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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Awaiting Judge's Ruling On Meadows' Bid To Move Georgia Election Case To Federal Court; Two Ex-Proud Boys Leaders Sentenced In January 6 Case; Justice Thomas Officially Discloses Private Jet Trips, Vacation Paid For By GOP Megadonor. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 31, 2023 - 21:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: So, look who's running shotgun, in a car? No bull. I mean, that is really a bull, in a car. And in the news, because police in Norfolk, Nebraska pulled it over. It did make a mess of the car, by the way.

The New York Times, the owner said, he's been driving the bull around, for seven years, with no complaints, until now. You should know the officer did let him off, with a warning.

That seems like a perfect way to hand it over to THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST, THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS: Donald Trump pleading not guilty, for the fourth time, this year, as Georgia's Republican governor rejects demands, from his own party, to punish the prosecutor, in that case, slamming it all as political theater.

Plus, two former leaders of the Proud Boys were just given some of the longest sentences, yet, over the Capitol attack.

Also, Clarence Thomas, making an admission about a glaring omission. But some critics say it's too little too late.

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

You can see it for yourself, tonight, here in black and white, Donald Trump, in his own words, quote, "I do hereby waive formal arraignment and enter my plea of NOT GUILTY; I fully understand the nature of the offenses charged." And with those words, Donald Trump avoided what could have been a historic show, next week.

The judge overseeing, his case, in Fulton County, has now given the green light, for all proceedings, in his courtroom, related to this election interference case, to be live-streamed and televised. Yes, it is all going to be on camera.

So far, four of Trump's 18 co-defendants have also waived their right, to an arraignment, and pleaded not guilty. Trump's attorney, today, also filed a motion, to sever his case, from the others, who have asked for a speedy trial. That's Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro, so far, two former Trump attorneys, in his orbit.

District Attorney, Fani Willis still wants all 19 co-defendants to be tried together, though.

So, we are waiting to see, tonight, also, any moment a judge could rule, on Mark Meadows' motion, to move his case, to a federal court.

Meanwhile, there was this extraordinary moment that also happened, in the State of Georgia, today, as the Governor came out, speaking about the storm damage that they have seen, from Hurricane Idalia.

But instead making a point, to make clear, he is not caving to pressure, from Trump, or Republicans, in his State, who want to punish the District Attorney.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): And in Georgia, we will not be engaging in political theater that only inflames the emotions of the moment. We will do what is right. We will uphold our oaths, as public servants. And it's my belief that our State will be better off for it.


COLLINS: Rare words, from the Georgia governor there, on this matter, weighing in.

Now, joining me is Georgia State University, Professor of Law, Clark Cunningham.

And thank you, so much, for being here, Professor.

I mean, a judge could rule, at any time, as I was mentioning, a moment ago, on Mark Meadows, and what he is trying to do here. Move his case to federal court. How likely do you believe it is that he's going to succeed? And how significant will it be if he does?

CLARK CUNNINGHAM, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, let me talk about the significance first.

What could be the most significant result would be if Meadows succeeds, in having his part of the case, moved to federal court? President -- former President Trump will immediately say, "I get to go to trial to federal court also automatically," and in fact he will say, "Everybody gets to go to federal court automatically."

And that's an issue, which is really unsettled, in our current legal system, what the answer is to that question. But it's possible that if Meadows wins, everybody goes to federal court.

COLLINS: And do you believe that's likely? CUNNINGHAM: I think -- will he win? I think probably not. But it's difficult to say. The judge, asked for a briefing, on a particular question that he's obviously thinking about.

It looks like Judge Jones, after the hearing, on Monday, has come to a tentative conclusion that some of what Meadows did, allegedly did, in the indictment, probably did not fall within his Chief of Staff duties, and therefore, would not be the basis for removal, but maybe some of the things he's accused of did fall within the Chief of Staff are responsibilities.

And what he asked the both sides, to say at 5 o'clock, today, is what they think should happen if that's the case, if he.


CUNNINGHAM: And naturally, the District Attorney said, even if some of those acts were within the Chief of Staff responsibility, it goes back to state court and, of course, Trump's lawyers said, just the opposite.

COLLINS: Yes. Well, we'll find out soon enough, because the judge, as I said, should rule at any moment.


Meanwhile, the other thing that we saw, today, is Trump's attorney is saying, he can't go to trial, in October. He can't have that speedy trial, like some defendants are requesting, because that new attorney is already committed, to another trial, that is taking place, in that timeframe.

I mean, Trump just hired, Steve Sadow, this week, potentially knowing that he would be tied up. I mean, do you think that's a good enough reason, to sever, and not have that speedy trial?

CUNNINGHAM: I have to tell you, I find this timing very suspicious.

So, on August 23, Kenneth Chesebro, filed his demand, for a speedy trial.

The next day, former President Trump fired his regular lawyer, Drew Findling, and hired Steven Sadow, almost certainly knowing that Chesebro was going to go to trial, before the end of October. If he also knew that his brand-new lawyer couldn't go to trial, in September and October, this, frankly, could be a ploy. He could have switched lawyers just to try to avoid having to go to trial with Chesebro, at the end of October.


CUNNINGHAM: I think that's a real possibility.

COLLINS: Well, that's a good question. I mean, he just hired him, last Thursday. It was the first time they actually met, I was told. Clark, there was also this surreal moment. I mean, you're in Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp was rejecting calls, by some pro-Trump state legislators, who want to have a special session, where they can investigate the District Attorney, Fani Willis.

Without Governor Kemp's help, because he can single handedly declare that special session? I mean, do you believe it's all more unlikely that Trump will be able to derail the prosecution, in the way that they were clearly seeking to do, if they had gotten their way here?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, I thought it was very encouraging that Governor Kemp spoke up, in the way he did, in a public conference.

And not only did he say he opposed calling a special session, but he went out of his way to say that based on what he could see, at the moment, he didn't see any evidence, that District Attorney had done anything that would justify her removal. That was an important statement, for him to make, and a very, and I think, a rule of law kind of statement to make. It was good thing.

COLLINS: Yes. And also notable, given he was the one, who introduced that new law, about potentially punishing prosecutors, who don't do their jobs.

Clark Cunningham, thank you, for your time, tonight.

CUNNINGHAM: Pleasure to be with you.

COLLINS: And here, to further break down the legal issues, and trust me, there are many, Temidayo Aganga-Williams, former Senior Investigative Counsel, for the January 6 committee; and Elie Honig, former Assistant U.S. Attorney, for the Southern District of New York.

Temidayo, as of right now, Fani Willis is saying she still wants everyone to be tried together. But very clearly, there are two defendants, who are trying to do it, on a faster basis.

How do you think this plays out with Trump fighting that and saying, I don't want to sever -- "I do want to sever my case. I don't want to go to trial on October."

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE, PARTNER, SELENDY GAY ELSBERG: I think these 19 folks are not going to go to trial together. I think that's incredibly unlikely. I think there's going to be some kind of break here, as more folks are filing, for their own motion to sever. And then, the court will have to decide what that looks like.

Because, I mean, frankly, I think Fani Willis may have her cake and eat it too, to some degree. She's had a posture that's been aggressive, and assertive, to all the defendants. But I think practically, 19 defendants is just a monster that is not feasible.

I think she gets to maintain the posture, or frankly, of strength that she's had thus far, and may get the benefit, of having this case broken down, in a way that's going to be digestible, and actually able to efficiently and persuasively prosecuted.

COLLINS: Yes, well, I mean, Ray Smith, though, is kind of arguing that -- he is another defendant here. He has pleaded not guilty. And he is asking the judge, to divide them into manageable groups, for trial. I mean, is that how -- how would you decide who goes in which group?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: It's a great question. And with 19 defendants, it's incredibly complicated, to figure that out.

But one thing that's really important to understand, this speedy trial right is owned by the defendant. It is not owned by the prosecution. And so, if there are defendants, as we have here, Chesebro and Powell, who want to go early, they get to go early, under Georgia law. But it doesn't work, in the converse. The prosecutor can't say, "Aha, now all of you have to go early."

So, there's no practical way, to force Donald Trump, to go to trial, two months from now, in October.

How do you divide it up? I mean, prosecutors love to have everyone together. I understand why Fani Willis is saying, "Give me all 19."

I once asked the judge, to let me try 12 defendants, together, and she laughed at me, and said, I needed to get real.

COLLINS: Literally laughed?

HONIG: Yes. She rolled her eyes at me, and said "You need to get real, Mr. Honig." That happens sometimes.

There's a practicality to it. I mean, I was -- Temidayo and I both -- I was asking him, how many have you ever tried at once? And he said, five. And I also tried five, at once. It's a circus. It's not just five defendants. It's five sets of defense lawyers, five sets of paralegals.

And 19 is not going to happen. So, you have to break it into some sort of digestible, comprehensible groups.

COLLINS: So, but given that Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, are asking for a speedy trial, here, I mean, what is the benefit of that? Why would they want it to happen, this quickly? And Trump? I mean, we know why Trump doesn't want it to happen very quickly. But what are the perks, and, I don't know, what's the benefit of that?


AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, they're calling Fani Willis' bluff. Is she actually ready? I think when she charged the case, we presumed she was ready. But they're saying, "Well, maybe not."

If she has to get ready, while she's also prosecuting and dealing with all these defendants, and pretrial motions, and potentially subsequent investigations, she might be doing, after indictment? That's a lot for one office to handle. It's a lot for prosecutors to handle at one time. So, I think they are testing her.


AGANGA-WILLIAMS: And frankly, I think there may be, we've talked earlier about whether this is a coordinated ploy. I can't speak to that. But I think there are going to be benefits with the remaining defendants seeing these folks go first.


COLLINS: Speaking of who's going first, OK, can we talk about this? This is the mystery of the day that everyone is talking about.

Mark Meadows, obviously testified, for several hours, on Monday. He is trying to move his case. We should find out soon if he is successful in that.

But in her filing, today, Fani Willis responded, making this point, saying that "After insisting that he did not play any role in the coordination of slates of "fake electors" throughout several states, the defendant," meaning Mark Meadows, "was forced to acknowledge under cross-examination that he had, in fact, given direction to a campaign official," because he sent an email saying, we just need to have someone coordinating the electors for the states.


COLLINS: What is she trying to say there?


COLLINS: That he perjured himself?

HONIG: This is quite an admission. And this is why when Mark Meadows took the stand, the other day, we were saying, "What a risk he's taking," right? He's a defendant. And now, he's going to get confronted with his emails. And everything he admits, including this important admission, is now usable against him at trial.

What Mark Meadows is doing is rolling the dice here. Because if he wins, if he gets into federal court? And I agree with Professor Cunningham, it's going to be a close call. That's a huge win. Because, the next thing he's going to do is say, "Now that I'm here, in federal court, I'm entitled to immunity, as a federal official, and you should dismiss it."

There's a little bit of daylight, between what you have to show, to get into federal court, and then a dismissal. But boy if he wins that? He's in good shape. And I think he must have decided, "It's worth it to take the risk, to take the stand. I know I'll get cross-examined. I know they'll confront me and things. But I need to get to federal court."

COLLINS: You were the Senior Investigative on the January 6 congressional committee. We watched all of those hearings. And now, we have heard, from the judge, we're going to watch this hearing, I mean, all of the cases here. He is saying that they will live stream it. They will put it on YouTube. What's the impact of that you think?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, I think, former President Trump has had the benefit, of not having to be seen, publicly, as a defendant. And I think, with these cases, going forward, it's going to take what's happening, from paper, to putting it into people's homes. It's going to make it a lot more real, for the American public.

And I think the hearings that we show the American people, shows how powerful those images can be. It shows that when you put forward the case, which is how I view those hearings? They really were a public trial, of the former President, before the American people.

And frankly, I think, by the end of that we have persuaded a large majority of this country that former President Trump was culpable. So, I think the danger that has, frankly, is probably, it's going to alter his perception, outside of the courtroom.

I think, the prosecutors, inside the courtroom, they're going to do their job, and they're going to put all that away. They're not going to be thinking about how to put on a trial, for the American people.

They're going to be thinking only about those 12 jurors, because end of the day, regardless of what the media thinks, or any commentator says, is those 12 people that will decide, those defendants' fate. And that's where the prosecutors are going to be focused.

HONIG: And bravo to the Georgia courts.

Federal courts need to get with it. They're not going to allow cameras. But they need to get with the times.


HONIG: Sorry, it's my sermon. I have to give it.

COLLINS: They heard it from you. I know you've perfected it. It's brilliant, but concise.

HONIG: I'm not going to stop.

COLLINS: Elie, Temidayo, thank you both, for being here.

And another January 6 case, a leader, of the Proud Boys, tearfully beg, today, a judge, not to throw the book at him, before getting the second longest sentence of any of the Capitol rioters.

Plus, after yesterday's second freezing scare, Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has now gotten the all-clear, from the Capitol doctor. But there are still major questions, on Capitol Hill, as the Senate is set to return, next week.


COLLINS: Two leaders of the Proud Boys were sentenced, today. Joe Biggs, to 17 years in prison, for leading the far-right group's march, to the U.S. Capitol, on January the 6th. The second, Zachary Rehl was sentenced to 15 years. Those were among the longest sentences, to be handed down, to the convicted rioters.

In a passionate and, sometimes, tearful appeal, to the Judge, Joe Biggs admitted that he quote, "Messed up that day," and had to be punished. But he asked that he'd be given a chance to see his daughter grow up to, in his words, take her "to school, and pick her up."

Rehl, on the other hand, sobbed, and said he believed election lies that were spread by politicians. But he said, quote, he's "done with politics... done peddling lies for other people who don't care about me."

The judge said, the actions of Biggs, and others, on that day, quote, "Broke our tradition of the peaceful transfer of power."

Prosecutors said that Biggs was among those, who attacked police, on the front line, and pushed into the Capitol.

Let's go straight to THE SOURCE, tonight, with someone, who was there, that day, former D.C. Police officer, and CNN's Law Enforcement Analyst, Officer Michael Fanone.

Officer Fanone, thank you, for being here.

I mean, Joe Biggs getting 17 years, Zach Rehl getting 15? Prosecutors wanted basically double that. But do you believe that those are fair sentences?

MICHAEL FANONE, FORMER D.C. METRO POLICE OFFICER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, AUTHOR, "HOLD THE LINE": I think they're fair. And I'll tell you why. It's because a federal judge, appointed to the court, who oversaw the case, listened to the facts, and also was privy to the pre-sentencing pre-trial reports, decided that that was the appropriate sentence.

COLLINS: Yes, I mean, both of them, today, in court, before they got their sentences, were crying. I mean, they were described as weeping, and sobbing. They're basically begging the judge, for leniency.

Do you think though, that they actually regret what they did?

FANONE: To be honest with you, I don't know. I've spent 20 years, as a police officer, in Washington, D.C. I saw a lot of defendants cry, before they were sentenced. If I was threatened, with any amount of time in prison, I would probably cry as well. Prison's not a pleasant place to be.


That being said, I think that what's most important, or the most important factors, for a judge to consider, is when they're sentencing an individual, is the safety of the community, and also punishment. That should be the two most significant factors, in any criminal sentencing.

And I think that that was accomplished here. They were certainly punished, and they ensured the safety of the community, at least for the next 15 to 17 years.

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, the judge had some really powerful words, today, as these sentences came down, saying, at one point, "What happened on January 6 harmed an important American custom... That day broke our tradition of peacefully transferring power which is among the most precious things that we had as Americans. Notice I said had. We don't have it anymore."

Do you? Do you agree with what the judge said there?

FANONE: Certainly. I mean, I've spoken to countless lawmakers, who have themselves spoken, to their counterparts, in foreign countries, and how embarrassed they are, to no longer be able to point to that fact, in our American tradition, that we ensure a peaceful transfer of power.

So, I think that the ripple effects of January 6th will come to haunt us, for probably all of eternity.


And they're not anywhere close to being done yet with these convictions, and sentences. I mean, they're deciding the fate of another January 6 rioter. This is Brandon Fellows. He is facing a federal charge, of obstructing an official proceeding, aiding and abetting, misdemeanors as well. He was found in contempt of court, after he had called the court, a "Nazi court."

But what was striking to me here was jurors were so alarmed, by his outburst that they wrote a letter, to the judge, and it said, "We want to confirm that the defendant does not have any personal information, on individual jurors, since he was defending himself, including home, addresses, et cetera."

The judge was saying basically, they got limited biographical information, on the jurors, and those are taken back, at the conclusion of the trial.

But I mean, what does it say to you how concerned they are that someone convicted, here, might have their information?

FANONE: Well, I think they should be concerned.

As somebody, who has testified, about the events that occurred, on January 6th, and then suffered the repercussions? I mean, I receive threats, even to this day, on a daily basis. And some of those threats are overt. Most of them are just the keyboard warriors that like to post things, on social media. But there have been enough times, in which people have appeared, at residences, either of mine, or of my relatives, that I would tell those jurors that they should be concerned, and that they should express those concerns to law enforcement. Because it's law enforcement's responsibility, especially as jurors, or as witnesses, in these many, many, many trials, to ensure their safety.

COLLINS: I mean, two-and-a-half years later, you're still getting overt threats?

FANONE: Yes. I got one, this evening.

COLLINS: Wow. Just remarkable, I mean, it just kind of.

What do you think, when you hear the second Proud Boy leader, who was sentenced, today, talk about how he was influenced, by the lies that were spread, by politicians, was the quote he used.

FANONE: I mean, I appreciate the fact that he's had his come-to-Jesus moment, when threatened with more than a decade in prison.

But unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have the influence, on other Trump supporters, and MAGA supporters, and other elected members, of our government, who continue to peddle the lies, knowing full well, at this point, having no excuse not to, that this is the result that it inspires violence, and that it inspires individuals, to threaten fellow Americans, over things, that they know are not true.

COLLINS: Officer Michael Fanone, thank you, for your time, tonight.

FANONE: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

COLLINS: Meanwhile, a seven-hour deposition unsealed. From saving the planet, from a nuclear holocaust, to claiming, he is the most honest person, in the world, at least in the eyes of his friends, Donald Trump, in his own words, to the New York Attorney General's Office.



COLLINS: Tonight, the Department of Justice says a man, from Texas, has pleaded guilty, to making violent threats, against public officials, in the State of Georgia, after the 2020 election.

Prosecutors there say that Christopher Stark posted the message online, on or around January 5th, 2021, a day, of course, as we were just noting, before supporters of the former President's stormed the Capitol. According to court documents, Stark threatened to quote, "Exterminate" unidentified officials and judges.

State officials, in Georgia, of course, have taken the brunt, of some of the worst abuse, and the threats, including Republican governor, Brian Kemp, simply for standing up, to the former President, and his allies, and standing in the way, of their effort, to overturn the election. Joining me now, CNN Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman, also Senior Political Correspondent, for The New York Times.

Maggie, I mean, we've been talking about what Kemp said, today, basically resisting efforts, by Trump, and his allies, to have a special session, to investigate Fani Willis.

But there was another thing he said about Trump, in the way he's running his campaign, without mentioning Trump by name that was really notable.


KEMP: And I can tell you that as long as I'm Governor, we are going to stay focused on the issues that help all Georgians. That is the way you win races. That is the way you move forward.


Things like cutting taxes, doing $2 billion tax rebates, suspending the gas tax that saved our families, and our businesses, $1.7 billion, teacher pay raises, law enforcement pay raises, going after street gangs.

Not focusing on the past or some grifter scam that somebody's doing to help them raise a few dollars, into the campaign account.


COLLINS: Grifter's scam, I mean?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's subtle. But if you listen closely, you can figure out what he's talking about.

That is? So, I actually hadn't heard that clip, until you just played it. It's really, really striking. And it's striking on a couple of fronts.

Kemp is someone, as you know, who not only resisted Donald Trump's efforts, to subvert the election results, in 2020. He is somebody, who has repeatedly pushed back, on this, over the last two years. And he is someone, who defeated a Trump attempt, to try to take him down, in a primary.

And so, it is meaningful coming from him, because he is a Republican, who donors are focused on, who some Republican voters are focused on, as a future face of the party.

The fact that he is zeroing in, on Trump's use, of his Super PAC, which is filled -- or was once upon a time, filled with money? Now, doesn't have very much money in it at all, filled with money, that he raised in the days and weeks after the election, on his claims that he needed money to combat widespread fraud that he insisted existed, which was never proven, and which has been debunked widely? That he is singling that out, in such stark terms, is quite revealing, about where he sees the race, right now.

COLLINS: Yes, I mean, there's a lot of buildup, there, about what Republicans wish they were talking about.


COLLINS: But then he calls it I mean, grifter's scam.


COLLINS: And it made me remember, just a few weeks ago, he met with Governor DeSantis. He met with former Vice President Pence. I mean, he's been talking, to these 2024 hopefuls, quietly. But they've been talking.

HABERMAN: Yes, he is looking at an alternative, to Donald Trump. Whether he is going to actually do something more, I think, remains to be seen.

Again, there's two names that keep coming up, among donors. And donors are not great predictors, right, of where Republican primary politics are going, as we have seen, at least over the last two cycles, 2012, a little bit more so. But you hear Brian Kemp, and you hear Glenn Youngkin.

And so, I think that Brian Kemp has been pretty careful, about how he is projecting himself, and casting himself. But I do think he wants to be part of a broader conversation, about the future of the party. And you see that, as you said, in what he's saying Republicans should be discussing.

COLLINS: Yes. Trump also, back in April, he sat for a seven-hour deposition, with the New York A.G.'s office, in their lawsuit against him. We just got to actually read this lawsuit. I mean, there's a lot to it.

But there's a few moments that stick out. In one? And of course, this is going to trial, in a few months. But he's asked about the relationship, with his company, and who's the one with the ultimate decision-making authority? And I noticed he said, No.

And the A.G.'s office asked, who would that be? And he said, "My son Eric is much more involved with it than I am. I've been doing other things." And then, he said, he's involved in major final decisions, whatever. That was his quote.

I mean, when you read that, what do you think he's saying, about Eric Trump's responsibility, for the decisions they make?

HABERMAN: Well, look, I think that Eric Trump became, in many ways, the face of the company, and the person, who was dealing with the company. While Trump was in the White House, he would often tell people to talk to Eric.

But there was always a question of how much of a remove Trump was putting himself at, with the business. I know that my colleagues and I worked on some matters, related to that, a couple of years back.

He is still making Eric, the front person in the context, of this lawsuit, which is, I think, notable, because he is often looking to put other people forward. Now, whether that is actually valid, because that's how it was, over the last couple of years? I don't know enough about what the situation was like. But it is notable, to hear him not present himself, as at the top.

COLLINS: Yes, saying someone else is the --


COLLINS: -- the responsible party.

I mean, this transcript just kind of goes everywhere. And it seems like the attorneys, doing the questioning, like they had difficulty getting questions in.


COLLINS: But, at one point, Trump was saying? They were asking about his business.

And he was saying, quote, "I was very busy. I was -- I considered," you know, "this is the most important job in the world, saving millions of lives. I think you would have a nuclear holocaust, if I didn't deal with North Korea. I think you would have a nuclear war, if I weren't elected. And I think you might have a nuclear war now, if you want to know the truth."

I mean, that's not a new sentiment, for him.


COLLINS: But the fact that this is something he's saying, while he's giving a deposition for?

HABERMAN: Under oath.

COLLINS: Under oath, for this lawsuit, I mean?

HABERMAN: It's just it's an amazing distillation of this conflation of his presidency, with his business, and everything else in his life. And, as you know, there is this incredible flattening effect, with Donald Trump, where everything becomes kind of the same, and all connected and all related. And I think that's what you're seeing there.


It is striking, because it, among other things, I'm not sure what it has to do with this lawsuit, into his company, but he has often projected himself, as sort of bigger than what issue is at hand, with one of his lawsuits.

What I was struck by reading some of the meanderings, in this deposition, as you as you noted, is it reminded me a lot, of the transcript, of a deposition, in a lawsuit, he brought, unsuccessfully. He lost it against Tim O'Brien, the journalist, for libel, 20 years ago, where there was lots of, sort of digressions, and discursive talking, and boasts, and talking about his feelings, about his wealth, as if that was really the most significant factor.

You listen to -- you look at this transcript, and you can see how much he misses the power, he had, while he was president. That's what stands out, to me, as he's talking about North Korea.

COLLINS: Which he is obviously seeking to reclaim.


COLLINS: Maggie Haberman, thank you, as always.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

COLLINS: Mitch McConnell got a doctor's note, today. He now says he is cleared to return to work, after a second public freezing incident.

Even President Biden said, today, that he was not concerned, about the health of the Senate Minority Leader, and whether he could do his job. But behind-the-scenes, some Republicans might be.

My colleague, Manu Raju, will join us, from Capitol Hill, next.



COLLINS: Senator Mitch McConnell's office says he is quote, "Medically clear" to return to his full schedule, after a jarring episode, where he froze, for a second time, in just a matter of weeks. This is based on a statement, from the attending physician, of the Capitol, who consulted McConnell's neurology team, but did not actually examine the Senator himself, I should note.

There are still many unanswered questions, tonight, after the 81-year- old froze, for nearly 30 seconds, on camera, his second episode, in just five weeks.

President Biden himself says that he spoke with McConnell, today, and that he's doing well.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He was his old self on the telephone.

It's not un- -- at all unusual to have the response that sometimes happens to Mitch, when you've had a severe concussion. It's part of a -- it's part of the recovery.

And so, I'm confident he's going to be back to his old self.


COLLINS: CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, I mean, obviously, the Senate is coming back, on Tuesday, from recess. They're all going to be facing questions, about this. What are you hearing, behind-the-scenes?


And senators, when they come back, into session, next week, I expect them to be very cautious, when addressing these very sensitive health issues, involving the Republican leader. Remember, this is an institution, in which a majority of members are in their 60s and 70s. A lot of them members have health issues themselves, and know what it's like to have the scrutiny on them.

The question will be how much information has Senator McConnell revealed to his colleagues, when some of these issues may come up behind closed doors?

McConnell is known as someone, who keeps his cards, very close to the vest. And he has been very resistant, to providing any details, about exactly what is going on, with his health. The most we got was that very brief statement, from a doctor, clearing him, from work, but really not describing the underlying issues at hand.

Though, I am expecting, Kaitlan, and I'm already hearing increased chatter, about what's next, after Senator McConnell's tenure, atop the Senate GOP Conference. He has led this Conference, for 16 years. He's the longest-serving Senate Leader, at either party, in U.S. history.

But there's a growing expectation that this Congress will be his last, running the Senate GOP conference. That means that at the end of the -- after the 2024 elections, there'll be a leadership election. At that point, there could be successors. And already, there's discussion about potentially Senators John Thune, Cornyn, or Barrasso, all potentially vying for that top spot. So, that will be the big focus.

But for now, Mitch McConnell hanging on, at least for another year.


COLLINS: Manu Raju, thank you, for that reporting.

Perspective now, from CNN Political Commentator, and former Biden White House Communications Director, Kate Bedingfield; also CNN's Senior Political Commentator, Scott Jennings.

Scott, of course, you were also Mitch McConnell's Senior Adviser. And I know you saw him yesterday. You've known him your whole life. How was he, when you saw him, yesterday?


He had come back to Louisville, from Northern Kentucky, to participate in a fundraiser, for Jim Banks, who's running for the Senate, in Indiana. He made remarks to questions. And we met for a few minutes.

I talked to him, for about 15 minutes, on the phone, this afternoon. And he sounded great, this afternoon, as well, and was kind of ticking through a bunch of different issues that were on his mind, today.

So, it's interesting, if you hadn't seen the video, or you weren't aware that something had happened, you would never have known anything had happened, because as President Biden said, he sounded like his old self.

COLLINS: I mean, but Scott, just to quickly follow up on that? His office said that he paused due to lightheadedness. But, I mean, the video, you see, it's much more than a pause. Had you ever heard any questions, behind-the-scenes, from other people, about concerns, about how he's doing?

JENNINGS: No, actually. And the only two times I've ever heard of this happening were the one, at the press gaggle, at the Capitol, a few weeks ago, and this one.

I've been kind of tracking him, all of August, to be honest with you. He's been home, in Kentucky. He's done a number of big political events. He's made several big speeches. He's done media gaggles. He's met with constituents. I've been around for quite a bit of this. And he's kind of keeping up his normal Mitch McConnell schedule.

And even after his moment, yesterday, he took two more questions, at the event, then hustled back to Louisville, and did his fundraiser.

So, it doesn't appear to be slowing him down. And I have not heard anybody, behind-the-scenes say they've seen any impact, on his ability, to function, his cognition, his memory, his command of the issues. It's all pretty normal and business, as usual, for him.

COLLINS: Kate, you heard from President Biden. I mean, he didn't raise questions, about McConnell's future. He said he didn't have any reservations, about his ability, to continue to do his job.

But, I mean, Democrats are in this position. They can't exactly raise questions, about his age, and future, as the leading Republican, given this is also an issue that they confront themselves, in the Senate, with Senator Dianne Feinstein, but also, President Biden's age is something that comes up, time and time again, as he's embarking on this 2024 run.


KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER BIDEN WH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, and that's also just not something President Biden would do, as a person. That's just not the way he -- he doesn't think about trying to score points off of somebody's ill health. And so, that's -- you wouldn't hear that from him, regardless. That's just not the way he operates.

But, I think, this does raise a larger question, certainly, for the Republican Party, for the Democratic Party as well.

But, as we're starting to think about what do the next generation of leaders look like, particularly in the Republican Party? A lot of the most vocal, youngest members of Congress, in the Republican Party are, they are solely MAGA. They're MAGA voices. They're some of the loudest voices, on the far right of the party.

There aren't a lot of young members, who are up and coming, who can come kind of under the wings, under the tutelage, under the expertise, of somebody, like Mitch McConnell, as he's starting to potentially think about transitioning out.

And so, I think there's certainly the question, the media question, of the leader's health. But also, this broader question of where does the party go, and how does it start to bring up some of the younger members, and bring them into leadership, in a way that's more inclusive, than just the hard-right MAGA wing of their party? And there aren't a lot of options for that right now, for the Republicans.

COLLINS: Yes. And one bipartisan issue is voters, on both sides of the aisle, are concerned about aging politicians. We'll have to leave it there.

Kate Bedingfield, Scott Jennings, thank you both.



COLLINS: Ahead, a Supreme Court admission, on some controversial omissions, by Justice Clarence Thomas, under fire, for alleged ethics breaches. What Thomas now says about those private jets, and lavish trips that have been under scrutiny?



COLLINS: Tonight, Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, is officially disclosing private jet trips, and a vacation, that was funded by a Republican megadonor.

The updated disclosure claims that previous omissions, of these gifts, were strictly inadvertent. Of course, this comes, after reports that Thomas has failed to properly disclose several luxury trips, real estate transactions, other gifts that were bankrolled, by his wealthy friends.

Justice Samuel Alito also amended his forms, disclosing a trip to Italy that was sponsored, by a conservative group that has filed friends-of-the-court briefs before the High Court.

Let's talk about all of this, with someone, who closely follows the Supreme Court, NPR's Legal Affairs Correspondent, Nina Totenberg.

And Nina, thank you, for joining.

We did hear, from a lawyer, for Justice Thomas, who put out a statement, saying that he has always strived for full transparency, and adherence, to the law. But I think that might raise some eyebrows, given, I mean, look how long it took, to reveal this?

NINA TOTENBERG, LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, we've seen a plethora of stories, in the last year, from ProPublica, and other news organizations, about the Justice's benefactors, people who have given him plush vacations, helping a loan, secured to fund a big fancy RV.

The variety of issues that have come up has been really pretty substantial. And the Justice has, as far as I know, not contested the accuracy, of these pieces, that have been published, in a variety of venues.

Now, this year, he asked for a delay of three months, which he's entitled to do, and was granted, to make his disclosure form, for 2022.

And what I found so interesting, about this, was not the revelations of several jet trips, provided by Harlan Crow, his friend, who's a big Republican megadonor. But the fact that he used the 2022 disclosure form, to telegraph that he's not going to tell us, what he perhaps might have disclosed in for the last 30 years.

Because he says that, for those years, the rule was, as he understood it, and has not been disputed, he said, the rule was that you could accept any kind of a gift, without disclosure, from a personal friend.

So he, on the one hand, is quite forthcoming, in this disclosure. And on the other hand, he ticks out a couple of issues, that have proved particularly embarrassing, rebuts them, even though they are from much earlier, and then goes on to say, "And basically, I didn't have to disclose any of this until now."

COLLINS: Yes, it was noticeable that he put that extra defense, basically here.

But the other thing he said was that he flew private, in May, because of quote, "Increased security risk" after the leak of the Dobbs opinion, of course, the one that eventually overturned Roe versus Wade. Another explanation that was listed for flying private was an unexpected ice storm.

I mean, on the -- because of this was a security risk, of Roe versus Wade? I mean, there were other trips and other lavish expenses before Roe versus Wade happened. I mean, do you think that's a justifiable excuse?

TOTENBERG: Well, these were trips that he had to disclose pretty much, under the new rule that has been published, by the Judicial Conference. There was far less wiggle room. So, without the wiggle room, he did have to disclose them. So, he gave the reasons why he said he took these flights, from Harlan Crow that were provided by Harlan Crow, on his private jet.


There are, I hesitate to say, only three of them. One of them was for a vacation to Harlan Crow's estate. And the other two were when he was going to give a talk, in Texas, and then had to go home, because of the ice storm. And then when that was rescheduled, he went round trip, only this time, the reason he gave was different.

COLLINS: A lot of questions, still here, tonight. Maybe we won't get some answers.

Nina Totenberg, thank you, for joining us.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, for having me.

COLLINS: And we'll be right back, just after this.


COLLINS: All right, there's going to be some must-see TV, here on CNN, this Labor Day. The new CNN film "Little Richard: I Am Everything."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just like a shot out of a cannon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His voice, that hoo, he created the Rock and Roll icon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry y'all. It wasn't Elvis.

LITTLE RICHARD, AMERICAN SINGER: I am the King of Rock and Roll.


JOHN WATERS, AMERICAN FILMMAKER: The first songs that you love, that your parents hate, is the beginning of the soundtrack to your life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Little Richard's lyrics were too lewd to get airplay on the radio.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were just as clean as you were.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was very good at liberating other people. He was not good at liberating himself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael was inspired by me. Prince. James Brown, I discovered him. Jimi Hendrix was my guitar player.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to stand on the desk and do Little Richard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone was beholden to him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Little Richard: I Am Everything" Labor Day, on CNN.


COLLINS: Indeed he was.

And thank you, so much, for joining us, tonight.

"CNN PRIMETIME" with Abby Phillip, starts, right now.