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Supreme Court to Hear Trump Presidential Immunity Case; Trump Praises Supreme Court's Decision to Hear Immunity Claims; Supreme Court to Hear Arguments Over Trump Presidential Immunity Claim in April; Physician: Biden "Continues To Be Fit For Duty" After Annual Physical; McConnell Stepping Down As GOP Leader In November. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired February 28, 2024 - 18:00   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think there's a good argument here that Trump was within the scope of his job, but this is an unknown question, an unknown issue, and I think that's exactly why the Supreme Court decided that they needed to take this.

Remember, by the way, two months ago, Jack Smith said to the Supreme Court, only you can decide this case, you, the Supreme Court, and you alone have to resolve this.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Elie Honig, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Much more reaction to this big breaking news ahead in the next hour.

Our coverage continues now in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with one Wolf Blitzer. I'll see you soon.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, the United States Supreme Court says it will hear Donald Trump's claims of presidential immunity. It's a major decision that's certain to further delay his federal election subversion trial. Tonight, we're breaking down the massive impact of the high court's announcement.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

Let's get straight to the breaking news, a pivotal moment in the special counsel's election subversion case against Donald Trump, the U.S. Supreme Court announcing it will hear arguments on Trump's claims of immunity.

CNN's team of journalists is covering this truly historic moment from every angle. First, I want to bring in CNN's chief legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid. Paula, how is the Supreme Court taking this up?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Wolf, it is unclear if former President Trump will face federal prosecution before the November election, because, tonight, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear all arguments in late April on Trump's appeal, where he argues that he has presidential immunity that should shield him from the federal election subversion case.

Now, this is the second time that the Supreme Court has rejected pleas from Special Counsel Jack Smith to step in and resolve this issue quickly so that he could move on with his case. Months ago, Jack Smith asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue of immunity, not to let it go through the appeals process and drag out. They declined. The issue went to the court of appeals, which issued a skating and unanimous opinion rejecting Trump's claims of absolute presidential immunity.

Now, of course, Trump's team appealed to the Supreme Court, and it took them two weeks to announce the fact that they will hear arguments in this case. His arguments are scheduled, though, not until another two months from now, which means we expect an opinion, possibly in late June. And then we need probably two months, the judges who said this, overseeing the case before they could begin that trial.

So, Wolf, that makes it unlikely, though not impossible, that the January 6th federal election subversion trial could go before November. And as we know, the Trump team's strategy all along has been delay, delay, delay.

BLITZER: Paula, so what specifically does this mean for the timeline of the classified documents case against Trump?

REID: It's a great question, Wolf, because while it's been a bad day for Jack Smith today, it could be a bad week because on Friday, we'll be down in Florida when the judge who's overseeing that case, Judge Aileen Cannon, she's holding a scheduling hearing.

Currently, that trial is penciled in on the calendar for late May, but it is widely expected that that's going to get pushed back. And we expect to get some guidance on that on Friday. But there is a concern that that could get pushed back multiple times, which, again, it's unclear at this point if former President Trump will be tried on either one of these cases, but we'll be watching very closely on Friday to see what Judge Aileen Cannon does with that case.

As of now, the only criminal case that we are confident is going to go this year before former President Trump is the so-called New York hush money case, the case related to hush money payments that he paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels and the lead up to the 2016 election, that case brought by the Manhattan district attorney. That case starts on March 25th.

BLITZER: All right, lots going on. Paula, I want you to stay with us.

Right now, I also want to get some reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision. We're getting reaction from former President Trump. CNN's Kristen Holmes is standing by. She's got details for us.

So, Trump just reacted, I take it, Kristen, on social media.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he just posted. Before I read it, I do want to note one thing. I talked to members of his team and to some of his allies who all said the same thing, they were extremely pleased currently with this decision.

Now, that was twofold, one, because they wanted to present their immunity argument, even though many of his advisers and allies actually don't believe that this is going to hold up in court, they were happy to get to present it.

But the other part of this is that delay, delay, delay. They believe that now it is very, very likely that they are going to delay this past the November election, which is, of course, what their goal has been all along.

So, this is what Donald Trump posted on social media. And I just took it down.


Give me one sec to pull it back up for you. Okay. He says, legal scholars are extremely thankful for the Supreme Court's decision today to take up presidential immunity. Without presidential immunity, a president will not be able to properly function or make decisions in the best interest of the United States of America. Presidents will always be concerned and even paralyzed by the prospect of wrongful prosecution and retaliation after they leave office. This could actually lead to extortion and blackmail of a president.

Now, of course, as we know, the appeals court has already overruled this. Now, that decision is stayed at this point. They said that Donald Trump did not have absolute immunity and that presidents in the past have acknowledged that they don't have absolute immunity, that they are beholden to the law.

But, again, this is something Donald Trump has become really fixated on, something that he sells to both the American public when he is at rallies, but also to private donors and in private conversations, something he wants out there and he wants out there argued.

And, again, the even bigger part of all of this, Wolf, is that trial date. What they have been hoping for, for all of this, was that these trials would get pushed back after the election. Now, of course, there's a chance Donald Trump doesn't win. And then they have to address that then. But the hope is that Donald Trump does become president and then can dismiss these cases.

So, they've been trying all their options, really exhausting every legal avenue to push this and push this and now this decision makes it likely it's going to be pushed several months, at least up butted up to the election or even past it. Good news for the former president.

BLITZER: Yes, potentially very good news for Trump, indeed. Kristen, thank you very much. Stand by, we'll get back to you. I want to bring in our legal experts for some serious analysis right now.

Joan Biskupic, you're our senior Supreme Court analyst, two questions. Why did it take the justices so long to decide to hear these important arguments about presidential immunity? And when do you see a ruling coming from the U.S. Supreme Court? JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Okay. I'll give you a brief answer to the second first and then a longer answer to the first. I think by the end of June, we should probably see an answer. But the question -- it's not surprising that the justices agreed to take this up.

I thought they'd want to have the last word on it because it's such a big question of presidential immunity. The D.C. Circuit opinion was very sound. There were some arguments for just leaving it in place. And the fact that it took them about two weeks to even decide what to do suggests that there was some dissension behind the scenes, that there was enough people there, a number of justices who thought, let's not engage on this, because they've put it on an expedited schedule to hear it the week of April 22nd.

But every day counts when you're talking about briefing. If the justices were going to do that from the start, they should have done it two weeks ago when they had all the filings. And as I said, it suggests that there was some trouble there.

But the bottom line then, Wolf, is no wonder Donald Trump is saying, thank you, Supreme Court, because this actually makes the Supreme Court a bit of a partner in his effort to delay things. Why do I say the end of June then for a final ruling? Cases that the justices will be hearing off the Donald Trump topic, that they'll be hearing that at the end of April, will all be resolved by the end of June because that's when the session ends for the 2023, 2024 session.

Now, it could go longer. They could actually decide this even sooner. But I think what we have now is a situation where obviously we're not going to see the start of any trial on these election subversion charges in early March.

But I think at this rate, we won't see a trial in summer, and we might not see it before the end of 2024.

BLITZER: Really?

BISKUPIC: Because of this action.

BLITZER: Trump and his lawyers have always said, delay, delay, delay, so this is good news for Trump.

BISKUPIC: Definitely good news.

BLITZER: Potentially. All right, Norm Eisen is with us as well, a CNN legal analyst. Let's talk a little bit about the special counsel, Jack Smith. This is a major setback. He wanted to move quickly on this. So, how does this impact the specific charges he's filing against Trump?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It may have a profound impact, Wolf. There are still unknowns, as Joan notes, including we don't know what conversations went on in those two weeks about this schedule or the schedule that could follow.

Given the historic importance of this case, we have seen the court move quickly to decision in the past, in the U.S. v. Nixon case, even faster on the Bush v. Gore timetable, a variety of important cases in the Trump administration and the Biden administration. If you get a faster decision, this is still a very expedited timetable for a major historic case at the Supreme Court.

If you get a faster decision, Judge Tanya Chutkan has said she will not take the political calendar into account in setting this trial. DOJ policy does not prohibit a trial taking place.


Now, it's key for the Supreme Court to move fast if this case is going to go to trial. And you know the other impact of this? It's bad for Jack Smith, but Alvin Bragg has been saying his 2016 election case is an election corruption case. It's an election interference case. That's what he's going to argue to the jury. That case just became a lot more important. And what that case is, the great debate, is it a democracy case, or a hush money one became even more important today.

BLITZER: It certainly did. Stand by. Steve Vladeck is with us as well. Steve, I know you studied the Supreme Court very, very closely. How do you read this decision that was just announced today? Are you surprised they're going to hear arguments in this case on this slower timeline that's about to unfold?

Steve, we got a technical issue. We're going to get back to you in a serious situation. Joan, maybe you can answer that question.

BISKUPIC: Oh, wait a minute. I think we hear Steve. Steve, try again.

BLITZER: Steve, are you there now?

STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's the wonders of modern technology. We had always thought that there was a chance that the court was going to take this case up on an expedited basis. We had always thought it would consider treating President Trump's application as an appeal.

I think Joan is right. The surprise is only that it took the better part of two weeks for the court to get to this result. And, Wolf, what that suggests is that there was an effort over the last two weeks within the court to find some kind of conclusive resolution that didn't require the court to give it the full process.

Maybe there were four votes for that resolution, but there weren't five or six. And so I think the real tea leaf here is that there are a couple of justices in the middle, maybe a Justice Brett Kavanaugh, maybe a Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who might not be sympathetic to former President Trump's immunity claim, but wanted the full court to have the opportunity to receive briefing an argument.

And, Wolf, just really quickly on the time and point, you know, yes, this is not as fast as a lot of people would want. This is about two weeks slower on the briefing schedule than what we saw in the Colorado disqualification case. At least by historical standards, this is still pretty fast for the U.S. Supreme Court. That's not going to satisfy those who are worried about the delay. This is going to bake in now to the general (ph) prosecution. That's a fair reaction.

But if we look at the court historically, this is still the court moving much faster than President Trump had asked it to you, and then it at least theoretically could have.

BLITZER: We shall see what happens.

Paula, let me get back to you. The federal appeals court here in Washington completely shut down Trump's arguments that he had absolute immunity. What will this mean for this case now?

REID: Well, it's interesting in talking to sources in and around the Trump legal team. None of them expect, actually, that the Supreme Court will overturn the appeals court ruling. Not only was it unanimous, it was scathing. It appeared to be written contemplating the Supreme Court's review and making it easy for them to affirm their decision.

But at this point, even if sources in and around the Trump legal team tell me they don't expect to prevail on the merits here, they may prevail again on the strategy of delay, delay, delay. Because if former President Trump is re-elected and he hasn't been tried in either one of these federal cases, he can make them go away.

And so far, it looks like even though they don't expect to win on the merits, they are winning on the logistics and the tactics.

BLITZER: They certainly are. You know, Joan, this marks, what, the second time the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing in on a major Trump case that potentially could impact the 2024 presidential election after hearing arguments involving the Colorado ballot removal case. So, what's your assessment?

BISKUPIC: Well, you're referring to the fact, on February 8th, they heard arguments over whether Donald Trump could be removed from state ballots, as the Colorado Supreme Court had ordered. All indications in that oral argument were that the justices were going to reverse the Colorado Supreme Court and allow Donald Trump to be on the ballot, but we haven't seen that ruling yet.

I actually expect that to come soon because Colorado and several other states are going to vote on Super Tuesday, or at least conclude they're voting on Super Tuesday, which is next week. So, maybe we will see a ruling soon in that, but we do know where the court is headed with that, and that is to allow Donald Trump to stay on the ballot.

BLITZER: And, Norm, I'm just curious, as somebody really interested in history, we always hear that no one in our country is above the law. But if the president gets immunity potentially for committing some sort of crime, is he above the law?

EISEN: Wolf, the president will be above the law if they rule that way, but they're not likely to rule that way. If you look at the way they've written the question presented here, they adopted the D.C. Circuit's narrowing principle.


They're only talking about a former president. They have phrased the question in such a way that the answer can only be, no, a president is not absolutely immune.

If this question is answered in the affirmative, then a president of the United States can send SEAL Team 6 out, if he does it from the Oval Office, to commit political assassinations. That can't be the law. The problem is the speed.

And so we must all hope that the Supreme Court doesn't yield to Trump's obvious delay tactics, but that they need his delay with all deliberate speed. And that middle block, John Roberts, the chief, the consummate, politician of the court, perhaps a Kavanaugh, perhaps an Amy Coney Barrett, that they understand the gravity here for that core fundamental American principle, and that they don't wait until the typical end of June deadline, but move more quickly.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Steve, do you think it was a mistake for the U.S. Justice Department to wait years to act on this federal election case?

VLADECK: You know, Wolf, it's such a good question, and I think it's just so hard for those of us on the outside to answer. I mean, presumably, there are reasons why it took the Justice Department as long as it did to bring these cases.

But, you know, the sort of delay, delay, delay that Paula mentioned has long been one of President Trump's calling cards when it comes to litigation. And I think it's very possible that we're going to look back and say, you know, that wasn't adequately accounted for.

Wolf, it's worth reminding folks, though, that we wouldn't be in this position either in the Trump Colorado disqualification case or with all of this hanging in the balance on the January 6th prosecution if nine more senators had voted to convict President Trump and disqualify him from office in his second impeachment trial in January 2021.

So, you know, I think it's unfortunate that we are at this point where we're pushed up against these clocks. I think it's worth remembering that we've got here not just because the Department of Justice, at least two outside observers, moved a little more slowly than we might have wanted, but because the more conventional procedure that the Constitution contemplates for removing a president, for disqualifying him from holding future office for this kind of conduct, was not followed for what we're in the moment, deeply political reasons.

You know, I think that all has to be part of the conversation as we look back on how we got to this point in the summer of 2024.

BLITZER: Now it's going to be up to these nine U.S. Supreme Court justices to decide.

Everyone stay with us. We're staying on top of the breaking news, how the Supreme Court's decision to hear the immunity case is throwing further uncertainty right now into the presidential election. Lots going on.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, the United States Supreme Court throwing a huge wrench in the special counsel's push to try Donald Trump on election subversion charges as soon as possible.

Let's get some more analysis right now this time from our political experts. David Chalian, this is perhaps the most consequential case against Trump and now there's a very real chance it won't necessarily be decided before the presidential election in November. That's huge benefit potentially for Trump, right?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it's the huge benefits in two ways. If indeed it is not tried before November, this is one of the two federal cases, and if he wins and he's president, he'll have it dismissed and have to go away and it will be as if it didn't exist. So, there's that piece of it.

But in terms of the campaign, Donald Trump has proven across all these trials to utilize them as the clock is ticking, as a way of fortifying his base of support.

Now, there is a question if indeed one of these trial went forward and he was convicted of a crime related to trying to overthrow an election and upend our democracy, that that may have a real world political impact on independents, moderate Republicans, what have you in this race.

We don't know that to be sure, Wolf, but that would be hanging out there, and we would not learn that if this trial does not happen until after the election. It would stay in the space where Donald Trump would use it as a foil rather than actually being held to account by the justice system.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria Borger is with us as well. Gloria, the special counsel, as we know, Jack Smith, he first asked the High Court to take this case up in December. What do you make of the way the justices have slow-walked what's going on in this case, specifically?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think if I were Jack Smith, I would not be happy tonight because he wanted them to just accept the appeals court ruling, get going with this case and have it done before the election.

As we all know, you know, the convention, the Republican Convention is in July, and there is kind of an unwritten rule in the Justice Department that you don't want to intrude on the electoral process. And the more this is delayed, they're going to reach a certain point where they are going to say, well, we can't cross this line because we're getting involved in this election. Trump is already claiming election interference at every given opportunity. And so, you know, this a real setback.

Now, I've talked to a former Trump attorney who doesn't believe that they would win this case. But the question is, when are they going to get a decision on this case?


And that's why the Trump legal team is very happy tonight, because the Supreme Court is not known for moving quickly, even when it says it's going to do things on an expedited basis.

BLITZER: We shall see. Van Jones, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, he was in charge of this investigation, what, for almost two years before appointing Jack Smith as the special counsel. Did he make a mistake in dragging his feet on this?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, yes, he did. And, honestly, I think he was trying to -- Merrick Garland was trying to duck out. It was really the fact that Congress wouldn't let it go. Congress kept investigating, kept investigating, and then sent over 15 phone books worth of evidence that Donald Trump broke the law.

So, now we're two years late getting started and then the Supreme Court just does whatever they can to help Donald Trump. In December, they said they don't want to hear from the case. Then it goes to the appeals court. They could just say, listen, the appeals court has spoken. It is a ludicrous theory, ludicrous theory.

Now, the Supreme Court -- oh, well, now we want to hear it. It just is Donald Trump getting away with nonsense, taking advantage of everything that he can to get away with this crime. And this Justice Department did no favors to justice, dragging their feet for two years and having Congress pushed them so late to get going.

BLITZER: Alyssa Farah Griffin is with us as well. Alyssa, voters now could potentially go to the ballot box not knowing whether one of the major candidates is actually guilty of trying to overturn the last presidential election, right?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and it's a disaster for voters. We know as many as a third of Republican voters who will be inclined to support Trump couldn't be with him if he was convicted as a felon. And they very well may go into the voting booth in November and have no idea because this case won't be resolved.

And I want to speak to something that Norm said in a previous segment. We do know that this New York hush money case will get resolved before the election, but talking to Republican voters around the country, this case just does not resonate with them. They see it as old, they see it as dated, something that dates back to pre-2016. It doesn't move the needle. What does move the needle, as we've seen from exit polls, is a conviction in the January 6th case. And we very well will likely not see that now.

BLITZER: Interesting. Gloria, this Trump strategy of delay, delay, delay, delaying these criminal cases past the November elections, it seems to be working, at least so far.

BORGER: Yes, it's working. And our polling shows that the American public wants a resolution of one of these cases. And I think this would be one of the most important case, which would be whether he was trying to overturn an election. And the voters want some resolution. The voters want some the court to decide.

And if the appeals court wasn't enough, the Supreme Court is now going to do it. And it's going to delay, which is a victory for Donald Trump. Because, of course, the theory is if he were to win the election, then this whole thing would become a moot point. And it is unfair to the voters who would like to know the answer to some of these questions.

I agree with Alyssa. They're not much concerned about the Stormy Daniels case, but they are concerned about this case. And the more they know about it, the better off they'll be. But the Supreme Court moves at its own pace, which is often glacial.

CHALIAN: And, Wolf, I think there's a big question mark that hangs on this time. And Gloria referenced that Justice Department tradition of not prosecuting, not investigating during an election season. The judge in this case, Judge Chutkan, has said that his status as a presidential candidate will bear absolutely nothing on the trial in her courtroom.

To me, it's just a big question that we don't know. It's almost unfathomable in our minds. But there is the potential. There is no rule that says a trial can't take place in the fall here concurrently with the general election.

And just think about what that would be if this actually did go to trial simultaneously with the fall campaign season.

BLITZER: Yes, this is clearly a huge, huge development.

Everyone, thank you very, very much, excellent analysis.

Coming up, we'll get new reaction to the decision today from the U.S. Supreme Court, a former member of the January 6th select committee, Congressman Adam Schiff will join us live.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, the United States Supreme Court says it will take up Donald Trump's claims of presidential immunity, a temporary but significant victory for the former president, which is certain to delay his election subversion trial.

Katelyn Polantz is covering all of this for us. So, this impacts, Katelyn, the timing for all of Trump's potential legal cases, and who decides when the trials will start, right? KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, it's the judges who decide that is ultimately where this is going to land. And right now, the case is with the Supreme Court. It can't go anywhere until the Supreme Court decides what to do. If they side with Donald Trump, case dismissed. That's it in this 2020 election federal case against Trump. But if they don't side with Trump and they side with what the lower courts have done, it goes back to Judge Tanya Chutkan in the D.C. district court.

She has said that his campaign would need to yield to the justice system. That's just a day job of him campaigning. And so then we look at the trial calendar and Judge Chutkan would have to decide exactly when she wants to have the trial.

It could go any time and the Election Day on the calendar doesn't mean anything really to the justice system when a judge is looking at something like this. And there are judges, not just Judge Chutkan, that are going to try and pin down dates for Donald Trump to go to trial in his cases.


The only one solidified right now is his New York hush money criminal case for business record falsification. That's set to go to trial at the end of March. And then, Wolf, the end of this week on Friday, much of our team is going to be in Florida watching to see what happens with that other criminal case, the classified documents case, when that is going to land on the calendar. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, lots of legal stuff going on. Katelyn Polantz, thank you for that update.

For more on the breaking news right now, I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

So, what's -- first of all, what's your reaction to this decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to even take this case and hear these arguments about presidential immunity?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It's really hard to understand the decision, Wolf, except that it is likely some of the justices simply want to assist Donald Trump in delaying the resolution of this case in the hope of pushing his trial off past the election.

If that were to happen, then of course Donald Trump would try to, if successful in the election, make the whole case go away. And I say that as a very likely motivation for some of these justices because there's no reason to take this case.

The legal and constitutional issues are not difficult. If a president was immunized in trying to overturn a presidential election, that would mean that any subsequent president could call out the military, could seize ballot boxes, and if they were ever prosecuted for it, they would be held immune. That would be the end of our constitutional system. The ultimate check on a president's power is the ability to vote them out of office. You take away voters' ability to do that by saying you're immune from essentially trying to overturn the election and its chaos.

So first, the Supreme Court says to the special counsel, we're going to make you go to the Court of Appeals, even though you've asked us to decide this in an expedited basis. And then they do go to the Court of Appeals. They get a very sound judgment, unanimous three-judge opinion, very well-reasoned, and they say, okay, having sent you the Court of Appeals, now we're going to take up the case anyway, hard to conclude, it's not for the purposes of delay.

BLITZER: I want to play for you, Congressman, one of the arguments that the Trump attorneys made before the lower appellate court. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If a president ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival, that's an official act in order to SEAL Team 6.

D. JOHN SAUER, ATTORNEY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He would have to be and would speedily be impeached and convicted before the criminal prosecution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes or no question, could a president who ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival who was not impeached, would he be subject to criminal prosecution?

SAUER: If he were impeached and convicted first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so your answer is no?

SAUER: My answer is qualified, yes.


BLITZER: Sources tell CNN, Congressman, that even Trump's lawyers don't necessarily expect to actually win on the merits of this case. What do you think?

SCHIFF: I don't think they expect to win either. That's such an absurd argument. The extension of that argument is you could murder the Senate majority leader, prevent an impeachment trial going forward, and, therefore, protect a president or former president from any kind of criminal liability.

That's absurd. I think they know they're going to lose this case, but as we have seen from Trump lawyers, in case after case after case, long preceding his presidency, but during his presidency, now after his presidency, the goal is to deny justice by delaying justice, and they may just succeed.

If the oral arguments are in April and a decision doesn't come out until May or June, and Judge Chutkan at the district court says they're going to have three months after that to prepare, then you're right in the fall up against the election. That bumps up against the Department of Justice policy of not normally taking legal action in close proximity to an election.

I think the issue here is the proximity to the election is because of the defendant's own conduct, his effort to delay the proceedings. In that case, I would hope that the trial goes forward whenever it gets sent back to Judge Chutkan.

BLITZER: Do you have any issue, Congressman, with the amount of time it actually took for the U.S. Justice Department to bring this case against Trump?

SCHIFF: I do, absolutely. And, indeed, during the first year, year and a half, I raised this issue continually that the Justice Department seemed to be only proceeding against those that broke into this building where I'm standing and battered down those doors in front of me to the House chamber or tried to. They went after the foot soldiers but it was a very long time before they went after those who had essentially organized and incited this attack on the Capitol.

That was a very costly mistake and probably but for the work that we did on the January 6th committee enforcing the department to confront that evidence of Trump's complicity, he might not have been charged at all.

BLITZER: Will you accept the Supreme Court's ruling regardless of which way they decide?

SCHIFF: I don't think we'll have any choice but to accept the court's ruling.


But here, I think the court's ruling is going to be he has no immunity. The problem is can we accept and live with the delay, and I don't think we have much choice here, once again, Donald Trump trying to run out the clock.

We have to hope and pray that voters reject him when they have a chance to vote this November so that if the Justice Department and justice has not been served that it will be served after the election.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, as usual, thank you very much for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we're following the Supreme Court's bombshell decision to hear Donald Trump's presidential immunity case. We'll have a deeper look into the controversial issue right after this.


BLITZER: Our top story tonight, Donald Trump's claims of presidential immunity will get a hearing before the United States Supreme Court in April, a blow to Special Counsel Jack Smith that could significantly delay Trump's criminal trial.

I want to bring in CNN's Brian Todd right now with a closer look at Trump's immunity claims. Brian, update our viewers.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that term presidential immunity is a lightning rod phrase which some people believe implies that a president could be above the law.

But experts say that's really not the case.



TODD (voice-over): Former President Trump's arguments center on the idea that a president should not be sued for an act committed during their time in the White House.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Philosophically, the heart of the argument on this immunity is that a president has to be able to move forward, make decisions and a pretty rapid pace. And he can't be subject to lawsuits for any act that he takes, whatever act that is, that he can't be tied up in court rather than being acting as president.

TODD: The Supreme Court has barred civil lawsuits against a president for official acts while in the White House, but hasn't addressed whether criminal charges can be filed. President Richard Nixon tried to invoke limited it presidential immunity over judicial orders in 1974, when he tried to avoid handing over his White House tapes to the special counsel investigating the Watergate scandal.

He didn't try to invoke immunity over criminal prosecution.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The Supreme Court in the summer of 1974 swept all these arguments away, and said that Richard Nixon had to turnover the tapes.

TODD: Nixon did hand over the tapes which contained evidence that he was involved in the Watergate cover up. Shortly after that, he was out.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

TODD: After leaving the presidency in his iconic 1977 interviews with journalist David Frost, Nixon since seemed to indicate he thought he was above the law while serving as president.

NIXON: When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.

TODD: But analysts say Nixon was not claiming absolute presidential immunity.

NORM EISEN, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE ETHICS COUNSEL: He was specifically referencing a band of national security related decisions that a president can make, and the broad sweep of presidential power. Now the courts have since disagreed with him.


TODD (on camera): Responding to the previous appeals court ruling that he's not immune from prosecution, former President Trump at the time called it a, quote, nation destroying ruling, posting on Truth Social that if it's not overturned, it would injure the presidency and the country.

Wolf, now we'll see what the Supreme Court does.

BLITZER: The stakes clearly as I keep saying are enormous right now.

Brian Todd, thank you very, very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. CNN anchor and chief legal analyst, Laura Coates, is joining us.

Laura, what's your reaction to this major decision by the U.S. Supreme Court putting the timeline of the January 6 trial in jeopardy.

LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: This is truly mind-blowing given that they delayed this decision by about two weeks, even take up the case and a separate tech and effort, but was requested by Jack Smith. But, you know, what time is it in London right now? Because Americans until June or whatever this decision comes on will actually have a king.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you don't know whether the president, the United States has absolute immunity, guess what? You don't know whether your system of checks and balances will actually work. Remember what they argued before the circuit court of appeals, Wolf, they talked about the possibility of only having liability or prosecution exposure if you were first impeached and convicted.

That means that unless you have that particular formula, which we know as checks and balances and a political discussion, then you have no real check on the president of the United States. The court of appeals launched hyperbolic, you know, discussions to them and scenarios and they were met with absurd results and answers. That tells me that right now, by Super Tuesday, we don't know whether a president of United States or former president United States is going to have absolute immunity.

For those who think this is just an issue about Donald Trump, I would behoove you to know that, that also means that any behavior right now that President Biden is being accused of engaging in, unless they're able with an impeachment inquiry, for example, to have an impeachment and conviction, that would mean that anything he is doing right now is fair game as well under this particular peculiar theory of having carte blanche for president of the United States.

So the stakes are very high. I'm really surprised at the Supreme Court, given that 50-plus page opinion from the lower court, very thorough, very fulsome, but I suspect well have the same conclusion reached in the end, would want to have their own bite at the apple as opposed to allowing that lower court ruling to stand, which would be the result if they did not take up the case.

BLITZER: Laura, do you see a world where the special counsel's January 6 trial against Trump would begin before the 2024 election.

COATES: It is a slim chance because you have not only the beginning of a trial to contemplate, but the conclusion. We know this is going to likely take whenever it gets started, if it gets started to take a very long time with jury selection, to take a long time with the motion practice, to get back on the tracks but you are going toward to be trial ready.

And then you've got the presentation of evidence, not only from the prosecution, but remember, the defense would likely want to mount a defense, all the burden is not theirs, and you've got a rebuttal case to work there.


Then you've got jury deliberations. So even if this trial were to start before the November general election and, of course, Trump would have to be sitting during that particular trial, the federal case, after all, even if that were to be happening, is it likely that you'd have a conclusion in that. Politically for so many voters is what they would like to have.

But I want to take a step back just once again, and remind people that this is not simply about whether and who should be the president of the United States. It's not about the electoral outcome. It is about are very foundational system of a democracy.

We are founded on this premise of checks and balances. But if you have the president of United States, without the ability to be he checked even with the political solutions not being met with a impeachment or beyond. And you really have a reduction to a monarchy. And I thought that's not what we wanted.

BLITZER: Yeah, good point. Laura Coates, thank you very, very much. Laura, of course, we'll be back later tonight, 11:00 p.m. Eastern with her program, "LAURA COATES LIVE". We'll be watching.

Just ahead, new details on President Biden's health following his annual physical. What his doctors are now saying about whether he needed a cognitive test.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news here in Washington, the White House has now released a summary of President Biden's annual physical checkup. This will likely be the final update on his health before the 2024 presidential election, where polls show his age is a major issue for voters.

CNN senior White House correspondent M.J. Lee is following all these developments for us. M.J., what can you tell us?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have a new six-page letter from the president's physician following his annual physical and the big takeaway, is that the president is feeling just fine and that there are no new issues since last year's annual physical.

We already knew about some of the issues that the president is currently being treated for, including sleep apnea and AFib. We also know that he's been taking Eliquis, which is a kind of blood thinner. It also goes into describing his stiffened gait. It recommends that he continued physical therapy and do more stretching.

His weight is somehow remarkably exactly the same as last year. And it says that the president exercises five times a week.

So all in all, in summary, the president's doctor saying that he is a healthy, active, and robust, 81 year-old male.

BLITZER: M.J., what is the president saying about this?

LEE: Yeah, you know, we've seen the president sort of trying to swat away any concerns about his age, his mental fitness. And we saw a moment like that playing out earlier today here at the White House. This is what he told reporters


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They think I look too young. Thank you. No, there is nothing different than last year. Everything's great.


LEE: And you know that some people have encouraged the president to perhaps consider taking a cognitive test to put some of these questions to rest. And White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that it was his doctors that determined that that test wasn't necessary. And this was her explanation for why.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president doesn't need a cognitive test. That is not my assessment. That is the assessment of the president's doctor. If you look at what this president, the president who is also the commander in chief, he passes a cognitive test every day. There is not a precedent for bringing the doctor to the podium.

Were trying to get back to the norm that it was used to be where doctors don't come to the briefing room.


LEE: Norm or not, it certainly does seem like a fair and reasonable requests for the president's doctor to take questions directly from reporters. Given that the president is 81 year-old -- years old, and given all of the interests and concerns about his age -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I read the report from the president's physician, physician to the president and it's very, very specific, very detailed.

M.J. Lee at the White House, thank you very much.

Other news we're following right now, Senator Mitch McConnell announcing he'll step down from his role in Republican leadership this coming November.

Our chief congressional correspondent Manu Raja is joining us right now.

Manu, give us the latest.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, for nearly two decades, Senator McConnell has led the Senate Republican conference being central to his party's strategy and its tactics, the longest serving party leader in history. But when he announced today that he would step aside after the November elections, he said essentially it was time.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): When I got here, I was just happy anybody remembered my name. President Reagan called me, Mitch O'Donnell.

If you would have told me for 40 years later that I would stand before you as the longest serving Senate leader in American history, frankly, I would've thought you'd lost your mind.

But father time remains undefeated. I'm no longer the young man sitting in the back hoping colleagues would remember my name. It's time for the next generation of, leadership.


RAJU: McConnell's played a central role in so many key decisions, one of which keeping the Supreme Court seat vacant when Barack Obama tried to fill it, allowing Donald Trump to shift the Supreme Court to the right. Other, his feud with Donald Trump in the aftermath of January 6, calling Trump morally and practically responsible for the attack that day.

I put the question to Republican senators about McConnell's legacy.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I think McConnell's supreme moment leadership is after Scalia's tragic deaths, made the announcement we're going to let the American people decide the direction of the court. I think that is right choice.

RAJU: He said after January 6, that Trump was morally and practically responsible for it. Do you agree with him?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I don't think it got anything to do with this decision and I don't -- I think the people --

RAJU: Agree with his sentiment?

RUBIO: Well, people committed crime, the people who committed crimes on that day are responsible for the crimes they committed. Simple as that.


RAJU: And now, this will open up a leadership race to succeed them. We expect three candidates, at least, to jump in the race. Senator John Thune, Senator John Cornyn, and Senator John Barrasso, each of them have already begun talking to their colleagues, feeling them out.

But, Wolf, this is going to be a secret ballot election after the November elections. So it's uncertain who is the favorite here, who ultimately win here. But a significant moment here in the United States Senate with McConnell steps down, and now, a leadership race to succeed him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very significant indeed.

Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll also see you tomorrow, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for "CNN NEWSROOM".

Once again, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.