there for. They're there to interpret the Constitution, and to interpret the laws that the Congress passes.
And so, I think, right now, the people, who are questioning its legitimacy, are just mad, that they're not getting their way every time. An institution's legitimacy cannot be called into question, just because you don't get your way, a 100 percent of the time.
And I don't - to me, it's very clear. Yes, it's a conservative court, right now. But it hasn't always been, and it won't always be.
BEGALA: In a free country, legitimacy is derived from the people. We are the Sovereign. We don't have a king or queen.
This Supreme Court has a majority of justices, who were placed - nominated there, by presidents, who first came to office, without the support of the American people. They got into the Electoral College. That's fine. But they didn't have popular support. Then they were confirmed by Senators, from small states that represent a minority of the American people. This is--
HUNT: We need a split-screen of the two. There we go!
JENNINGS: I mean?
BEGALA: --this is - well this is why - this is a - by the way, it's that time for the kids. So, if you need a fairy tale, listen to Scott.
Because the Supreme Court's not on the level. 60 percent of Republicans think they're doing a great job. Only 36 percent of Independents. You set my Democrats aside. Of course, I don't like what they're doing. But when two-thirds of Independents don't think the court is doing its job? That is a crisis of legitimacy.
HUNT: Final word.
BISKUPIC: And can I say something? It's not going to change soon, Scott. When you said, "They'll be up, they'll be down?" The youngest members of this court minus newest Justice Jackson are all in their 50s. They're going to be here longer than we will be here.
HUNT: I was going to say, this court is--
JENNINGS: Right. Praise Mitch McConnell! And praise Jesus! Thank goodness! Because I just I mean it--
JENNINGS: I just think these guys are not supposed to be reading polls. They're supposed to be reading the Constitution!
BEGALA: They're supposed to read the Constitution!
BEGALA: Not just some right-wing, claptrap talking points, out of Fox News. That's what they're doing!
HUNT: All right, guys, we could apparently go all night, on this topic.
BEGALA: Good night (ph).
HUNT: But unfortunately, we are out of time.
Joan Biskupic, Paul Begala, and Scott Jennings, thank you guys very much, for that.
HUNT: We will be right back.
HUNT: Thanks so much for watching. I'll be back with you, tomorrow night.
But don't go anywhere. "DON LEMON TONIGHT" starts right now.