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NY Times: OceanGate Was Warned Of Potential For "Catastrophic" Problems With Titanic Mission; Hunter Biden To Plead Guilty To Federal Tax Charges, Strikes Deal On Gun Charge; Trump Says He Didn't Hand Over Boxes Because They Included His "Golf Shirts" And "Pants". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 20, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: That's it for us. The news continues.

"CNN PRIMETIME" with Kaitlan Collins, starts now.

See you, tomorrow.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: Tonight, five people are missing at sea. And that's the best-case scenario. The worst is that they're lost, 13,000 feet below the ocean's surface, south of Newfoundland, Canada.

Either way, assuming the submersible remains intact, and assuming that they're still alive, the crew and its passengers, aboard the tiny OceanGate Titan are sealed inside, with a limited oxygen supply that is dwindling. About 32 hours left, as of right now. And again, even assuming the very best, their trip to the wreck of the Titanic, could easily still become its own disaster.

Tonight, CNN's Jason Carroll is monitoring the search effort, and joins us now, from Boston.

Jason, obviously, we've been tracking all of this. What is the latest that you're seeing, right now?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, as I'm sure you've heard the biggest challenge, facing search and rescue, at this moment, and all day, and in fact, since this rescue operation began, is timing.

It's really time and time, at this point, just not on their side. At this point, less than 35 hours left of oxygen. And what you add to that is the time it's going to take, to get so many more, of these additional resources, and assets, to this part of the Atlantic Ocean, which is very remote, far from any point, where they can readily access these types of assets.

The Coast Guard announced a little earlier today, Kaitlan that what they have been able to do, today, is bring in one of these so-called remote operated vehicles, an ROV, with a camera on board, that can look into certain parts, below the surface. They deployed that particular vehicle in the area, in the last part of the ocean, where this submersible was seen. More equipment is on its way. But again, it's going to take time to get there.

And in fact, earlier today, when the Coast Guard was holding its briefing, I asked the Coast Guard Captain, I said, "Look, what if everything had lined up? What if you had the proper resources, above the surface? You had located the submersible below the surface? Would 35 hours be enough even in those circumstances to effort a rescue operation, a successful one?"

And the Captain said it was a difficult question, and was unable to answer it. Not at this time.

But again, they're giving it all of their best effort, more assets coming into the area, coming from places, like New York, more assets, coming from Canada, as well.

The Navy also announced, and this was interesting, they're bringing in a salvage system type of equipment, which is able to work, in deep waters, can lift objects as heavy as 60,000 pounds. Of course, the submersible weighing about 23,000 pounds.

So again, the effort is underway. But it's the timing that's really working against search and rescue teams.


COLLINS: Yes, I mean, just the number of logistical challenges here is long.

But what about the people on board, Jason? Because obviously that's the most important part here. The fact that there are five lives, on the Titan.


COLLINS: What do we know about them?

CARROLL: Five lives, as you indicated, five people on board.

Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate Expeditions. He is the one piloting the submersible.

Also, you had a British-Pakistani businessman, Shahzada Dawood, and his 19-year-old son, Suleman (ph), on board.

Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French national. This is someone, who had plenty of experience, heading down to the Titanic. He had done it several times in the past.

Also, on board, Hamish Harding, a British billionaire, he's a passenger, on board, and an adventurer. He had been on the Blue Origin spacecraft in 2022.

Just before this particular expedition, he had texted a friend of his, and said how excited he was, to go on this particular expedition, said he was very excited about it, weather permitting. He had -- his friend had said that he is the type of person that could always remained calm, in a situation like this. He's going to have to rely on that now.


COLLINS: Yes. Absolutely. Thinking of all of their families, tonight.

Jason Carroll, thank you.

This missing vessel has had a troubled history, according to reporting tonight, in The New York Times.

The paper obtained a 2018 letter, from more than three dozen leaders, in this industry, sent to the OceanGate's CEO, Stockton Rush, who we should note is one of the five, who is missing tonight. In it, they warned that they had quote, "Unanimous concern" about OceanGate's development, of the Titan, and what that looked like.

According to the Times, the Group's Chairman said that Rush had called him after reading the letter, told him that industry regulations were stifling innovation. The Times story also says that a spokesperson, for OceanGate, declined to comment, on that letter.


2018 was also when CNN's Gabe Cohen, then, a reporter, at Seattle's Station KOMO, had a chance to tour a submersible, just like the one that is missing, tonight, while it was out of the water, and saw firsthand what the missing five are now facing.

He joins us tonight, from Washington.

Gabe, what more can you tell us, about this warning, to this letter? Because essentially, what they seem to be saying is that they had these concerns that there could be catastrophic consequences, for the way that this was put together. I think the question is, was something like what is happening, right now, something they were worried about?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it does seem to be the concern that they were raising.

More than three dozen specialists, like oceanographers, deep sea explorers, all of them, signed this letter, warning about what they described as potentially catastrophic problems, with the Titan, and then sent it to OceanGate's CEO, according this New York Times report.

The group is part of the Manned Underwater Vehicles Committee, at the Marine Technology Society, and they expressed concern, over what they referred to, as the company's experimental approach, to the vessel, the Titan and its Titanic expedition, saying that it could have, quote, "Negative" outcomes from minor to catastrophic, that would have serious consequences for everyone in the industry.

And the letter specifically raises concerns about OceanGate's compliance, or lack thereof, with a Maritime Risk Assessment Certification, known as DNV-GL.

They write quote, "Your marketing material advertises that the Titan design will meet or exceed the DNV-GL safety standards. And yet, it does not appear that OceanGate has the intention of following those class rules. Your representation is at minimum misleading to the public, and breaches an industry-wide professional code of conduct that we all endeavor to uphold."

They wanted OceanGate, effectively, Kaitlan, to follow the same standards, as other vessels, especially vessels that are carrying passengers. But of course, this New York Times report indicates that didn't happen.

CNN has reached out to OceanGate, about this letter. But so far, there's been no response.

COLLINS: But there was a 2019 blog post, from the company, where they seem to be addressing why their vessel wasn't accredited, with one of those organizations, seeming to explain that basically, they believed the level of innovation that they were using, they couldn't keep up with it.

Was that the entire explanation?

COHEN: That's a big chunk of it that basically in 2019, they wrote this blog post, saying that the vessel isn't classed, largely because it would slow innovation.

They said they have used those standards, as a benchmark, for at least one of their vessels, in the past. But as they write, quote, "By itself classing is not sufficient to ensure safety."

In part, this is because classing does not properly assess the operational factors that are vital, for ensuring a safe dive, and because classing assessments are done annually at best, and do not ensure that the operator follows procedures or processes that are the key to conducting safe dive operations.

So clearly, they didn't think those standards were necessary, in order to have a safe expedition.

COLLINS: Gabe Cohen, thank you.

Joining us now is oceanographer, and deep water search expert, David Gallo. He co-led an expedition, to create the first detailed and comprehensive map, of the Titanic.

So, thank you for joining us, tonight, David.

At 1 PM, today, we learned that the crew had about 40 hours of breathable oxygen left. That means that right now, it's closer to 32 hours, based on those estimates from the Coast Guard.

Obviously, the list of logistical challenges here is long. But what is the biggest obstacle, in your view, that they're facing? DAVID GALLO, RMS TITANIC INC. SENIOR ADVISER FOR STRATEGIC INITIATIVES: Well, I'm going to take a step in a different direction, and say, in my mind, the biggest obstacle has been created by attracting this armada, rather than focusing on a couple of groups that have the capabilities, to do what needs to be done. There are several companies, several groups that have all the capabilities that are needed, to locate and recover that submarine.

And I just don't know, waiting for this armada to arrive? I've seen this with Air France 447. I've seen this happen with Malaysian Air 370. And then also, to some extent, with the Gulf oil spill, is that it just gets too complicated. The logistical stuff, it becomes its own little problem.

So, it just frustrates me, because one of my very good friends is on that boat, P.H. Nargeolet. And for the sake of the other four people, and their loved ones, I'd like to see this come to a conclusion pretty quickly. And I'm not sure this is the best way to do it.

COLLINS: Yes. And I know he's your friend. And I want to talk about him, in a moment, too, because I know how closely the two of you have worked.


But when you were saying you're concerned that they're sending too much of an armada, they're not doing enough, is that the U.S. Coast Guard? Who should be responsible, given the dwindling time here, and making sure that this is a targeted and specific response?

GALLO: Yes, there has to be someone in control.

I keep thinking about, if you wanted to have your front lawn mowed? Grass cut? That, one way to do it, is it'd be doing it neatly with one, maybe two people. The other way is to invite 40 people to come over, because it seems like that's the thing to do, when they've got different lawnmowers and different speeds.

And, it's, you have to have someone that really has control, of that entire operation. And I don't know that anyone can do that.

So, I understand the Coast Guard, sure, someone has to be in that level. But I don't see -- there's a different way to approach it than having more. More does not mean better. In my mind, in this case, time is running out. Some of these assets won't even be on site, by the time that time runs out.

And again, I just get more frustrated, by seeing this, again, being the search itself becomes its own nightmare. And, in the meantime, just five lives, at stake, and their loved ones, waiting for some answers.

COLLINS: Yes. I understand that frustration, of course.

So, do you think that they're wasting time, right now, basically?



GALLO: Well, I mean, I'm sure some stuff is going on. But with Air France, for instance, there was a very similar search, in the beginning, for Air France, the first year, where every ship was thrown at it, with submarines, and robots, and whatnot. And it became a logistical nightmare, at some point.

But I thought that you have to do a lot -- little bit more thinking, upfront. Within the first few hours, there ought to be a protocol. But what you do, when a submarine is lost beneath the sea, and follow that protocol. And I don't think it means getting everyone that you can to the site. I just think there's other things you could be doing.

I don't know. Maybe they're happening, and I don't know about it. I don't know. And I'm living off rumors the same way most people are. And many of them have turned out to be incorrect, wrong rumors.

COLLINS: With the timing of how much oxygen they have, also, there's a concern, I believe, about hypothermia, and what's happening, on there, with electronics, and if they can stay warm.

Even if the rescuers were able to locate the Titan, right now, what would it take to retrieve it? Would there be enough time to do so, before those 32 hours or so ran out?

GALLO: Yes. In my mind, there have to be. You'd have to make it happen. And the first part, of course, is to find it. And that's number one. But assess the situation quickly. And then, and do -- you have to hope against hope. You have to pray.

And the ocean is full of surprises. Some things that you think will work don't. But other things that you think are impossible, become possible.

If P.H. Nargeolet was sitting here with me, like he normally would be, this is what he would say to do. "Let's just sit down together, in a small room, figure out what needs to be done. And let's make it happen. Let's do it."

COLLINS: You had mentioned your friend, P.H. I know he's been on more than 35 dives, to the Titanic, so far.

What can you say about his vast experience that he has here, taking this precise trip that he went on, right now?

GALLO: Yes, he's just an amazing person. I mean, I call him "Papa," just because he's a bit older than I am. But full of wisdom, and as comfortable on board the deck of a ship, in a hurricane, as he is sitting in a Parisian cafe. So, it's, he's just got a nature about him that's very easygoing.

And, like I said, wisdom, he's got experience. In terms of Titanic, no one knows the ship better than P.H. Nargeolet. Not just the ship, but also the environment, of Titanic, what the visibility might be look like, where the currents might come from. If you wanted to go safely to Titanic, you would go with P.H. Nargeolet.

COLLINS: Well, David, we are thinking of P.H., and everyone else, who's on board, tonight. Thank you for joining us with your expertise.

GALLO: Thank you, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Up next, for us here, tonight, the plea agreement that Hunter Biden took, from federal authorities, today. The claims that many Republican lawmakers have made about it being quote, a "Sweetheart deal," and what the facts of it truly are.

Later, new CNN polling, what it reveals, about the state, of the former President's support, since his indictment, and arraignment, among Republicans. Are they wavering? We'll show you next.



COLLINS: President Biden, only commenting briefly, when asked about the plea agreement that his son, Hunter, struck with federal prosecutors, guilty pleas on a pair of misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his income tax, and working to avoid a felony firearm-related charge.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you spoken to your son today Mr. President?



COLLINS: Shortly before that, the White House put out a statement, saying, quote, "The President and first lady love their son and support him as he continues to rebuild his life. We will have no further comment."

Former President Trump, meanwhile, reacting to the deal, on his own social network, saying "A "Sweetheart" deal for Hunter (and Joe) as they continue their quest to "Get" Trump."

And he's not alone, in that criticism, today, among Republicans.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now, with more on that.

Evan, first let's talk about this plea deal. And what you can tell us, as you know, we had, this investigation had been going on, for so many years.


COLLINS: How did they come to this agreement today?

PEREZ: Yes. This is five years, in the making, Kaitlan. And the bottom line is that prosecutors are expected to recommend no prison time.

No prison time, for Hunter Biden, as a result of this plea deal, in which he is pleading guilty, to two misdemeanor counts, for failing to file taxes, on time, in 2017 and 2018.

There's a separate agreement, for this gun charge. This is for him purchasing a firearm, during a time that he was -- that he has spoken publicly, about his addiction, to drugs. And so, he should not have been able to buy that firearm. He lied on the federal form, when he purchased it.


Under this deal, if he completes the terms that the court will assign to him, he gets it expunged. It goes away at the end of this. And so, those are the terms of the deal. We do believe this is a -- the deal that certainly was weeks and months in negotiations in the making.


COLLINS: Yes. And I imagine -- obviously, we saw it from Republicans, responding, almost immediately, after this was reported, from these court filings, from the DOJ, saying essentially, that they believe that this was an unfair deal, that was cut because he is the President's son.

What else were they saying, Evan?

PEREZ: Yes, that's just -- this is just a preview of what I think you're going to hear, from Republicans, who believe that there's a lot more here to investigate, involving the former -- the President's son, and also other members of the family.

Here is just a sample of what they were saying today.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It continues to show the two-tiered system in America. If you are the President's leading political opponent, the DOJ tries to literally put you in jail, and give you prison time. If you are the President's son, you get a sweetheart deal.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I wonder if people that have been investigating the Bidens, knew about the shell companies, if they knew about the money laundering, and if they knew about the money wires.

I think the U.S. Attorney will be invited to testify, to some committee.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): The Department of Justice offered Mr. Hunter Biden a really good deal.

I think the American people are still curious about where the real money came from and what he did for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PEREZ: And Kaitlan, look, the FBI and the IRS spent years investigating, many of the things that you just heard, some of the lawmakers, mentioned, including allegations of money laundering, allegations that he -- of foreign lobbying, business dealings, in Ukraine and China. And this is where they ended up.

COLLINS: Yes. And that was when there was a Trump-appointed Attorney General --

PEREZ: Right.

COLLINS: -- in leading the Justice Department. Trump was in office. We'll get to that in a moment.

Evan Perez, thank you.

Joining us now, conservative lawyer, and Washington Post Contributing Columnist, George Conway.

You heard what the Republicans were saying immediately.


COLLINS: Do you think there's any outcome of this that would have satisfied congressional Republicans?

CONWAY: No, absolutely not. I mean, if they had brought a RICO charge, against Hunter Biden, they would be complaining that "What took you so long?"

There'd be -- it's purely performative, and it's purely reflexive, as shown by the fact that when Donald Trump's indictment came down, they didn't bother to read it, to criticize it.

And here, it's just, there was a -- they were just omitting to -- ignoring the fact that this investigation was conducted, by a Trump appointee, a Republican U.S. Attorney, who was allowed to stay on, and told "You need to follow up on this, you need to finish this, and we're not going to interfere with you."

And I can't imagine, after a five-year investment, from the DOJ, this U.S. Attorney's Office, which actually had bring in people, from other States, to make sure that there was no home state favoritism, here, in Delaware? The fact is that he -- this U.S. Attorney invested five years, in this, and I can't imagine he wouldn't have brought a charge, if there was -- bring a charge, if there was one warranted.

COLLINS: Yes. And you mentioned him, that attorney, David Weiss. And he said, in a letter, to Jim Jordan, that was sent, just about two weeks ago, "I want to make clear that," as the Attorney General "has stated, I have been granted ultimate authority over this matter, including responsibility for deciding where, when and whether to file charges."

But Republicans are downplaying that he was the one -- CONWAY: Right.

COLLINS: -- doing this investigation.

CONWAY: Right. They're downplaying that because they want to push this narrative, of two-tiered justice system.

And they really don't -- I mean, if Hunter Biden -- if, let's say, if the former President's son had been charged? Or the former President has been investigated for all sorts of tax issues? He's paid minimal amounts of taxes over a number of years. And these same Republicans are the people, who would basically say, "That's a witch-hunt." And they refuse to look at that. And they're the same people, who basically, want to cut IRS funding.

And at the same time, if the son of a President -- of former President, Don Jr., or somebody, if suppose? I mean, I'm not saying he has some kind of a drug problem, or anything like that. But if he were to have done the same thing, they would be marching in the streets, complaining that the Second Amendment rights are violated.

COLLINS: The one thing we do know is that Republicans still have control of the House. James Comer is still the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

CONWAY: Right.

COLLINS: And today, he was saying, "We're not going to rest until the full extent of," basically, their investigations, into the Biden family, are done, even though they haven't really -- haven't uncovered any wrongdoing, from the President.

But James Comer did list a variety of crimes of allegations, talking about wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering.

Evan noted that this investigation has been going on for five years.



COLLINS: Is there any way that the Justice Department would have found any credible evidence of that, but only gone forward, with what they did in the plea deal?

CONWAY: It's just inconceivable. I mean it is just inconceivable. And if the Justice Department, if main Justice had done anything, to try to interfere, with this investigation, in Delaware, I can't imagine that there wouldn't have been criticism that leaked out, as we've seen in other cases.

So, I think that it's just political opportunism. It's false equivalence. It's all the things that we've seen, from the Republicans, when it relates to doing what they can, to protect Donald Trump.

COLLINS: George Conway, thank you.

And coming up, did former President Trump, speaking of his investigations, make an on-air admission that could aid the Special Counsel's federal case against him? We have details ahead.


COLLINS: The federal indictment, of former President Trump, now has a trial date, just tentatively, August 14. Prosecutors may have some fresh evidence to present as well.

Fox News aired an interview, on Monday, with the former President that was conducted, after Trump was arraigned, in Miami, last week. But in this interview, the former President makes some seemingly frank admissions, about his long Tug of War battle, with the National Archives, and subsequently, the Justice Department, over the sensitive documents that are at the center, of the Special Counsel's indictment.



BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS HOST: They did ask for it?

TRUMP: No. And I gave them some.

BAIER: They said, "Can you give the documents back?"

TRUMP: And we were talking.

BAIER: And then they said -- they went to DOJ to subpoena you to get them back.

TRUMP: Which they've never done before.

BAIER: Right.

TRUMP: And in all fairness --

BAIER: But why not just hand them over then?


TRUMP: Because I had boxes -- I wanted to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out. I don't want to hand that over to NARA yet. And I was very busy, as you've sort of seen.


TRUMP: I get very, very busy.

BAIER: But according to the indictment, you then tell this aide, to move to other locations, after telling your lawyers, to say you'd fully complied with the subpoena, when you hadn't.

TRUMP: But before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out. These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things, golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes. There were many things. I would say much, much --

BAIER: Iran war plan?

TRUMP: Not that I know of. But not that I know of.


COLLINS: After that interview aired, one of the former President's challengers, former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, also a former federal prosecutor, said he believes it was an admission.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It appears to me, last night, as a former prosecutor, that he admitted obstruction of justice, on the air, last night, to Bret Baier. I could tell you this. His lawyers, this morning, are jumping out of whatever window they're near.


COLLINS: I'm joined now by CNN Political Analyst, Astead Herndon, a National Political Reporter, for The New York Times.

And CNN Legal Analyst, Elliot Williams, who I should note is a former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General.

Elliot, when you hear comments, like that, do you agree with Chris Christie, that Trump's attorneys should be jumping out of windows, because he's essentially admitting to obstructing justice?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: They really should, Kaitlan. And it's, even if he didn't admit to the offense, he's providing evidence, to the prosecution.

To be clear, what the former President, just admitted on air, was that number one, he was aware that there was an investigation into him. Number two, he was aware that he was possessing documents. And number three that he was trying to hold on to those documents, as a way of getting in the way of the investigation.

Now, if that's not an admission of obstruction of justice, I don't quite know what is. At a minimum, it's bad for the former President. And this is really why defense attorneys just don't want their clients, talking, on the record ever, once they've been charged with crimes.

COLLINS: Yes, but we know that Trump is someone who has often thought that he can kind of talk himself out of anything.

Astead, you recently spent time, in Iowa, speaking to voters about this.


COLLINS: And, obviously, we'll see how the legal aspect of this plays out. We don't actually know the trial will be in August.

But what did voters say? What were they saying about this?

HERNDON: Yes, we were specifically focused on evangelical voters, the group that's really important, when we think about the Iowa Republican electorate. And what we saw was that there was basically two camps.

If you were someone, who was open to an alternative, someone who's already thinking about looking at the Trump-others in the race, this only made you more willing to do that.

We talked to several people, who said that even though they kind of dismissed the charges, and kind of federal weaponization, not really thinking about the truth or fiction of the charges, that this was another instance of drama, coming from Donald Trump, and another kind of reason to look back rather than to look forward. We heard that over and over.

You also heard the kind of big contingent of people really say that this was a reason, to rally around him, because they feel that he is someone, who is being targeted.

And I think it's important to actually note that the former group, who was looking at alternatives, weren't ruling out Donald Trump, right? They were saying that this made them want -- be curious about someone like Governor DeSantis, be curious about others. But they weren't saying it was a reason to punish or make -- rule Donald Trump out.

And so, I think that's an important distinction, because it means that he could certainly make up ground, with some of the people, he's lost, then.


HERNDON: Because when we see things like that CNN polling today, that shows the kind of softening, of Trump's support? That doesn't mean it's fatal for him, in the Republican primary.

COLLINS: Did even one person that you spoke with seem concerned about the indictment and the arraignment and the allegations?

HERNDON: No one, who we talked to who, as a self-identified Republican, was worried about Donald Trump, the facts of it, the national security aspect of it.

This is a group that has been primed to see this as a real thing to dismiss, and more so than that, a reason to really dig into their support. An attack on Trump, for a lot of these people, was an attack on their own political identity. And they would not allow him to really be -- to really see this from a fact perspective. Most people dismiss this straight off.

COLLINS: Elliott, when you look at this? And compared to that, obviously, there's a potential this could be playing out, as this trial is going on. And we heard today that there's an initial date for this that is in mid-August. It doesn't seem likely from anyone that I've spoken to, that they think that that's a real date of when this is going to happen.

But I wonder if you think that there is a real possibility of how Trump delays this? Because, I heard a concern from someone today that there's a possibility Trump could appeal some points of it, up to the Eleventh Circuit, which would mean that the trial would be delayed, until the Eleventh Circuit would make decisions, on some of those appeals.

Is that something that you could see playing out here?

WILLIAMS: Well, here's the thing, Kaitlan. Even under the best of circumstances, this is -- this would have been a trial that would have taken a while to -- a case that would have taken a while to get to trial, anyway.


Whenever you're dealing with classified documents, or sensitive documents, or defense information, in a criminal trial, you're going to have to litigate, frankly, sometimes weeks or months litigating, how you present that information, number one, to the defendant himself, but also to a jury, or putting it in a public open court.

This is incredibly sensitive information. And the defendant has rights, as any criminal defendant would, to an open, speedy and public trial. But that also means that when there's sensitive information there, you can't put it all out in the open. They'd have to litigate that.

And so, even under the best of circumstances, it was going to take a little while to get there. Whether that's delay on the part of the former President, or simply just the realities of complicated litigation, this could take a minute, to get, trying to look.

We know well, the former President's history, of delaying and stalling tactics. And really, it falls to the court, and the prosecutors, to call attention to that, and nip it in the bud, if it does happen.

So, it's more just a question of wait and see, how legitimate the filings that he makes, and the pleadings he makes are.

COLLINS: Yes. And of course, Judge Cannon is going to have a lot of leeway on that. We'll see what she decides.

Astead Herndon, Elliot Williams, thank you both.

HERNDON: Thank you.

COLLINS: Coming up, more of what Astead was referring to there that is backed up by new CNN polling, is President Trump, in the past has proven impervious to scandals. But the question is, is that the case now? We'll tell you what the new polling shows us ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


COLLINS: A new CNN poll suggesting that the Special Counsel, Jack Smith's indictment is turning some Republican voters against former President Trump, or at least softening a bit of his support.

Of course, to be clear, the former President does still lead the Republican field, for president, at this time. But that support has dropped about 6 points, from 53 percent, just a month ago, to 47 percent. That drop is just outside of the poll's margin of error, I should note. But it is the biggest swing since May of any of the major candidates, as you can see.

Favorability among Republican and Republican leaning voters is also down for the former President, from 77 percent, in May, to 67 percent, now. Those who view him unfavorably have increased from 9 points to 27 percent.

The new CNN poll also found that among all Americans, not just Republicans, and Republican-leaning voters, 61 percent approve of the decision, to indict the former President.

I'm joined now, tonight, by CNN's Chief National Affairs Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who is in Iowa.

CNN's Senior Political Commentator, Scott Jennings, who was a former Special Assistant, to President George W. Bush.

And Sarah Matthews, a former Deputy Press Secretary, for the Trump Administration, and 2020 spokeswoman, for his campaign.

Sarah, I think, when you look at these polls, tonight, the answer on whether or not this latest indictment and arraignment hurts him is kind of a maybe.

SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION & 2020 SPOKESWOMAN: Yes, I think that it's more than probably just the indictment, and folks being outraged about it.

I do think this is a really strong case against him. Obviously, others in the Republican Party think that it's politically-motivated. But I think that this latest indictment just serves as a further reminder of how much drama and baggage comes along with a Donald Trump candidacy.

COLLINS: Yes, I mean, the questions, of course, of just how many there already are against him, and if there could be more indictments to come.

Scott, this poll, though, is also suggesting that Trump lost support, from Republican-leaning Independents, than members of his own party. How much of that is concern for him, given how crucial they are, for him to be successful, going forward?


In fact, I was talking with some people, in a rival campaign, earlier tonight, the DeSantis campaign. They're going to be touting some polling that they've taken internally, showing Independents souring on Trump, as it relates to him taking on Joe Biden.

They're going to talk about purple States, like Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, showing Independents going away from Trump, and making it harder for him to beat Joe Biden.

So, this is a big issue. The hardest core supporter may think it's politically-motivated, and it may cause them to double down.

But at the end of the day, what Republicans have to ask themselves, is can we win a national election? We haven't won the national popular vote, since 2004. Do we think these charges make it more or less likely that we can win a national election? And the answer is pretty obvious.

COLLINS: Yes. It's not just getting through the primary, of course.

Jeff, just 12 percent in the GOP say that in responding to this indictment, that other Republican candidates should focus on publicly condemning Trump's alleged actions. 42 percent, they should do more to publicly condemn the government, and how they're prosecuting Trump, here.

You're in Iowa. What are voters saying, tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, there's no doubt that there is an opening, for another candidate. But as our poll is showing that there's not one single candidate, who is the beneficiary, of this softening support.

And the softening support is very real. We've been hearing this from voters. Really, with every passing month, they've been more willing to say, "You know what? I'm just not sure that I want to go down this road, again."

They don't know the specifics of the indictment. They're not talking about the weaponization, necessarily, of the Justice Department. But they just are tiring of some of this -- some of this endless drama.

Here's a snapshot of what we found, over the last few days, here in Iowa.


ZELENY: Is there any Trump fatigue that has set in, do you think?

BRENT SIEGRIST, (R) IOWA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, I do think there's a little. I mean, I don't know that people will say that out loud a lot. But I think some people get tired of the constant stress, or chaos that comes with some of the issues, with the former President.

So yes, again, I think there's some fatigue there. But somebody's got to fill that void. And nobody's doing it yet.

ZELENY: Right.

SIEGRIST: But there's a possibility that -- again, that opening is there.


ZELENY: So, the opening is there. But again, no one directly filling that void.

We spent some time with Asa Hutchinson, of course, the former Arkansas governor, who's really been critiquing the former President, the loudest. He's been calling for him to drop out of the race. Of course, that's not likely to happen. But a very lonely road for him, and a bit of a mixed reaction, at that type of a level.

But when you talk to Republican officials and voters here, this is something that is going to take a while. This poll is a snapshot in time. But time is what this is likely to take. A few people say what about a second indictment, or a third indictment, and a fourth indictment? So, this is very much a moving target here.

And the caucuses aren't in for six or seven months. So, some people will likely wait, until then, to see what the health of Trump exactly is.

COLLINS: Yes. And polls can change.

And Sarah, when it comes to the criticism --

ZELENY: Right.

COLLINS: -- that Jeff was just referencing there, from people, like Asa Hutchinson, or Chris Christie, they're kind of on their own here and speaking out.


And this poll found that 50 -- 54 percent majority of Republican or Republican-leaning voters say his conduct doesn't matter as much to them, is how effective he is in office.

MATTHEWS: I think that that's a fair thing because obviously, you want a president, who's going to be effective. And Trump did have a lot of accomplishments that people can be proud of.

But I don't think that Trump, the campaign that he ran in 2016, is the same as the campaign that he's now running in 2024.

In 2016, he was this kind of larger-than-life candidate, who was running on this vision for America that was different than anything else we had heard of, from any other politician, because he wasn't a politician.

But now, looking at the race that he's running in 2024, it seems to solely focus on himself. And he's talking about his past grievances. And it's going to entirely focus pretty much on his legal battles. And it's going to be hard for him to articulate what his vision, now, is for the American people, because he's so caught up in his own legal troubles.

COLLINS: And Scott, I think what stuck out the most of this entire poll, as I was looking at it this morning, when it came out, is Trump dropped 6 points, as we just noted there, in the one month. And this poll was entirely conducted after -- completed after the arraignment.

But DeSantis did not gain at all in this poll. He's stayed at 26 percent.

Trump was asked about his attacks on DeSantis, tonight. This is what he said.


BAIER: Do you see him as the biggest threat?

TRUMP: Well, he's the number two, right now.


TRUMP: I mean, you know, at some place, he could be replaced. The way he's going right now, he's dropping like a rock. He could be number three, number four, and you won't ever hear me talking about him again. I like fighting number two.


COLLINS: He's not number three, or number four, yet. He is still right behind Trump. But he is -- he didn't change. He didn't gain any support from this. What do you make of that?

JENNINGS: Well, I still think DeSantis is in a different universe, from the rest of the Republican candidates.

Although, I have to say -- and I'd be interested in Jeff's opinion of this, I have heard from people, on the trail, in Iowa, especially that Tim Scott has impressed a lot of people.

But if you look at DeSantis' numbers, he is still by far a beloved figure, in the Republican Party. And that's why he's polling so much better than the non-Trump candidates.

Kaitlan, the thing that jumped out at me in the poll was that both Trump and Biden were at roughly 30 percent fave, and 60 percent unfave. Our polling shows that the American people dislike the two most likely options, right now, a tremendous amount of the American people do not want this.

And the question I think a lot of people have is, are the political parties going to do anything about it? Because, right now, they're poised to nominate two guys that, the American people absolutely despise, at least if you believe our polling. 30 percent fave, 60 percent unfave? Really bad for both of them.

COLLINS: Jeff Zeleny, Scott Jennings, Sarah Matthews, thank you all.

Up next, reporting on what the Justice Department decided not to do, in the wake of January 6, and the attack on the Capitol that flies in the face of a claim made, by the former President, and his allies, when they say the Justice Department is out to get him.



COLLINS: Former President Trump often claims that he is being targeted by the Justice Department, the Biden Justice Department, when it comes to prosecution. Yet when it comes to one major case, one that he is still facing, as of tonight, there's new reporting, in the Washington Post that actually suggests the exact opposite.

The headline, "FBI resisted opening a probe into Trump's role in January 6 for more than a year." According to the Post reporting, there were several factors that contributed to the slow pace of opening that investigation, including a weariness about appearing partisan.

Joining us now is CNN National Security Analyst, and the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Director Clapper, when you looked at this, and you read this Post reporting, do you believe that there was a concern, that they would look like they were going after Biden's former -- now political opponent, when it came to opening up an investigation, into him, and his allies, on January 6?

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, absolutely, Kaitlan. I think one man's slow-walking is another man's caution.

And I think that the decisions made here were reasonable, and deliberate, and careful. And there isn't much of a rulebook that tells you what to do, when you're investigating, and perhaps prosecuting a former President, for felonies. So, I found, when I read the article that the decisions were reasonable, and appropriate.

I know a couple of the players involved here, notably Lisa Monaco and Matt Olsen, Lisa, Deputy Attorney General, and Matt, head of the National Security Division, two key positions in the Department of Justice. And they are professional, competent, careful people. And I think that certainly -- and I think the Attorney General, whom I don't know, is cut from the same cloth.

COLLINS: But what --

CLAPPER: So, I think this was quite reasonable.

COLLINS: But what about the consequences of moving slowly? Because couldn't communications have been deleted, or lost or people's memories, about what led up to that day, weren't as great as they would have been, had this happened sooner, basically?

CLAPPER: That's possible. Sure. And I think it's a question of the risk of some loss versus prudence and care, given what a highly charged issue this obviously is. So, that is clearly one thing that could happen. But, and on the other hand, if there was a rush to judgment, you can bet there'd be an order, a similar article about that.

COLLINS: While I have you here tonight, I want to ask you about what we started with earlier in the show, talking about Hunter Biden, and obviously, his plea deal that he got, tonight, on his tax charges.

In 2020, you and 50 other former Intelligence officials had signed a public letter, warning about the laptop, of course, saying that it reeked of Russian interference. You said that you had no proof, it was Russia, and that you were raising what you said was a yellow flag, later on.


But do you regret signing that letter, in the wake of how things have transpired, and where things were today, and how Republicans in Congress are using that letter?

CLAPPER: Well, to answer the question, no, I don't regret it. I thought at the time that was appropriate to sound a warning about "Watch out for the Dark Hand of the Russians." And, in my case, this is on the heels of what I saw the Russians do, in 2016, to interfere and influence the outcome of our election.

So, I thought it was appropriate. I thought the letter was appropriately caveated, by acknowledging we didn't have any direct evidence. And to this day, I still have not seen any official results, of a forensic analysis, of that laptop, as to whether or not in some way the Russians messed with it.

COLLINS: Yes. But we haven't seen anything saying that it was because of them, right?

CLAPPER: That's right.

COLLINS: All right. Dr. James Clapper, of course, your expertise on both of these subjects, thank you so much for that.

We'll be right back.



COLLINS: And thank you so much, for joining us.

The news continues, here, tonight.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Abby Phillip starts right now.