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Trump Responds To Audio Obtained By CNN, Insists That He Did "Nothing Wrong"; Rudy Giuliani Interviewed In Special Counsel's 2020 Election Interference Probe; Putin Tries To Portray Wagner Deal As A Victory. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired June 27, 2023 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: They include failure to conduct rounds, wrongly giving him extra bed linens, which he used to hang himself, and failure to assign Epstein, a roommate, after he was put on suicide watch.

Two guards on duty that night later admitted to falsifying records.

The report found no evidence to suggest foul play.

The news continues. "CNN PRIMETIME" with Kaitlan Collins starts now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: Good evening. I'm Kaitlan Collins.

There's so much news, to talk about, tonight, when it comes to the former President's legal troubles. It's almost hard to know where to begin.

There's brand-new CNN exclusive, an exclusive reporting that his former personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has recently been interviewed, in the Special Counsel's January 6 investigation.

There's also fresh details, coming from "The New York Times," tonight, on the documents case, and how investigators zeroed in, on another one of his properties, not Mar-a-Lago.

There's also a new defense, coming from the former President himself, tonight, who is reacting to the blockbuster audio, that you heard here, last night, first.

This is the defense that Donald Trump is now offering, today.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I had a whole desk full of lots of papers, and mostly newspaper articles, copies of magazines, copies of different plans, copies of stories, having to do with many, many subjects. And what was said was absolutely fine, and very -- very perfectly. We did nothing wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: CNN was the first to report that that recording existed, and it was even quoted in the former President's indictment.

And now, in an interview, with Semafor, and ABC News, after those comments he made, in New Hampshire, today, on the plane ride back, he had a new defense, insisting that what you heard was, quote, "Bravado."

Shelby Talcott writes that when Trump was asked about his use, of the word, "Plans," earlier from that clip, he said, quote, "What I'm referring to is magazines, newspapers, plans of buildings. I had plans of buildings. You know, building plans? I had plans of a golf course." That is of course what he is saying now.

But remember, it was on a tape that he was openly discussing, what he himself said, were highly classified papers and secret documents.


TRUMP: See as president, I could have declassified it.


TRUMP: Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.

STAFFER: Yes. [LAUGHTER] Now we have a problem.

TRUMP: Isn't that interesting?



COLLINS: With us now is attorney, Tim Parlatore, who used to represent the former President, in this case, I should note, and on several other fronts.

Tim, thanks for joining us tonight.

You once said that you thought, when people could actually listen to that tape, which you yourself had listened to that you believed it was more open to interpretation, about whether or not he was actually referencing a document.

But after listening to it, it does sound like he is actually referencing a document in his hands.

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, certainly you can hear the rustling of papers there. But as to what he's specifically holding? The tape is, in my opinion, is unclear. And you can, when you hear the sound of his voice, he does seem to be acting, with a bit of bravado, and playing to the crowd.

And I think that the tape, now that it's out, certainly is, provides more context than just the transcript, which is a lot more flat, because you can hear the inflections. At the same time, this is one of the reasons why, in the criminal justice system, you don't want these things coming out, in dribs and drabs, and being analyzed, before the trial. It's better to actually go into court, and put all the evidence, out there, and let people hear it, fresh out, like that.

COLLINS: But he says, look, he says, "I have the stack of papers. I have a big pile of papers. This thing just came up." He says, "Look, this is highly confidential." He's talking about, "This is secret information. You look at this. You attack," of course, we know is reportedly about plans to attack Iran.

And Mark Meadows even references this, in his book, where those people, who were in the room that were writing his book.

So, why do you think it's not the actual document?

PARLATORE: Well, first of all, no document has been found that would match this description. It's my understanding that Mark Milley has even denied that any such document exists. And so --

COLLINS: No, he denied that he created the document.

PARLATORE: Well, if he is taking it out, and saying "This proves that Milley gave it to me," there would have to be some indicator, on there, if he's actually using it, for that purpose, to show that it came from him.

COLLINS: But could it --


COLLINS: You say it's not clear that the document exists here. Obviously, we were -- we reported, at one time, that the Trump legal team that used to be on, was told, or was asked to find this document, and was unable to produce it.

What efforts did you make, when you were on the legal team, to find the document that is referenced here?

PARLATORE: Sure. Unfortunately, that was some inaccurate reporting.


What happened is they did send us a subpoena, asking us for whatever document he's referencing here.

And our response was, "We've conducted complete and thorough searches, of all the properties, and we've returned any and all documents that had any classification markings, on them, whatsoever."

And so, we sent it back to the Special Counsel and said, "We don't believe that any further searches would be fruitful. If it exists, it's something we've already given to you."

COLLINS: But -- PARLATORE: And they did not push back. They didn't say, "Oh, no, we do need you to search again."

And the reality is, I don't know if it's something that we had already found, and turned back in. Because what our teams did was any document that they found that had a classification marking on it? We weren't allowed to keep a copy of it. We weren't allowed to keep a record of it. We just put it in a folder and turned it over.

COLLINS: But, of course, there were concerns about whether or not everything --

PARLATORE: So, it's quite possible that this is --

COLLINS: There were concerns about whether or not everything was turned over, because, they sent some boxes back. And then, of course, we know, from the search warrant, that everything wasn't turned over.

But when they asked about this document that was referenced in the recording, did you ever ask anyone, who was in the room, if they had seen the document, or ask Trump himself, about the document?

PARLATORE: So obviously, I can't go into the discussions, I had, with my client, at the time. But --

COLLINS: What about other people in the room?

PARLATORE: Other people in the room would also be represented by counsel. So, you'd have to discuss that with their lawyers.

So, this was a matter of, we were given a subpoena. We were asked for something that if it exists, we would have already turned it back in, so no further search was required.

COLLINS: Did anyone ever suggest to you that this document may have been destroyed?

PARLATORE: No, I've never heard that before.

COLLINS: "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that Jack Smith's team also subpoenaed surveillance footage, from Bedminster. We know they did so, when it comes to Mar-a-Lago.

Can you confirm that they did? And when did they subpoena that footage?

PARLATORE: I'm not aware of any subpoenas for footage from Bedminster.

COLLINS: So, when you were on the legal team, you were never -- you've never received a request, or never heard that the Trump Organization was getting a request, for surveillance footage, of his Bedminster club?

PARLATORE: It's not something I have any recollection of, no.

COLLINS: Why do you think prosecutors, if according to "The New York Times," were interested in this surveillance footage? Because you yourself, were part of the searches, for additional classified documents, at additional properties.

PARLATORE: Sure. Part of the problem is that when we were trying to work with the DOJ, on this and, in fact, for the search of Bedminster that we did, I invited the FBI, to send a couple of agents, to participate in that. And they refused. They wouldn't tell us really what their theory was.

Now, reading the indictment, I can see where they have at least a theory, of certain boxes being moved up to Bedminster. But that's not something that my team found.

It's something that if they had some specific information that they wanted us, to search for, they should have communicated to us, at the time. They should have taken my invitation, to have a couple of FBI agents, join the search. But we didn't find anything like that.

Again, I can see, from the indictment, why they would be interested in it. But if they really were, on a search, to find these things, they really should have been better, at communicating with us, and trying to work together, to actually get these things, instead of playing --

COLLINS: Well, "The New York Times" is reporting that they were actually interested in potentially having a subpoena, for another search, at Bedminster.

But when it comes to that, what you're referencing there, why, when you say you understand why they would be interested, is because in the indictment, it says that Trump took boxes, with him, to Bedminster, when he left, from Mar-a-Lago, to go up there, for the summer, as he does every year.

What happened to those boxes? Do you have any idea the ones that he took to Bedminster?

PARLATORE: All I know is that allegations have been made in an indictment. It's not allegations that I was aware of, at the time. It's not something Special Counsel ever communicated to us.

So, yes, the first time I read it was in the indictment itself. So, I can't really answer any questions, as to where boxes went that I was not aware of, at the time I was on the team, if they even exist.

COLLINS: Well, they did do searches. I mean, I don't think that they're just making it up, in this indictment. But referencing that the person who wants to --

PARLATORE: Hold on. We did -- we did searches at Bedminster. The Special Counsel did not. They declined the opportunity, to send FBI agents, with us. They claim in an indictment --

COLLINS: And did you search all of Bedminster, when you did those searches?

PARLATORE: We searched all of the areas that we reasonably believe would contain documents.

COLLINS: But well, I guess I would say to that --

PARLATORE: Did we search --

COLLINS: -- I guess I understand that.

PARLATORE: Did we search for it --


COLLINS: Tim, hold on. Give me a second. Because when you read the indictment?

PARLATORE: Sure, yes.

COLLINS: It says that Trump was keeping documents, in a bathroom, and in a random storage room, and in a ballroom, like you probably wouldn't reasonably think those were places they would have been kept.

So, I guess that's why I'm asking why not search all of Bedminster?


PARLATORE: Because this was a subpoena to the Custodian of Records. And a Custodian of Records subpoena requires the -- a search of all areas that are -- there's a reasonable expectation that documents would be found.

If the Special Counsel's Office, or at that time, the National Security Division wanted us to exceed what would ordinarily be required, under the circumstances, they should have communicated that to us. They should have sent the FBI agents that we invited to join the team.

But what happened is we did the search. We provided them with the report of everything we did. We went before the grand jury, myself and the searchers. We testified about this. And nobody from the Special Counsel's Office made any inference that that was an incomplete search.

COLLINS: Well they seemed to have --

PARLATORE: So, if they had a problem with it, then they should have brought it up, at the time, instead of crying about it, months later.

COLLINS: Well, it is interesting. I mean, is there -- if there was a subpoena, for surveillance footage, of Bedminster, and you were unaware of it, why would you have been unaware of it? Because you were part of these searches.

PARLATORE: I don't know anything about any surveillance video subpoena. Yes, I don't know that -- has that actually been confirmed that such a subpoena exists, or is that a rumor.

COLLINS: It's been -- being reported in "The New York Times." But let me ask you about today what happened down in Florida. Walt Nauta, who is Trump's co-defendant still has not been arranged, because he did not make his flight, to get his arraignment, today. Of course, he wasn't arraigned, two weeks ago, when Trump was, because he did not have a Florida-based attorney.


COLLINS: Now, this date has been pushed, to next week, almost a month after Trump himself was arraigned.

Do you think this is any kind of delay tactic, from the Trump team, to slow things down here?

PARLATORE: I wouldn't think so. These dates are set by the court. And it is standard dates to try and give a defendant the opportunity to retain counsel. And so, this is not a date that's being asked for, as I understand it, by the Trump team, but rather being set by the court. So, unless the court is the one delaying, I don't think so.

COLLINS: Well, they're setting the dates. But he didn't show up, today, because he missed a flight, and he didn't show up the last time, with Florida-based counsel. And that's why he couldn't be arraigned then.

On the news that CNN has broken tonight that Rudy Giuliani has been interviewed, by Jack Smith's team, the team that is investigating January 6? Do you believe if Rudy Giuliani is indicted that that means Donald Trump could potentially be at legal risk as well, given Rudy Giuliani was obviously acting at Trump's behest?

PARLATORE: That's a lot of hypotheticals. I don't know what he would be indicted for. I would need more information, to be able to say that.

I do know that, the Special Counsel's Office has been looking at a lot of different theories.

Now, when it comes to the January 6 situation? And a lot of this does go to various theories, as to how Congress was, yes, allegedly obstructed, or whether they were pushing a theory that had legal merit or not. And so, it certainly makes sense, to be interviewing all these people. But I think that to say that Rudy Giuliani might be indicted is a little bit premature, at this stage.

COLLINS: Well, we'll wait to see. There has been a -- certainly an uptick, in activity, there.

Tim Parlatore, thanks for your time, tonight.

PARLATORE: Right. Thank you.

COLLINS: And coming up, Kevin McCarthy was asked a simple question, today. Is Donald Trump the best candidate to win in 2024? Why the Speaker is cleaning up his answer? Next.



COLLINS: House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is doing some cleanup, tonight, after he questioned, whether Donald Trump is the best Republican presidential candidate, who can win in 2024.


JOE KERNEN, CO-HOST OF SQUAWK BOX, CNBC: Could he win an election and get --

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Can he win that election? Yes, he can.

KERNEN: You think he can. You --

MCCARTHY: The question is, is he the strongest to win the election. I don't know that answer.


COLLINS: That answer did not sit well, with Donald Trump's allies, and sent the Speaker into damage-control mode, today.

Not long after he had that interview, on CNBC, McCarthy rush to make clear his loyalty, to the former President, saying in another interview, with Breitbart that he believes quote, "Trump is stronger today than he was in 2016," and accusing the media of taking those comments out of context.

Of course, McCarthy has a fragile majority in the House. He won his post, as the House Speaker, after a bruising 15 rounds of votes, in part, by agreeing to a snap vote, to oust him, at any time.

With us now, for perspective, on this, is Colorado Republican, Ken Buck.

Congressman, thank you for joining us today.

I wonder what you made of what Speaker McCarthy said there, about whether or not Trump is the strongest candidate, to win, in 2024?

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Well, I think he is the strongest candidate, right now, to win. And I'll tell you why. He has run three times for president. The other candidates have not run yet for President. So, that gives him strength, by itself.

He also has a persona that he's willing to take on the tough issues. He's willing to take on the issues that a lot of conservative Americans, but other Americans, care deeply about.

Now, does another candidate rise, and show that sort of personality, that sort of strength of character, that he would be willing to take on the swamp? That's yet to be seen.

And I think that's what Kevin was saying, is this is a long time that we're going to see between now and the primary elections. And so, it's hard to say that Donald Trump is going to be the strongest candidate, in the future. It's really a hypothetical, and it calls for speculation.

But, right now, Donald Trump is definitely the strongest candidate.

COLLINS: He is easily the front-runner, in the Republican race, of course, right now. But is he the strongest to win in 2024, based on his numbers, with suburban women, his number with Independent voters that, I know you have said, are so critical, to winning a general election?

BUCK: Yes, I think he can win the general election. And I think that there are other Republican candidates that can win the general election. I haven't made a choice, at this point.

But I do think that -- and obviously, Donald Trump has got some legal issues that have to be resolved. And as the facts come out, if there are trials, before the election, that's going to impact the perception of Donald Trump.

But, right now, the perception of Donald Trump, among a lot of folks, in America, is that we -- this is a country that's, overspending, and has a lot of very serious issues. And Donald Trump showed, in his first term, that he was willing to take on those issues.


And I think that's what they're looking for, is someone -- they didn't want -- we didn't want, four more years of Barack Obama, with a Hillary Clinton campaign, or presidency. And we don't want four more years of Joe Biden. And Donald Trump appears to be the person, who has the strongest personality, to change that trajectory.

COLLINS: Congressman, you are a former federal prosecutor. You worked for several years. When it comes to the tape, of the former President, that we have now heard, this audio recording, if you're prosecuting a case, like this, and you had a tape like that, how powerful do you believe that evidence is?

BUCK: Well, it's not powerful in the way that a lot of people think it is, in my opinion. I don't know what --

COLLINS: You're not?

BUCK: I don't know what document he had in his hand.

And I think the critical factor is? Again, I don't know the evidence. And it will come out at trial, with testimony. But did someone see, in red ink, a classification, on that document that said, "Top Secret," or some other secret or some other classification? If not, then it's just the President's word.

What I think is important, in that audio, is when the President says "I couldn't declassify this before, and I didn't. I can't declassify it now." That's an admission as to his mental state. That's an important element, in the case.

But I don't think the actual document being classified is as important, because, obviously, documents were found, during the search, at his residence, in Mar-a-Lago. So, he is saying, in some way, "I didn't declassify documents before I left office."

COLLINS: Yes. And that undercuts what he has been saying, publicly, of course, about this.

You have said that you would not feel comfortable, with a convicted felon, in the White House.

But would you feel comfortable with someone who, if he is in fact holding that document, as it's alleged, handled national security secrets like this, given, he's laughing, and talking so casually, about it, with people, who do not have security clearances?

BUCK: Yes, I don't think there's any doubt that there were lapses in judgment, or there were opportunities, to treat these documents, in a more secure way.

It's really baffling to me why, when the Archivist contacted him, and they were in negotiations, or at least his attorneys, his staff was in negotiations, to return some of these documents, or all the documents, why, at that point, he just didn't turn the documents back over. He would have had access to them in a secure facility, if he wanted to have access, at some point in time, in the future.

So, I don't. There are a lot of questions that I think need to be answered, before we can make a judgment, about just how comfortable Americans should be, with the President, handling classified material, this way.

COLLINS: But you think this is all self-inflicted, is what it sounds like?

BUCK: I do think it's self-inflicted.

I do think that, you know, I was a prosecutor for 25 years. I know, when I handled classified documents, I had to go into a special room. I couldn't have my phone with me, in more recent times. We didn't have those telephones all the time. But I didn't have my phone with me. I didn't have the ability to take a document out. I don't even have the ability, to take notes, and take that notes away with me.

So, there's sort of this training that Donald Trump never went through, the training that tells people, this is so important that you can't violate this set of rules. And again, a lot of it's going to go to what proof Jack Smith has, of the President's mental state.

COLLINS: Yes. We'll see what other evidence is in his possession.

Congressman Ken Buck, thank you for your time, tonight.

BUCK: Thank you. COLLINS: And we have a CNN exclusive that I mentioned, at the top of the hour. Rudy Giuliani, a fierce Trump ally, and his former attorney, has been interviewed, by federal investigators, in the Special Counsel's 2020 election interference probe. How significant this could be, not only for Giuliani, but also for his former client? Next.



COLLINS: Tonight, we are learning that the former Trump attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has been interviewed, by federal investigators, as a part of the Special Counsel's investigation, into January 6.

CNN's Paula Reid has the exclusive.

Paula, obviously, Rudy Giuliani is someone, who has played a key role, in Trump's world. What do we know about this interview?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you hit it right there, Kaitlan. I mean, this is someone, who is at the center, of former President Trump's efforts, to overturn the 2020 election.

We know that Giuliani, along with his attorney, met with federal prosecutors, in recent weeks. And while we don't know what information he shared, we know that Giuliani was previously subpoenaed, specifically for documents, about how much money, he was making, around the time, he was filing all those election challenges, on behalf of former President Trump, back in 2020.

But that subpoena was delivered, in November, of last year, back when the Justice Department was overseeing this, before the Special Counsel, Jack Smith, was even appointed.

And once Jack Smith took over this investigation, Giuliani didn't hear a thing, for over six months. And I spoke to a lot of sources in and around this investigation, and asked, should he be worried, because if you haven't heard anything that far into an investigation, it suggests you could be a target. Many people told me that yes, perhaps he should be concerned. So, it is notable that he has now sat down, with prosecutors.

And it does appear that the charging decision, in the January 6 probe, is getting closer. We have seen a flurry of witnesses going before the grand jury. So, it appears they may be getting closer, to a charging decision.

It is totally unclear, if Giuliani will be charged, or former President Trump will be charged. We'll see. But it's, clearly there has been an uptick, in investigative activity, over the past few weeks.

COLLINS: Yes. And we know Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, is going, tomorrow.

Paula Reid, we will keep track of it all with you. Thank you very much.

Joining me now, to discuss, Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former Trump White House Communications Director; and Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist, and a former Communications Director to Vice President Kamala Harris.

Alyssa, when I was covering the White House, you were working there. Rudy Giuliani was often there, and in Trump's orbit. What do you make of the fact that he has now been interviewed by the Special Counsel's team?


ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER TRUMP WH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It's very significant. If you think of kind of every step, of election denialism, from election night, when it was Rudy Giuliani, who advised Donald Trump, to say, "Just go out and say we won?"

The weeks that followed, number of West Wing meetings, that Rudy Giuliani was in, where he was just, show up, and staffers would say, "What is he here for? This wasn't scheduled. There's nothing on the President's schedule related to it."

Then, of course, he went and met with Michigan lawmakers, to try to put pressure there. And then, he was notably, at the Willard Hotel, for the War room that they had, on January 6. This is somebody, who kind of had his tentacles, in all aspects, of the events, leading up to January 6.

I think it's notable. I would imagine he -- his attorney did not let him share anything he wasn't obligated to, for fear that he would incriminate himself.

COLLINS: And, of course, Rudy Giuliani going and being interviewed, it's raised questions about whether or not he'll be indicted. We have no idea. Jack Smith hasn't done that yet.

But the idea that if he was, obviously questions about Trump's involvement here, what would another indictment in this mean? And how would President Biden and Democrats handle that, as they've been very -- Democrats have been very outspoken. President Biden himself? Not so much.

JAMAL SIMMONS, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR TO VP HARRIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, let's just set the facts back, right? There have been 60 courts that have looked at these allegations that something went wrong, and there was fraudulent that -- something was fraudulent, that led to the election not being right. We know that's not true.

A.G. Barr looked at it. That's Trump's Attorney General. We know that's not true.

Democrats shouldn't stay out of this, because, as far as we know, like this is moving along on a track. Let the special prosecutor do it and everybody sit back. There are no good politics of getting in the way of your opponent sticking a knife in his eye.

COLLINS: Well, we do have Trump's challengers, though, who are being asked about this, essentially, at every turn of the campaign trail.

I was watching. A lot of them were in New Hampshire, today. And this is what Governor Haley said versus Governor DeSantis.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, (R) FORMER GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA: If the indictment is true, I think it's reckless. But there's going to be a trial. And Trump will have the ability to defend himself. But we can't keep chasing every drama that surrounds Trump.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), (R) REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If this election is about Biden's failures and our vision for the future? We are going to win.

If it's about re-litigating things that happened two, three years ago? We're going to lose.

We've got to go forward on this stuff. We cannot be looking backwards and be mired in the past.



COLLINS: And that was a question he was asked, I should note, about January the 6th.

FARAH GRIFFIN: And he was being asked by a high school student, by the way, who seemed that he was concerned about the undemocratic effort, to overturn the election. Listen?

COLLINS: Funny how people worry about that.

FARAH GRIFFIN: Well, and that's exactly the point, Kaitlan, is I think that there's only so far that you can go, in trying to say, "We need to move on. We need to focus on other things."

American democracy, and our electoral system, and protecting it does matter to the voter. We know this from the 2022 midterms. Election- deniers, extremists went down on the ballot.

So, even if talking about it is not motivating, to the core base of election -- Republican primary, it will matter. And a lot of those, registered Republicans, who maybe don't turn out that you need to activate, and frankly, we need to get back, since 2016, do care about it. That's not going to cut it from Haley or DeSantis.

COLLINS: What do you make about how the 2024 candidates are handling it?

SIMMONS: Yes. So, look at Ron DeSantis. I just have to say, this guy knows very little, about running for president, OK? He let Donald Trump spend $13 million (ph) defining him unanswered, which basically let the -- set the baseline, for how everybody talks about him, as not having any personality. Donald Trump was the one who said that narrative against him. It's going to be very hard for him to dig out.

He gets into this fight with Gavin Newsom, who's not even running for president. Why is he responding to Gavin Newsom? It's because he's been a thin skin, and he can't really take a punch.

And then, he goes on Buck Sexton's show, and tells them that he would consider letting January 6 protesters, off the hook, and perhaps pardoning them. Why would he do that? Buck's a charming guy. But why would you go out there, and tell Buck Sexton, and the American people, that you do something that you would not be able to survive in a general election?

FARAH GRIFFIN: And I would just note, I tend to think DeSantis is playing -- you're trying to think, what slice of the pie they're playing for. I mean, politics is about addition, not subtraction. And he seems to be playing to the core MAGA base, and alienating others, within the Republican Party.

I think that there's a reason his poll numbers are going down. He's got money. He's got name ID. But listen, you're turning off moderates and independents.

COLLINS: Yes, it's still early. We'll see what those numbers look like.

Thank you both.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

COLLINS: And on top of that, we are also tracking international developments, tonight, as Vladimir Putin's forces have now launched a deadly attack, on Eastern Ukraine, all while his own country is still reeling, from that rebellion.

We're going to speak to the former Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, about what he thinks could happen with Putin, and with Russia, and Ukraine. All that's coming up next.



COLLINS: Rescuers are now combing over crumbled buildings, for survivors, in an active rescue operation, in Eastern Ukraine, after Russian missiles struck a very busy Plaza, in the center of Kramatorsk, killing at least four people, including a child. At least 40 others have been injured, we are told, tonight, with more expected to come.

This attack has prompted accusations that Putin is deliberately targeting civilian areas, once again, and stepping up his attacks, after facing mutiny, at home. The man, who led that revolt's, the Wagner chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, we do know now, is in Minsk, the capital, of Belarus. That's according to the country's President, who claims that he convinced Putin, not to kill him, as that rebellion was happening, over the weekend.

Joining me now is Jon Huntsman, the former Ambassador to Russia, under Trump, and to China, under President Obama. He also ran for president, in 2012, as a Republican, and served as the Governor of Utah.

So thank you, Ambassador, for joining me, tonight.

You were the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, for two years, during what, you said, was a historically difficult period. What went through your mind, as you watched the rebellion that happened, over the last few days?



And I think what's important to understand, for the viewers, is the nature of Vladimir Putin. And so, there's a lot that we don't know about Yevgeny Prigozhin. And you used exactly the right word. It's a mutiny. So, there's a lot we don't know about it. But there is enough that we do know about what is going on.

Putin's uncontested leadership is over. So, I don't say that hyperbolically. I say, for 23 years, Putin has been uncontested, in terms of his ability, to call the shots, as a final arbiter, of all decisions, in Russia. That now comes to an end.

Number two. So, here's a guy, who can lose 200,000, of his young men, on the battlefield. He can lose half of his helicopter fleet. He can lose two-thirds of his tank fleet. Yet, when he's humiliated, that's when the trouble begins.

So what else has happened through this whole Yevgeny Prigozhin episode? Putin has been humiliated. That's not happened many times, in his career.

So, we're not going to know in the days and weeks and even the months ahead, what the likely outcome, for Vladimir Putin, will be. He still controls the state. He controls the security apparatus. He's got more bombs and guns than anybody else. But I'm here to tell you, I think we're witnessing the final saga of Vladimir Putin.

And here's one thing that I think we also need to focus on. And that is by November of this year, which is just a few months away, Putin has to declare that he will be a candidate, for re-election, in March of 2024. Now, he's already changed the Constitution, such that he can run two or three more times.

So, I was in Moscow, in 2018, during his last election. He won by 77 percent of the vote. Yes, it's rigged and all of that. But I have to say that Putin is also a pretty good politician and campaigner. He promises things. He delivers stuff. That's when the hypersonic weapons were on full display, the nuclear torpedoes, aimed at the United States.

The environment then in 2018, was a lot more auspicious for Vladimir Putin. The stuff that has happened since 2018, and since the war began, is completely different. And so, the months ahead, as he anticipates November, when he has to declare as a candidate.


HUNTSMAN JR.: And remember, there are 150 million good citizens, in Russia. Their voices are going to matter, at some point as well.

COLLINS: You say when he gets humiliated, you were -- you get concerned, about what he might do? What are you worried that he might do?

HUNTSMAN JR.: Well, Vladimir Putin doesn't forget, and he doesn't forgive.

And here, you have, it shows the hypocrisy of the system, Kaitlan.

It's, you've got people in prisons, throughout Russia, who have committed minor offenses, against the state, and against Putin.

And here, you have Yevgeny Prigozhin, who launches a 5,000-person strike. I mean, the distance between Philadelphia and Washington D.C. It took the dictator, in Belarus, to step in and stop this, who probably represented the greatest existential threat, to Putin and the Russian state. And he's let go.

So, the hypocrisy that's built into the Russian mindset, at the governance level, is just breathtaking.

But I will tell you this. Putin is a master at trickery. He's a master at leverage. He's a master at deceit. So, he's putting nuclear weapons, in Belarus. Of course, he's already given the Belarusian government, a security guarantee, which effectively means he controls Belarus. It now is a subsidiary of the Russian state. But a lot of it again, is the leverage that Putin manages so well.

So, where are those weapons likely to be aimed toward? Well, probably Poland, because what he wants to do, he wants to freak out NATO. He wants to freak out the people in Poland, by thinking that something could occur. So, he's a master at these kinds of tactics, not that they're going to be used at the end of the day, although you have to take those threats, extremely seriously.


HUNTSMAN JR.: But Putin, after 23 years, knows every trick in the book. He's the longest serving head of state. He's known every head of state. Everyone's been through the Kremlin. He's learned from them. He's a master of trickery. And I think that's likely to come to an end. So, I'll just end with this thought, Kaitlan. I think what the United States needs to really focus on, is how are we prepared, as a country, to deal with post-Putin Russia? Do we have lifelines out to some of the people who could emerge as leaders? Do we even know who they are?

Well, I can tell you, I spent a lot of time, running the embassy, in Moscow, trying to get answers to these questions. And they're very elusive, because there's no bench in politics in Russia. There's no there-there. And so, for the United States, and for Europe, for NATO, for Central Asia, who comes next? And I don't think it's premature to be talking about that. It's going to be an extremely important question to address.

COLLINS: It is an important question.


And today, I heard the former President that you worked for, former President Trump, talking about, if he's reelected, he says he can solve this issue, in just one day. I mean what is your response when you hear something like that about such a complicated issue?

HUNTSMAN JR.: Well I would begin to laugh out loud, but that might -- that might embarrass me, in front of your viewers. I just think that's just nonsense. I mean, I think we've had enough of the games, and the statements, and the finger-pointing, and the charades.

That these are very complex issues. They're steeped in a thousand years of history as it relates to Ukraine. They're very steeped in the nature of the Russian state that Putin runs.

It's a singularly unique state that is tailor-made and molded to his autocratic style. He has a table of advisers, consisting of a few folks, who run the security apparatus, the FSB, the SVR, the military, and the GRU. And then you've got some oligarchs thrown in.

So, you take Putin out of that system, and it becomes almost unimaginable, what could befall the Russian state, because there's no one strong enough, with the leverage, with the clout, to be able to run the country, going forward.

So, for an American leader, to say, "I can fix this thing in a day," is absolutely ridiculous and does not comport with reality whatsoever.

COLLINS: And you were his Ambassador, I should note, when Trump was in Helsinki, with Putin, of course, at that summit. When the fact that he is the Republican front-runner, would you vote for him in 2024, if he's the nominee? Do you think he can win the election?

HUNTSMAN JR.: No, and no. I didn't think that he could win reelection, before the fiasco, around classified documents.

And I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. There are a lot of great American public servants, who work very hard, for security clearances. And I've been part of it, on and off throughout my career. And you got to work very hard to maintain those security clearances. And there are protocols that go with how you handle, how you distribute, how you share those types of classified documents.

And so, I think, in the aftermath of this, which I think is a slap in the face to so many public servants? I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Who have to work hard, and play by the rules?

And when you have somebody at the very top, I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat, who's not playing by the rules? That is a slap in the face to the great American public servants, who have to play by the rules. So, I don't think there's any way that he could win, get the numbers in 2024.

But here's the strange dilemma for Republican candidates, running for office, is you can't win without part of Trump's base. So, you're walking on eggshells trying to make sure you don't offend somebody, while at the same time, you want to show some distance, but you got to have a message that basically appeals, if you want to win the Republican nomination, to a part of his base.

So, I think this is going to be a wide-open race, way more so than people are letting on. I just don't buy the conventional wisdom that somebody's way up in the polls. And because they are today, it's going to stay that way.

I think the legal entanglements, Kaitlan, are going to be severe. And I think it's going to cut into the base that he has and make the mathematics absolutely impossible for victory.

COLLINS: The legal entanglements are going to be severe. That is quite an assessment.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman, thank you for your knowledge on that, and for your expertise, on what is happening, in Russia and Ukraine. We'll certainly have you back on the program. Thank you for your time.

HUNTSMAN JR.: Pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

COLLINS: The Supreme Court today ruled against a Trump-backed theory. We'll dig into what that theory is, next.



COLLINS: The Supreme Court, today, rejecting a controversial legal theory that was pushed, by the former President, and his allies, to try and overturn the election results. In a 6-3 decision, the court has now ruled that elected politicians don't have unchecked power, when it comes to setting the rules, for federal elections.

In the same theory, this was fueled -- that fueled multiple failed lawsuits, we should note that suggested President Biden's victory was anything but legitimate, because states around the nation changed rules, around the election, during -- because of COVID-19, for example, allowing drop boxes, before there were widespread vaccines available. Joining me now, to talk about this ruling, is CNN Correspondent, and Host of "The Assignment," Audie Cornish.

I mean, this could have gone so differently, because essentially what they were arguing is that these state legislatures could act independently, and would have this unchecked power, over elections.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN HOST, "THE ASSIGNMENT" PODCAST: Right, not (ph) they would have the final say.


CORNISH: And, in the end, the ruling is saying "No, there's still a supervisory role for outside courts. You guys don't have kind of the be-all end-all say."

And the most interesting part was sort of buried in Kavanaugh's opinion, concurring opinion, where he said that, look, there is a federal standard that can be applied in the future. And we should kind of understand what it should be, what are the circumstances, under which a federal court or elsewhere can kind of step in, in these disputes.

So, I don't think this is over, so to speak. I don't think the people, who believe in this theory think they're completely dead in the water. There're still going to be a lot of state-level fights, when it comes to elections.

COLLINS: Yes. And we've seen how state officials have pushed that when it comes to drop boxes, changing those rules.

The Supreme Court is not done yet. They are far from it. We have several big cases that we are watching, for this week, when it comes to affirmative action, and higher education, President Biden's student loan plan.

What are you watching the most closely?

CORNISH: Probably the affirmative action case. I mean, people have -- we've just been discussing this, as a country, for so long, the sort of wars over this.

And we're also moving into a new phase, where there's discussion about the idea of race-neutral policies. And so, it'll be interesting to see what the court has to say, about when it's something race-conscious, when it's something race-neutral, and should we be talking about it at all, in this particular setting, which is supposed to be, right, a meritocracy, getting into college.

COLLINS: Yes. And we note, they'll hopefully rule, this week. We believe we'll get that decision. We'll see what they decide.

Audie Cornish, thank you.

CORNISH: Yes, thank you. COLLINS: And up next, he is running for president, leader of the Free World, Commander-in-Chief. But he was stumped on a national radio show. We'll tell you who and what was the question?



COLLINS: It feels like there is almost always a foreign policy blunder, when it comes to presidential primaries. We already have one, for 2024, this one, from Republican candidate, Miami Mayor, Francis Suarez.


HUGH HEWITT, HOST, "THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW": Will you be talking about the Uyghurs in your campaign?


HEWITT: The Uyghurs.

SUAREZ: What's a Uyghur?

HEWITT: OK, we'll come back to that.

SUAREZ: You gave me homework, Hugh. I'll look at, what was it? What'd you call it? A weeble?

HEWITT: The Uyghurs. You really need to know about the Uyghurs, Mayor.

SUAREZ: I will -- I will --

HEWITT: We got to talk about it every day.

SUAREZ: I will --


SUAREZ: I will -- I will talk about. I will -- I will search Uyghurs. I'm a good learner. I'm a fast learner.



COLLINS: The Uyghurs obviously are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority, in China. The U.S. has recognized them, as a target, of genocide. Their treatment comes up in many conversations, in foreign policy circles, in Washington. It certainly will, on the debate stage.

Suarez, who is the Mayor, of Miami, as I noted, later said, quote, "Of course, I am well aware of the suffering of the Uyghurs in China. I didn't recognize the pronunciation my friend Hugh Hewitt used. That's on me." That's all for us, tonight. Thanks for joining us, for all of our breaking news.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Abby Phillip, starts, right now.