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CNN Live Event/Special
Uncharted Territory As Trump Faces Third Indictment; 16 Charged In Michigan Plot To Undo Trump's Election Loss; Judge In Documents Case Signals December Trial Is Too Soon; GOP Lawmakers Debunks Donald Trump and his Legal Peril as Retaliation; Gov. DeSantis Downplays Concerns on the State of Campaign; Authorities Scrambling for the Investigation on the Death of Tupac Shakur. Aired 10-110p ET
Aired July 18, 2023 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell CNN that King spent 50 days in a detention facility in South Korea before this. He was facing disciplinary action for assault.
He was about to be separated from the army and had even been escorted to the airport to fly back to the U.S. but he never boarded that plane.
We'll tell you more as we learn it in that case. Thank you so much for joining us tonight. CNN Primetime with Laura Coates starts right now.
LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: Kaitlan, thank you, and good evening, everyone. I'm Laura Coates. And tonight, we are once again in uncharted territory in American history. It appears that a former U.S. President is facing his now third indictment in a matter of months, as Donald Trump reveals that he is now a target in the special counsel investigation of efforts to overturn the election.
So, here is the plan for tonight. We're going to methodically analyze exactly what we do know, just focusing on the facts and figure out where this might go next. We've got an amazing team of reporters, of experts, including the former counsel from one of Trump's impeachments.
Plus, I'll talk with a former Trump White House legal adviser and get her reaction to all of this.
We also have Michael Fanone, the retired officer who was attacked on January 6th. We'll tap into his insight after a target letter has been sent.
And Jake Tapper will join me on how Trump's 2024 rivals are reacting, including an exclusive interview with Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis.
But, first, there is an avalanche of headlines and it's coming in fast and furious. So, here is what we know, at least at this hour. Trump received a letter on Sunday. He's already been plotting a strategy with allies who were on the Hill. Prosecutors have now interviewed officials in all seven battleground states. And Michigan has now charged the fake electors who signed certificates falsely claiming that Trump won. And in Trump's second indictment over classified documents, the judge in that case saying that a trial is not likely to happen this year.
Trump is responding for the first time on camera tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I got the letter on Sunday night. Think of it. I don't think they've ever sent there on Sunday night. And they're in a rush because they want to interfere. It's interference with the election. It's election interference. Never been done like this in the history of our country.
And it's a disgrace what's happening to our country, whether it's the borders or the elections or kinds of things like this, where the DOJ has become a weapon for the Democrats, an absolute weapon.
And it seems that every time my polls -- you know, we're leading by a lot, and we're leading by a lot in a place called Iowa, a lot. And not only with the Republicans, but we're leading against Biden by a tremendous amount. They haven't seen anything like it.
And they feel, I guess, they want to try and demean and diminish and frighten people, but they don't frighten us because we're going to make America great again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Let's start up with the fact that Trump is a target. We know now, his own words, in the January 6th investigation.
Joining me now to discuss is CNN legal Analyst Norm Eisen. You recall that he was the House Judiciary's Special Counsel in Trump's first impeachment trial.
Norm, let's start at the beginning, a very good place to start. We're hearing a lot about target letters. What does it mean to be definitionally a target?
AMB. NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Laura, it has a technical definition, but the practical meaning is Donald Trump is very shortly going to face charges as a defendant.
If you look at the definition here, the elements are this is a person who the prosecutor or the grand jury has substantial evidence, a lot of evidence, that they have committed a crime. And the pot has come up to such a high boil that they're a putative defendant in the case.
COATES: What does that term mean to people?
EISEN: It means they are extremely likely to be charged, that they are currently considered as charges being imminent. So, it's a default, hey, you are going to get charged now. Very rarely, a lawyer -- I practiced defense law, as you know, for 30 years before I was impeachment counsel. The lawyer will come in and talk the government out of it.
But knowing, as we do here, the mountain of evidence against Donald Trump, the seriousness, he said it first time in American history a former president gets a target letter, he is going to get charged. That's what target means.
COATES: Here's the allegations, substantial evidence, of course, probable cause before a grand jury. Norm, stand by. We have more to talk about in this very important issue.
I want to head down to Florida, though, and get the reaction from the Trump world tonight because that's where Paula Reid is. Paula, what are you hearing?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, I was in court for about two hours during this first hearing before Judge Aileen Cannon, and it's pretty clear from what I saw today that this case is unlikely to go to trial in December, which is when prosecutors said they would be ready to take this case before a jury.
The judge seemed sympathetic to arguments from defense attorneys that that was just too soon. She called that timeline, quote, compressed and said cases like this just take more time, especially because this involves classified information.
Now, she did not seem interested in litigating anything about how Trump's candidacy for the White House would impact timing here. Instead, she is focused on getting answers from defense attorneys about how long it will take them to get through discovery and at least get to the point where they might be able to discuss a possible trial date either next year or even later. Laura?
COATES: We'll have to see you. Paula, thank you so much.
I now want to break down what this target letter is all about and the window that he has to respond. Joining me now is Brandon Van Grack, a national security lawyer.
Now, first of all, we have not seen the actual target letter. He has alluded to it. He has referenced to it as well. This is a sample target letter of the kind that you would receive if you were to be a defendant or a putative defendant in an action.
Let's take it in bite-sized pieces, though, because, first, not everyone gets them. But if they have, it might look like this. Walk us through kind of the first part. It's telling you about what your rights will be or what you are supposed to do as a grand jury witness.
BRANDON VAN GRACK, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: That's right. There's one distinction, I think, between this sample target letter and probably what the former President got, which is what this is saying is explaining how the grand jury process is going to happen. But the implicit here that the individual who's received this letter has been compelled to testify in the grand jury. And I think more likely than not, what the former president got was an invitation.
In fact, this sample letter comes from the Department of Justice's own website that gives a sample letter. And so sometimes they're compelled and it says, this is what you're going to do, and what probably the former president got probably didn't include that specific language.
COATES: But in the language, it's one section of it, a notion of we advise you, the grand jury is conducting an investigation likely of federal crimes, and, of course, you cannot destroy or alter evidence if you are either compelled or to actually produce it, right?
VAN GRACK: That's right. And I think if we can bring that language back up, I think that's probably the most interesting part of the letter that the former president got because --
COATES: Let's bring that back.
VAN GRACK: Because if you show the star at the end, you can miss it, it's actually not a footnote. What it is, is an invitation for the prosecutors to include the potential charges that the former president may be sort of accused of violating. And so I think this line likely was in the letter. And I think there's been some reporting recently this afternoon indicating what those potential violations are.
COATES: We're going to walk through what those could possibly be, but the notion they are going to have some advanced notice.
The third part, if you think about these bite-sized pieces, of course, is telling you a little bit about what might be the sort of law and order moment of what you can say or what you will say may be used against you, the notion of you have the right to refuse to answer a question. That might surprise people.
VAN GRACK: Well, that's exactly right, which is the point of the target letter. Maybe taking a step back, it's a fairness point.
Again, in the Department of Justice's own internal guidelines, it, quote, encourages prosecutors to send this letter to individuals who are about to be indicted and may be indicted. And what it's saying is, again, this is I think language like this would have appeared in front of the former president, it's an invitation to testify, but you do have rights. You are not compelled to testify. And that's exactly what this letter showed.
COATES: Finally, on one last point of it, what you don't have the right to, although we know about right to counsel, that attorney can't be in the room with you in the grand jury, and the grand jurors can ask you questions, but you can go out, step outside the grand jury room and confer. Why is that significant?
VAN GRACK: Well, I think it's the reason why most individuals who receive a target letter do not, in fact, testify in front of the grand jury.
COATES: It's more than a safety and security blanket, might have implications. Stand by, please, Brandon, because there's also another huge development today. 16 people across Michigan have now been charged and now face multiple felony counts in a 2020 fake elector scheme.
We've got CNN's Jessica Schneider in the city of Lansing with much more in this. Jessica, what can you tell us?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Laura, these are 16 Republicans who allegedly tried to storm in the state capitol behind me on December 14, 2020 armed with fake certificates, falsely proclaiming that Donald Trump was the winner here in Michigan, despite Joe Biden actually winning by 154,000 votes.
At the time, those 16 were rebuffed by police, but now they are facing eight counts, multiple felonies, what could amount to decades in prison. It includes election law forgery.
These were prominent Republicans, current and former officials, a school board member, a mayor, and now they are all facing these charges, and it might not be the last. There are other investigations in other states like Arizona and Georgia. Laura?
COATES: There might be more to come. Jessica, thank you so much.
So, speaking of charges, more broadly, I want to know what some of the possible ones that Trump might actually face if, and, of course, if he is indicted.
Norm Eisen is back with us right now. Norm, we've talked about this a great deal in terms of what are the potential charges that he might be facing and others could actually face.
I want to walk through them a little bit, and you've broken it down in different categories. One of them is the obstruction of an official proceeding, talking about, obviously, certification, right?
EISEN: This is the culmination nation of the events that started after the 2020 election and ended on January 6th.
There are different ways that prosecutors in that target letter that we've talked about may choose to charge this, different statutes. But the essence of the matter is, Laura, that Donald Trump is alleged now apparently going to be charged for a scheme to stop the certification of the electors of the rightful president, Joe Biden, in favor of preserving his own tenure in the White House.
The official proceeding is the January 6th meeting of Congress, and there is a tremendous amount of evidence that Donald Trump took steps to interfere with that.
COATES: Well, we've heard from, of course, the Congressional investigation on this issue. Some things have happened in broad light and open air. But then you've got this notion of the conspiracy, right, the conspiracy, the meeting of the minds to defraud the United States government and the officials of the people. What is this a referencing to?
EISEN: This was the heart of a model prosecution memo that I wrote with an all-star bipartisan cast of former prosecutors.
COATES: But what does that mean, a model memo, meaning that -- how is that --
EISEN: In the Department of Justice, in order to charge Donald Trump, in order to generate the target letter that we now know about, there had to be a prosecution memo, what we call in criminal law a pros memo explaining here's the charges, here's the facts, here's the evidence, here's the law, here's who did what, okay?
The core of this analysis, I think, is 18 USC 371, a conspiracy to defraud the United States. You can charge it in various ways, Laura, but the essence is simple. That's what Jack Smith has to do now. He's getting ready to go to trial against Donald Trump. Keep it simple, stupid. You had these phony electoral certificates. Those people were not the duly appointed electors of the winning presidential candidate. And he used those phony electors to pressure Mike Pence and then to disrupt Congress. Simple scheme, that is defrauding the United States out of the person who really was a rightful president.
COATES: And of course, when I think about a conspiracy, as we all do, we talk about the meeting of the minds. It would likely then be unlikely that he'd be the only person who might be charged in something like that.
But then you've got this next part. I want you to address that point as well, the possibility of an incitement assisting or giving aid to an insurrection. This is a very serious allegation.
It's one of the most serious allegations in American criminal law. It's also one of the rarest. So, prosecutors are probably thinking, and we cautioned in our model prosecution memo, prosecutors may not go there, but they might look for other legal vehicles.
How do you deal with an insurrection? You can say, for example, that there was a conspiracy to interfere with Mike Pence performing his constitutional duties or to interfere with Congress deciding on the rightful person.
But in the end of the day, it all comes down to that violence of January 6. And I think prosecutors are signaling with this target letter they're going to hold Donald Trump accountable or attempt to before a jury of his peers.
COATES: We shall see. That conspiracy word keeps coming up. Norm, please stay with me. We've got a lot more to talk about. Because up next, one of Trump's former legal advisers in the White House is going to join me live to react.
Plus, Republicans on the Hill are calling the letter, it's their words, not mine, bullshit. And now Trump is strategizing with them.
And Michael Fanone joins to react to this looming indictment. This is CNN special live coverage.
COATES: All right. Well, welcome back to our special coverage. There's been a dramatic development in the federal investigation into January 6th, the former president revealing himself that he is a target of the criminal probe.
I want to bring in former Trump White House Associate Counsel May Mailman, who is also the vice president of Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections. She served in the White House from 2019 through January 2021. May, welcome. I'm glad you're here.
I'm eager to hear your insight tonight because you have spoken about this issue, and we're talking about the potential charges. We do not know what will ultimately come or even if there will be an indictment or when, but you have said that there should not be charges in any event. Tell me why.
MAY MAILMAN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE ASSOCIATE COUNSEL: Yes, so I expect that the charges will relate to the fake electorate scheme and not storming the Capitol, but I don't think that the charges should be brought. This has nothing to do with protecting Trump. If people commit crimes, they should be open to be charged.
But I don't think the charges are appropriate here for a couple of reasons. The first is that it's not illegal to be crazy. So, Jack Smith is going to have to prove that Trump knew that he lost the election. And I just think that that's debatable. And debatable is not enough for DOJ to bring the weight of the federal government down on someone.
Yes, the fake electoral scheme was farfetched, but it's not illegal to believe in a farfetched legal scheme and try and convince your vice president that it's correct and obviously unsuccessfully.
Well, let me ask you on that point, (INAUDIBLE), I want to hear that next point. But on that very important point you've raised, the idea of crazy, are you suggesting that somehow he did authentically believe? Obviously, Jack Smith has to prove some kind of intent to a jury, has to have at least some reference to it, and demonstrate that he's aware of the intent based crimes. Do you think that there is evidence to suggest that maybe Trump truly believe that he, in fact, did win the election and that his pursuit was lawful?
MAILMAN: Yes. I mean, it's going to be tough. You have to get into Donald Trump's mind, which is something that neither you nor I could possibly do.
And I've spent, you know, a lot of time with the former president.
And I think it's actually no different than most Americans, where if you tell yourself something for long enough, it actually really ends up being true to you. If you think the ref stole the game, like it actually ends up being true. If you think you didn't send that awkward text at night, it actually ends up being true.
I think that you can hear something and all of his advisers after the campaign said you really did win the election.
At the time, there was some basis for that. There were real lawsuits going on in Pennsylvania. And, eventually, that basis faded. Some of the fraud allegations were brought through the court system and so it no longer became true.
But if you've bought into something so fully, then you do believe it. And he says that he won everywhere he goes still currently, even though it's not helpful at all to his re-elect campaign.
COATES: Well, May, that is true, but then you have testimony from the likes of, for example, Alyssa Farah Griffin spoke about his conversation with Mark Meadows. At one point, I believe Cassie Hutchinson alluded to something similar referencing in their statements before the obviously January 6th congressional committee, which is a separate, of course, beast in this entire equation to suggest that he did, in fact, believe or knew that he did not win.
But to your point about it fading that timeline, that chronology of is very interesting to so many people because, of course, one of the big issues here is whether they can prove that he thought so, but also how he may have conspired or convinced others of what he was saying.
I wonder, you were part of the White House and you were there, I think through 2021. Did you ever have a conversation with the former president about his belief that he won or did not win the election?
MAILMAN: So, I didn't, fortunately. That was Pat Philbin and Pat Cipollone, who are, I think, well known to the grand jury at this point. But, yes, sure, maybe you've got testimony from Alyssa Farah and Cassidy Hutchinson, and I don't think that there's any reason necessarily to discount that, but the DOJ usually needs more. It's not on this hand, on the other hand, and trying to figure it out and I don't know.
Usually, and you worked at the Department of Justice, so you know this, is that the Department of Justice, in order to seem like a fair broker, they bring cases that are certain that you can win, that you've got that evidence. And my fear is that when you bring a case that really seems like you just have to get into the president's head and it could go either way, and you're just not sure, that you end up losing so many Americans.
And this was kind of my second point, was that this isn't going to prevent another January 6th. If anything, it's going to make it worse because people feel as though the Department of Justice is one-sided, that it's politicized.
And when people lose that faith in their institutions, then I think it actually is very dangerous to our republic. It makes you need to basically take over the government, because if the wrong side gets the Department of Justice, they will use it against you. So, it creates this very high stakes, very bad situation.
COATES: It also creates, as you're seeming to intimate, a self- fulfilling prophecy on that very notion. It's interesting, of course, because perception, as you know, can very well become king. But how is Trump, unlike the average, and I know he's a former president, but in terms of trying to prove intent, the prosecutors all the time have to use contextual clues and circumstantial evidence, if they don't have direct evidence, to try to understand the mens rea, the mindset of a particular defendant, what makes this so different? Is it the fact that politics, obviously, has been a big part of the conversation around this particular allegation?
MAILMAN: Well, I don't think he's different than the standard defendant in the sense that, of course, you can never actually be in anyone's mind. So, I would, I guess, just say you need the exact same level of intent. And I just struggle to see you have that here. It's somebody who's been remarkably consistent, at least in the public view, that he thinks that he has won the election and has really structured his life around it.
I mean, I personally think you're at this age, you should retire. But like he thinks, he feels in his soul that this is something that is owed to him, because he feels as though he has won this before. I really don't think you'd see, I mean, this type of behavior if he actually thought that he had lost the last election.
But you're absolutely right, like there isn't and shouldn't be two systems of justice, which I think is part of the problem, which is so many Republicans -- I think it's 56 percent of Republicans no longer trust the DOJ or the FBI, to be fair.
And that is, I think, catastrophic for our country.
COATES: A stunning turn of events, especially, and, of course, it trickles down to the electorate's perception as well, a conversation we'll continue.
May, thank you for joining. We don't know all the answers of what even the indictment or if it's happening or the charges, but the conversation happening all across America is about whether it should, what should it be and what's the impact. Thank you for joining us.
MAILMAN: Thanks, Laura.
COATES: Next, news out of the first hearing in Trump's second indictment, this one over classified documents. Why the judge is signaling that she won't actually maybe hold a trial this year.
Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COATES: All right. Now, to Donald Trump's other legal troubles, Trump's lawyers and Special Counsel Jack Smith's team of appearing in federal court today on the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon is pushing back on prosecutors' proposed mid-December trial date. She's calling the proposed timeline compressed and says that cases like this, well, they just take more time.
Now, she has yet to actually set a trial date, says that she plans to promptly issue an order on the matter.
Norm Eisen and Brandon Van Grack are back with me right now. Norm, I want to start with you. There is a big divide, right? There is the August date she wanted to state initially. There was the December date by the prosecutor. And then there's Trump, who said after the election. Was that ever realistic, after the election?
COATES: Good. Don't worry to answer anything.
EISEN: But that doesn't mean that you won't get it, Laura. Because this is a judge, Judge Kinnon, who has already made a pattern of pretty far out decisions favoring Donald Trump in the litigation over the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. She was struck down twice by a very conservative 11th Circuit appellate panel because she so favored him. So who knows what she's gonna do, but he shouldn't get it until after the election.
COATES: Why shouldn't he get it, though?
VAN GRACK: Well, and I think it goes to the December piece, what we just talked about is the end date, but the Department of Justice, you know, one of the points that you just pointed out that Judge Kinnon got into was, this isn't, this is a compressed timeline. Most cases involving classified information takes more than six months. But together --
COATES: Is that true?
VAN GRACK: It is true. But what isn't true is in most of those cases, the Department of Justice doesn't look in the first month, have all of the information ready to provide to defense counsel. That's where they are right now. They have provided almost all the unclassified information, and they have said sitting in the courthouse is just about all the classified information. They just need to sign a protective order. So it's different in the sense that normally the Department of Justice isn't in such a position that they can actually, you know, go forward in such speed.
EISEN: And they should be able to get this case to trial within a year. If you look at other complicated cases that have operated on a rocket docket, the Paul Manafort case, that got to trial in less than a year. In the Eastern District of Virginia, where I sometimes practice, they
have a very rapid trial calendar. This case should be able to go, and it's of the utmost national interest that it does go. So we know, are we going to choose a president who is convicted of mishandling classified information? That's the whole job of a president.
VAN GRACK: I agree, but I would just amend it. It doesn't need to happen in a year. It can happen in six or nine months. If the Department of Justice is saying right now --
VAN GRACK: -- we have all the information we can provide, it shouldn't take six to nine months to deal with these issues.
COATES: But they're providing information. What about the defense who's saying, I've got to go through everything. You may tell me of everything, but I've got rights to exculpatory information. I want to see the voluminous recalling documents. I want to go through the footage that you've given us. What about their argument?
VAN GRACK: So there are two pieces to that. One is that the Department of Justice actually provided them with a guide saying, yes, it's voluminous. Here's actually what we're going to focus on. The second piece is that's not the way scheduling works that the defense doesn't get to review all the information and then you pick a trial date. What it is you pick a reasonable period of time and sometimes those dates move, but you don't not put dates on the calendar.
EISEN: And that's why she already has two strikes against her in the 11th Circuit. And the 11th Circuit has a rule. If you show a pattern of partiality towards a defendant, There's no exact number, but it's kind of a three strikes you're out rule.
COATES: But are we there now without having a scheduling order?
EISEN: Let's see what she says. She says an order is coming. How reasonable or unreasonable is it? There's no need to defer this case. You're right. Even a full year. Within a year it should be done. Six months, nine months. If she pushes it too far, you can expect that the 11th Circuit's going to take a hard look.
COATES: Well nothing's happening in the next year, gentlemen. It's not like it's an election year. So don't worry. There's no real timeline. More on this in a moment everyone. Thank you Norm Eisen and Brandon Van Grack. I appreciate it.
Joining me next everyone, Michael Fanon, along with Donald Trump's former deputy press secretary and former FBI official Peter Strzok, they'll all react to this new January 6th target letter. Also, what does it say that folks like Rudy Giuliani haven't yet received the same letters? We'll break that down.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COATES: Well, once again, there are political shockwaves moving through Capitol Hill, as Donald Trump revealing today that he is the target of a federal investigation into January 6th. No secret where his allies stand on this news, of course.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR-GREENE (R-GA): That's absolute bullshit. Yeah, that's my reaction.
KEVIN MCCARTHY, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: President Trump went up in the polls and was actually surpassing President Biden for re-election, so what do they do now? Weaponize government.
REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): Every time they indict him, his numbers go up.
REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Donald Trump's the leader of our party, and Donald Trump is going to beat Joe Biden in 2024 for a second time. Why are they doing everything they can to prevent him from being on the ballot in 2024? I'll tell you why. Because Donald Trump will win in 2024 and the left just, they're scared shitless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Joining me now, Sarah Matthews, former Trump White House Deputy Press Secretary; Sadie Gurman, Justice Department reporter for "The Wall Street Journal;" Peter Strzok, former FBI Deputy Assistant Director; as well as CNN law enforcement analyst and former D.C. police officer Michael Fanone. I'm glad to have all of you here. There is a lot to take in.
First of all, we're talking about the target letters. You've been a cop, obviously. Is this an oddity that you'd have a target letter in general?
MICHAEL FANONE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Now it back in and kind of went through my role decks of criminal cases and I probably participated in maybe a 100, 150 federal court cases and I can only think of one time in which a target letter was issued and that was an individual who held an elected office.
COATES: What does that say though? Is that because of the nature of the position that you dot the I's, you cross the t's, you have a professional courtesy of kinds?
FANONE: I think so. And I think that's what it has. You know, what's happening here is the DOJ is extending every courtesy to Donald Trump. But I don't think it really matters. I mean, who cares? Like, can the DOJ issue a target letter? Yes, they can. Do they have to? No, they don't. Do they issue one in this circumstance? Yes. That's it. Other than that, I think it just gives us fodder to talk about in our 24- hour news cycle, which we need to, you know.
COATES: Well, here's why I disagree. Here's why I think it matters. And it's the idea of not only the crossing of the t's dotting the I's. It's the notion that they are on notice. And of course, if you're on notice of a potential crime, you might change your behavior in some way, or you might be somebody who is now feeding evidence in some other way. You have been an investigator. When you're talking about a target letter in particular and having this out there, should this matter or is it the hubba-booloo that Fanone's talking about?
PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, I think it does matter. Look, in some contexts, when you have sophisticated white-collar criminals, when you have public corruption cases, when you have investigations where the person knows that the investigation is ongoing, that if you give them some sort of notice, they're not going to run and destroy evidence because presumably that's already all been gathered.
So at this point, again, do I think that this is going to result in Trump showing up before the grand jury and testifying? Absolutely not. I can't envision him doing it. I can't envision any of his attorneys doing it. But I do think it is, again, for this sort of case, for a high-profile, sort of white-collar, public-corruption-type defendant, it is something consistent with practice. And all it does, it takes away one potential tool for Trump, his attorneys, and his defenders to try and use against DOJ, saying, hey, look, you didn't give us a target letter. You're targeting him politically. And it's removed. It deflates that sort of attack before they can even use it.
COATES: They're doing that anyway though, right Sadie? I mean, Republicans, who you even heard on camera tonight have been speaking about this, is they don't see it as a courtesy. They don't think the idea of a target letter is somehow magnanimous by the DOJ. They think it's weaponization 101.
SADIE GURMAN, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right, and you know, to your point, I mean we have seen Trump being treated differently than other criminal defendants in the separate Mar-a-Lago investigation. We saw prosecutors, you know, they didn't even request detention for him. And they didn't seek to take his passport. They didn't put any restrictions really on his release. And that's different.
And that's because Jack Smith and Attorney General Garland are very cognizant that no matter what they do, it's going to be subject to attack by the right. And that's exactly what we're seeing. We saw the FBI director on the Hill last week. It's been a long time.
COATES: It's all one day, Sadie.
GURMAN: It's all one day, really. Yes, that's right. But I mean, it was about six or seven hours of just attacks from Republicans about politically charged investigations and specifically how they are treating President Trump.
COATES: Well, I mean, on that point, is this something that is a winning sort of campaign message or platform? I mean, the weaponization of the government has become as readily used and heard as many other things like healthcare, right? Now it's a conversation point all the time. Is this something that they ought to be focusing on?
SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY, TRUMP WHITE HOUSE: I think that when you look in the past, Republicans were critical of things like the Russia investigation, which they thought was all, you know, a hoax and all of that.
And so they kind of saw it as a two-tiered system of justice where Trump was being targeted.
But if you look at this case in particular, this is very different.
We're talking about Donald Trump potentially, defying his oath of office because he wanted to overturn a free and fair election, all because he wanted to stay in power and couldn't accept the fact that he lost to Joe Biden.
You can be critical of things like the Alvin Bragg case in New York or things like the Russian investigation. But I think things like this case and the classified documents case, it's hard to say that this is a weaponization of government.
Also, they're gonna point to the fact, Oh, well, he's a political candidate. That's why Joe Biden's DOJ is going after him.
The thing is, I think that Donald Trump jumped in the 2024 race because he wanted to use the fact that he was a candidate as a political shield. And obviously, his allies are going to use that as a defense as well.
But I think that we need to wait and see what the facts of this potential indictment are. But I think that they will be strong.
COATES: Let's not put the form over the substance of it. I mean, the target letter is one thing, right? Her comment about, and both your comments eloquently about the motivation maybe going in the race. But what about the perspective charges that we're talking about the idea of conspiracy, the idea of trying to defraud the notion of false electors. We are about 400 or so days away from the next presidential election have there been enough lessons learned in order to avoid this; you're smirking have there been?
STRZOK: Now, I mean are there lessons learned enough on the part of Donald Trump to not engage in behavior like this or absolutely not but look I think we're in the same place we were prior to the charges surrounding Mar-a-Lago. There was a lot of posturing on the political front when it was apparent that charges were coming and nobody had read the indictment. I think we're in the same spot where, you know, the clip you played, where you have a lot of the folks on the right defending Trump. But when this indictment comes, and I really believe it is coming, and we get a chance to see the data in there, the detail, the actual facts that are alleged, I think that's going to be a very similar response in terms of people reading that and seeing really overwhelming detail much like they did with Mar-a-Lago.
So it's one thing to posture politically now, but when you have alleged facts in front of you, and I really don't think DOJ is going to bring a borderline case.
When you get that set of overwhelming facts, it's going to become much more difficult and costly politically to continue to defend Trump.
FANONE: Just to jump on that point, your question was, you know, have there been lessons learned with regards to, you know, the political rhetoric surrounding these types of events and whether or not that, you know, ultimately I'm assuming what you're talking about is leading to violence and have we learned these lessons? I think Donald Trump has learned his lessons. He does understand that this rhetoric results in violence and that's his intention.
The intention is to say these things in these, you know, very ambiguous kind of roundabout ways where he can kind of say, well, it was just, you know, political speak and whatnot. But he knows that these are, I mean, I use the phrase dog whistle as an understatement.
He's signaling to his supporters to go out, commit acts of violence on his behalf, try to suppress his detractors, and prevent people from coming out and saying that what Donald Trump did was wrong.
COATES: What does your reporting tell you about the success of that or the longevity of that kind of support?
GURMAN: I think that it is unwavering and, what you know, what we've seen is that Trump has been able to build a lot of support around his two indictments. The fundraising emails came out almost immediately after Trump put on Truth Social that he was - you know, that he had received this letter.
COATES: He's raised millions.
GURMAN: He's raised millions. And so I think that is one of the sort of unusual circumstances about this extraordinary political moment that we're in.
I mean, our views of these cases are so polarized. And I don't know that there's anything that can sway people who are that strongly set in their views about the justice system. So in some sense, it's not just Trump that's going to be on trial here. It's also a test of the justice system. And, you know, for some people, that's going to mean, can the Justice Department really hold most powerful people to account? And for other people, it's going to be, well, is this an agency that's become irreparably damaged by partisanship?
And so, you know, it's just, it's really hard to -- very serious test of the justice system.
COATES: Quick last word. MATTHEWS: So I think that politically this obviously is going to
benefit him in the short term, but long term I can't see how this is going to help him win over anyone that he either hasn't already won over or lost since the 2020 election.
I think that independents are going to be outraged by this and it's radioactive for them. We saw in the 2022 midterms the candidates who were talking about stolen election lies and pushing all of those fraud claims lost and so if Donald Trump is still out there talking about this, then this is gonna dominate the news cycle because of the looming indictment, and then when it does potentially drop, that's all that him and the other candidates are gonna be talking about.
And I think that Americans wanna be talking about the other issues that actually matter to them.
COATES: Everyone, thank you. Stand by. I'm glad you're all here, cause up next is Jake Tapper, and he'll join me on his exclusive interview with one such candidate, hoping to get that RNC nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, plus a surprise in development in one of America's most notorious cold cases, a search warrant involving the murder of Tupac Shakur.
COATES: Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis campaigning in South Carolina today, even as headlines about his biggest primary rival are dominating the news cycle.
CNN's own Jake Tapper sat down in an exclusive interview with Governor DeSantis, and he asked the governor about the news that Trump is the target of the special counsel's investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So I do have to ask about the breaking news today. Your chief competitor, the front runner right now, Donald Trump, says he was informed that he is the target of Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. And Mr. Trump hasn't told Thursday to report to the grand jury. If Jack Smith has evidence of criminality, should Donald Trump be held accountable?
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So here's the problem. This country is going down the road of criminalizing political differences. I think that's wrong. Alvin Bragg stretched a statute in Manhattan to be able to try to target Donald Trump.
Most people, even people on the left, acknowledge if that wasn't Trump, that case would not have likely been brought against a normal civilian. And so you have a situation where the Department of Justice, FBI, have been weaponized against people they don't like. And the number one example of that happened to be against Donald Trump with the Russia collusion. That was not a legitimate investigation that was being done to try to drive Trump out of office. And so what I've said as president, my job is to restore a single standard of justice to end weaponization of these agencies. We're going to have a new FBI director on day one. We're going to have big changes at the Department of Justice.
Americans across the political spectrum need to have confidence that what is going on is based on the rule of law, not based on what political tribe you're in.
And then the second thing I would say is, to have a debate about the country's future. If I'm the nominee, we'll be able to focus on President Biden's failures, and I'll be able to articulate a positive vision for the future. I don't think it serves us good to have a presidential election focused on what happened four years ago in January.
And so I want to focus on looking forward. I don't want to look back. I do not want to see him. I hope he doesn't get charged. I don't think it'll be good for the country. But at the same time, I've got to focus on looking forward, and that's what we're going to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Jake Tapper joins me now. Jake, the phrase that sticks out in my head is the idea of criminalizing political differences, which is really not what foundationally this and the indictments we've seen so far have been about. But what did you make of that answer we just heard? Does it give primary voters a reason to choose him over Trump and all the legal woes?
TAPPER: So I then even followed up with the question, so if Jack Smith, the special counsel, finds evidence that Trump broke the law, you don't think he should be charged. And I noted that Jack Smith, who he was painting as a partisan actor, that Jack Smith has previously been part of the prosecution of Democrats like John Edwards and New Jersey Senator Bob Hernandez.
And he stuck with this, it's basically just a Republican talking point now, that they view the entire Justice Department as politicized. And look, they look at some of the failures of the FBI that have been acknowledged when it comes to the Russia investigation against Donald Trump, you know, and the reforms that Christopher Wray made, even though you heard him say he was going to fire Christopher Wray. And they look at the charges or lack of serious charges against Hunter Biden.
And this is a very popular view among Republican voters. And I guess that is where they feel all these Republican presidential candidates with three exceptions, Will Herd, Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, feel like they have to be because that's where their voters are. Their voters are now skeptical of any charges against Donald Trump and apparently cannot be convinced even if there is evidence, even if there are individuals like former Attorney General Bill Barr or former Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying that they think these are serious charges.
COATES: I mean, fair criticism is always fair, but as you point out, the idea of a talking point that suggests that overarchingly, it's simply bad for the country to prosecute somebody who is accused of a crime is really one that is distinct in the political realm over anything else but I can't help but think about the fact that DeSantis is lagging quite far behind Donald Trump in recent polls and you actually asked him point blank about the troubles that are facing his campaign. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So this issue gets into the state of the race, because some of your supporters are disappointed that your campaign has yet to catch fire the way they would want in terms of polling.
One Republican pollster, one who is sympathetic to you, I was asking her about your campaign, and she said she thought the issue was you bumped up at the beginning because voters, Republican voters, saw you as a more electable conservative like Trump, like Trump without the baggage.
But then they say as you go further and further to the right on some of these divisive social issues moderates, suburban moms, et cetera, Republican voters see you as less and less electable. What do you say to that analysis?
DESANTIS: Well, I don't think it's true. I mean, the proof is in the pudding. I mean, I took a state that had been a one-point state, and we won it by 20 percentage points, 1.5 million votes. Our bread and butter were people like suburban moms. We're leading a big movement for parents' rights, to have the parents be involved in education, school choice, get the indoctrination out of schools. Of course, there's bread and butter issues that matter, too.
Inflation, more economic opportunity. Florida's economy is ranked number one of all 50 states. We've worked hard to make that happen. Crime, you see crime in all these different communities that is now even going into suburbs and some areas. So I think that there's a lot of things. I don't think that's the reason. I think the reason is, is I was getting a lot of media attention at the time coming off to victory.
I had to do my job as governor with my legislative session and we had a great legislative session. We did a lot of great things actually things that are appealed to huge majorities of the of the population. So I think that analysis is wrong. But I had to do that and so I was basically taking fire. Really non-stop since then because a lot of people view me as a threat I think the left views me as a threat because they think I'll beat Biden and actually deliver on all this stuff and then of course people that have their allegiances within the allegiances in the public inside, you know have gone after me.
But the reality is, this is a state-by-state process. I'm not running a campaign to try to juice, you know, whatever we are in the national polls. I mean, whatever we did in the CNN compared, whatever. It's fine. I'm definitely doing better than everybody else.
TAPPER: But it's state-by-state, obviously.
DESANTIS: It's state-by-state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: I mean, in any state by state, of course, any governor running would, of course, point to their own track record and point to their own state. But there is a simple fact of your, it was lined in your question, of the idea of, look, he's done this in Florida, but there's 49 other states. What did you make of that answer?
TAPPER: Well, I mean he, look, he does have a track record in Florida to point to -- he was elected with 60 percent of the votes and did quite well with some traditionally Democratic and Democratic-leaning groups is no question about that, the question is: how can you compete in against Donald Trump in South Carolina where I am and in Iowa and to a lesser extent in New Hampshire, I say lesser extent because it doesn't seem to be worries spending as much time and focus. He needs to do well in Iowa. Anybody who hopes to defeat Donald Trump needs to hope that he will not win Iowa.
And it's true that it is a state-by-state contest and that Ron DeSantis is in second place in Iowa, according to polls. There isn't a lot of great polling out of there right now, but he's in second place. Hovering in the 20s, I would say, but Donald Trump is in the 40s.
And while the theory of the case for DeSantis supporters and the DeSantis campaign is that Trump's support is soft and they just have to present a reasonable alternative. One of the problems, as I enumerated with the governor, is one of the reasons, one of the big selling points for him was people thought he was more electable than Trump.
And so Republicans who want to win the White House thought that he was more electable. And as he has taken more and more conservative positions on abortion, on the trans community, on the like, some of that support has peeled away because it was based on electability.
And these Republicans, whether they're moderate or conservative, now view him as someone who is less electable. That is what both Kristen Salters Anderson told us in another pollster. So I don't know where this goes from here, but he really needs to do well in Iowa. He needs to come in first or a very, very strong second.
And he obviously needs to do well here in South Carolina. And look, it's early. It's early. The first contest is not until January 15th in Iowa. But there's a lot of ground to be made up, and we'll see if he can deliver.
COATES: I mean there's compared to the others who are in the race, looking for that RNC nomination. He is besting them, of course, compared to Donald Trump. He is not. Neither event. In Iowa, he's got the support so far, although she has not endorsed him. The governor seems to be very favorable towards the governor of Florida.
Jake Tapper, great interview. We'd all be looking forward to hearing what the governor had to say. Thank you for bringing it to us today.
TAPPER: Thanks a lot. Good to see you.
COATES: Now before we go tonight, there's a sudden development in the cold case of Tupac Shakur's unsolved murder.
Las Vegas police are not giving away any details, but they have confirmed that a search warrant was executed at a location in Henderson, Nevada. Tupac was shot to death while sitting in a car in 1996 after leaving an event on the Vegas Strip. CNN reported at the time that authorities believed that he was intentionally targeted.