Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Election 2024: The Campaign And The Courtroom; GOP Field Responds To Racially Motivated Shooting In Jacksonville; Political Realities Awaiting Biden Post-Vacation. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 27, 2023 - 20:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: From the 45th president to inmate P01135809.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my whole life I didn't know anything about indictments, and now I've been indicted like four times.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: A very busy and complicated courtroom calendar is looking over former President Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're clearly aware that this is a possibility that he could be campaigning for president and be sitting in these trials.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Donald Trump used this photo almost from the moment the flashbulb went off.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomorrow in Atlanta former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows will argue that his trial should be transferred from state to federal court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just don't think if the goal is to try to get this trial before the election I have a hard time seeing how we complete one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The big pieces that really came out of the debate were this moment when none of them could really be sure whether they should raise their hand or not about whether they'd support Donald Trump if he was convicted.

ASA HUTCHINSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a defining moment for our country and we can't be a party of grievance that Donald Trump wants to lead us into.

MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really do believe more after last night that Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican nominee. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Good evening, everybody. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. This is CNN special coverage, ELECTION 2024: THE CAMPAIGN AND THE COURTROOM.

What a consequential week it has been, both the one we just witnessed and the one that is coming. The case in Georgia against Donald Trump is about to face a big test. We're just hours away from a hearing over a key co-defendant's attempt to move his case to federal court and potentially dismiss the charges.

The hearing could have major implications for Trump who is now facing four separate criminal trials and made history this week as the first former president with a mug shot and an inmate number. Trump and his 18 co-defendants all surrendered this past week at the Fulton County Jail, there they are, and tomorrow the legal fight over when and where a trial will happen gets under way.

Amid all of these legal issues, Trump remains the frontrunner for the Republican Party nomination and we could get a better sense this week if his legal calendar will in fact clash with the campaign calendar.

CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joins us now from Atlanta.

Katelyn, what can we expect tomorrow and why is this hearing about so much more than Mark Meadows?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it is going to be about Mark Meadows first and foremost, but it is about more than that because there are other people that want to do what Mark Meadows is trying to do here in this case, move the case from state court to federal court. Donald Trump has the ability to make that ask, too, at some point, though he hasn't done yet.

And the reason that Meadows is doing this is because he's trying to claim that he has some sort of protection because he was a federal officer at the time of the actions he was taking that he's charged with here in Georgia. And so the question at this hearing tomorrow, it could go many hours as far as hearings go. It could be a long one is that were the things that Mark Meadows was doing such as setting up calls, being on calls, talking on calls, with Trump reaching out to state legislators, reaching out to people in Georgia who were in federal or in state positions?

Was he doing something that was part of his job in good faith as the White House chief of staff or was he doing something that was a little bit more political? Meadows is going to have to make his own case but we do know that the state of Georgia has subpoenaed four people for this, people who were privy to various calls that Meadows was taking part in or setting up including that call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger where Donald Trump asked him to find votes.

Let's listen to just a piece of that where Meadows actually speaks on that call. The first voice that you will hear is not Meadows, though, it is the lawyer who works with the state of Georgia. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN GERMANY, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL FOR GEORGIA'S SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm happy to sit down or have our lawyers sit down with Kurt and the lawyers on that side, and explain to him, hey, here's -- based on what we've looked at so far here's how we know this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.

MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: So what you're saying, Ryan -- hold on, let me make sure.


So what you're saying is you really don't want to give access to the data. You just want to make another case on why the lawsuit is wrong?

GERMANY: I don't think we -- I don't think we can give access to data that's protected by law, but we can sit down with them and say, we're looking at this --

TRUMP: But you're allowed to have a phony election? You're allowed to have a phony election? Right?

GERMANY: No, sir.


POLANTZ: So that's the type of evidence that the judge, the federal judge hearing this argument section tomorrow is going to be looking at, potentially as well hearing from the multiple witnesses including Brad Raffensperger who's been subpoenaed to this hearing to testify. So maybe a mini-trial we could have in some ways.

ACOSTA: Yes. And we did recognize the voice at the end of that clip that you just played there. It was pretty obvious who that was.

And Katelyn, there's also a hearing coming up tomorrow in the special counsel's January 6th case. That can be important as well. What can you tell us?

POLANTZ: It's all about trial dates, Jim. That is going to be the conversation in a lot of realms from here on out for Donald Trump. He has these four cases that his lawyers are juggling and that different prosecutor teams are going to judges and trying to get dates on the calendar. And so what happens tomorrow is Judge Tanya Chutkan in the federal district court in Washington, D.C., she is going to have a hearing and she's very likely going to be talking about scheduling, talking about a trial date.

There are requests on the table. The Justice Department wants a trial date to start very soon there, and then Donald Trump, he doesn't want the trial to start soon at all. That judge, she's going to be able to look at this and determine tomorrow very likely when that trial would start and she's already signaled she might want things to move fast. It's a cleaner case than the one in Georgia on the same topic, related to the 2020 election in that Trump is the only defendant in it -- Jim. ACOSTA: All right. Fascinating day coming up tomorrow. Katelyn

Polantz, thanks for breaking it down for us, in Atlanta for us. We appreciate it.

Joining me now former Trump White House lawyer Jim Schultz.

Jim, first, I want to get your reaction on that historic mug shot of your old boss. His campaign says it raised more than $7 million since his arrest. I guess they're selling mugs and everything with that mug shot on it. But it's bad, though, right, to have a mug shot taken, is it not?

JIM SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: Look, I don't think long term this is going to be beneficial for the former president, right? I think the initial hit among Republicans who were making this argument that there are two -- that there are two tiers of the justice system, that narrative is going to continue, and as that happens, I think you're going to see -- as time goes by, I think you see that start to wane as we get to hearings, as we get to trials and as we get to other legal proceedings associated with all of these cases.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, I have to think, and we have a member of the Biden team who's going to join us on the show shortly, you know, they're going to be showing this mug shot from here until kingdom come. I mean, you're going to see this mug shot on TV and ads over and over again, digital ads, you name it, from now until November 2024.

Would you, if you were still his lawyer right now, advise him, you know, listen, you might be able to get out of this Republican primary process and win that, but you're a goner in the general election?

SCHULTZ: I don't know the mug shot itself is going to be the turning factor on any of this. I think the conduct is going to be something that is the turning factor on this and the allegations as part of the -- as part of the legal proceedings and what's going to come out of the legal proceedings. I'm not sure that the mug shot is going to be the thing that drives this thing home in terms of a general election, and I do think as hearings start going that -- as hearings start happening and you hear trials start beginning that, you know, it has those things have some impact on him politically.

ACOSTA: And Mark Meadows is hoping to move his case to federal court claiming he was acting under his federal role as the White House chief of staff. Trump, I suppose he'll do the same, but he hasn't done that yet. What do you make of Meadows trying to make this case? I mean, clearly, we just played a clip of him on that phone call with the Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger.

I suppose the only thing you can say about what he was doing as the White House chief of staff is that he was trying to keep that job because other than that, I don't see how he was acting as the White House chief of staff.

SCHULTZ: Look, it is a very -- the job of the White House chief of staff is a very broad one, right? You serve the president, you serve the country, there's a number of different places, and the White House chief of staff is even permitted to be political in some ways under the regulations and guidelines. That being said, and the other thing is the threshold to get it removed is not all that high. All it has to be is some causal connection between some of his duties that he does as White House chief of staff and then some colorable claim under federal law in terms of a defense.


ACOSTA: But he was trying to get the election overturned.

SCHULTZ: That's not all that high. So I wouldn't be so --

ACOSTA: He was just trying to get election results for him.

SCHULTZ: No, I get it.

ACOSTA: That's clearly a political thing he was doing there, right? I mean, all what he's doing as the White House chief of staff there.


SCHULTZ: So serving the interests of the president and serving the -- in that role, serving the interest of the president of the United States. I'm not defending that this is something that is -- that is something that shouldn't be looked at closely.

ACOSTA: He was serving his political interest.

SCHULTZ: He was serving his political interest. I just believe that a judge is going to take a close look and it's going to be examined closely by a judge in terms of what role Mark Meadows was playing there. Was there any touch to his governmental interest in that discussion in terms of the service that he was providing to the president? I think it's a tough case, but the standard is so low that I think we can't be assured that a judge isn't going to go the other way on this thing.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you, you worked for Donald Trump, you worked in this White House. Do you think that there's any chance whatsoever that he would accept a plea agreement if it means keeping him out of jail? I mean, as much as he is trying to make a mint off of his mug shot, I can't imagine he wants to spend any time in the slammer.

SCHULTZ: Look, this state case is probably going to get heard two years down the road. I know what the trial date is, but state cases tend to drag on. There's going to be a lot of motion practiced in the state case. I do believe that the federal cases are going to go fairly early. I think you could see a trial in the spring in the January 6th matter, and then shortly thereafter see something in the documents case.

Only in the documents case a little longer because you have to go through all the -- you know, the confidential, the classified information procedures act, you know, those are the issues that will have to be heard by appellate courts as both sides appeal them.

ACOSTA: But do you think he would take a --

SCHULTZ: Which going to delay it for the next probably three to four months.

ACOSTA: But, Jim, do you think he would take a plea deal because --

SCHULTZ: So I think in the end --

ACOSTA: You know, he was putting out this mug shot and saying never surrender.

SCHULTZ: I don't think --

ACOSTA: I mean, that would be surrendering if you were to accept a plea agreement?

SCHULTZ: So I don't see a plea agreement in any way, shape or form perhaps until after, and lawyers will have to consider this with their client until after he's potentially convicted in one of those cases where then he says, OK, you know, I'm facing jail time now. I'm staring down jail time, federal jail time. I have another federal case coming, what am I going to do now? I think that's when folks are going to start talking about agreements, but until he's convicted in one of those cases, I don't see him taking a plea deal. I just don't.

ACOSTA: All right, Jim Schultz, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right, as we were just saying, Mark Meadows wants this case moved to federal court, at least two co-defendants want a speedy trial and former President Trump wants to delay until after the election. Of course, a breakdown of all the legal maneuvering when our special coverage continues next.



ACOSTA: Just hours from now we'll get our first peek at how Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis plans to prosecute her anti- racketeering case against former President Donald Trump. The Georgia election interference probe will take center stage in a court hearing tomorrow morning where Meadows -- Mark Meadows will ask a federal judge to move his case to federal court or dismiss it altogether.

Let's turn now to some legal experts. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig and Carrie Cordero.

Elie, Carrie, great to see both of you. Thanks for doing this.

Elie, let me start with you. What do you think we're going to learn from this hearing tomorrow? Is it possible? I was kind of curious about this, might there be some little nuggets or Easter eggs lurking in tomorrow's hearings that maybe might be some new information we haven't heard before as Fani Willis is trying to justify keeping this case in Fulton County?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: For sure, Jim. And I think really what we're going to see tomorrow could be sort of a microcosm of the issues that are going to be presented at the trial. Because essentially what Mark Meadows is going to be arguing is I was just doing my job as chief of staff. What Fani Willis is going to argue is, no, you were committing the crimes that I've charge you with.

And to that end, Fani Willis has subpoenaed four different witnesses including Brad Raffensperger who of course is on the receiving end of the infamous phone call where Trump asked him to find 11,780 votes, Mark Meadows is on that call, and including I think really importantly this Georgia state investigator, Francis Watson, who is another person who Mark Meadows directly sort of dealt with, interacted with, texted with, about trying to look for new votes and to take another look at the election in Georgia. So it's really going to be sort of a preview of I think the determinative issue at trial tomorrow.

ACOSTA: And Carrie, Meadows is not the only defendant to ask for their case to be moved to federal court. The former Georgia Republican Party chair David Shafer and Cathy Latham who served as a fake elector both filed similar notices. They claim they were just acting at Trump's direction. Do any of these defendants have a chance? And I suppose what do we make of what's going to happen to this case with all of these defendants ping-ponging in different directions wanting different things? It sounds like it could be chaotic.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There certainly are a lot of different moving parts because so many different defendants and defendants who are coming at this from very different perspectives, from the former president down to these state level individuals. So the people who have a decent claim when it comes to removal to federal court are the individuals who were actually federal employees. Mark Meadows, I think, probably has the strongest among the claims.

That doesn't mean that I think he's necessarily going to be successful, but he's not bringing a frivolous action to try to get this removed. He was a federal officer. He was serving as chief of staff. So I think his is the strongest case. Another individual, somebody like Jeffrey Clark who was a senior ranking Justice Department official also could make the argument. Now then they're going to have to argue that what they were doing was in the scope of their responsibilities or related to their actual government position, so that's a hurdle that they'll have to jump over.

But individuals who were not employed by the federal government, who were not federal officers, really don't have a good argument to move it to federal court.


ACOSTA: And Elie, I guess Trump is expected to do the same thing. That could be part of his team's delay tactic, but also a way to undermine the RICO charges brought against him and his co-defendants. And I suppose, you know, if Mark Meadows gets his way, and he's plucked out of this case and all of a sudden you have fewer co-defendants, the case could still go forward to trial, I would imagine. It would just be without him as a defendant.

HONIG: Yes, there's a lot of different people pulling in a lot of different directions here. If Mark Meadows or more than just Mark Meadows succeeds in getting this case moved to federal court then we're going to be on two tracks. We're going to have a certain number of defendants in federal court and that's going to be moving on its own speed, and then separately we'll have the rest of the defendants in state court, whether that serves Donald Trump's interest, I think it would.

And I think Donald Trump, I absolutely do expect him to bring this motion. He's not done so yet, but as Carrie said, of course, he was a federal officer, he was the president. I agree with Carrie. He does not have as strong an argument as Mark Meadows but boy, if Donald Trump can get this case into federal court or Mark Meadows, it's a game changer. It gives them a more favorable jury pool that's more inclined towards Donald Trump.

It probably sets them up to send this case up to a very conservative federal court of appeals, and ultimately it enables them to ask the judge to dismiss the case if they can show that they were acting within the scope of their federal duties and not outside that scope. So there's a lot of really important advantages here to whether any of these defendants makes the leap from state over to federal court.

ACOSTA: And Carrie, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is supposed to testify at this hearing tomorrow. Meadows was on that now infamous call where Trump asked the secretary to find more votes to help him win in Georgia. We've all heard that, but let's play it one more time. Meadows was on that call and we played a little bit of this earlier. Let's play a clip now.


MEADOWS: What I'm hopeful for is there are some way that we can -- that we can find some kind of an agreement to look at this a little bit more fully. You know, the president mentioned Fulton County, but in some of these areas where there seems to be a difference of where the facts seem to lead, and so, Mr. Secretary, I was hopeful that, you know, in the spirit of cooperation and compromise, is there something that we can at least have a discussion to look at some of these allegations to find a path forward that's less litigious?


ACOSTA: I mean, Carrie, it's remarkable to think that that took place four days before January 6th, but the other thing I guess is that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, she's going to be pointing to this call and what Mark Meadows was doing on that call, and essentially saying that's not very chief of staff-ish.

CORDERO: Right. So the argument that he's going to be making contrary to what he's going to argue which is that this was in the scope of his federal responsibilities as chief of staff, and she's going to say, no, that phone call is an example of the type of activity that goes beyond the scope of the activities in his actual chief of staff role, and was a violation of Georgia law. And that's the whole basis for her case that this was a conspiracy and racketeering activity to violate Georgia election laws and undermine the outcome of the election.

So there really is -- in the Mark Meadows case, there really is some fundamental issues that go just to the heart of her prosecution overall.

ACOSTA: All right. Elie Honig, Carrie Cordero, thanks to both of you very much.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Donald Trump's campaign says this one is worth millions of dollars in campaign donations. Will the strategy to use his arrest for political advantage work? We'll discuss it further when our special coverage continues. That's coming up in just a few moments. Stay with us.



ACOSTA: With four indictments in four different jurisdictions, Donald Trump will have to make a lot of court appearances, more than four, and some could clash with important dates on the political calendar. Here's what Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said about that earlier today.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact is I don't know if it's four or five or six or how many indictments it is now, but he's going to spend a lot of time in a courtroom and not on a campaign trail, and my concern is we cannot have Kamala Harris as president. We can't chance this.


ACOSTA: Here to discuss, CNN correspondents Audie Cornish and Eva McKend, plus a former Biden White House communications director and CNN political commentator, Kate Bedingfield, welcome to CNN, and CNN senior political commentator Scott Jennings.

Scott, your reaction to how Nikki Haley is framing this. She obviously knows there's only four indictments but.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, first of all, coming out of the debate I was actually surprised to see Haley most aggressively confront Trump. I mean, she was the first person on the stage to go after him.


JENNINGS: And then she sat there and told a FOX News audience that he is the most unpopular politician in the country. I thought it was just surprising to me to see her take that role. She's obviously continued it this weekend. So it strikes that her strategic thinking at this point is that, hey, I've got to begin to pivot and make the case that making him the nominee, if he becomes the nominee, would be, you know, near certain loss for the Republicans next November.

ACOSTA: Yes. But going after Trump does not exactly make you very popular inside the Republican Party right now. Witness Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, and so on, but when President Biden, Kate, was asked about Trump's mug shot, his response was handsome guy.

I know you're going to say that's vintage Joe Biden, but, you know, I was having a conversation with Tim Ryan, the former congressman, this weekend, and you know, he was saying that maybe it is time for the president to start talking about this in a fuller way. Talk about the seriousness of this case, laying out to the public.

He's shied away from it. The White House has shied away from it, I know you're probably going to say that's the way it should happen, but at some point he's going to have to talk about this more, isn't he?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, one thing I can tell you from having worked for President Biden closely for a very long time is he takes the separation of the Justice Department and the courts from the White House and the executive branch incredibly seriously.


It's something that he believes is foundational and critical to our government to be able to function. And so there are sort of two questions here. There's the question of the actual criminal proceedings which the president will not touch and has not touched, and then there's the political strategy, and I think what you saw from President Biden during the campaign in 2020 and as you see now is the campaign apparatus is going to continue to draw a really clear contrast.

They are going to make clear these are the stakes, there's nothing less than our democracy at stake here, and he's never shied away from laying out those stakes, from calling out Donald Trump for behavior that he believes is fundamentally eroding the country. But you can do that in a way that respects the separation of the justice system and the executive branch. And President Biden feels really strongly about doing that.

ACOSTA: But I was asking Jim Schultz about this earlier. You guys are going to show that mug shot a gazillion times between now and November 2024. There's just no -- I mean, why wouldn't you?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think, first of all, the media will do that for the campaign.


BEDINGFIELD: I don't know that the campaign --

ACOSTA: But during those commercial breaks --

BEDINGFIELD: I don't know that the campaign has to do that. I don't know if the campaign has to do that. But, look, the other thing I would say here is that the only person who is politicizing this process, the only entity that is politicizing this process is Donald Trump and the Trump campaign. I mean, he's out raising money off of his own mug shot. So the idea that there is, you know, pearl clutching from the Republican side about a politicization of this moment, is it doesn't quite pass the smell test.

ACOSTA: Yes, Eva, I mean, they're trying to have it both ways. The Trump campaign has been saying $7.1 million raised since the mug shot.

EVA MCKEND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we know that a significant amount of money that they are raising is being diverted to pay for these legal fees. But, listen, Jim, they have successfully convinced a good majority of the Republican base or I would say the base there, their supporters, that this fight is their fight, too. And so, you know, you do see a little bit -- I just got back from Iowa, you do see a little bit of Trump fatigue and it seems like people are saying things differently publicly and privately.

So for instance, in a private conversation I had with an Iowa pastor, he told me that he was frankly embarrassed by all of this. He voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, he's not going to vote for him again this time around. But they have successfully made this argument that -- to the conservative base that this is their cause and that they should be financing, you know, this legal battle.

ACOSTA: And Audie, Mike Pence was on CBS today. Here's what he said about the fellow Republican candidates backing what he did on January 6th.


PENCE: It was heartening, but it wasn't anything new. I welcome the fact that almost everybody on that stage made it clear that I did my duty that day, and I think the American people deserve to hear where every single one of the candidates for the Republican nomination stand.


ACOSTA: Audie, your impression of Mike Pence, how he's handling this. Is there a chance for him to move the needle in any way or is he just going to be that guy --

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nothing will ever win the needle for Mike Pence.

ACOSTA: I was going --


CORNISH: I can say that with confidence.

ACOSTA: Every time he goes into a pizza ranch or wherever in Iowa, there are going to be some Republicans who were steamed at him. And there just always will be. CORNISH: I mean, that's been consistent throughout. I think the thing

that I found most significant actually in the last few days was Vivek Ramaswamy talking on NBC News, actually, saying what he would have done on January 6th, and what was interesting about it is he said, well, I would do X, Y and Z, election reform, et cetera, and then on that condition, I would certify the vote.

This is really important because the litmus test for being President Trump's vice president would be to do what he asked on the next January 6th, right? And Pence already said to the nation, to the people on that stage, to the courts, I don't have the power as vice president to noodle around with the certification process, but that's not the lesson that anyone has taken away from this in terms of the fallout, right?

If you want to be at the front of the party, if you want to have the attention of the party, you have to look out and say, look, I'm going to do things differently from Pence and that means I'm going to do what it takes to stop them, whoever the them is at any given time.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, it's been said that some of these candidates are running for vice president. Mike Pence is not running for vice president this time around. That job is not going to be available to him.

MCKEND: And the comments in Ramaswamy's book when he talks about the former president are far more biting than what he says now and that's telling.


JENNINGS: And Ramaswamy's answer just on the January -- he ducked it at the debate.

CORNISH: Exactly.

JENNINGS: He'd shrunk at the debate and then afterwards, and now today has given a completely nonsensical idea, well, I would have stood up there in my capacity as president of the Senate, and forced them to pass this law and that law, as though the president of the Senate, the vice president, can wave some magic wand like he's a magical wizard. It was insane.


CORNISH: Yet you're saying that, though, your eyebrows are going like this as you're saying that, but the truth is we have witnessed now after January 6th people coming out of the woodwork with their legal theories saying that that's the case. It widens the aperture of what is acceptable and what is not, and I think that we are going to see more and more candidates like this on the trail going into 2024, maybe people running for Senate, et cetera, who are going to say, you know what else we could have done that time? You know who else we could have called? It's just free speech. I think we're watching that window open of what is acceptable and what is not. JENNINGS: Everyone else on the stage supported Mike Pence on the

debate except for Ramaswamy. I think he looked like a fool today, frankly, to stand up. He is depending on people being completely and totally without knowledge when it comes to the Constitution and the way laws are made and the Senate work. I don't think that schtick is going to work. I thought Pence got a fair amount of support on the stage and I was glad to see it because he deserves it.

ACOSTA: All right. Let's talk about this further in just a few moments. Everybody, stay with us. We'll be right back.


ACOSTA: The Republican presidential field speaking out about the racially motivated attack at a dollar store in Jacksonville, Florida.


Ron DeSantis was in Jacksonville earlier this evening and he said he condemns the shooting in the strongest possible terms. Mike Pence calling it an act of evil, adding he'll push for an expedited death penalty for anyone engaged in a mass shooting. And Vivek Ramaswamy calling it a tragedy but focusing on reports of the shooter suffering from mental illness and downplaying his alleged racist beliefs.

The panel is back. Let me go to you, Audie. The one thing I wanted to ask you about is Ramaswamy the other day saying out on the campaign trail that white supremacy is like a unicorn, and then this happens in Jacksonville. I mean, unicorns don't exist.

CORNISH: Well, to be clear, I mean, a few years back Mike Pence said that systemic racism was a left-wing myth. I don't think this is an unusual concept within the party to talk about, to say that at best this idea is somehow overstated, false, part of some sort of general hysteria to bring on censorship. It kind of tumbles on from there.

It's interesting to see them in this moment because the sad fact of being president of the U.S. is that at some point you will have to address the nation after a mass shooting, and how will you be able to do that? How will you address the factors at play in that moment? How will you be able to comfort the communities who may feel targeted? This is kind of their moment to give us a glimpse of what that might look like.

ACOSTA: But, you know, Scott, to Audie's point, you have to be president and deal with the situation like this, Donald Trump dealt with a situation like this in 2017. I was with him at that press conference when he said very fine people on both sides, and it just seems as though this -- to Audie's point this has not been adequately addressed in the Republican Party to confront white supremacy and white supremacist violence head on. And there seems to be a temptation to really downplay it and diminish it as much as possible.

JENNINGS: Well, I didn't hear anybody downplaying it or diminishing it today. I mean, you just read the statements of Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence and others. I do think Ramaswamy's comments the other day calling it a unicorn were obviously wrong. I mean, it clearly exists. I mean, there's all sorts of hatefulness that exists. Antisemitism exists, white supremacy exists, and you have to be ever vigilant about it and acknowledge it.

You can say I think it's overapplied as a political slur, it's a perfectly good thing to debate. But to say that something flat out doesn't exist when we see evidence of it, I mean, it makes you sound like you're just not ready.


BEDINGFIELD: But also -- but don't forget, we have these Republican candidates who are standing on a debate stage essentially falling all over themselves to kowtow to Donald Trump who himself when he was president stood on the debate stage and spoke directly to white extremist groups. Spoke directly to the Proud Boys and told them to stand back and stand by when he was president of the United States.

And so the idea that all of these candidates had the opportunity, standing on the debate stage this week to say in unquestionable terms that they will not carry forward this ideology of dog whistling and overtly carrying forward white supremacy in their politics. And they didn't do it, and that is appalling but also that's frightening, and it will continue to be, I think, a huge piece of this race as we move forward, too.

JENNINGS: But your debating point is that if you had supported Donald Trumpp or a Republican candidate for president then that inherently makes you a supporter of white supremacy or racism. And there's not --

BEDINGFIELD: No, don't --

JENNINGS: That's what you said.

BEDINGFIELD: Don't start misrepresenting what I said.

JENNINGS: No, you said if you --

BEDINGFIELD: I said these candidates had the opportunity to stand on stage and call out the atrocious ways that Donald Trump uses race to engage his base, and we all saw him do it. He was president for four years, and they didn't do that. I didn't say that every person who supports Donald Trump is a racist. That's --


CORNISH: Hey, Jim, this is what the internet sounds like in a nutshell, right? Like someone brings up this sort of point, someone else says, I think you're going a little bit far saying everyone is a racist just because of X, Y and Z. It goes from there with no real resolution, right? And no real dialogue about the deaths of people involved or what could be done to prevent it. So I think this is one of the things we're going to wrestle with going into 2024.

One of the things Ramaswamy talks about is being too woke. It's part of a longer dialogue that says, have we gone too far? And if we have, then you should come over to our side. And they think that there is a sliver of voter, independent voter, who will be inclined to that argument.

ACOSTA: DeSantis has tried to make a lot of hay out of this down in Florida.


ACOSTA: Today he was down in Jacksonville giving a press conference and speaking to the people at that vigil in Jackson, he was being shouted at. And there was a local councilwoman who essentially came to his rescue during that event. Some of this is backfiring on him.

CORNISH: Maybe. Also remember, there's greater context there. He's got this kind of voter police commission. I don't know if anyone can help me out here, like that's going around looking for fraud. Of course it's happened to target several voters who are African-American with false charges in the end. So there's other things going on between him and his voters that you see come out in these moments when you're arriving, trying to offer comfort, and instead people remind you that you've been hostile.


MCKEND: But I think the reason why there's the reluctance to talk about this with any sort of nuance or fluency is because there's real pushback from conservative voters. So one of the things that you will often hear, you know, at a Tim Scott event from conservative white voters is we are tired of being called racists and we like Senator Scott because he is moving beyond that, for instance. So you're not going to see these candidates really try to talk about systemic racism in a holistic way because there doesn't seem to be an appetite for that within the party and among their voters.

ACOSTA: Yes. Leadership also calls for talking about things the voters don't want to hear about sometimes, and that's a big part of this, too.

All right, guys, stand by. While former President Donald Trump turned himself in for a fourth time this past week, President Biden was wrapping up his summer vacation, but now a busy September awaits. We'll talk about that next when our special coverage continues.


ACOSTA: We're heading into another critical week with former President Trump with key hearings in two of his four criminal cases. And it's an important time to remind folks that President Biden as well has some critical days ahead, as he turns to Washington from vacation.


My panel is back. Audie, what are you watching for this week?

CORNISH: With Biden specifically?


CORNISH: I mean, it seems like he want to just kind of stay out of the way of general Trump news and be in a do-no-harm situation. But maybe I'm guessing. I'm looking to you.

BEDINGFIELD: I think -- so here's the thing. I sort of agree with that. I would think -- the way that I think about it and the way I think the White House thinks about it is, yes, national media is going to be consumed by Donald Trump this week. What President Biden can do is continue to go out and make local news. He can continue to get on the front page of local papers. And I think for him, what he's got to do is continue to sell his economic agenda, sell the successes.

We know that people are not feeling some of the impacts of the agenda yet, and so being out there making the case, landing on the front page of those papers, which don't always resonate back here in Washington, but are actually -- is actually how the majority of Americans get their information and are the outlets that people trust the most. So he'll continue to do that, and I think also continue to drive on these core contrasts of choice and we were talking about the shooting in the previous segment, gun violence, and drawing these core contrasts with the Republicans.

ACOSTA: Is one of President Biden's superpowers that Donald Trump sucks up all the oxygen?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think one of President Biden's superpowers is that he --

ACOSTA: Do you guys sit back in the White House and say, thank goodness that guy is on TV again and not us?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, there's a lot more sorrow than that given what Donald Trump represents and what he has done to the fabric of this country.


BEDINGFIELD: But I will say that what President Biden's superpower, I would argue, is speaking to people about the things that matter in their lives. And he's very good at doing that. Now, the challenge is getting heard, right? The challenge is going into these communities and making sure that you're getting coverage and landing in a way where people are seeing it. That's the challenge for the communications staff at the White House. And I think that's what the president will continue to focus on this week while all of the national media is consumed by Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: Scott?

JENNINGS: I'm surprised to hear that the most powerful political leader on planet earth is having trouble being heard by the American people. I mean, here's his problem. His job approval is terrible. His numbers on the economy are even worse. He's currently nationally tied with a man who has literally been arrested in every city in the National League's Eastern Division except for one. He is under special counsel investigation.

And his son is under a special counsel investigation and is in danger of going to jail at some point. He has numerous, numerous political, legal, and administrative problems right now. His saving grace -- and here would be a message for Republicans, which we heard some people start to get at -- is that he might beat Donald Trump. If we nominate someone south of 70 and not in jail, he's going to have a very, very difficult time overcoming some very difficult political circumstances that he's under right now.



MCKEND: There is, I think, very little upside for him to sort of get in the mud here and needle Trump. He has a lot of work to do in terms of shoring up his own base. We're already hearing early from progressive voters, from voters of color, and there's work to do there. He's also, you know, not before long going to have to aggressively campaign, sort of avoid embarrassing moments, fund raise. And so there's very little upside, I think, to further inflaming a situation with Trump that is, you know, already pretty inflammatory.

ACOSTA: And when you're out on the campaign trail, in talking to a lot of Republican voters, what do they say about Joe Biden? What are they saying out there?

MCKEND: Well, I think there is no love from conservatives.

CORNISH: I think Scott was the flattering picture.

ACOSTA: What's the chief criticism? Is it just the personal stuff, things that they hear on FOX News, that sort of thing, or are they talking about the economy, are they talking inflation?

MCKEND: It's mostly the economy. It is mostly the economy, and wanting a steady hand. And even with the frustration with the former president, they felt as though they were in a better economic condition. So I wouldn't say that Biden is as galvanizing, you know, for conservative voters as Trump is for Democratic voters, but there is no love there.

ACOSTA: Audie, what do you think?

CORNISH: I mean, you said numbers in a very vague way. It would be good to hear a little more about what you're talking about. But the economy has been a very difficult thing for anyone to explain, why you have such great unemployment numbers but at the same time you have people who -- and increases in wages and people who still feel like they are crunched. And I think this is the kind of thing that will become a problem over time for the current president.

What's going on with trends, what's going on with prices, and have people spent down their pandemic savings to the point that there's nowhere else to turn? That stuff could start to hit early next year. This week, though, it's just like Netflix and chill. I mean, he should do nothing and say nothing and, as you said, let the air in the room be sucked up by our own reporting, right, about one specific person.

JENNINGS: Let me just answer your question.


JENNINGS: To be more specific numbers as in poll numbers.

CORNISH: Sorry. I thought you meant economic numbers.


JENNINGS: His numbers on the economy in every major national survey are in the 30s. It is terrible. It's inflation. It's people having economic anxiety. It's getting worse and worse.

You say it's a problem of not being heard. I think it's a problem of people actually feeling it in their day-to-day lives and telling them that they're just misunderstanding their own feelings is not going to make a difference in my opinion.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, and that's not -- and that's certainly not what he says. And he talks about the fact that we need to do better. And that he understands what it feels like to have that economic anxiety. And I think we continue to see indicators moving in the right direction, inflation coming down, consumer confidence going up.

But this is an enormous challenge and it's also a reason why it is imperative for the Biden campaign to make this race a contrast, to drive what the alternative is, to talk about the freedoms that Republicans are trying to strip women of across the country, to talk about the fact that they want unfettered gun access all across the country even as mass shootings are a scourge in our community.

It is incumbent on the campaign to remind people that elections don't happen in a vacuum. And as the president likes to say, don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative. And so that is one challenge that the Biden campaign I would imagine will take on with both hands.

ACOSTA: All right, guys, great discussion. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it. And thanks, everyone, for all that. We'll be right back.


ACOSTA: Busy summer for Donald Trump's lawyers and the prosecutors investigating the former president is not slowing down this week. First up tomorrow morning, a hearing on former chief of staff Mark Meadows' motion to move his case in Fulton County, Georgia, to federal court and possibly have it thrown out.

There's also a hearing in Jack Smith's federal election hearing case, where a trial date may be set. We'll be following both important hearings so stay with CNN for the latest throughout the day tomorrow.

And thank you very much for joining me this evening. It's been a long afternoon and evening but glad you're spending it with us. Reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see you next weekend, of course.

And the CNN Original Series, "WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA'S MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI." That's coming up next. Have a good night, everybody. Have a great week. Thanks a lot.