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Supreme Court: Trump Has Immunity From "Official Acts". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 01, 2024 - 11:00   ET



PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: He's drawing a line around the core constitutional powers for the presidency saying those actions are immune, that is absolute. But there are other things you might do in your official capacity that are entitled to some immunity but we're not going to say just how much.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And what a rejection of what the D.C. Circuit Court found here. I mean, that was a per curiam decision basically unanimous. And obviously, Anderson, to see what Chief Justice John Roberts is writing here is rejecting actually what the D.C. Circuit Court found in that argument saying that, you know, they didn't enjoy this kind of immunity, the Supreme Court disagreeing.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We are all going through this lengthy document very closely, just the top of the hour. If you're just joining us, the Supreme Court has finally released its ruling on this long awaited case, saying that Trump has immunity from official acts. In several cases, they, they cite what official acts may be, but they also leave a number of others open for lower courts to make a final determination on. We're going to be talking a lot about the legal implications of all this. Let me first bring in CNN's Van Jones and Scott Jennings. Van, as you look at this, what stands out to you?

VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's a very concerning outcome. You know, there's a maxim that says in law, a bad facts create bad law. So when you have somebody doing such stuff, it's so terrible, the stuff that Trump did in office, it creates these bad facts. The court has come in and figure out what to do about it. It often creates bad law.

Basically, the question is Supreme Court, do you more care about the unlawful conduct of a sitting president, or possibly the unfair prosecution of a former president? That's really what they had to balance. They're obviously more concerned about the ladder. And so I think politically, it's bad. It makes the Supreme Court look very partisan. They're supposed to be wearing these kind of black and white umpire jerseys or whatever. They look like they're wearing red jerseys, or even MAGA hats. It's going to go down bad politically, for Supreme Court.

But it's also scary, because what is Trump going to do if Trump gets elected, and there's this idea that he can get away with even more stuff. That's really, really scary for the public, because he already ran over every norm that he could. So it seems like, I mean, it just doesn't look as politically not legally, politically, it's almost like a license to thug in a way, like, you can do whatever you want. And Supreme Court is probably going to let you get away with it. That is very frightening in this case. And so I'm very, very concerned.

COOPER: Scott Jennings, Justice Sotomayor, and her dissent essentially makes that argument saying the main takeaway of today's decision is that all of a president's official acts to find without regard to motive or intent, are entitled to immunity that is at least presumptive and quite possibly absolute.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, I think there's some amount of overreaction here. I mean, after all, they did kick it back down to the lower court. So some decisions could be made about differentiating between official and private acts. But look, this Court has stood up for the office of the presidency, and the executive power of the presidency in a way that, you know, maybe will have some benefit to future presidents. I mean, we're looking at this through the lens of Donald Trump.

But, you know, the president of the United States has a lot of power for a reason. And they do take a lot of official actions. And I just, I think about a future where, you know, if it was open season on presidents for time immemorial, you know, what action would any president ever take out of fear of being dragged into a courtroom every time they did it?

So I hear Van and I think there's interesting arguments on both sides of this today. I've listened to some of, you know, arguments like what Van has made. But at the same time, I do think the office deserves a lot of protection and a lot of deference because of the special place that it holds in our system. So I'm OK with it, especially because I think a lower court may have decisions to make in the future, of course, depending on the outcome of the election in November.

COOPER: And but Van just to be clear, even if a lower court makes a ruling, then that can because what the Supreme Court says is that that can be appealed, ultimately back to the Supreme Court.

JONES: Yes. Look, I think the Supreme Court is really hurting itself here. I mean, I think most Americans on either side would have preferred us getting some kind of finality around these cases. And what you see as the Supreme Court, just dragging this out and dragging this out, they could have weighed in on all this stuff back in March, and cleared the decks on this one way or the other. They didn't.

They say go through the whole process and you come back up here and then they wait 60 plus days past the buzzer, to give us this this decision, the way it's structured, this thing is going to ping pong back and forth for three or four more years. Maybe it seems like they're doing Donald Trump a favor when they don't have to. The ruling does seem to be much more concerned about unleashing the presidency than constraining the presidency. That's fine except that there's a different balance here.

[11:05:02] Now you're concerned about a renegade president. You're concerned about a renegade president prosecuting someone unfairly after the fact or acting like a rogue or a thug in office. It's not clear what's the greater threat to the Republic and it doesn't seem like the majority really is taken as seriously the concern of half the country about renegade presidency in the office.

I think the Supreme Court is hurting itself. There was, I believe, a way to come to a better outcome, a quicker outcome and outcome that better balanced the interest here. What I think people got to take away from this, Donald Trump has a Supreme Court that will let him do whatever he wants to. And that is terrifying.

JENNINGS: Anderson, if I may. I actually agree with Van that I think a majority of Americans would have preferred a resolution to all this, a debt clearing before they had to make a decision on voting in November. I think he's right about that. However, on the renegade presidency point, look, the Constitution does give the United States Congress a way to rein in any president at any time they feel like it, and it's called impeachment. And he was impeached twice and he was acquitted twice.

But at the end of the day, this is the wisdom of the founders. They gave us the ultimate political tool to rein in any presidency at any time they felt like. And the other people who can rein in a president are the voters. And voters in November, ultimately, you're going to look at all this and make decisions about whether they're comfortable with Donald Trump or Joe Biden, given the circumstances we know about today.

So even if you're upset about the legal decision today, remember, we have political processes in place. And this is another reminder that if the Congress so chose, it could reclaim the power given to it by the Constitution to do a lot of things at any time it wants. It's not done that much lately, but it could if it felt like it.

COOPER: Van how --

JONES: I think that --

COOPER: Go ahead Van.

JONES: I just think that, I think you're right, Scott, as far as it goes. But we also know the system is a little bit broken on the congressional side. I think the founders really believed in something which we don't talk about much, which is called Republican virtues, not Republican versus Democrat, that even existed then. But that anyone who we would elevate, would have the virtues to preserve the Republic, that that was -- they -- you looked at the Federalist Papers, they didn't imagine that you would have people elevated that act the way that Donald Trump is acting and act the way a lot of people in public office act today.

So this is a real test. I'm concerned. It's a real test. If you have someone in office who has no respect for the law, no respect for Republican virtues, no respect for the Constitution, no respect for norms. And then you have a Supreme Court that says, well, you know what, we've never before had to look at whether you could commit crimes. Supreme Court says there's some crimes you can commit. That's scary, man.

That's not, I mean, you can't just hope that somehow, you know, the Senate, which is broken, is going to fix this. The Supreme Court is functioning. And it is basically giving a green light for criminal activity in the Oval Office under certain circumstances, which I think, given the present state of our country is very, very scary.

COOPER: So Scott, I mean, under this ruling, do you believe then that a president can if he's reaches out to somebody in the Justice Department to prosecute somebody or reaches out to somebody in the Justice Department or in the military to do something which, if it wasn't the president asking would be illegal or would have a corrupt, and that he's allowed to do that?

JENNINGS: Well, I believe, look, I'm not a lawyer. And Van has got an advantage over me in this debate, because he's got a law degree and I don't. I don't know the answer to your question. But here's what I do know, if the president does anything at all, that the United States Congress decides, is corrupt, has corrupt intent, or however you just described it, they can take action immediately, they really can.

And so, again, I go back to the ultimate failsafe that the founders built into our Constitution. And I would think that in some of these extreme circumstances, that people who are worried about this ruling keep laying out. Ultimately the United States Congress can take control of the U.S. government and throw the president out of office any time they feel like. So I guess, I'm not as worried about the extremities here.

And by the way, on Republican virtues --

COOPER: By the way, Scott, have you noticed some of the folks who are in Congress? I mean, you're putting a lot of faith in --


COOPER: -- maybe you're looking at the Senate for as the last session but.

JENNINGS: Listen. I hear you and I understand what you're saying. No, my faith is in the people of the United States. They elect the Congress. They elect the United States Senate. Ultimately, if you don't have faith in what voters do and who they send them, what are we all talking about here? And you can say that it's broken. And you can argue that people that you don't like some of them there, whatever, at the end of the day, if we don't have faith in the voters and the people they sin, but I'm not sure what we're fighting about today. So I'm going to take a glass half full approach to the people of the United States of America and the system that was set up by our founders.

COOPER: Van as you read this, I mean, if I add to this the SEAL Team Six argument, is Sotomayor right that under this ruling, the President can task them to assassinate somebody, not a political rival, not a foreign leader.


JONES: She's not right yet because of this idea that it has to be, you know, limited to the core responsibilities of the president. But we don't know because this thing ping pongs back and forth. This -- I don't know. I don't know if this is a Supreme Court that it's going to be able to restrain its basic instinct to grant more and more power to the executive.

And so, but the weird thing is, they give more and more power to the executive when you're talking about the president being able to run over every norm. But then they also want to handcuff and stop our -- the federal bureaucracy, our agencies from protecting the American people when it comes to clean air, clean water, other ruling. So this is weird thing where it's like the Supreme Court seems to want the president to be almost omnipotent, but they want the federal agencies to be completely innocent.

JENNINGS: I disagree with that. Can I -- I think what the Supreme Court -- I think what the Supreme Court in all these rulings Chevron, I think they are screaming at the United States Congress, please fulfill your constitutional duties, make laws, rein in the executive branch up to and including the president if necessary. I think this Court is screaming at the people down the street, over in the U.S. Capitol across the way and saying please, for the love of God, do your job as the Constitution orders you to do it.

COOPER: Van Jones, Scott Jennings, thank you.

We got new reaction from the Biden campaign. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is live from the White House. What have you learned?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. They are saying in this new statement that we just got moments ago that the facts of January 6th don't change. Let me read part of the statement from a senior Biden campaign advisor. It says, today's ruling doesn't change the facts. So let's be very clear about what happened on January 6th, Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged the mob to overthrow the results of a free and fair election. He goes on to say Trump is already running for president as a convicted felon for the very same reason he sat idly by while the mob violently attacked the Capitol. He thinks he's above the law and is willing to do anything to gain and hold on to power for himself.

Of course, Anderson, January 6th and the preservation and protection of democracy has really become the crux of the Biden reelection campaign. And that is what they are saying in this statement as they weigh in on this ruling. Also earlier today in their first post-debate ad, they also talked about January 6th, putting that on former President Donald Trump. But of course this also has wide implications for the office of the presidency. And we have not yet gotten a statement from the White House that we have reached out to them for comment.

But presidential historians have said that over the last several decades, there has been more power given to the President. And so this is something that could enhance that power moving forward. Now, in terms of this specific case, the White House and President Biden have generally not weighed in on for President Donald Trump's legal troubles. But last December reporters did ask President Biden if he believes any president is immune from criminal prosecution and President Biden responded, quote, I can't think of one.

Now the President is at Camp David. He will be returning to the White House later this evening. But again, we have not yet heard from the White House. The Biden campaign, however, making it very clear that the facts of January 6th, do not change as they continue to use this to build momentum into November. Anderson?


COOPER: All right. Priscilla Alvarez, we're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues in just a moment with more on this.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We have some breaking news for you now. In moments, Steve Bannon, the former Trump advisor, is set to begin a four-month prison sentence today. That's after Mr. Bannon defied a congressional subpoena from the House Committee investigating the January 6th attack. CNN's Sara Murray is in Danbury, Connecticut outside the low security federal prison. Sara, walk us through what Steve Bannon can expect today. And presumably he's going to try to capitalize on this prison stint to paint himself as a martyr of sorts.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Of course he is. And then he's already trying to do that, you know, we expect he's going to pull up here in front of federal prison in just a few minutes. There's a smattering of pro Trump supporters waiting for him, he's likely to make a statement before to the media before he goes inside.

But Jake, once he reports to this federal prison behind me, he's going to have an experience very similar to other federal inmates, he's going to go in, he's going to go through a metal detector, he's going to be stripped searched, he's going to go through a mental health evaluation, and then he's going to be a scientist housing unit. And this is where he's going to stay, again, behind bars in this low security federal prison for four months.

Now, he is of course trying to cast this as a political prosecution. And when I talked to him just a couple of days ago, he predicted that he would be even more powerful in prison than he is now. He said, I will have a much bigger impact on the campaign when I'm in prison than I have now. He was also very clear to his fans that he didn't want them spending their time writing him words of support or condolences while he's behind bars. He wants them working to reelect former President Trump in 2024. So that's sort of his messaging. We expect to hear more of that, again, before these cameras, just before he reports to federal prison and just a little bit. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much. Really appreciate it. But let's talk more about this big U.S. Supreme Court decision essentially granting President Trump immunity on official acts and then kicking it back to the lower court is to decide what those official acts are. Elie, how could this decision change the possible charges that Trump faces?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So this completely re-shuffles the deck with respect to all four of the pending criminal cases. So first of all the case that made it to the Supreme Court, Jack Smith's federal case relating to 2020 elections subversion, this now goes back to the district court which has to hold a factual hearing to decide what was in the scope or out of the scope of the job. That in itself is appealable.


Also, there are two counts in this case of obstructing an official proceeding. On Friday, the Supreme Court casts some doubt over that. And I should note that Supreme Court in today's opinion says while you're at a district court, you need to decide whether these passing counts apply. So that's this case. Then if we go on to the other federal case, the other Jack Smith case relating to classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, now, Trump has argued immunity in that case, a little harder to understand because the criminal conduct isn't even alleged to start until the moment he leaves office.

That said, I think Donald Trump has argued in the past and will renew this argument that well, the way he got those documents had to do with his official job as president, he was given these documents as part of security briefings. So I think they're going to renew their argument. Now, onto the state case, it's the Georgia case, the Fani Willis indictment, that one's in big trouble. Obviously, it's going up on appeal for other reasons.

But that alleges, essentially largely the same conduct, as in Jack Smith's January 6th case. So they're going to have in Georgia, that same exact immunity issues, they're going to have to contend with those again, at a minimum, further delays. And finally, it wouldn't surprise me to see Donald Trump's legal team go back into New York and to Manhattan, the hush money case, because some of the evidence that was introduced in that case had to do with conversations Donald Trump had with his advisers, including Hope Hicks, while he was in office, those early months when he's in office, so.

TAPPER: And Hope Hicks was a White House employee at that point.

HONIG: Exactly. So do not be at all surprised if we see in the next couple of days a motion from Donald Trump's legal team to throw out the verdict in the New York State case, the hush money case as well.

TAPPER: Although, do you think it's likely that it would be thrown out?

HONIG: I don't think Judge Merchan will agree to throw it out. But then we're going to be right back into this appellate loop. I mean, it couldn't make its way up the appeals courts in New York. And ultimately, you got the U.S. Supreme Court sitting there. I mean, if they decide that some of the conversations that Donald Trump had with Hope Hicks were part of his official duties, that conviction is going to be in trouble because one thing the Supreme Court says today is, if there is an official act, even if it's not indicted itself, you cannot use that even as evidence in a case.

Now that's it very extreme. And I'm actually surprised by how extreme that ruling is. But that's the ruling now. So Trump is all for these cases are delayed. There's no way any of the other ones happens before the election. And it's going to cause him to renew his immunity motions in all four cases.

TAPPER: And we should point out that a higher court in New York threw out the Harvey Weinstein conviction, not based on the belief that he was innocent, but based on the fact that the lower court judge allowed in evidence that the higher court said, you're not allowed to do that.

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: And you might have that here as well with the testimony that was given by Stormy Daniels there, right? That's also an appellate issue there. I think there's another issue that's now percolate, let's think about what Trump's been saying about the border, right? Joe Biden, he's basically alluding to Joe Biden can be prosecuted, because criminally for what's happening at the border, that his conduct is so egregious that he could be subject to criminal prosecution. What this case says is no way.

So even if you have a local prosecutor, after Joe Biden is out of office, that wants to bring that case because they're suffering, all the problems that are going on along that border, if you have a local prosecutor wants to bring criminal charges against Joe Biden. That's no longer on a table, and neither can it be brought by that by a Trump Justice Department should he become president.

COOPER: Elliot, we're going to hear a lot of people on the left are going to be quoting Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Sotomayor's dissent moving forward. One of the things she wrote that I'd love for you to get your assessment of given how much we're going to, I'm sure hear this from Democratic senators and the like, quote, the relationship between the President and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably, in every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law. Is that what just happened here? Or is that a little extreme?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's strong language, let's be clear. But they're -- in making clear that there are official acts that are immune from even being used as evidence the Supreme Court today absolutely gave a you know, I don't know if we're going to call the President's kings but they gave the president far more immunity than I think many of us had predicted. And I think what's even more notable here is the number of questions that they left open that Elie and Jim are talking about.

Number one, let's look at the Georgia case, to this question of what constitutes an official act, who decides now? Now, do you have to file a separate federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Georgia the federal case, or will the Georgia state judge there make the decision as to what's official and what isn't? So you got a big back and forth over federalism questions that come up. Then this question in the New York case, once again, if any of the -- if any evidence came into that court, that could be deemed an official act of the presidency, there's absolutely a basis for throwing it out. Now, he's totally right here.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, I just -- I'm listening to you guys talk about kind of the details of all of these various things and I just can't help but think that what we've seen over the course of the last five days if Donald Trump wins this election in November he won it over the course of these last five days, and it was a combination of course, Joe Biden's performance in the debate that you and Dana, so admirably moderated. And then, of course, this decision from the Supreme Court, which, you know, I have to say, again, they're different institutions Congress, the Supreme Court of the United States, the Republican Party.


But I've -- I feel like we've seen all three of them, when given an opportunity to take on Donald Trump. They have each basically folded quite frankly, the Republican Party completely. The Republicans in the Senate significantly during the second impeachment trial, when they had an opportunity to quite frankly rid the party that many of them wanted to rid the party of Donald Trump, they didn't do it.

And now here, the Supreme Court for a myriad of reasons, which, you know, we have discussed, John Roberts history of protecting executive power. But at the end of the day, folded in the face of these challenges in Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS: And Scott Jennings's point, Scott's point a moment ago was absolutely correct. It's a clarion call, if you want to call it better a call a signal, that signal to Congress to act would make sense if Congress were not a completely paralyzed body right now.

TAPPER: OK. I read an article in "The Washington Post" this weekend by Josh Dawsey, talking about all the opportunities, all the questions that went unanswered at the debate, and one of the things that was expressed was the shock that I was actually the first person to mention January 6th, at the debate, and that Joe Biden wasn't. And it does seem to me like that was a missed opportunity by President Biden, over and over. You had -- he had an audience of whatever was 70 or 80 million if you include streaming. And he could have raised January 6th, in the very first answer.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it depends on who you talk to and how candid they're willing to be. But the President of the United States, the incumbent wasted about 70 of the 90 minutes of that debate, he just did, by either not pairing effectively or by not being engaged or by giving answers that were confusing and distracting.

You're right, even more so in the sense that there's been a lot of pushback from Democrats. Team Biden says they believe democracy institutions, Trump trying to subvert the election is the number one issue. A lot of Democrats have said, sir, the cost of living is the number one issue. You're the incumbent, your performance is issue 1A. And the Biden team has consistently said, we will prove you wrong like we did in 2020, when you didn't think we could win, we will prove you wrong by making democracy a key issue and yet he did not raise it right out of the bat.

Again, I said before the debate, first impressions matter, even when you have two very familiar candidates like that. And so if you ask Joe Biden, what's your name? He should have said, I will address the cost of living. You can't trust this guy with our democracy. And he didn't do that. He didn't do that. Donald Trump came and made his -- came to make his points no matter what you asked him. And again, Donald Trump did not have a good debate. Donald Trump lied repeatedly. And he refused to answer a lot of questions directly.

However, that has been overshadowed by the fact that a lot of Democrats wonder, you know, was did our candidate even show up?

TAPPER: So I mean, to that point, Jamie, one of the things that I thought was interesting, we're all now talking about as this evidence is going to be brought before the country, before the election, we know what the evidence is, we've seen the evidence, we covered the January 6th hearings, and this and that. Again, there was the number one Democrat in the country, with an audience of 70 or 80 million people. He didn't have to go into detail about the evidence, but he could have said, there's this, there's that, there's this, there's that, there's this, and that would have been a much bigger audience than Jack Smith is ever going to have.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. But just to clarify one thing. Some of the evidence has come before the American public what we learned --

TAPPER: There are some that we don't have yet. OK.

GANGEL: From the January 6th Committee, we do not know what Mark Meadows said --

TAPPER: Good point, good point.

GANGEL: -- with immunity to the grand jury. We don't know about these notes that Mike Pence was taking in real time. So there's I think quite a bit of evidence. Our reporting is that that's brand new that Jack Smith has.


TAPPER: All right, we're going to squeeze in a quick break. When we come back, more of the CNN coverage on this historic day during an incredibly consequential week. We'll be right back.