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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Trump Says He's Target Of January 6 Probe, Expects Indictments; Trump Accuses DOJ Of Targeting Him Rather Than Terrorists; Michigan A.G. Charges Participants In 2020 Fake Elector Plot. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 18, 2023 - 21:00   ET



WILL HURD, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's about 35 days, until that debate. But everybody has to do is go to, and $1, that's all you got to do.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Will Hurd, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

HURD: Thanks buddy.

COOPER: The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Tonight, straight from THE SOURCE, to the target, Donald Trump. He tells the world that he has gotten another target letter, from the Special Counsel. This time, in the January 6th investigation, a sign that charges could be imminent. We heard from him, just moments ago. We'll tell you what he said.

Plus, for the very first time, suspects have been charged, in a 2020 fake electors scheme. 16 people accused of multiple felonies, in the State of Michigan. Who are they? And what does this mean, for the other fake electors, in other states?

Also, a judge, appointed by Trump, says she'll decide, quote, "Promptly," on a trial date, in the classified documents case. How that could impact the campaign calendar?

I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.

It is 9 PM Eastern. And the Trump headlines just keep on coming, tonight, the biggest one being broken by the former President himself. He says that he has been informed, by the Special Counsel, that he's a target, in the federal January 6th investigation. In his own words, that quote, "Almost always means an arrest and an indictment is coming."

He does have some experience with this. Trump also got a target letter, shortly before he was indicted, in the documents case.

But this is what he's saying tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Now, I'm like becoming an expert. I have no choice.

If you say something about an election, they want to put you in jail, for the rest of your life. It's a disgrace.


COLLINS: We also have new reporting, out of Arizona, where I have learned that the former Governor, Doug Ducey, has been contacted, by Jack Smith's team, as a potential witness. Of course, Ducey was pressured by Trump, after the 2020 election, and really recently said he was surprised that he hadn't yet heard, from the Special Counsel.

But wait, there is more. In a separate state investigation, in Michigan -- yes, we know that this is a lot to keep up with. But there, 16 fake electors suspects have now been charged with felonies. This marks the first time that anyone has been charged, with a crime, related to that fake electors scheme.


DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: They weren't the duly elected and qualified electors. And each of the defendants knew it.


COLLINS: And in the State of Florida, where Trump is facing charges, for mishandling classified documents, we could hear, from Judge Aileen Cannon, really any moment now, on when that trial could take place.

Joining me now, former Trump attorney, Tim Parlatore, who, I should note, is currently representing the former New York City Police Commissioner, Bernie Kerik, in the Special Counsel's election interference investigation.

Tim, we'll talk about that in a moment.

But first, just on this news that Trump himself broke, this morning, I mean, what do you make of the target letter? Do you think it means that Trump is on the verge of being indicted again?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I don't know. It's an odd use of target letters. That is something that DOJ traditionally uses, to send to lower- and mid-level people, in an alleged conspiracy, in an effort to try and give them an opportunity, pre- indictment, to cooperate against the higher-ups.

And so, as far as usual litigation strategies, it doesn't really seem to fit, to send one, to a person, like Donald Trump. So, in some ways, it kind of looks like a publicity stunt. But, at the same time, they didn't publicize it. They let him publicize it. So, it's really kind of an odd object, in this thing.

COLLINS: But is it a publicity stunt, I mean, if they're not the ones, who put it out there? Trump's the one who put it out there. PARLATORE: Right. It is, which makes it even -- all the more weird, because I don't understand what the value of a target letter, to Donald Trump has.

They do have legitimate purposes. They're used, quite effectively, in other cases. But sending one to the top potential defendant, and somebody, who's definitely not going to be interested, in any type of a plea agreement, doesn't really make any sense whatsoever.

So, I don't know if they were doing it just to preempt with the Michigan charges or what. But it does seem to be a departure, from normal DOJ procedures.

COLLINS: But when you say you're not sure what value it has, I mean, wouldn't they be mad --


COLLINS: -- if they did not get a heads-up that he was about to be indicted, potentially?

PARLATORE: Well, but here's the thing. DOJ -- the use of a target letter? That is not something that's required. Would they be upset that they don't get a heads-up? They usually get a heads-up, when the indictment happens. Once an indictment is voted out, then they would get a heads-up, "Hey, we've gotten indictment. So let's schedule an arraignment."

Getting a heads-up ahead of time is not something that is required by the rules. It's something that is used for specific purposes, none of which are really applicable here. And so, it just, it strikes me as something that they wouldn't normally do. And doing it here is very out of the ordinary.


COLLINS: But is it out of the ordinary? I mean, I looked at the Justice manual. It seems to just say, when someone is not called to testify, they are encouraged to notify them, the way that Trump has now been notified that he is a target in this investigation.

PARLATORE: They can. It's not required. It's definitely not required. It's something that I've seen very rarely, only in, again, in cases, where they are trying to encourage the potential defendant, to come in, and cooperate, and to try and cut a plea, or a cooperation deal, pre-charge.

COLLINS: What is your sense? I mean, Trump himself says, he thinks he's going to face charges here. What do you think he'll be indicted for?

PARLATORE: Well, I've heard reporting that this target letter mentions obstruction of justice, and witness tampering, allegedly tampering, with Mike Pence, in that proceeding. And those seem to be kind of what they're looking at. At the same time, it's an odd time to be bringing those, because certainly whether obstruction is something that applies, to a proceeding like this, is something that's already before the Circuit court, in an unrelated case.

And so, that's the kind of thing that you would think, before taking the unprecedented step, for now no longer unprecedented, but the unusual step of charging a former President, you'd wait and see what the Appellate court says, as to whether this is even legally, fits within the statute.

It sounds to me like there's nothing in there about, inciting an insurrection or anything like that. So, it really does come down to the obstruction, which has several legal impediments to it.

COLLINS: Well I've --

PARLATORE: Not only the issues that are being decided by the Appellate court, but also corrupt intent.

COLLINS: Well we don't know what the charges are. I mean, we've -- there has been some reporting.


COLLINS: I know, obviously, they're referenced in this target letter. I haven't seen it. I would obviously like to. But we'll see what they decide.


COLLINS: But the former President, your former client is responding, tonight. This is what he said.


TRUMP: So, they can cheat on an election. But if somebody wants to question the cheating, they want to call you a conspiracy theorist, and all these other things. These people are sick.


COLLINS: Tim, when you hear that, I mean, what happened was way more than just questioning the results, right?

PARLATORE: Well, and a lot of that is a matter of perspective.

Because, certainly, on one hand, you could sit there, and say all these steps were taken, to overturn the results of the election.

But, on the other hand, if he truly believed that there was fraud, whether you agree with him or not, if he truly believed that, and if his team truly believed it, what steps would you expect them to take?

You would expect them, to take the steps, of saying, "Hey, let's slow down the process. And let's try to verify these things, kick it back to the states to make sure that the election results are accurate."

So, it is definitely one of those things, where it's not clear. It can be interpreted multiple ways. I mean, it's not like, it's not as simple as Watergate, where you have the break into a hotel room, and it's a clear crime. Anybody on either side of the aisle could see that. Here, it is much more open to interpretation.

COLLINS: But is it really open to interpretation, if you have governors that he was pressuring to do things? That Brian Kemp of Georgia, Doug Ducey of Arizona, they said that they couldn't do?

He was trying to get Mike Pence to do things that Mike Pence said he couldn't do?

Of course, we had Rudy Giuliani, and these other attorneys, going into states, and trying to get these slates of fake electors.

I mean, that's more than just questioning. I mean, they had 60 court cases that were all thrown out.

PARLATORE: Well, a lot of those court cases were thrown out, on standing issues. And they were really thrown out pre-discovery.

As to pressuring people to do things that the people say they can't do? That's one of those things, where you really have to look into it, and say, were they really pressuring them to do something that is clear black letter law that they're not allowed to do? Or again, is it one of those things, where it's open to interpretation?

When it comes to Mike Pence? Obviously, there are different interpretations as to what his powers are, under the Electoral College Act. And it's one of the reasons why Congress, then went to amend the Act, to kind of close it, and make it a lot more clear that his role is purely ceremonial. Because there was confusion, and there were different interpretations.

COLLINS: Well I don't -- I don't think there --

PARLATORE: Just because you're asking somebody to do something? I mean?


PARLATORE: And people can disagree on this.

COLLINS: The people --

PARLATORE: That's the thing, is that's what makes it open to interpretation.

COLLINS: Most people, I would say, it's not open to interpretation. I mean, Pence certainly did not believe that the attorneys that he talked to, didn't believe that. I mean, John Eastman thought that I guess he says it's open to interpretation.

But, Tim, I want to also ask you, because, as we mentioned, you're an attorney for Bernie Kerik, the former New York City Police Commissioner, who had dealings, with Rudy Giuliani's efforts, to overturn the election. Has he gotten a target letter, in this investigation?



COLLINS: Do you anticipate that he will?

PARLATORE: Absolutely not.

COLLINS: Why do you not think he'll get one?

PARLATORE: Why would he? He hasn't done anything wrong.

He was an investigator. And everything he did was legal and appropriate. He was hired, to go out there, and do an investigation, to try and see if there was evidence of fraud.

He presented what he found, to the January 6 committee. He explained that based on his experience, and what they found, he believed that it formed probable cause, to believe that fraud have been committed. Not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or anything like that, but probable cause that he believed was something that warranted further investigation.

But based on the limitations, of his abilities, lack of subpoena power, lack of time, resources, things like that, that it needed to be further investigated, by other people. That's what he passed on.


PARLATORE: That's what he told the January 6 committee.

COLLINS: Has he told the Special Counsel that?

PARLATORE: Nobody still have been able to --

COLLINS: Has there been any -- has there been a request, for an interview, or has he sat down for an interview?

PARLATORE: We expect to sit down, and explain that to the Special Counsel, as well. Sure.

COLLINS: Oh? When do you expect to do that?

PARLATORE: We haven't scheduled again.


PARLATORE: But he is -- Mr. Kerik has nothing to hide. He's --

COLLINS: But you're in talks with the Special Counsel, though?

PARLATORE: Yes, sure, absolutely. Mr. Kerik has nothing to hide. He's happy to sit down, and explain everything to them.

COLLINS: OK, that's news. We did not know that he was in talks to sit down with them. So, thank you for clearing that up.

I want to also ask you about what happened in Florida, today. You saw people that used to work with Trump's current legal team. They told Judge Cannon, they didn't believe that she should schedule a new trial date, for the documents case. But Todd Blanche said that if she were that they propose mid-November or later next year. Obviously, that would be after the election.

Do you really think they can't go to trial before November?

PARLATORE: I think that practically speaking, federal criminal cases do take that long. However, it is a little bit odd, to be asking for that type of a trial date, at this early stage of the game.

Ordinarily, trial dates are set, and everybody knows that it's not going to happen on that date. And you have five, six, seven more adjournments, throughout the process. And so, these cases do take over two years, frequently. But they take -- but they take them in, like three- to five-month increments, of moving out the trial date, not right from the inception just --


PARLATORE: -- "Hey push it out for two years." That's a little bit different.

COLLINS: Yes, or even postponing it indefinitely.

Tim Parlatore, thanks for your insight into the Trump legal team.


COLLINS: And for breaking that news with us, about your other client, Bernie Kerik. Thanks so much for joining us.

PARLATORE: All right, thank you.

COLLINS: Here with us now, former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers; and former Chief Assistant D.A. for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Karen Agnifilo.

Thank you both, for being here.

Let's start with you, on the news that he just made about the idea that they seem to still be in talks, with the Special Counsel's Office, in the January 6 investigation, to have Bernie Kerik, come and sit down with them.

Trump already got a target letter.

Is it possible that they're still very much investigating, even though they may be about to bring charges for Trump? KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER CHIEF ASSISTANT D.A. FOR MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY CYRUS VANCE, JR.: Well, we don't really know the extent of the charges that are going to be brought, with this particular target letter, or who else is going to be part of it.

This could just be a case only with Donald Trump. And then, there's another case with other defendants, like Rudy Giuliani, et cetera. We just don't know.

And Jack Smith, for example, might want to have a streamlined case, to try to get a case, to trial, before the election. And he probably reads the tea leaves in Florida that Aileen Cannon is going to, give an adjournment here, give an adjournment there, and it's sort of death by a thousand cuts, we've said, that where it eventually pushes it out so far.

Aileen Cannon is no friend of Jack Smith, right? She's a Trump appointee, who's already made rulings, in a prior matter, towards Donald Trump. So, Jack Smith might be looking for a streamline case that realistically could go to trial. And so, there might be other investigations, with other people, involving the same, involving January 6th.

COLLINS: And that's --

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: And we just don't know.

COLLINS: That's potentially why they've already sent this target letter.

I should note she did express some skepticism, towards the Trump team, saying, indefinitely.

But when you look at the target letter, today, Jennifer, and you are wondering what the charges there could be? Obviously, we're still reading the tea leaves, too. We don't know. But theoretically, do you agree with Tim that those could be the charges? Or could it be something else?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it certainly could be something else. But he didn't talk about conspiracy against the United States, right? So, obstruction was one thing. Civil rights violation was another, probably depriving the voters, of their right, to have their votes counted.


But conspiracy against the United States could be a wide-ranging, what they call a client conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct the functions of the U.S. government, meaning to undercut the election. So, that is a conspiracy that could take into account, the fake electors scheme, pressure on these various officials, pressure on Mike Pence.

And all of these pieces pulled together? I agree with Karen, they're likely to maybe go more streamline, in the hopes of getting it litigated, before the election. But it still could be a wide-ranging conspiracy, and not just having to do with obstruction.

COLLINS: Yes, I mean, there are so many different aspects, of this investigation. I think that's what is -- we heard about what could be in this target letter.

But I mean, it's the fake electors scheme, which, of course, it's the pressure on the state official, it's pressure on Pence, pressure on Justice Department officials. I mean, when you look at this, this graphic of just how expansive what he's looking at is?

And we also know, Will Russell, who was an aide to Trump in the White House, and a personal aide, to him, out of the White House, is also still going to go and testify before the grand jury, on Thursday, for a third time.

What does that signify to you?

FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO: They're at the end. And we could see an indictment. They could ask to vote as early as Thursday, right after he testifies.

I mean, the target letter gives Trump, an opportunity, to testify, gives him until Thursday, to do it. We know that there's one more witness. And so, I would expect that if they are at the end, that they could ask the grand jury, to vote as early as Thursday.

And then, we wouldn't know about it, until Trump lets us know, because the next thing that they would do, if he is indicted, is they would let Trump know, ask him to surrender, pick a surrender date. And then, of course, Trump will tell us, through his social media, or some other way. That's how we find out what's going on, is usually through him.

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, he's been the one to tell us, every single time, when he's gotten a target letter. Well he -- not with the first time, he had a target letter, but when he got indicted.

I mean, what is your expectation of what the next step could be after something like that?

RODGERS: Well, I think he will be indicted. I don't think there's any other reason, to issue him a target letter, other than saying, "This is your chance to come in."

And, by the way, I don't know what Mr. Parlatore's experience is. But that is the reason to issue him a target letter, is to give him that chance, so that he doesn't come back, and say, "Gee, I wanted to go testify, in front of the grand jury. How dare you deprive me of my opportunity?" This takes away that argument, allows him to come in if he wants.

But I think we'll see an indictment, shortly after that. I think they're wrapping up.

COLLINS: So, you disagree with Tim's argument there, which was that this is kind of for show, or doesn't have value that you think it does have value? To give Trump a heads-up, he may be charged? RODGERS: I think the value is to take that argument away from him. I think they don't want him to come back, and say, "I wanted to come in. You're not letting me speak. This is all a witch-hunt." He's saying that anyway. But this at least takes away that one argument. I think that's why they issued it.

COLLINS: OK. Jennifer Rodgers, Karen Agnifilo, thank you both.

Much more, to come, tonight, more from Trump himself, as he is bracing for a third possible indictment.

Plus, the fake elector charges have begun. Will there be more to come, in other battleground states? Is the Special Counsel also still looking to prosecute this? That's ahead.



COLLINS: Tonight, former President Trump is attacking the Justice Department, again, after revealing that he is the target of the Special Counsel's election probe. This is him, in Iowa, earlier tonight.


TRUMP: They go after Trump. But they don't go after terrorists.


TRUMP: Guess you'd give a little of that oomph to going after the terrorists.


COLLINS: Maggie Haberman, a Senior Political Correspondent, for The New York Times, joins me now.

I mean, to hear him saying that I don't think it's surprising. It came pretty unprompted. He's at this Elk's Lodge event, in Cedar Rapids. And he just started talking about it.

I mean, what's your sense, from your reporting, about what his reaction to this was, privately?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, he was -- for somebody, who's not great at keeping other people's secrets, he can be very good at keeping his own. And he was not especially chatty, with people, in his circle, about this, over the last two days.

He ended up putting it out, because they got a news inquiry about it. And he was trying to get ahead of it. Because, as we have seen, with his previous two indictments, this is not yet an indictment, but it's a likely one. He wanted to control the narrative. And so, that's what he did here. I heard he was somewhat cranky, on his way, to Iowa, today. But it was basically a normal plane ride.

He's obviously not happy. And he is facing, Kaitlan, and he knows this, these are significant charges, potentially, in January 6, in the documents case, potentially, in Georgia as well, with serious jail time. And he knows this. And so, that is weighing on him very seriously.

COLLINS: Yes. And I mean, he's complaining, in this Town Hall that he did with Sean Hannity that he got the letter on a Sunday night.


COLLINS: Tim Parlatore was saying that he thinks it's more showy than it is substantive.

But, I mean, they're essentially giving him four days, if he wants to come before the grand jury, on Thursday.


COLLINS: How likely he's going to do that, though?

HABERMAN: No, he's -- they're going to decline that offer is what our reporting is.

And I understand what Parlatore is saying about it being showy. It's unusual to get a target letter on a Sunday, so much so that I had to fact-check that Trump was correct, because as you know, Trump is not always the best source, about Trump. But it is true, that is when the letter came to his lawyers.

It is in your face, by the Justice Department. But I don't think they're doing it to be showy. I think they're doing it to show that they don't really care the games that Trump is playing.

COLLINS: And this is obviously around January 6th, his efforts, to overturn the election, which something you noted today, he has white- washed.

I mean, he's never felt that January 6th was what most people believed it was. But I mean, he said he would pardon the rioters. He recorded a song with them. He said, "These are peaceful people. These were great people." I mean, this is something that his base buys into. They're confronting people like Mike Pence, about it, on the campaign trail.

HABERMAN: 100 percent. And he started doing this, I know, there is some belief that he's gotten more extreme, in the last two years. I don't think that's true at all. He's always been the same. It's just that he's much more vocal, about what he actually thinks.

For the first year out of office, he was off Twitter. He wasn't doing a number of mainstream media interviews. He is much more vocal now and more public. And he had, Truth Social, his social media website, beginning in 2022. So, that gave him a platform, to say all of these things, and then his rallies, where he started leaning into it much more. And so, yes, he has basically, melded this, into his campaign, and his candidacy.

And, as you say, his voters, his supporters believe what he says, about that day. A number of them, a number of people, who I know, aren't happy with what happened on January 6, still say things to me, like, and these are his supporters, say things to me, like, "But I don't like what's happening with the people, who were arrested." And so, you are going to keep hearing that as we go forward.


And he had this court date, in Florida, today. He didn't have to show up for it. His co-defendant, Walt Nauta did. But he didn't have to be there for it.


But, I mean, the idea that he missed that because he's in Iowa, for this campaign event? Now, if he is going to indeed face charges here, like he says he is? I mean, that's a series of indictments that his attorneys have to deal with. I mean, what's your sense of how they're grappling with all of this?

HABERMAN: They're struggling. I mean, they're looking at potentially four different jurisdictions, D.C., Florida, New York, Georgia. He's also facing civil trials. There's one in October. There's two in January. One is E. Jean Carroll, and one is a pyramid scheme case.

It is a maze of legal activity. And it's sort of ironic, because Donald Trump is somebody, who has provided a blizzard of legal paperwork, against enemies, over and over and over. And you're seeing him now have to be on the other side of that.

But his lawyers are struggling with the crush of this. I think they -- I don't think that they feel like it's insurmountable. But it's a lot.

COLLINS: Yes. And one thing we know that they're looking at, with the January 6 investigation, is Trump's mindset itself, and acknowledging that he lost.

What Tim Parlatore was saying there, is it's plausible that he believed that he won the election. That could be a defense.

But his own aides went and testified, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his former Communications Director, another former aide, who was in the West Wing, all saying he knew he lost.


MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: He says words to the effect of... "Yes, we lost. We need to let that issue go to the next guy." Meaning President Biden.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: And he said, "Can you believe I lost to this effing guy?" CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Mark raised it with me on the 18th.

And I had said like, "Does the President really think that he lost?" And he said, "A lot of times he'll tell me that he lost, but he wants to keep fighting it."


COLLINS: With all the people -- that's who went before the congressional committee. With all the people who have gone, before Jack Smith, who do you think he's the most worried about?

HABERMAN: I would suspect all of them, frankly.

But I think that I Mark Meadows being interviewed before a grand jury, as we understand that he was, I think, is something that is of concern to him. I think that Meadows knows more than almost anyone.

Now, we don't know exactly what Meadows said. We don't know what he was asked. We don't know the extent of his involvement. And I think it's also important to note that just because somebody cooperates with an investigation doesn't mean cooperator, in the way people think of it.


HABERMAN: But I think that Mark Meadows is the person he is the most concerned about.

COLLINS: And they don't seem to have a good indication of what Mark Meadows has said. It seems it's been pretty quiet for most of them.

HABERMAN: Yes, there is a lot of guessing going on in that world about Meadows. There's been a lot of suspicion about Meadows, for some time, now. It's been months and months and months. I expect that's going to continue, as we move forward.

It's going to become clear, a lot of this, Kaitlan, who talked, it's going to become clear to him, who talked. We know that he has this 84- person witness list, in the documents case. If he is charged in this case, which is not a definite, by the way? It's not a done deal.


HABERMAN: But it is likely, with a target letter. If he is charged, by Jack Smith, in something connection with January 6th, it will eventually become apparent, to him, who among his aides, and in his world, was talking. And that always becomes a different set of anxiety for him.

COLLINS: Yes. Maggie Haberman, it's going to be a busy week for us, I think.

HABERMAN: Yes, it will be.

COLLINS: Thank you.

As Donald Trump is now bracing, for that potential third indictment, top House Republicans are running swiftly, as they usually do, to his defense. Even one of his arch rivals, in 2024, is as well. Governor Ron DeSantis, he did so, right here on CNN. Hear it next.



COLLINS: Former President Trump says he has gotten a target letter, from the Special Counsel, regarding the January 6th investigation. That likely means that charges are potentially coming, on that investigation. We'll wait to see.

Meanwhile, 2024 rival, and Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, was asked about that target letter, by Jake Tapper, this afternoon.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jack Smith has prosecuted Democrats too. I mean, he prosecuted or at least was part of the prosecution of Senator Menendez, Senator John Edwards.

Are you saying that if he finds evidence of criminality, he should not charge Donald Trump anyway?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I'm saying is when you're going after somebody, on the other side of the political spectrum, if you're stretching statutes, to try to criminalize maybe political disagreements? That is wrong.

Now, look, this is all speculation. But I think we've gone down the road, in this country, of trying to criminalize differences in politics, rather than saying, "OK, you don't like somebody? Then defeat them in the election," rather than trying to use the justice system.

So, we don't know what's going to happen. But I can tell you with the Bragg one, that was stretching criminal law. The evidence of criminality was very weak. And even if that existed, other people would not have been charged, under those circumstances. That's the problem.


COLLINS: Nikki Haley called the news, a further distraction, while Vivek Ramaswamy said a dangerous precedent has been set.

A critic of Trump, Chris Christie said of Trump, quote, "His lies have consequences."

Asa Hutchinson said Trump's actions, on January 6, should disqualify him, from ever being president again.

Here to discuss, CNN Special Correspondent, Jamie Gangel; former Senior Adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod; and the former Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan.

David, I mean, when you listen to Governor DeSantis, there, he doesn't even -- he mentions the New York case. He doesn't even mention the documents, or January 6.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it's pretty disingenuous. This was a guy, who was a JAG in the military. If he had done for example, with the documents, what President Trump did, he knows he would be in prison. And that's why he doesn't want to discuss that case.

Everyone is afraid, they're tiptoeing through the minefield, because Donald Trump is still popular, within the Republican Party, and they don't want to take it head-on.

COLLINS: Geoff, I mean, why are they tiptoeing through the minefield, as David had said?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER GEORGIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: One of the most damaging effects Donald Trump's had, on our party, is that he's taught us to mistake honesty for weakness. And that's a fatal flaw. You watch these folks try to step up to the line, and they think they're playing cuter, or some political adviser's in their ear, about the next fundraising.


Look, there's no other place to be on January 6 than it was wrong. There's no other place to be on the 2020 election than it was fair and legal. There's no other place to be on Ukraine than Vladimir Putin is a warmongering thug. But yet, he wants to blur all of this.

I think this is a golden opportunity, for somebody, in this field, to step up, with all the energy and strength, in their body, to step up and say, "Donald Trump is wrong. I'm going to prove it. And I'm going to win the hearts and minds of Republicans, so I can win a primary, and then eventually beat Joe Biden."

COLLINS: Well, and not only are you not really seeing it, on the 2024 trail, except from the obvious candidates.

But Jamie, also, House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who, you know, had, of course -- let's just look at what he said, in the days right after January 6, and what he is saying now, after learning about this today.



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): If you notice, recently, President Trump went up in the polls, and was actually surpassing President Biden, for reelection. So, what do they do now? Weaponize government, to go after their number one opponent. It's time and time again. I think, the American public is tired of this.

TEXT: JANUARY 13, 2021 -- WASHINGTON, D.C. MCCARTHY: The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.


JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: And Mitch McConnell, and Lindsey Graham, it goes on and on.

Jared Kushner once said that Donald Trump had hijacked the Republican Party. And I think what you're seeing is evidence of that right there.

As Geoff said, look, Kevin McCarthy did have that moment, after January 6. But then, he went running down to Mar-a-Lago.

And they know that Donald Trump is where the money is, and where the votes are. And they're not willing to give that up.

One thing that Kevin McCarthy said that I think is worth underscoring? Republican allies, like Kevin McCarthy, keep talking about how this is unprecedented, and how it is weaponized. We can't forget that it is unprecedented, because no former President has ever tried, to overturn an election, and send his supporters, up to the Capitol, to stop it.

AXELROD: Can I just add something to this? The thing that is most disturbing about this is that in furtherance of saving Donald Trump, and because of the concerns that you just expressed? You have the Speaker of the House, and other people, who know better, casting really vile assertions, about the criminal -- of the rule of law, in this country.

What will it mean, actually? Think about this. What does it mean, if Donald Trump, who could be twice, three times, four times indicted, perhaps convicted? What would it mean for him to be the nominee, of the Republican Party, perhaps elected president? And all of these people, who know better saying, "Yes, the system was corrupt, the system was politicized."

It is a -- this is a bigger moment for the American --

GANGEL: That's right.

AXELROD: -- experiment than merely what happens to Donald Trump. And the people, who are saying what Kevin McCarthy said, are going to have a real black mark, when the history of this period is written.

COLLINS: You agree with that Geoff?

DUNCAN: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think, if you splash enough truth serum, across Republican circles, a fraction of people actually think the election was rigged, right, just a thin, thin fraction.

One of the most surprising things to me, when I got elected to office, 10 years ago, as a complete outsider, was how shallow these folks were. I thought I was going to walk into a room full of leaders. These aren't leaders. They won an election. But they weren't leaders. If we want to get this country back on track as conservatives, we got to skate to where the puck is going. And that's genuine leadership. Brian Kemp, and other governors in the South that really led through the pandemic, economic growth, and other areas, I think, should be a model, for folks to follow.

COLLINS: Stay with us. We're going to talk about another huge development that happened today, this time, out of Michigan, where we are seeing, for the first time, charges, felony charges, related to that plot to overturn the 2020 election. Some of these are suspects, in their 70s, and their 80s. We'll tell you more.



COLLINS: Tonight, the Michigan Attorney General, announcing charges, against 16 People, in the fake electors scheme, in their state, each of them being charged with eight felonies.

These charged include current and former state Republican officials, a Republican National Committee member, a sitting mayor, a local school board member, and Trump supporters, who were the plaintiffs, in a lawsuit that trying to overturn the 2020 election results.

You see their faces here. They range in age, as you can see, from 55 to 82. This is the first time that any of the fake electors have been charged, with a crime related to that scheme. Of course, it is something that is being investigated.

Today, in a statement, the Attorney General, for Michigan, Dana Nessel, addressed the charges.


NESSEL: They weren't the duly elected and qualified electors. And each of the defendants knew it.


COLLINS: My panel's back with me.

I mean, David, when you look at that, and you look at -- I was -- what I was so struck by are the ages, of many of these people, who have served in Republican politics, in Michigan --


COLLINS: -- for years, for decades.

AXELROD: Look, I think, you look at some of the people, who were there, on January 6, who were bankers and lawyers?

And there were people, who were given to believe that they were doing their patriotic duty that this -- and apparently, if you look at the January 6 Commission, this was an effort that was run through the Republican National Committee, that was orchestrated by the Trump campaign.

So, they thought they were doing their duty, by doing this. Doesn't excuse what they did. They were told not to bring their phones in. They were told not to record anything, though. It was obvious that they were doing something. It should have been obvious that they were doing something wrong.

But there's going to be -- there are going to be a lot of lives, strewn across the road, ruined by the schemes of Donald Trump.

COLLINS: I think, Geoff, you're from -- you were the Lieutenant Governor in Georgia. I mean, I imagine, in Georgia, a very similar scene is playing out.

DUNCAN: Yes. I had to do a double take, when I looked at this board, because it looks like a carbon copy of, in Georgia, right?

It's this large swath of successful folks, retired folks, members of the community, donors, party activists, some elected, some statewide elected. The gentleman, who took my position, as Lieutenant Governor, after I decided not to run, was on there, and so was our head of our state party.

But this goes to the breadth and depth of the lie, right?


I mean, my wife and I couldn't go to the grocery store without somebody coming up, somebody that we went to -- our kids went to school with, or we went to church with, coming up and calling us out, and questioning us, on "You took money from this. You rigged the Dominion machines."

I mean, this was an intense lie that Donald Trump just fed on, and those around him.

AXELROD: I think we -- I think, Kaitlan, we should make clear. They're looking at this in Georgia. They're looking at it in Arizona. Presumably, the Feds are looking at this as well, as part of this January 6th investigation.

COLLINS: Well --

AXELROD: This is one thread. And when you pull on it, I think it's going to be a lot more expensive -- extensive fabric than just what happened in Michigan.

COLLINS: Well, and that's a great question for you, Jamie. I mean, as you do look at that? Because this is the Michigan state investigation.

GANGEL: Right.

COLLINS: Of course, that's why you saw their Attorney General announcing it.

How does that fit into the Special Counsel's probe, which we know is looking at the fake electors?

GANGEL: We don't know yet. But let's keep in mind, these are state charges. And there's no question that I'm sure that the Special Counsel is also looking at this. We know people have been interviewed.

But if Donald Trump does become the Republican nominee, if he is reelected, President, one of the things we've heard him say is that he's likely to pardon a lot of people. If these folks are charged -- they've been charged. But if they're convicted? He cannot pardon them.

So, the question is, will some of them flip? Will some of them testify? Are there documents, emails, back to the White House, or the RNC?

AXELROD: He can't pardon them because they're state charges.

GANGEL: Because they're state charges, not federal charges. So, this starts on the state level. But it may fit in to the federal case. But big picture, no pardons for these people.

DUNCAN: It's been reported in Georgia, in the AJC, I've read several times, that there's up to eight of these faux electors that have decided to cooperate, out of --


DUNCAN: -- out of, I believe, 16. I mean, yes, all the stories going back-and-forth and the mountains of information that are out there. I mean, these are real serious charges.

But I think it plays to the political problem that we have. This type of scenario playing out does not win the middle. And we can't win the White House, as Republicans, if we don't win the middle.

COLLINS: And Brian Kemp says you can't win the White House, if you don't win, Georgia. We'll see what that looks like.

Geoff Duncan, David Axelrod, Jamie Gangel, thank you all.

Coming up, the further we get from January 6, and what happened that day, the more Donald Trump has tried to essentially white-wash what happened. But it's important to remember, people died. Police officers were brutally attacked.

One of those officers will join me next.



COLLINS: Of course, what we've been talking about, tonight, is Trump's revelation that he has gotten a target letter, in the Special Counsel's January 6th investigation. Of course, this comes, in the years, since Trump has tried to downplay what happened that day.

Of course, here are the facts. Five officers died, in the days and the months following January 6th. One of the rioters, who entered the Capitol, that day, was also shot and killed. As many as 140 police officers were injured that day.

One of the officers, who was there, at the Capitol, that day, is Officer Daniel Hodges. You'll remember the disturbing video, of him, as he was being attacked by the rioters.




COLLINS: It's one of the most indelible images, from that day. He was pinned, and against -- inside that door, assaulted by rioters, in the doorway, as it was leading into one of the Capitol building's tunnels.

Joining me tonight is Officer Daniel Hodges.

Officer, thank you for being here.

I just wonder what went through your mind, this morning, when you heard the news that Trump did get a target letter, in this investigation, signaling that charges are coming?

OFFICER DANIEL HODGES, D.C. POLICE OFFICER ATTACKED ON JANUARY 6TH: I was glad. I was happy. I thought it's about time.

While I'm not privy to the nature of the investigation, how long it takes, what all they have to do. But I know that me and so many others have been holding our breath, for the past two and a half years, waiting for this trial, to get started. And this is an important step in the process.

COLLINS: Does it feel like accountability? Or do you think you won't know that until it gets to the end of that process?

HODGES: Yes, it's not accountability yet, because it's, this is just the beginning, really. Unfortunately, it's just the beginning. Accountability would be him being found guilty, for the crimes he's committed, and then his name being held in cultural (ph) contempt, as it should be. And we're still a ways off from both of those, I'm afraid.

COLLINS: What do you make of him saying tonight, on the campaign trail, that he was just, you know, that he has a right to question the results of the election, when clearly it was so much more than just questioning the results of the election?

HODGES: I don't really care what he says, at this point. It's I'm more interested in what everyone else does, because he's going to do everything he can, to lie and deceive. We've already seen that from him. He, of course, he has the right to question the election. He had no evidence of anything, any foul play. He lost all his court cases. And he didn't just question the election, he tried to overthrow it. He tried to take over the Executive branch, by undemocratic means.

COLLINS: When he says things like he wants to pardon people, who were convicted, of crimes, that day, the people, who beat up you and your fellow police officers, what's your reaction to that?

HODGES: I mean, of course, he's going to say that. He wants as many people, on his side, as possible.

He could have pardoned them back on January 7th, but he didn't. He doesn't really care about them. He cares about himself. And he's going to say and do whatever he needs to do, to get as much support as possible, because that's what he thinks is going to get him out of this.

COLLINS: You're still an officer. I mean, how has your day-to-day life changed since January 6th?

HODGES: It hasn't. I'm a patrol officer. I just go out on the street, every day, and do what I can, to stop crime. And when it happens, investigate who did it.


So, that's -- I mean, I was out for a few weeks, on injury, after January 6th. But other than that, it hasn't really changed my day-to- day at all.

COLLINS: Officer Daniel Hodges, thank you for that service, and thank you for joining me, tonight.

HODGES: Thank you.

COLLINS: We also have brand-new details, tonight, about a mysterious circumstance. What happened with a U.S. soldier, who now we believe has been detained, in North Korea?


COLLINS: Tonight, we are learning new details, about the U.S. soldier, who is believed to be in North Korean custody.

The Army says he is Private Travis King, a Cavalry Scout, who enlisted in January 2021. Defense Secretary Austin says that he willfully, and without authorization, crossed the Demilitarized Zone, while on a tour, of what is known as the Joint Security Area, between North Korea and South Korea.


Sources tell CNN that King spent 50 days, in a detention facility, in South Korea, before this. He was facing disciplinary action, for assault. He was about to be separated from the Army, and had even been escorted to the airport, to fly back to the U.S. But he never boarded that plane.

We'll tell you more, as we learn it, in that case.

Thank you so much, for joining us, tonight.

"CNN PRIMETIME" with Laura Coates, starts, right now.