Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

January 6 Grand Jury Indictment Trump On Four Counts; Special Counsel Speaks After Indicting Trump On Four Counts; Trump Indicted In Jan. 6 Probe, Appears Before Judge Thursday. Aired 6-6p ET

Aired August 01, 2023 - 18:00   ET


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the key things that the Special Counsel gets into in this 45-page document here, this indictment is describing the former president and his state of mind that he knew he had lost the election and still continued to peddle these lies and then entered into a number of conspiracies to defraud the United States, to obstruct and impede the January 6th congressional proceeding. By which the official votes are counted in this country, and then a conspiracy against the right to vote and have one's vote counted.


Those are the three conspiracies that the special counsel is alleging the former president led, along with some co-conspirators.

As you pointed out, we have four counts that are listed here in this indictment. The first one is conspiracy to defraud the United States. Second is the conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Third is obstruction of an attempt to obstruct an official proceeding. And then the fourth is the conspiracy against rights. That's, of course, the voting rights of U.S. citizens around the country.

Now, I'll read you just a part where the special counsel describes what the former president is accused of doing here. It says that the defendant spread lies, that there had been outcome determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won. These claims were false and the defendant knew that they were false. But the defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate.

According to the prosecutors, Wolf, the former president disregarded the advice of all of his appointed officials, people inside his own government, his experts, people from the Justice Department, people from the intelligence community, people from the Homeland Security Department, all of whom were telling him that there was no such fraud. But, yet, he pursued it, again, according to prosecutors, because he wanted to remain in power, essentially overturning the election results, overturning the government of the United States, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: These are major criminal, criminal charges, potentially carrying many, many years, potentially, of prison time as well. Erin?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, Wolf. And going through this 45-page indictment, as we all are reading, the word that appears again and again and again is knowingly. And, of course, we're waiting to hear from Jack Smith, the special counsel, any moment here, will be approaching that podium.

Katelyn Polantz, meantime, is there outside the D.C. federal courthouse. Katelyn, you have been breaking so much of this every step of the way. The indictment here again, these 45 pages right up front, we see mention of six co-conspirators. What more can you tell us about who these individuals are?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, these co-conspirators are not named in this indictment, but some of these identities are already quite clear to us based on what we know happened after the 2020 election. People like Rudy Giuliani are clearly one of the co-conspirators, Jeffrey Clark at the Justice Department.

But these six people unnamed listed as co-conspirators, they are people that are helping Donald Trump spread disinformation or helping him get the idea of disinformation and then helping him use the leverage that he has as the president and leverage that they had, as officials, as lawyers, to work with either election officials in states or to try and pressure Mike Pence, or even to harness the Justice Department itself in a way that was not what Donald Trump's campaign wanted to do and could carry forward his will to spread disinformation and overturn the result of the election.

So, these co-conspirators, they are central to the conspiracy count that the Justice Department is filing here, and they are listed at the very top in the explanation of the manner and means of these allegations, the manner and means of how this conspiracy happened, that Donald Trump is now criminally charged with. They are not charged -- I should be very explicit there. These people are not charged, but they are central to the allegations that Donald Trump faces at this time.

And, Erin, just one more point of something we just learned through the federal criminal record right now. There is a judge now assigned to this case. That judge is Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan. She is a fitting judge on this district court in Washington, D.C. She is an Obama-appointee, and she is one of the toughest sentencers among all of the judges here who all have handled January 6th Capitol rioter cases. She regularly sentences those defendants to prison, and she also is a judge that has previously rebuked some of the things Donald Trump has tried to do, specifically she was the judge that said that Donald Trump would have to have his records in the National Archives be turned over to House investigators, a really crucial moment in that house investigation previously.

And so Donald Trump now has a judge assigned to his case and potentially any other cases that could emanate from this case, if there are addition people charged. That judge is Judge Tanya Chutkin.


She has some experience with January 6th rioters and could be quite a harsh judge for Donald Trump's lawyers to make their case to as this case moves forward to a trial.

BURNETT: All right. Katelyn, crucial information and, of course, more than a thousand people have been charged in January 6th, hundreds of them sentenced to prison. And now, Wolf, we're looking at the person who the DOJ says orchestrated it, led the conspiracy and he's now been charged, the former president.

BLITZER: In this 45-page indictment, the United States of America versus Donald J. Trump, defendant, I want to bring in our legal and political experts for analysis right now.

And, Laura Coates, the four indicted criminal indictments, the charges, the four counts, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an attempt to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights. I assume the rights means the rights of the American people to vote.

LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: To vote, to not have their votes nullified by an overarching scheme that suggests that when you actually cast your ballot and expected to have electors actually be the ones to then in turn do their job would actually mean something.

You hear the words conspiracy. Take a look at the ethic complaint, everyone, and see how many times lawyers are involved in this as well. And also I'm pointing my attention particularly on this word, knowing, and what the president knew.

There has been a lot of questions about how are they going to be able to get into the mind of Donald Trump or any defendant to suggest that they, in fact, were aware of what they knew and what they did not know to be the facts, and they go through great pains to actually outline pages seven through nine, frankly, that talk about, and only the people who were best positioned to know the facts, that he had often relied on these people for candid advice and ignored it.

Now, in this instance, in a self-serving way, you talk about all the -- just to name a few, the secretary of the state of Georgia, the defendant's acting attorney general, the acting deputy attorney general, the defendants, the attorney general, the acting deputy, you're talking about the campaign manager, a secretary of state, more than one, the speaker of the House, other people, the majority leader of the Senate, all these people who were in a position to know and negate these facts.

And so if you're looking -- how do you prove this in a court of law? How do you convince a jury that says, listen, he's not going to necessarily state all these things in open court, for example, in testifying, but how do you have the contextual clues?

And I remind people back when January 6th, when the congressional hearing took place, they talked about an ongoing threat. Congresswoman Liz Cheney spoke about an ongoing threat. They talk about an ongoing threat. Many of the things that are actually outlined in this, in this very significant criminal indictment, he continues to do. He continues to talk about that he believes he's won the election, in spite of the breadth of evidence that's available to him and from people who would be, again, in the position to know the truth.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and it was over and over and over and over again. And the big question I think, which Evan Perez raised at the beginning, was this notion that we have all been asking, did he know, did he really know in his head that he had lost the election. And the answer is, according to this, of course, he knew, because it was told to him over and over and over again.

And I just went back and looked at a conversation on December 27th that the former president had with two of his top Justice Department officials. And what the president said to them -- and this is Acting Attorney General Rosen, who is one of them, the former president said, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressman.

So, what Donald Trump was saying was, just say what I'm telling you to say. It doesn't matter whether it's the truth. And leave the lying and the rest of it up to me and my colleagues in Congress and we will do the rest. And, of course, the response was, no, we are not, we are not going to do that. And he, in the notes, the notes said he wanted us to say that it was corrupt, and we told him no.

BLITZER: And in this indictment, Laura, it specifically says, you suggested it, it says the defendant, referring to Trump, spread lies that he had actually won the election. And then it says, these claims were false and the defendant knew they were false. The words knew they were false are significant.

COATES: They are so significant. Just take a step back of what we're talking about here. We're talking about the otherwise peaceful transition of power that is the hallmark of our democracy.


But instead of accepting defeat, which you are supposed to do in a democracy that's fair and free, and there was proof that it was fair and free, instead there is a concocted scheme as alleged here to try to deprive what is the essence of democracy. It is not just in the voting. It is in the counting of democracy.

And so when you go through and think about the core of what is at stake, it is why civil rights law has now been implicated, this idea of the conspiracy against rights and what was taking place.

The fact there are co-conspirators, though, that are not been charged, I have to tell you my ears are perking up and I'm wondering, hold on a second. Am I hoping to be able to convert you to somebody who may be a cooperator? If I have this out here and I say, I just want you to know I mean business, I'm not playing any legal games here, here's what I'm prepared to do even against somebody who is the former president of the United States.

The attorneys, who are some who are facing the loss of their bar license, I would mention John Eastman, who is not named in this complaint, but there is some intimation that he'd been incorporated in it, he pled the Fifth, did not want to testify in front of anything with Jack Smith or, of course, with January 6th. But, instead, when it came to his bar license, how he makes his money, how his legacy as a lawyer is there, he spoke a great deal about these issues.

BORGER: Nobody is named.

COATES: No one is named, and that gives me pause.

BORGER: So, that gives you pause because you think they may be pressured into flipping and perhaps cooperating because they could not be indicted. But it doesn't say unindicted co-conspirators. It just says --

BLITZER: And, momentarily, we're going to hear from the special counsel, Jack Smith. We will, of course, have live coverage. He's about to go to podium over there.

But very quickly, Norm, how consequential are these four additional criminal charges?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, they are the same charges that we have been talking about. We know them from analysis. I wrote about them in a model prosecution memo. They were in the target letter. And they're significant because they tell a story. The thing that jumps out in this indictment, Jack Smith is one of the most experienced prosecutors that we have. He's telling -- even though it's long, he's breaking it down, he's making it simple. We will talk about the judge he got. She's known as a tough judge. She moves cases fast. Smith tells a story in here.

First, Trump pressured the states, the state officials. When that didn't work, he got fake electors. Then he turned to his own Justice Department. In desperation, then to the vice president, and, finally, he fanned the flames of the violence. That's a simple story. You can tell it in one sentence. And then these counts capture that story. It's a conspiracy to defraud the United States because you are not allowed to take the truth of Joe Biden winning and have these schemes to say, no, I won.

It is an attempt to obstruct a proceeding in Congress because they squeezed Pence not to do the right thing, and then the violence, and then finally it is a conspiracy against civil rights. That's the kicker. Why? 81 million Biden voters whose rights would have been deprived. You can describe the whole case in one paragraph. That is a master stroke. I think we're going to see this case move quickly and powerfully against Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Very strong statement, indeed. You know, Carrie, we are about to hear from Jack Smith, the special counsel. He doesn't speak often in public but he's obviously very, very determined, and this 45-page indictment makes that clear.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think his in public statements he will go anywhere outside the bounds of the indictment itself.

BLITZER: He's walking up right now. Let's listen in and we will get analysis as soon as he's done. Here he is, the special counsel, Jack Smith.

JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Good evening. Today, an indictment was unsealed charging Donald J. Trump with conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to disenfranchise voters and conspiring and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding.

The indictment was issued by a grand jury of citizens here in the District of Columbia and it sets forth the crimes in detail. I encourage everyone to read it in full.

The attack on our nation's Capitol on January 6th, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. It is described in the indictment. It was fueled by lies, lies by the defendant, targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government, the nation's process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.

The men and women of law enforcement who defended the U.S. Capitol on January 6th are heroes.


They are patriots, and they are the very best of us. They did not just defend a building or the people sheltering in it, they put their lives on the line to defend who we are as a country and as a people. They defended the very institutions and principles that define the United States.

Since the attack on our Capitol, the Department of Justice has remained committed to ensuring accountability for those criminally responsible for what happened that day. This case has brought consistent with that commitment, and our investigation of other individuals continues.

In this case, my office will seek a speedy trial so that our evidence can be tested in court and judged by a jury of citizens. In the meantime, I must emphasize that the indictment is only an allegation and that the defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

I would like to thank the members of the federal bureau of investigation who are working on this investigation with my office, as well as the many career prosecutors and law enforcement agents from around the country who have worked on previous January 6th investigations. These women and men are public servants of the very highest order and it is a privilege to work alongside them. Thank you.

REPORTER: Why didn't you charge any of the other folks?

BLITZER: A short but very powerful statement from the special counsel, Jack Smith. Evan Perez, you have been covering the story from the very, very beginning. Let me get your analysis of what we just heard.

PEREZ: Well, Wolf, we expected that the special counsel was going to be a man of very few words. And, of course, that's what you heard there. One of the things that he did there is he connected what the former president was doing, what he perpetrated by spreading lies about alleged fraud when he knew, according to prosecutors, when he knew that there was no evidence to support his claims of fraud.

What he has done in this indictment is tied the violence, as we saw, on January 6th, of course, the very vivid pictures that we have seen of police officers defending the Capitol, defending the lives of members of Congress as they were trying to fulfill their ceremonial function of certifying the vote, tying all of those acts there on January 6th with the former president's overall scheme to try to remain in power.

They describe in this indictment, Wolf, that during the time of the violence the former president was still trying to press members of Congress to essentially try to somehow put off the vote, trying to make sure that even if Vice President Pence was not agreeing to his scheme, that members of Congress, perhaps, could find a way to buy him more time and, again, find a way for him to remain in power.

And so that's what you see in this 45-page document that you heard there from the special counsel trying to make sure people understood that this was not just about politics. It is not about -- they acknowledge that the former president had the right to challenge the vote.

He has a right to lie about fraud and everything. What he does not have a right to do, according to prosecutors, is to do -- is to carry out these three conspiracies as a way to try to remain in power. That's what they say those are the crimes that the former president committed here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very specific crimes and very detailed information.

We heard Jack Smith, Shan Wu, say this was an unprecedented assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. It was fueled by lies, including lies by the defendant, referring to the former president of the United States.

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. And I think it is so critical, if you want to look at only one paragraph in this indictment, it is the first one. It says Donald Trump was the 45th president of the United States and the candidate for re-election in 2020. The defendant lost the 2020 presidential election. Heart of the indictment, heart of the issue to the American people, makes no bones about it. He lost, and these are the things he tried to do to cheat after losing. And that's really the heart of the whole issue here.

And Smith, obviously, not saying a whole lot of details, but the indictment speaks for itself. It is a very sweeping indictment in terms of how it marshals all the facts. As Norm was referencing, the earlier prosecution model has been followed to a tee. That memorandum, it takes care of the Justice Department efforts, trying to corrupt the Justice Department, how Trump tried to corrupt the state elections and how Trump tried to capitalize on the violence in the Capitol including the threats against Pence.

Notably, it doesn't really make a lot of hay with his actual remarks at the Capitol, avoiding the sort of issue First Amendment speech, of march on the Capitol, it avoids that.


It really centers, as Evan was pointing out, on his attempts to illegally overturn the legal results of the election.

BORGER: And it does tell the story, you know, as Norm was saying, in sort of very simple ways because he tried everything, tried to get his Justice Department, you know, to change its mind and tried to get someone else installed to run the Justice Department as a result of that.

And then there is a paragraph here which says that then the plan capitalized on ideas presented in the memoranda, which evolved over time from a legal strategy to preserve the defendant's rights to a corrupt plan to subvert the federal government function by stopping Biden's electors' votes from being counted.

So, it started out as one kind of plan where he's making phone calls, he's calling Brad Raffensperger, he's saying you have got the votes hidden somewhere, you have got to do this. And then when that failed, the last-ditch attempt, as he points out here, was to create this fake elector theory, which, of course, was fake and goes through it and goes the desperation, I think, of what was going on in his mind.

BLITZER: And Jake Smith basically said that the defendant, Trump, was criminally responsible for what happened on January 6th, very strong words indeed. Do you want to react?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just want to say I don't think we should ignore when the indictment came down, the first text I got from a Justice source was the investigation is not over. The special counsel made that very clear.

Again, the level of detail in this, when you go to page seven, where it outlines, all the people who told Trump that he had lost the election, it's not one person. It's not two, there are eight listed here, from the vice president to the attorney general, to the director of national intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security. It just speaks to what we were really told about this indictment was. It was going to underscore over and over.

Finally, there is one thing here, I think, maybe new toward the end on page 33. It mentions here, it is talking about Mike Pence, and it says the former vice president on December 29th, as reflected in the vice president's contemporaneous notes, the defendant, Donald Trump, told the vice president that the Justice Department was finding major infractions. So, the details of that are interesting. But all of a sudden, I don't think we have known before that Pence had contemporaneous notes. So what else?

BORGER: We knew that Pence was upset that the president had lied about what he had said. We knew that. But the notes, I agree with you, the fact that he had taken notes or dictated notes is something I'm sure that Jack Smith found very useful. BLITZER: Yes. And, Erin, Jack Smith basically said very, very -- very, very bluntly, our investigation continues. So, they are continuing this investigation. We are going to be getting more information presumably relatively soon.

BURNETT: All right, absolutely. Of course, as we have got 45 pages and you all are talking, it lays out a story, and it sure does.

So, how is the reaction right now inside the Trump world right now? You are looking at this 45-page indictment. You are looking at unindicted, as of now, co-conspirators listed in here, very clear who they are.

Kristen Holmes is standing by near Trump's New Jersey home. Kristen, what, if anything right now, are you hearing from the Trump Team as they're doing what we're doing, right? They're going through this and reading it and trying to figure out up from down right now, I would imagine.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. But you have to keep this in mind, Erin, that even if there are some surprises in that indictment, they are going to stay on message. They have been planning for what their messaging is going to be around this for weeks, really since Trump got that target letter. So, that's not going to change. And we've seen this in these other indictments as well. Even if there is something revealing, even if there is a surprise, they are going to continue to hammer that this is election interference.

And I will tell you that this week, I spoke to a number of political advisers, but also a number of allies who felt so much more confident in that argument, particularly after That New York Times poll this week that showed Trump leading by such a big margin. They looked at this one spot in the poll particularly where it shows head-to-head contest with Ron DeSantis, and it has Trump leading by a number of points. They believe this indicates that Trump is likely to be the GOP frontrunner. And because of that, they believe that they have an argument that this is election interference.

Now, of course, given what he is being charged with here, that is incredibly ironic, but they do believe that this messaging is resonating with voters and even allies who are somewhat hesitant about all of these legal issues do believe they are seeing voters resonate with some of this.

And it was very clear how prepared Trump's team was for this message because almost immediately after this indictment came out, we started hearing from Trump sources on the Hill, from his allies, from senators, congressman, all things we should defund the FBI, the special counsel, all saying that this was election interference, this was all because of Joe Biden. And you can see that these Republicans are still continuing to rally around him, even in his third indictment here, Erin.

BURNETT: Right, which is true. And I just want to point out by what you are saying, if you're getting all that from them right away. They're telling you all that, that this is interference without having read it. Just put that out there for everyone to understand, right? They don't care what it says. The whole point is they're just going to say it anyway.

So, now, Kristen, take us to Thursday, because we now understand that's when the former president will appear before the judge who was overhearing this that Katelyn Polantz was telling us about, Judge Tanya Chutkin. What is the thinking in his camp about that appearance, especially now that we know who will the judge will be?

HOLMES: Right now, all the options are on the table. There had been conversations about whether or not this was going to be a Zoom or whether or not Trump was going to show up. This is all about Trump playing this out in the court of public opinion, no matter who the judge is. And he likes the image and his team likes the image of going to the Department of Justice, going to the courthouse and getting arraigned, as we have seen time and time again.

But it is still being discussed as to how exactly this is going to work. But, again, they have made this a media spectacle. They have put cameras at every place that Trump has been, whether it is at Mar-a- Lago, whether it's going to New York, whether it's going from here in Bedminster down to Florida, they want to create their own narrative around this.

And, again, they believe, looking at those poll numbers, that it is working. When I talk to voters, there are still a lot of Republicans who strongly support the former president despite, again, this third indictment now and all of these mounting legal issues.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Kristen.

And joining me now, Ryan Goodman, of course, former special counsel of the Defense Department, now at Just Security, Elliot Williams, former federal prosecutor, former deputy assistant attorney general, longtime conservative attorney George Conway and Scott Jennings, the former senior adviser to Mitch McConnell.

All right, so, George, let's start with you. Here we are. And we, like everyone, scrambling to read through this. You have been furiously taking notes, noting down your list of co-conspirators. I just quickly went through. Finally, we got a version of this you could search. The word, knowingly, this is a quick glimpse, knowing or knowingly appears 37 times. They spent an inordinate amount of time making the point clear that he was told that he was told again and again by his allies, by people who supported him, that the allegations he made were false. And then after being told that, he went out and continued to lie.

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE ATTORNEY: And that's what -- I mean, we have all been talking about these various statutes for over a year.


CONWAY: They were mentioned by the January 6th committee and in the litigation about Eastman's papers in California, section 371, which is count one, which is conspiracy to defraud the United States. And fraud is about lying, attempting to deceive. One of the things here is they summarized basically everything we have heard over the last two or three years about all the people who told him, political consultants, members of the -- senior officials in the Justice Department, national security officials, that he lost and there was no basis for that.

Now, we even have, for the first time, Mike Pence's notes in here, where Mike Pence was saying, well, where is the evidence for this? What is the theory that you have? And, you know, that's why Pence was hesitant, and that's why the next day Trump lied anyway. So, he just -- any time anyone told him the truth, he just went out the next moment and lied. And that's what we saw during the January 6th hearings, and that's what we see now.

BURNETT: And then we see it here laid out in excruciating detail, I would say, Ryan, just to use that leaks (ph) for him, it should be. They go through six false claims, right, that they say there were 205,000 more votes than voters in Pennsylvania, 10,000 dead voters in Georgia, the vote dumped in Michigan, tens of thousands of fraudulent votes in Nevada, illegal immigrants voting in Arizona. Each of those, and devote pages to how many times he was told it was untrue and that he then subsequently went out and lied about it.

One time, and just going through this, thus far, that I found, Ryan, page 30. One time, they show Trump admitting it. And on page 30, he has a meeting, the defendant, January 3rd. So, at this point, this is well after he lost the election with the chairman of the Joints Chief, other national security advisers. They talk about an issue you, and they say it is too late for you to do anything about it. And the defendant calmly agreed, stating, yes, you're right. It is too late for us.


We are going to give that to the next guy. Then immediately thereafter, he goes out and put out the lies. But right there, they have it, he admits, yes, we lost. That's Joe Biden's issue.

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: Yes. And also happen to have page 30 here as well. So, I picked it, too. And also on page 30, not only is he being told that he lost --

BURNETT: Now I'm exceedingly proud, by the way. I picked something you picked.

GOODMAN: So, not only is he being told and he acknowledges that he's lost, but also on page 30, his deputy White House counsel is saying to him -- this is amazing, because if you haven't heard this before, quote, there is no world, there is no option in which you do not leave the White House on January 20th. He's the deputy White House counsel. I assume he means there is no legal option. So, he knows he's lost, he's acknowledging he's lost and then his deputy White House counsel tells him there is no legal option for you to remain here as president after January 20th. And then you have all these alleged criminal schemes. BURNETT: So, Elliot, let me get back to something George said, which was very simple and yet I feel profound, George. Because what you said is we have been talking about this for a year, and we have. And, in fact, yes, there are contemporaneous notes of Pence. We didn't know. Yes, there's this meeting with that. There are things in here we didn't know.

But the basic thing, for examples, tens of thousands of dead voters in Georgia, we knew that he said it, we knew that he was told again and again and again it was false and we knew that he kept saying it, right? We know these things.

So, when he goes out with this political talking point that he is now saying that this indictment itself is election interference in 2024, why is this happening now? Why did this not happen months ago?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know why it didn't happen months ago. But to be clear, as a prosecutor, it takes a long time to work cases up. And I think we get lost and wrapped up in this notion that things need to happen on a 24-hour cycle. It can take years to bring a federal investigation, particularly one involving a lot of sensitive information and witnesses and so on.

So, I'm not shocked that a sprawling national investigation, because think about the number of states. And, look, we know how many times the word, knowingly, appears in here. I don't know how many different states were mentioned in here, but there is, look, Nevada and Georgia and running across the country. They're conducting --

BURNETT: All right. I want to interrupt you for a moment. Merrick Garland, the attorney general, is speaking. Let's listen.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- is for Smith and his team, experienced, principled career agents and prosecutors, have followed the facts and the law wherever they lead. Any questions about this matter will have to be answered by the filings made in the courtroom.

BURNETT: Obviously, surrounded by a warm swarm there, George, of people asking questions. We should say, his role in this is significant because he had to approve, make the decision of Jack Smith, who'd say, I'm ready to go. Merrick Garland had to say, okay.

CONWAY: Yes. And I think they went into -- I'm guessing here, speculating. I think they went into office, the Biden administration, people in the Justice Department not wanting to do this, not wanting to go here, hoping that this would just go away and not feel the pressure to do this.


CONWAY: But Liz Cheney and Chairman Thompson and the January 6th committee laid 90 percent of this out and pushed the legal theories that are actually fairly obvious. You know, if you defraud the government and steal $1 billion from the treasury, you go to jail by making false statements. WILLIAMS: That's a really important point to make, and it is the use of the word, defraud, and what exactly we're talking about here. Now, you can talk about lying or puffery or making election claims, and that's all protected, but the crime of conspiracy --

CONWAY: Lying to government officials.

WILLIAMS: To impede a government proceeding, using --

CONWAY: To get something --

WILLIAMS: and actually using deceit, fraud, trickery or, as the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, chicanery, actually used in the Supreme Court case in 1924, for defrauding the United States.

So, I think there is this rush on the part of the president and his supporters to say, well, this is just about lying and the free speech that any candidate would engage in. But you have to hit a far higher burden than that.

BURNETT: All right. To that --

CONWAY: And that's where the fake electors coming --

BURNETT: So, Scott, here, and this is, okay, page two, the defendant has a right -- had a right, I'm sorry, like every American, to speak publicly about the election, even to claim falsely that there had been outcome determinative fraud during the election and that he had won. So, right there at the beginning, they acknowledged with the free speech. Go ahead and say what you want to say. The issue here is that you went ahead to defraud, you went ahead with the conspiracy. But this point of he could say what he wants to say, they give him that.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. But then they also go on to say he puts all these other wheels in motion --

BURNETT: That's right.

JENNINGS: -- to try to say --

BURNETT: So, they're saying this is about free speech. This is about what he then did.


CONWAY: I mean, if he just lied on television, that's one thing.

JENNINGS: But if we have indicted politicians for lying on T.V., we'd have full jail --

CONWAY: That's right. I mean, we need five justices (ph).

JENNINGS: But all the wheels that were put in motion, to me, look, this is a well-known story. We all watched it happen on our T.V. We all watched it play out on our Twitter feeds. We all watched the congressional hearings. There is a new nuggets in here, I think, but it is a well-known story.


The only questions to me are do you believe the story? And, obviously, a lot of Republicans don't. I already saw statements from Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy. DeSantis says he's going to end the weaponization of government. Ramaswamy says -- calls the FBI the corrupt federal police. And, so, obviously, they believe that Republicans are simply not going to believe it no matter how detailed or what we saw.

CONWAY: Even though the evidence comes mostly from Republicans.

BURNETT: DeSantis' use on education now or such that I guess he doesn't think you need to read something before you pass judgment on it.

JENNINGS: But, to me, this is a -- people have already decided whether they think Trump was responsible for this. They didn't need to see charges to determine whether they thought he was responsible. But to me, it is a stress test for institutions. Because if you believe in juries and you believe in the criminal justice system, as it is in this country, I think the American people -- and I don't -- you guys tell me. I think the American people need to see the outcome of this before they vote in the next election. How can it not be a fundamental piece of knowledge for an American voter?


JENNINGS: More than the documents case, more than the --

BURNETT: Okay. It is a crucial point, but is there any -- to his point, is there any chance that happens?

WILLIAMS: I think it is unlikely because it takes a very long time for things to go to trial. And a lot of these -- so, for instance, in here, in getting to this point required piercing attorney-client privilege with respect to the president's attorneys. That's the kind of issue the president and his attorneys can appeal and could slow the case down.

But to your point, and this is an important one, should the American people have a right to -- as a voter, sure, I think that's absolutely true. That's not the job of the legal system to be manipulating its deadlines to accommodate what voters want and need.

JENNINGS: So, we have this unprecedented thing that happened. We have a guy who at least a 50/50 bet to be the next president of the United States. We have an entire political party that believes the Justice Department and all these people are conspiring to keep him out of the White House, and we have these indictments, which are, you know, in the pantheon of political strategy, something you don't want to have in your political campaign and we're not going to see the result of it. So, you would have to forgive the average Republican for saying, well, how can we have indictments but we can't see the result of this?

WILLIAMS: Then here is the response that I would make. There is a way -- all of this could have been avoided back in 2021, which is when the president was impeached for a lot of the conduct that appears in this indictment. The Senate, and I'm not going to Senate Republicans, let's say the United States Senate as a body chose not to remove President Trump from office and chose not to bar him from running for office in the future. All these questions about the American people and voters deciding could have been resolved.

CONWAY: They taunted it through the criminal justice system. That was the effect of McConnell's speech when --

JENNINGS: It is exactly what he said. Presidents aren't immune.

BURNETT: So let me ask you, Ryan, this issue of the co-conspirators. And I know there's been it is very clear when you read this who they are, at least who five of them are. They're mentioned in here. They're very clear. They've got everything on them, but they don't indict them. So, can you talk to me what the strategy of that is, and does that strategy have implications for how quickly this could move through the judicial system, right, if possibly those people choose to cooperate instead of getting charged?

GOODMAN: Exactly. So, I do think there are certain features here that does agree with the premise. I actually think they could get it through trial before the election. Multiple reasons, and one of those is it's streamlined. You have got one defendant. You don't have multiple. That's one.

Second, some of them also might be -- indeed have flipped and they will cooperate or they will cooperate after they see themselves and they watch on T.V. the reaction to this in terms of how much, if this is a strong case against them.

And I do also think that some of these issues have already been litigated. So, in the D.C. Court of Appeals, they have already decided, essentially, that attorney-client privilege isn't going to work and executive privilege isn't going to work. So, that's not, I don't think, going to slow it down. If anything, that is even stronger now that we are going to an indictment. Beforehand, it was just an investigation.

BURNETT: But you had said that this could go move much more quickly than, for example, the Mar-a-Lago case, which is still scheduled to go May 24th. Although, I know with the superseding indictment, we don't know if that will change. But that because, for example, you don't have classified document review and approvals that need to happen in this case, it could move much more quickly. What is much more quickly theoretically?

GOODMAN: I think much more quickly is this could easily happen in the winter/spring of next year, winter being January 2024. And Alvin Bragg has recently signaled that he would be potentially willing to move his March trial start date. So, why would he say that? He's also thinking maybe they want the space in this particular time to bring this case.

BURNETT: So, do you think that could happen, to Scott's point, that you may get an answer from the -- CONWAY: It's quite possible. And I think there is an imperative to do that. I mean, it's part of the considerations, I think, in the Justice Department for whether to indict someone in public life, a politician, is whether they're running for office again. It is one of the deals that you can make with a politician who is a corrupt politician, who is indicted, is not running for office, they're not holding office again.


They can agree to do that as part of the plea bargain.

And I think that's an important function. The prosecutorial function is to keep bad people who commit crimes and lie to the public and use the mechanisms of government to commit fraud to keep those people out of government. That's a legitimate public interest. And I think there is a legitimate public interest to have the voters know by November.

JENNINGS: There has always been another door on the impeachment. It was, well, he's out of office, so we'll let the criminal justice system handle it. On these indictments, it will, well, he's innocent until proven guilty. You cannot have resolution on this thing until you have a verdict.

WILLIAMS: This thing, what's the this thing?

JENNINGS: These indictments for trying to overthrow the government, which is what this is. And so for voters, there will be a cohort of Republicans who will vote for him until he is a convicted felon. They will always find a way back. But I'm just saying, this one more than every other case, how could you not have resolution? And if there isn't resolution, how could you not consider it to be political if you were an average Republican?

BURNETT: All right. Well, obviously, as you say, George, Wolf, a lot of this had been, almost all of this laid out, of course, including some of the recommended charges, right, by the January 6th committee, who did pain staking research and made it basically impossible maybe to not get to the day that we're at right now.

BLITZER: Good point. And I want to get some reaction right now from a Democrat Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. She sits on the House Judiciary Committee. She is also a former member of the January 6th select committee. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

After all your work investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, how powerful is it now to see the special counsel, Jack Smith, unveil this new indictment, criminal indictment, of the former president of the United States?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, Wolf, I just had a chance to skim the indictment. I want to read it in detail. But it sure looks like the facts that were cited follow what the January 6th committee was able to unveil to the public. As you know, we thought those actions were criminal in nature, and, apparently, upon our referral, the Department of Justice did as well. Attempting to overthrow the government is pretty serious stuff. And it's worth noting that, you know, it is a continuing threat. I mean, in December on Truth Social, Mr. Trump announced he intended to terminate the Constitution if he was re-elected.

So, this misconduct, this criminal behavior, needs to be addressed by a jury. We, as a committee, felt that we had evidence warranting prosecution. And, you know, I don't feel joyful today. This is a sad day that an ex-president would have committed such terrible things that the Department of Justice had to bring an indictment. On the other hand, the good news is we're a country of laws, and no one is above the law. It is not just the foot soldiers being held to account, but the people who made the plot to overturn the Constitution and the election.

BLITZER: Yes. So, Congresswoman, when you look at the four new charges, criminal charges Trump faces in this new indictment, how does that line up, bottom line, with your committee, the select committee's recommended charges?

LOFGREN: Well, other than the incitement that we sent over, it tracks pretty closely. It is the fact situation that I saw resided that is almost identical to what the committee found. And we tried to match the facts to the law if the special counsel sees criminal statutes he feels that are even a more pertinent find. But, really, most of them, the obstruction, the conspiracy to obstruct, the false statements, it is pretty much the same.

BLITZER: The criminal indictment released says the defendant, Trump, made claims that they were false and he, quote, knew they were false. How significant is that.

LOFGREN: Well, I think it was pretty obvious he knew they were false. He was told repeatedly they were false in great detail by his staff. He did reveal to General Milley, for one, that we knew he had lost. So, obviously, he knew that he'd lost the election. He tried to keep hold of the power to overturn the election anyhow. That's pretty serious.


BLITZER: That's very serious, indeed. The grand jury heard testimony from former Vice President Mike Pence, also from Trump's former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. How far does that go, potentially, to proving these charges?

LOFGREN: Well, we'll see. I mean, I think Mark Meadows, I don't think he's one of the co-conspirators from what's described. So I assume he's made all of his information known to the Department of Justice, and he knows a lot.

I was struck by the vice president's statement that Trump told him, you're too honest. You know, every elected official should be honest. And to tell the vice president you're being too honest is an admission in and of itself that he knew what he was doing was wrong and illegal. BLITZER: Before I let you go, Congresswoman, I want to get your

reaction to part of this statement that the Trump campaign released after this criminal indictment of Trump.

Among other things, the statement from the Trump campaign says this: The lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi, Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes. President Trump has always followed the law and the Constitution with advice from highly claimed attorneys.

Give me your reaction when he makes a comparison of the U.S. justice system with Nazi, Germany.

LOFGREN: Well, it's obviously absurd. They must really be afraid of the evidence here. But, you know, it's sad that the ex-president would throw these words around when he must know it's not the case. And, in fact, nobody is doing anything to his supporters.

You know, his supporters didn't incite a mob to riot. His supporters didn't solicit false electors. His supporters didn't try to overturn the election in a variety of states.

It was he who did that. His supporters just believed in him and voted for him. So it is not about them. It is about his criminal conduct.

BLITZER: Yeah, good point. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

Erin, the fact that the Trump campaign would make this comparison to Nazi, Germany is sick and disgusting.

BURNETT: It certainly is. And obviously it shows they're going to grab that emotional core.

And I want to get back to Evan Perez.

So, Evan, as you are going through this indictment on the back of Trump's comment here, I know that you wanted to point something significant out. I think it is important here to try to get everybody to what are these key new details. There is something on page 14. I believe paragraph number 28 that you found that could be notable.

PEREZ: That's right. I mean, look, I think we just heard from Congresswoman Lofgren, wondering about the information that Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff of the former president, the kind of information that he provided in, you know, talking to the special counsel, to the investigation.

And this paragraph 28, again, on page 14 really lays out about what we know, at least what the special counsel says apparently came from Mark Meadows. It describes on December 23rd, we know that Mark Meadows went down to Georgia, went to look at the Cobb County vote count. And the purpose of that was to try to reassure the former president that everything was being done to find his claims, to find proof of his claims of fraud. And he comes back, and he tells the former president, he notified the

former president that state election officials were conducting themselves in an exemplary fashion. That's a quote that appears to come from Mark Meadows to the former president, again, that they would find fraud if it existed. The defendant, according to special counsel Jack Smith says, he tweeted that the Georgia officials who were doing this, he says that they were terrible people.

So Mark Meadows comes back from being down in Cobb County, Georgia and says, look, everything is doing what they can to find fraud and they are exemplary people. Trump takes that and still goes out and attacks the Georgia officials, the Cobb County officials and calls them terrible people.

It gives you an impression here, Erin, it is not very -- obviously, they don't name Mark Meadows, but we know that he did testify, he did provide testimony to the investigators, and we know that he is probably one of the most important witnesses, alongside Mike Pence, of course -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Evan, thank you very much.


And important that Evan highlights mark meadows, this reference to the chief of staff because there had been so many questions as to whether he would be involved in this indictment, whether he is cooperating. Obviously, this doesn't answer that, but significant to find that mentioned.

David Axelrod joins us now, the senior political commentator for us, and former senior adviser to President Obama, of course. As well as Olivia Troye, who worked in the Trump administration as homeland security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.

So, let me just start, David, with you first on what Evan was just reporting here, right? Looking here on page 14, this reference to the chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Obviously potentially significant. Doesn't give us a lot of insight into what role he may be playing here, but an extremely significant individual.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this has been a matter of speculation for some time. Mark Meadows had basically gone underground. No one had heard from him. There was quite a bit of speculation about what role he might be playing as a cooperator with the investigation, and this suggests that may be the case.

But, Erin, I just want to make another point because these charges are appalling but they shouldn't be surprising. As Zoe Lofgren said, we heard in painstaking, powerful detail from witness after witness during the January 6th hearings, committee hearings in the last year this story unfolding much the way Jack Smith is telling it here.

And yet -- and yet as we sit here today, 2/3 of Republicans still say that Biden was illegitimately elected. They believe what Jack Smith called a lie today. And 86 percent of them said they didn't think Trump should be criminally charged in relation to January 6th. And, you know, the result of that is you see a cavalcade of statements from Republican politicians tonight not -- not expressing concern about the contents of the indictment but indicting the prosecutors, indicting the Justice Department, essentially amplifying Trump's story.

So he has grave potential, political, legal challenges here, but his -- no one should assume that this is going to knock him from his perch.


AXELROD: Clearly, he is a master at dominating the narrative and he's doing it right now.

BURNETT: He'll do everything he can that now to try -- we talked about $100 million of this PAC went to legal fees, leaving him with less than $4 million. So, we'll see how much he raises on the back of this as he has successfully on the back of other indictments.

Olivia, can I ask you about the new details that we see in here about the former vice president Mike Pence because you advised him and you know him well. It says in here that he was keeping contemporaneous notes and then in that context as it lays it out, it becomes clear that some of the things Mike Pence is saying happened are literally from those notes.

Is this something you knew him to do and in a level of painstaking detail?

OLIVIA TROYE, WORKED AT THE WHITE HOUSE DURING FEBRUARY 2020 MEETING: Yes, actually. You know, it's interesting that you point that out because actually that line really stood out to me. And I was having this vision of Mike Pence sitting there with a black sharpie and his note card writing down the conversation that was happening.

Again, this is happening when he's doing that and it talks about the notes, this is after he had already been repeatedly sort of bullied by Trump and sort of cornered by all of these individuals being told that you will do this, you have the power to overturn this election. You can -- you know, fake electors, let them in, certify all of this. We'll lean on the Justice Department, I read in there. Maybe they can do something.

Each time Mike Pence has the same response of like, no, I cannot do this, and he counters it. I think the other thing that stood out was Christmas Day, so typical of my former boss calling the president up and saying, merry Christmas, Mr. President, and Trump, of course, responds with, let's talk about the election, right? I think that was just so telling because that's just so typical of the dynamic there between the two of them.

But, you know, as a homeland security person who watched the chaos around the country and the threats, I just wanted to follow up on David's point because when I -- when I think about this indictment today and I think about a big step towards accountability with what happened here these past couple of years that the country has lived through. I think about the election workers that have faced the threats because of this lie -- a lie that is now being very clearly laid out in the judicial process, in this indictment about what really happened here and how Donald Trump knew what he was doing.

So I think about those people and the threats that have happened and that ongoing dynamic that exists in our country today.

BURNETT: All right. All right. Thank you both very much.


BLITZER: Thanks, Erin.


I want to get to Jamie Gangel right now. She has a new statement from Judge Michael Luttig.

Tell us what he says.

GANGEL: So, Wolf, obviously, Judge Luttig was a critical witness and he was also the person who put out there very impressively on Twitter that Mike Pence could not stop the vote.

And he has said, I'm just going to read part of it: This is an historic, tragic, and regrettable day for America. The former president now stands indicted and will be prosecuted for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and for the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6th.

These are as grave of offenses against the United States as a president could commit save possibly treason. The former president is neither a victim nor a martyr today. America is Donald Trump's victim and Donald Trump has martyred America for his own selfish, personal ambitions. In a word, Donald Trump has put his own self above his country once again.

BORGER: Can I just --

BLITZER: These are all felonies, too.

BORGER: Can I just add something? I've been communicating with an attorney who has worked for Donald Trump and thinks what may be happening here and you attorneys know much more about this than I do, but he thinks that some of the people who may be indicted as future co defendants because Trump can no longer say, I'm blaming my lawyers for this because this lays out chapter and verse that he acted knowingly that this election was not his to win. He did not win it.

And this attorney thinks that none of these co-conspirators are going to escape legal consequences.

BLITZER: Well, Jack Smith says the investigation is continuing. We shall see.

BORGER: Exactly. BLITZER: Let's discuss and get more reaction now from New Hampshire's Republican Governor Chris Sununu.

Governor, thank you so much for joining us.

First, I want to get some reaction to this truly historic and solemn moment in U.S. history. The former president of the United States, Trump, now officially criminally charged for his efforts to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, for most of us obviously it's a shock, right? I mean, I think a lot of us knew that this indictment was probably coming, but when you look at the grand scheme of what it means to have a former president of these serious charges, it's beyond unprecedented.

On the political side, it just reaffirms there's no way this guy can win in November of '24. I'm sitting here in the first of the primary, was out campaigning with various candidates today.

And it just really affirms that there's no independent out there going, yeah, I might go with Trump now. You know, I've changed my mind. We're back on -- no. Not going to happen. Never going to happen.

And the Trump supporters, if you will, that have kind of been drinking the Kool-Aid quite a bit lately, the best part about this is the fact that Trump knew he didn't win. He didn't buy any of what he was spitting out publicly. He was lying to his supporters. He knows he didn't win. That's going to be laid out.

And it's -- again, it's just shocking to know that we've come this far. It's even more shocking to know this probably isn't the last indictment. I mean, this one is extremely severe.

And I think -- I honestly think Trump is more nervous about this one, I know he is. We've already talked to people on his team today, he's more nervous about this one than any of the others because so many other folks involved. Not just Mark Meadows. There were so many folks involved in that conversation and many of those folks are no longer part of his inner circle. He no longer controls that narrative with those individuals.

He's scared and he knows this one -- you know, I think the discussion of when it comes to bear, when the trial actually comes, but he knows this one could really stick.

BLITZER: Yeah. These criminal charges raise very serious questions, Governor, about Trump's fitness to serve again and yet -- yet he's leading your party's 2024 field with 54 percent of the vote according to the most recent polls. How do you explain that?

SUNUNU: Well, the national polls, you've got to not look at the national polls. The national polls are based on the national message, which is mainstream media. I'm not casting aspersions on mainstream media, but the mainstream media talks about Biden, they talk about Trump. That really drives the message. When you look at the polls within Iowa and New Hampshire, it's a very

different story. In New Hampshire, I think he's averaging under 40 percent. In Iowa, about 42 percent. That's where the narrative is happening. That's where these candidates are kind of laying their groundwork, their case, their ground work, and they're having a lot of success.

So, considering that's happening and we haven't had a debate yet, he's going to be in real trouble as this progresses along. I think as was brought up, he's raised a lot of money off the first couple of indictments, but it's kind of been trickling down. I don't think -- I think that well is going to be dry. The fact that he's bilking his own supporters to pay his legal bills, I mean, you know, he's only a billionaire. You can't expect more than that to ask everyone to pay your own way.

But, no, I think it really is wearing thin here in New Hampshire and Iowa. And I think the more and more folks look at where those discussions are happening, I think there's hope there. And understanding that Trump very well is not the nominee of this party.

BLITZER: We shall see. Governor Sununu, thanks very much for joining us.

SUNUNU: You bet.