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CNN Covers the Federal Indictment of Former U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired June 09, 2023 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: And we are back tonight with much more on the federal indictment of Donald Trump. I'm Abby Phillip.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And I'm Kaitlan Collins. The Justice Department says it will take prosecutors in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case just about a month to present their case to a jury at trial.
PHILLIP: But there is no telling how long the defense might take to present its case, and we don't know also whether the former president might actually choose to testify in his own defense.
I want to start by bringing in CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid, who has been all over this story for many, many weeks. And Paula, the indictment is out now. I wonder, what to you, as someone who has been following this in every single move and every single detail, what stands out to you as the most damning information that we've gotten in this document?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's such a strong reminder of how little we know compared to investigators. One of the things that really struck me and I think will really resonate with the American people are the photographs that the indictment uses to tell the story of how some of the nation's most sensitive secrets were strewn about Mar-a-Lago.
Prosecutors in this indictment say that these secrets were in a bathroom, in a ballroom. There you see the photo of them being in a bathroom, boxes stacked up there in the ballroom.
I mean, these are cardboard, pretty flimsy carboard and boxes in a ballroom that is actively being used for events. There you see sensitive defense information, secrets that are only meant to be shared with a small handful of our closest allies, the five eyes, and they're strewn about the floor of a storage closet. It's one thing to say that in an indictment but it is another to support this with photographs. That was one of the things that really struck me in this indictment.
But the breadth and the depth of the evidence that they've gathered in this investigation, it's incredible. I mean, for example, there are two incidents where they say the former president shared classified documents in person.
One is a story that we broke last week, a meeting at his Bedminster golf club where he says that he has sensitive information and appears to be urging people to look at it. But then there's another that we were not aware of where he shared a classified map with someone at a political action committee.
So, again, what really struck me is how many new pieces of information, how many new details were in this indictment but, of course, it was also good to see a lot of confirmation of the excellent reporting from the CNN team.
PHILLIP: Yeah, a lot in this indictment, to your credit and to the credit of a lot of news organizations, was brought out in a lot of the reporting. Paula Reid, thank you.
And Donald Trump is also expected to be formally placed under arrest on Tuesday in Miami. Joining me now is senior crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz.
So, Shimon, the FBI says that they are working to identify any possible threats around Trump's court appearance on Tuesday but this is, of course, not the first time that this particular former president has been indicted and will be arraigned. How is law enforcement preparing?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: So, they're scouring social media. They're talking to other sources, people who may be supporters of the former president, just sort of trying to get an idea of will people come to Miami.
You know, the president telling folks to come out and support him, saying he's going to be here on Tuesday. Is that going to drive people who are his supporters to come out on Tuesday, perhaps upset over what's happening, and try to start some kind of trouble?
Of course, you know, what's on the minds of many in law enforcement is January 6th, and that's why the preparations are underway. You know, we know that security officials here in Miami from the local level to the federal level all met today to prepare for Tuesday.
So, it's really going to take a few days before they have any kind of idea or handle on whether people are going to come here to try and cause any kind of trouble.
You'll remember in New York City when he was over at the criminal courthouse in Manhattan, they didn't get so many supporters. But it's a different place. So, we'll see. Certainly, I think law enforcements are going to keep looking to make sure that nothing happens.
PHILLIP: All right. Shimon, thank you very much for that report. And Kaitlan, of course, when you're talking about former President Trump, there is always a concern that things can get out of hand. There is, unfortunately, a precedent for that.
COLLINS: Yeah, and he posted the exact time of when that appearance is expected to happen, Abby. Lots to talk about here with my panel, of course. John Miller, you worked in law enforcement for forever.
How is Tuesday going to look and how is it complicated by someone who -- are you laughing because I said forever?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes!
COLLINS: I mean, he is very experienced, and he's great with this.
MONDAIRE JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm too am laughing because --
COLLINS: And John knows I have great respect for that. You're experienced and john knows I have great respect for that. But what is - how is Tuesday complicated by a former president with the reach that Trump has saying, here's the time, here's the place of where I'll be?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So, it depends what the other signals he sends out. We've seen him call for supporters to show up at places. We've seen allies of his call for supporters. We've seen counterdemonstrations.
Now, we had an arraignment in New York City where they have 34,000 cops, they had about 700 assigned at one time, a couple thousand in reserve, and that's just an NYPD thing because of size and scope.
In Miami, depending on the size of crowds or what they get or don't get, that's a much smaller police department. They're going to need more help from other agencies.
But perhaps more on point, Josh Campbell, my former FBI colleague and current CNN colleague, reported today that the FBI, kind of mindful of the January 6th events were -- they had some intel but they weren't pushing it out to local law enforcement in any organized way that it was getting the distribution it should have.
They've tasked all 56 field offices and their intel people to say, check with your sources, who is talking about doing something, not just in Miami but anywhere else. You'll recall after the Mar-a-Lago search, there was a guy who opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon on an FBI office. So, what they're really doing is pulling threads to see what's the reaction out there among the troops.
COLLINS: And you think they've learned from how January 6th was handled?
MILLER: I think they're much more attuned to the idea that A, these things can get bigger than they estimated. Two, that they can get more out of hand than they thought. And that three, they got to do that distribution to local law enforcement who is going to be there first.
COLLINS: Talk to us at what Tuesday is going to look like.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah.
COLLINS: No cameras, right?
WILLIAMS: No cameras.
COLLINS: And so, we won't see him. It won't be -- it won't be like in New York where they briefly allowed cameras into the room. What will it look like?
WILLIAMS: Sure. So, to be clear, the no camera thing is a federal rule in no federal court. The Supreme Court of the United States, you're not going to see cameras there. So, that -- expect a courtroom sketch, but that's going to be it. You're not going to see it.
So, what is really interesting here and back to your question, Kaitlan, about -- it's a former president of the United States. This is the most basic type of hearing that will happen. It is an initial appearance. And typically, what will happen there is they probably just set the date of an arraignment, say, these are the conditions of your release, thank you for coming in, we will see you in five days or a week or something like that.
But number one, how do you handle the conditions of release for a former president of the United States? Now, federal law generally has a presumption that the person is going to be released unless there are flight risks --
COLLINS: He is not a flight risk.
WILLIAMS: He is not a flight risk when he is literally the most famous person on the planet next to Justin Bieber and The Rock. He is probably --
COLLINS: That's a dinner party.
WILLIAMS: That's a dinner party. That's a dinner party conversation. But --
MILLER: -- good not to be a flight risk when you have your own plane.
WILLIAMS: When you have your own plane.
WILLIAMS: So, odds are he is not going to be released or detained. He comes in. But how do you question this now? Another condition they could put on if they really wanted to be cute was require him to hand over any classified material in his possession as a condition of his release from prison.
COLLINS: Well, when I asked him at our town hall if he had any more classified documents, he said, no. But he also said, not really, when he was asked about showing them to others. Scott, I want to ask you because -- okay, that is a long time, until Tuesday. We will see many Republicans on the airwaves before then.
Ron DeSantis was asked what the Navy would have done to him if he had taken classified documents while he was in military service. He responded, I would have been court-martialed in a New York minute, and then he seemed to make his comment about the fact that Hillary Clinton didn't face charges. But that is something that could have easily applied to Trump here.
JENNINGS: Yeah. I mean, this is the sticky thing about defending the contents of the indictment and it's why, I think, ultimately, you're going to see most of these candidates stick to the broader arguments about double standards. Why didn't Hillary get it? Why didn't Biden get it?
It did -- this issue did lead me to wonder if anyone has yet made a substantive rebuttal to what we've seen in the indictment and -- by the way, I presume Donald Trump innocent until proven otherwise.
But Ric Grenell, who was Office of National Intelligence director, former ambassador to Germany, tweeted at us while we were talking tonight, and it's the first person who is connected to Trump that made a substantive argument.
He said -- for me, to tone down the clutching -- but said, I have personal experience that they lie about and dramatize classifications. They regularly call something a national security threat that is simply a public relations threat.
So, I wonder over the next few days, is this going to be some some of what you see from Republicans basically saying the contents of this indictment can't be trusted because we have not yet seen the documents, which, by the way, we've seen a list, but we haven't seen the documents. It made me wonder, will a jury ever see the documents because they're classified?
JONES: Can I just say, the classification itself is sort of, per se, establishes that this is sensitive information, right?
So, I wouldn't even consider what Ric Grenell just said, a truly substantive rebuttal so much as it is sort of casting doubt generally. You know, oh, well, they should never have been classified in the first place. Who the hell are you to make that determination? You're no longer in the position to have any say over that.
COLLINS: That is an argument you often hear, though, about this over- classification saying documents are overclassified. I think most people will say, yeah, sure, they do overclassify some things. But this -- what is laid out here --
JONES: Nuclear capabilities?
COLLINS: Is that overclassified? (CROSSTALK)
JENNINGS: It's a great question. And the titles of the documents sound very serious. What Rick is arguing, I think, is that because we haven't seen the documents, you don't know for a fact that these titles are as serious as they sound in which -- I asked you earlier, Elliot, will a jury ever see these things? If they're classified, can you show it to an average juror?
WILLIAMS: And the other panel in D.C. was talking about this. It's incredibly complicated and there have to be a ton of litigation over that.
What's interesting about Mr. Grenell's tweet there is that very rarely would you see a sort of a broadside attack on the substance of an indictment. What usually you'd be more likely to see at trial is just making the intent argument that he didn't intend to do the things you're saying he did. It was accidental. It was messy. The defendant was sloppy and careless and had a pattern of just not knowing what was around.
JONES: Except you've got audio recording.
WILLIAMS: Except you've got audio recording. Look, I'm not saying this is the easiest case to defend, but it's rare that you would see that kind of --
JENNINGS: Is it a possible defense for Trump to say these documents should have never had these classification levels?
WILLIAMS: Not really. No, because there is a specific reason. For the things that he's charged with, classification isn't really relevant to the crimes charged, right?
So, for instance, the Espionage Act requires the ability to hurt the national defense. Doesn't say the word classified. It doesn't matter if it is top secret or secret of confidential. So, it really wouldn't matter if he declassified them or not or --
COLLINS: And if that was the case and also what Grenell is arguing, that they weren't that bad, they were kind of innocuous, why is Trump, according to his attorneys in what they testified and took notes on, saying if you took this back to your hotel room and just plucked out the bad ones, he made the plucking motion, how would that happen? He seems to implying there are bad ones.
JENNINGS: I didn't say it was a good rebuttal. I just said it was a rebuttal. I mean --
I mean, there is a lot of --
JONES: And there are other counts, right? So, then there was the false certification that you produced everything in response to a duly- issued subpoena. That has nothing to do with whether this should have been classified.
WILLIAMS: Really important point here. And I think, you know, we are all in agreement, federal prosecutors, people who looked at this, this is a strong indictment and it is clear it sorts of lays out the case well.
I want to explain the concept of reasonable doubt and how hard it can be to get convictions. You just got to get in one juror's head and it is over for prosecutors here. There are many ways that that can happen over the course of selecting a jury, not striking jurors who might be more prone to convict him and so on. So, not by any means a sure conviction.
COLLINS: Of course, Abby, that is why we have been talking so much about the venue here. What that is going to look like?
COLLINS: Also, the one thing you can't ignore is that it is a Trump- appointee judge who has gotten this case. We will see if she is the one who actually oversees it at trial. But she is also the one who was rebuked by another court because of what she had with these favorable rulings to the Trump legal team as this investigation was getting underway, rulings that were later reversed.
PHILLIP: Yeah. I suppose we'll find out if this was, in fact, a preemptive strike on the part of the government to, you know, head off that kind of argument from the Trump team, Kaitlan.
Back with my panel here in Washington on the point of how this is going to be talked about as we head into 2024. Jonah, you actually had a piece today in "The Dispatch" basically asking the simple question, why won't Republicans consider that perhaps Trump might be guilty? What's the answer?
JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. Look, I think this is a real problem for the GOP contenders for the president, right? Most of them, Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson notwithstanding, immediately started from the presumption that this was this outrageous persecution of Donald Trump, and they didn't wait to find out what was in the indictment. A lot of them, I think, look foolish now.
And I think that one of the fundamental problems that they've gotten themselves into is they are trying to beat Donald Trump for president, but they are unwilling to use this manna from heaven that God is giving them, indictment. You don't have to say, I think he's guilty, this is outrageous. You can just say, hey, look, there's always something with this guy.
You know, like it's -- like -- he makes it -- you can see the deep state is out to get him. But look how easy he makes it for the deep state to go out and get him by doing what he does.
And yet you have, with the exception of Chris Christie, really nobody saying this guy is unfit because not only he cannot win but because he makes the jobs of enemies harder. [23:15:02]
Everyone has to rally around this victim complex thing. I think it's an incredibly dysfunctional dynamic for the GOP.
PHILLIP: What you're laying out -- this is why what happened earlier tonight as our Anderson Cooper was talking to Chris Sununu. It is so interesting to me. Chris Sununu didn't -- isn't running, but he has been running against largely a rhetorical campaign against Trump. Here's what he said about the indictment today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): I think there's a couple problems here that folks are glossing over. The average American saw boxes sitting in Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago. They saw boxes behind Biden's Corvette. And the average American is going, what's the difference? Why do you charge one and not the other? I'm not saying there's not more validity on one in terms of the conduct.
I think Governor Christie brought that up very clearly. It's the conduct and what was going on and the intention behind what was going on with those documents with the former president. But the onus, the burden of proof right now is actually on the Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIP: He spent, I would say, probably two-thirds of that interview attacking the Department of Justice.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the burden of proof is always on the Department of Justice. That is how the Justice Department works. I don't know. I'm not a lawyer.
PHILLIP: Justice system.
CORNISH: But to come back to you, Jonah, do you actually genuinely believe that their answers or comments would be different had they waited?
GOLDBERG: I think for some of them at the margins, yes, because this is -- it's one thing to talk about the stuff in the abstract, another to look at actual facts and say, hey, you know, hand's off.
But broadly speaking, no, because the GOP is caught up in this bizarre cult of personality by Donald Trump that has to work from the assumption that he's a victim, that there's a double standard, that everyone else gets off scot-free and they're being unfair to him.
And until you can shake that, I don't understand how you could possibly run against him and say you should be the alternative if you say we all need to rally to his defense.
PHILLIP: And Hillary Clinton is kind of like the Trump card here that -- no pun intended. The Trump card that is being used basically to say everybody get on board. This is not what they did to Hillary Clinton. CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYT: I think, you know, one of the questions here that gets raised by the interview with Mr. Sununu earlier is, what is the actual role of the Justice Department here? And so, okay, when we have this particular investigation, we have this indictment that's brought, the special counsel made clear that the case will be brought in the court of law, that is where the evidence will be produced, and we have the four corners of the indictment that we can see the facts they've develop so far.
But beyond that, in normal investigations, if a case is not brought, just against anybody, if there is an investigation and that case is closed because it's determined that it's not a case that needs to go forward, the Justice Department could not have a reasonable likelihood of succeeding at trial, which is the standard that they have to go by, then we don't want a justice system that goes out and explains that to the public.
That's not actually the way that normal cases work. That's not respectful of people's rights to privacy and their civil liberties and their privacy if they're investigated and cleared, and then there's a whole explanation about it. That's not really the way that normally --
PHILLIP: And that is what happened to Hillary Clinton. But the cases are also different in a lot of very substantive ways, right?
CORNISH: But there's something haunting us also, which is the Mueller report and that investigation, the impeachments which are political, not legal processes. I think that is what Trump advocates are able to take advantage of and say that there's sort of a vague swirl of investigations and some of them seemed to --
GOLDBERG: -- which seemed like a nothing burger to a lot.
CORNISH: Well, the point is they got out ahead of this announcement to try and shape the narrative about how people would think about it.
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The narrative that works for them is it's not fair what's happening to us, everybody else, i.e., the Democrats, get a clean bill of health, and the only then they ever go after is Trump.
So, that's what forces them into reaching for these false equivalent comparisons. I understand the visual. Boxes in the bathroom, boxes behind the corvette, what's the difference? But we all know, even the most -- even the most superfluous look at the indictment and what we know about, for example, the Biden investigation, shows a vast gulf between what happened in each of those cases just based on the public information alone, right?
You have the Biden camp on one hand as we know from what little we've heard, discovered document, turn them over after some period of time. Maybe there is an awkward delay of poor public relations handling of the issue. But nevertheless, they contacted the Department of Justice and turned this over, opened up multiple locations to search by the FBI. This tells a very different story.
PHILLIP: It is not a hard story to understand.
MCCABE: It's really not. It amazes me that more Republicans didn't at least take the time to impose their own judgment. Why did they all feel so compelled to run out and jump on board this narrative of false equivalence?
PHILLIP: Well, I mean, maybe they didn't take the time. But there is also just straight up political considerations, which some Republicans don't even think could allow them to be on the wrong side of Donald Trump and a criminal case like this one. That's, unfortunately, how our political system works.
But up next for us, the indictment quotes some pretty revealing conversations between Donald Trump and his own attorneys. So, what the former president allegedly said and what it could mean for his case? We will have that, next.
COLLINS: With former President Trump set to appear in court on Tuesday in Miami, the question tonight is, what is the legal road ahead?
We have Nick Akerman, who was an assistant special Watergate prosecutor here with us tonight, and also Dave Aronberg, a state attorney from Palm Beach County.
Dave, I want to get to you in a moment because where you are is very important to where we may be talking about very soon when it comes to the jury pool.
But Nick, as you read through this indictment, being a former Watergate prosecutor, I wonder what you made of it, as you saw on page 3, where Trump was accused of suggesting his attorney falsely represent to the FBI that everything had been turned over, suggesting his attorney hide or destroy documents that were called for by a subpoena, and knowingly submitting a certification saying they were produced when he knew that wasn't true.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, it was kind of like Yogi Berra, the famous Yankee catcher, said, it's deja vu all over again. This was simply the same kind of thing that Richard Nixon orchestrated during the Watergate cover-up, basically obstructing justice, trying to get people to change their stories, paying hush money, destroying documents. All of this was done some 50 years ago.
So, not much new in here, actually. Even the approach that Nixon took, basically getting out in public and saying he wasn't a crook, was pretty much replicated by Donald Trump the other day with that video.
So, that was kind of the first thing that went through my mind. The second was this is a pretty solid indictment in the sense that the allegations are put together pretty neatly. It tells a good story. It basically lays out Donald Trump's criminal intent in a number of different ways that show his active participation in really trying to cover up and obstruct the government from obtaining these records.
COLLINS: And I should note, the hush money that you referenced there, that is another indictment that he's facing. Dave, when you look at what the jury pool could look like, questions are whether or not it is going to be in West Palm Beach or whether it is going to be in Miami- Dade, how much favorable do you think it would be if it is a jury pool to West Palm court area?
DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: Good to be with you, Kaitlan. It is a big dealt that this was filed in Florida because in Washington, D.C., Trump got 5% of the vote in the last election. So, that's one reason why Republicans think that jurors in Washington, D.C. are members of Antifa or something, because they think they have it out for them.
In Florida, it's a red state. Florida is Trump's home state. In Miami- Dade County, Trump got 46% of the vote. Forty-six percent of a 12- person jury is 5.5 jurors. I think that may be Donald Trump's best chance at an acquittal by getting some of those Trump supporters on the jury to do some jury nullification where they just ignore the evidence and say, I don't want my guy locked up. In Palm Beach County, it is 43%. Either way, he does better here than in D.C.
But it was important for Jack Smith to file down here in South Florida because he can't be accused of forum shopping, he can make the public understand this is not about politics, this is about the law, and he can avoid the inevitable delays that would have happened as Donald Trump would have fought the venue issue and actually could have won based on a venue issue and undermine the whole case before it ever got started.
COLLINS: Is that what you thought was happening here, Dave? Do you think that he was essentially trying to get out ahead of a fight from Trump and his legal team?
ARONBERG: Yes. I think they're worried about the delays. I think they want this tried before the election. And if they got into a lengthy battle over venue, there would be no chance that this would be tried before the election.
Now, with Judge Aileen Cannon, not the judge the Department of Justice wanted, I can tell you, because she's now apparently on the case and it's not definite yet but it looks like it, she could extend this thing out because a judge has a whole lot of power when it comes to the timeframe of a case.
COLLINS: And Dave, two of the former presidents' attorneys who were handling this case specifically resigned this morning. He announced he's going with Todd Blanche. He is going to have him at the helm of this case. He only joined Trump's legal team, I believe, about April 5th or so. They are going to be looking for another Florida-based attorney. But as Trump is looking for another attorney, he is continuing to attack Jack Smith, calling him a coward, a thug, saying he's deranged, all of these, of course, allegations, baseless allegations, saying he is a Trump hater. What do you think his legal team is going to look like when he goes to trial -- when he goes to court on Tuesday, when he goes to trial ultimately?
ARONBERG: These lawyers he has been talking to now, including the one he just hired, apparently, they have good reputations but they're not experts in this area of national security, classified documents. And so, that could be a problem. You know, we lawyers are specialists. If you don't have experience in this, you could get rolled by people who do.
Jay Bratt, who is on the case for the DOJ, is an expert in counterintelligence. Jack Smith, he is a pit bull. This guy takes no prisoners. So, it is hard because when Trump brings on good lawyers like Christopher Kise, the former solicitor general of Florida who he gave a $3 million retainer to, he didn't like Chris Kise's advice. Chris Kise wanted Trump to be more conciliatory with the DOJ, sidelined him. That is a message to future lawyers. You may not want to join the team.
COLLINS: Yeah, he was a bit sidelined. Nick, what is your take on that?
AKERMAN: I think that Dave is absolutely spot on. I mean, the problem is having good lawyers that you can afford to pay and will pay. Part of Donald Trump's problem is he is well known for stiffing his lawyers, not paying his legal fees.
And so, you get into a situation where a lot of lawyers don't want to represent him. And then you have lawyers who feel like, well, he's not going to take your advice anyway, and that the real lawyer and the person running the legal team is going to be Donald Trump.
So, there is a lot of reasons why Donald Trump has problems retaining really first-class legal talent. And every time you fire somebody and try and get somebody new, it just never works out the way you would want it to. It's going to be hard for somebody to get up to speed.
It is true, unless you have experience in national security matters and this kind of litigation, which is extremely specialized, it's going to be very tough. And someone like Donald Trump who really is not that sophisticated about how lawyers operate in terms of their expertise is probably not going to know the difference in the end.
COLLINS: All right. Nick, Dave, thank you both so much for your time this evening.
AKERMAN: Thank you.
ARONBERG: Thank you. COLLINS: The question, of course, not just speaking of the legal team, what that is going to look like on Tuesday is, what is going on in the former president's inner circle tonight? His former White House press secretary is going to weigh in, next.
PHILLIP: And welcome back to our special coverage of the federal indictment of Donald Trump. I want to now bring in someone who knows the former president well, Sarah Matthews. She was the deputy White House press secretary under then President Trump.
Sarah, you know Trump and his aides very well. What do you think the mood is like in Bedminster tonight?
SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think prior to the indictment being unsealed, they were definitely putting on a brave face. I think that they thought that this could be a similar situation to the Alvin Bragg indictment where when that was unsealed, it didn't seem to have any new information in there and wasn't kind of as big of a deal.
But, obviously, now that we've seen what's in the indictment, it's highly detailed and very troubling for Donald Trump and his team. So, I can imagine that they're panicking and reaching out to allies and trying to get folks to go out there and defend him.
PHILLIP: Yeah. And to your point, this indictment really does describe in lengthy detail just how far Trump went to hide the documents, to deceive the DOJ, and even to direct his attorneys to do the same. Why do you think he would do that? What could be the motivation here?
MATTHEWS: I think that Trump wanted to keep these documents because he thought he had some sort of ownership over them. Obviously, he doesn't really seem to adhere to typical norms or protocol. And so, he thought that he could get away with this and have people lie for him.
Honestly, I don't really see how Republicans can defend that because this is criminal behavior if proven. I think that any of the Republicans who kind of rush to his defense prior to the indictment being unsealed now have a lot of egg on their face because looking at this indictment, he definitely was acting more like a mob boss than anything, dictating to his staff and his lawyers to try to help cover this up.
And it doesn't really make sense why he wouldn't want to return these documents because I think something that's noteworthy is that all of the documents that, you know, he's being accused of keeping, those were after he returned some documents to the DOJ. Those documents that he gave back, he did not get in trouble for. It was over 100 plus documents that he kept in his possession after they asked for him to turn them all over and after he attested to the fact that he turned everything in, those are the ones he's getting in trouble for.
PHILLIP: Yeah. And the other interesting part of this is that it includes these text messages from Trump's aides and explaining how they were waiting for Trump to go through the documents, go through the boxes and find out what was in them. What does that tell you about the fact that Trump himself -- I mean, despite what his lawyers told Congress these were haphazardly packed, he went through them himself.
MATTHEWS: Exactly right. I think that this just shows how hands-on of a role he played and it is going to be really hard for his lawyers to try to say that he was not involved. There were aides packing up the documents, taking them from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.
He knew the material clearly that he took and that he wanted to keep in his possession and was selective with what he did turn back over to them and what he kept. So, I think that that just is going to be really hard for his lawyers to deny because now you have him on tape even admitting that he knew that the material he took was not declassified, that he could have declassified but he chose not to, and then he willfully showed it to folks without the proper clearance.
I would like to note, too, that that is kind of the distinction that is really unique in this case from something like Hillary Clinton, which a lot of my fellow Republicans are invoking.
While Hillary Clinton definitely had her wrongdoings and mishandling classified information, those were her emails. Sure, she was reckless and having, you know, her own private server and all of that, but with Trump, we are talking about some of our nation's top secrets. We are talking about talking about nuclear weapons, military planning, and vulnerabilities in the U.S. for attack.
He just had those in kind of carelessly laying around a bathroom in Mar-a-Lago and other places. I think that there needs to be a distinction drawn between those two cases.
PHILLIP: Of course, we will see what his actual attorneys say in court, not just what they say in the court of public opinion. That is going to start mattering far less in the coming weeks and months. Sarah Matthews, thank you very much.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
PHILLIP: And coming up next for us, the former president faces 31 counts related to his handling of national defense documents after he left office. What that could mean for our national security?
[23:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COLLINS: A federal indictment against a former president of the United States is unprecedented in this country's history. But the indictment against Donald Trump is even more stunning for its 31 counts related to his handling or allegedly mishandling of national defense documents after he left office.
In an interview that is taped before that indictment news came down yesterday, the former secretary of defense, Robert Gates, told our Chris Wallace he would worry about our national security, the U.S. national security, if Trump were to be re-elected.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, BROADCAST JOURNALIST: Well, as somebody who has spent his life defending this country, it raises a very serious issue. If Donald Trump were to win the 2024 election and become president again, would you worry about the national security of this country? Would you worry about our future?
ROBERT GATES, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes, I would.
GATES: I think one of the concerns that I have with President Trump is that I've always been a strong believer in our institutions of government. Do they need reform? Do they need serious reform? Yes. I've never encountered an institution, an organization, that didn't need reform and improvement.
But destroying those institutions, dismantling those institutions, I think dramatically weakens this nation, weakens us as a country. Those institutions protected us for more than two centuries. I think that the key -- I don't disagree that the institutions need to change and need to be reformed at all. I totally believe that. But dismantling them, weakening them, is going in exactly the wrong direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Again, I should note that was taped before the indictment came down alleging Trump had nuclear secrets, foreign attack plans, weaknesses of U.S. allies and the U.S. itself hidden at his club at Mar-a-Lago.
This comes tonight as some top Republicans are speaking out on the indictment of the former president, defending him, but not all of them.
Back with me tonight, John Miller, Elliot Williams, Scott Jennings, and Mondaire Jones. This is a tough road for Republicans. We've seen what other Republicans are going to say, but those who are in the 2024 race, of course, Pence knew Trump very well, saw how he operated with classified information. This is what he said tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am deeply troubled to see this indictment move forward. Believing it will only further divide our nation, a time when American families are facing real hardship at home and real peril abroad.
First, let me be clear, no one is above the law. Secondly, it is important to note, from my years as your vice president and also my years serving on International Relations Committee and the Congress of the United States, the handling of classified materials of the United States is a serious matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: How does he say those two things but also say the indictment is deeply troubling?
JENNINGS: I know. I mean, he said to Dana Bash the other night, this indictment shouldn't move forward right after saying we have to uphold the Constitution and rule of law. Today, he says classified information is very important. Yet, I'm troubled by -- this is the amazing duality of Mike Pence.
I think he still believes there's some universe where these Trump voters are going to come home to him. It's not going to happen. That's not the race he's going to be able to run. I don't know what race he thinks he's running, but you're not going to recover them. It's not going to happen.
And so, I don't get it. There may be an argument for him to make to Iowa voters that -- I thought that's it.
COLLINS: With the gravity of what is at the heart of this indictment and to hear, you know, leading candidates in the Republican Party, it is not just Pence. Tim Scott, who is another Republican challenger, had this to say about the indictment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): What we've seen is a justice system where the scales are weighted. That seems to be the outcome of where we are today. As president of the United States, I would purge all of the injustices and impurities in our system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Purge? What is he talking about? Were he talking about purging -- it's not clear what he's talking about. I think the challenge here is that the Justice Department, where I worked for almost seven years, likes to regard America as a place in which the rule of law always prevails. All that matters are the facts and the law. If you just explain the facts and the law, well enough, people will eventually fall in line.
But we live in a political world and a political reality and in the middle of charging a president, a former president. During a presidential election, you're going to run into stuff like this (INAUDIBLE) way around it.
COLLINS: What they keep saying is they're also attacking the fact that it is President Biden's top rival as of this moment. It is his Justice Department that is going forward with this indictment. But it is also a special counsel handling it. You didn't see Attorney General Merrick Garland out there today. You saw Jack Smith.
JONES: That's right. And that was intentional. That was meant to create an environment where everyone could understand that this was a truly independent and impartial process, knowing -- I'm sure Merrick Garland -- as Merrick Garland did -- that there would always be people who, in the event of the indictment of the former president, would say that it was the weaponization of the Department of Justice and the FBI.
You know, as it concerns the president, the current president, President Biden, I think he should continue to not comment on this case, and to the extent he does comment rather than go off script, he should practice the words that in our criminal legal system, everyone is presumed innocent before being proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that he looks forward to seeing how the case unfolds.
MILLER: I'm so confused. You got Tim Scott saying the scales of justice are weighted. Where can a white billionaire who is a leader of the free world possibly get a fair shake? And then you've got Mike Pence saying the indictment is very disturbing, no one is above the law, but they shouldn't indict him because he was president, and it would be bad. They seem to be struggling to find logic in the face of facts.
COLLINS: Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin calling it a two-tiered justice system today. There is a two-tier justice system, I think some people would argue, but certainly not for people who --
JENNINGS: But they are responding to their constituents. I mean, their constituents are Republican voters who do believe Democrats in the past and current are getting away with things. Now, you can argue that's not true or you can argue the cases aren't the same.
COLLINS: But they bring up Hunter Biden. He is under investigation by a U.S. attorney that Trump appointed.
JENNINGS: Yeah. And he's also the son of the president of the United States who has said on the record publicly, I don't think he has done anything wrong, he is the smartest person I know, even though the president also routinely goes out and says he never puts his thumb on the scale.
JONES: Scott, that hasn't stopped the investigation or the potential prosecution from proceeding, right?
JENNINGS: How do you know?
JONES: Because the Department of Justice hasn't announced that the case is closed, right? You can be sure, if it is closed --
WILLIAMS: I think we're in agreement on this. We are quite confident that every time the president even says my son did nothing wrong, Steve Bannon ought to go to jail, Merrick Garland's head -- his head explodes when he hears that because of -- look, it is a matter of degree. We cannot (INAUDIBLE) this and say that Donald Trump and Joe Biden's handling of people's presumption of innocence is the same.
But we're in agreement that each time President Biden wades in to talking about someone's guilt or innocence, it does rankle people at the Justice Department.
COLLINS: We'll have to leave it there. Thank you all. Of course, there is more to come still tonight on the federal indictment of former President Trump and what comes next.
PHILLIP: And Kaitlan, there has been so much conversation today about the political realm and the legal realm. I really do have to take a step back right now and just -- this was an extraordinary day and an extraordinary document. And I think it bears repeating, what we've heard from a lot of our legal experts, which is that the documents that are at hand here in this case are probably not even the most sensitive and the most highly classified that were found.
COLLINS: Yeah, that strikes me, too, because it is a question of how did they choose which ones they want to use in this case. What I was struck by, reading through this, you know, the transcript of the audiotape where he's talking about what we believe is classified information, is how there was so much reporting on this investigation and as it ebbed and flowed and it seemed like it wasn't a threat and then it was a threat, how clear that became recently because of a lot of reporting about just how serious it was, including about that audiotape.
But when you read through the indictment, even as good as the reporting was, it was but a microcosm of what the special counsel actually has when it comes into his possession.
PHILLIP: Yeah. And it's kind of hard to imagine that the investigators thought that they would find things like an audiotape of the former president discussing a document. These text messages, the photographic evidence, all of these things, it's the depth and the breadth of the evidence that is in the document, the indictment, that really tells the story.
COLLINS: And there is likely a lot more that we don't know. Thanks, everyone, for watching, for staying up late with both Abby and I. Our coverage continues right here of CNN of this historic indictment.