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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Supreme Court To Decide On Trump Ballot Ban; Biden Frames Election As Battle For Democracy; Longtime NRA Chief Resigns Ahead Of Corruption Trial. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 05, 2024 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: This Sunday night, don't miss an all-new episode, of "THE WHOLE STORY." "15 YEARS LATER," the "MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON."

We'll talk with former airline pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, and passengers, who survived the emergency landing, here in New York's Hudson River, after birds crippled the Airbus' two engines.

One whole hour, one whole story, this Sunday, at 8 PM Eastern and Pacific, only on CNN.

The news continues. THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS starts now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And tonight, straight from THE SOURCE.

The Supreme Court agrees to take on one of the biggest cases, in American history. Whether Donald Trump can be kicked off the ballot, in Colorado, just 10 days before the first votes of the 2024 election are cast.

Plus, President Biden condemning Donald Trump, while marking the third anniversary of January 6th, arguing that people died, because of Trump's lies, and so could democracy, as he ramps up his reelection fight.

Also, the longtime leader of the NRA resigning, on the eve of his corruption trial. What Wayne LaPierre's exit could mean for the fight over guns in America?

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

With what is being called extraordinary speed, the Supreme Court has now agreed to decide the unprecedented question. Can Donald Trump be barred from holding office again? It is not hyperbole, to say tonight, that this case could alter the 2024 election. And it may not be the last case, the Supreme Court takes up this year that could.

Oral arguments are scheduled now, for February 8th, on the Colorado Supreme Court's decision, to remove Trump, from the state's ballot, claiming that he had engaged in an insurrection. The Colorado court ruled that disqualifies him, according to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. For now, Trump is still on the ballot, that is, pending the appeals

process. Colorado's primary, I should note, is set for Super Tuesday, on March 5th. But ballots go out quite soon.

The Trump campaign responded to this news, from the Supreme Court, tonight, saying that it welcomes a fair hearing, at the Supreme Court.

And in Iowa, just a short time later, the former President also used that same word, fair, as he appeared to send a message, to those justices, three of whom he appointed.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: All I want is fair. I fought really hard to get three very, very good people. And they're great people, very smart people. And I just hope that they're going to be fair.

If we don't, our country's in big, big trouble.


COLLINS: The question, is it up to Congress, or the states, to decide if the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause disqualifies that person from the ballot? It will be the Supreme Court's most significant involvement, in a presidential election, since its consequential and controversial decision, two decades ago, with Bush v. Gore.

I want to talk about this monumental case, and what it could look like, what it could mean, with CNN's Senior Legal Analyst, and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Also, with us, former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu.

And CNN Contributor, John Dean, of course, the former Nixon White House Counsel.

Elie, let me start with you, because we are now seeing that the case can, you know, the High Court can move with speed, clearly, when they want to. I think the question here is, how quickly do you think this could be decided?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Well, Kaitlan, it's been all too easy, I think, over the past few years, to criticize the Supreme Court. I've done it. They've largely deserved it.

But, I think, in this instance, they deserve praise. Because they've recognized the moment, they've recognized the imperative, to move quickly here.

First of all, this is absolutely historic. We will get, for the first time, in 150-plus years, since the amendment was ratified, some guidance from the Supreme Court, on how exactly the 14th Amendment's supposed to work. I think they're going to be studying this decision, 150 years in the future. Now, as you said, the court has set an extraordinarily tight timeline here. The oral argument's going to be February 8th. That's just over a month from now.

I think the Supreme Court understands that we're seeing these deadlines, for printing of ballots, for mailing of ballots, for early voting, overseas voting. They're coming up almost by the week now. I think we're going to see a decision, from the court, certainly by the end of February.

COLLINS: Elie, we have been talking a lot about this, paying close attention to the appeals, the rulings, the judgments, what the decisions here have looked like.

But the fact that the Supreme Court, the justices got together, in a room, today? They were there for several hours, which Joan Biskupic noted, there were questions, what were they talking about, behind closed doors. Why did it take so long, to make this decision?

But for, Elie, for people who have not been paying close attention to this, if they're watching, tonight, and wondering what this means, can you just lay out what's at stake here?

HONIG: Sure. In the sort of narrower sense, whether Donald Trump will appear on the ballot in Colorado. But it's going to mean so much more than that. This is going to impact whether he can be removed from the ballot, or remain on the ballot, in many states.


And let me sort of frame the main legal issues here. The 14th Amendment Section 3 says, anyone who engages in insurrection is disqualified. And using that, Colorado and, since then, Maine, have disqualified him, said he engaged in insurrection. But the legal questions here really go to another layer.

The first question is, who gets to decide whether a person has engaged in insurrection? There's a reading that Trump's argument has reflected that. Only Congress can tell us how this works. It's not up to the individual states. That would lead to chaos.

There's also a question about whether the states, Colorado and Maine in particular, gave Donald Trump due process.

And then there's a sort of technical question about whether the 14th Amendment even applies to the President. It doesn't specifically say the president, but it says, officers of the United States.

And I think those procedural grounds are really how the Supreme Court is going to answer this case.

COLLINS: So, so many different aspects of this.

John Dean, we talk about what happened in 2000, when the Supreme Court had Bush v. Gore, in its hands, and essentially decided the presidential election, at the finish line of that election. I mean, what do you make of the role that the High Court could have, in shaping the 2024 election now?


And as you mentioned, in your introduction, there's a sort of a parallel case, it's approaching the court, on the question of whether the President gets immunity, from criminal prosecution, which is, in many ways equally as important as this one.

I have no idea what the court will do. I know if they really are strict constructionists, they would say he belongs off the ballot. I don't know they'll go that far.

I think they have a middle road, where they might say, well, 150 years have passed since that amendment was adopted. And times have changed. The Congress really needs to address this, not the court. So, they'll find a middle ground.

But yet, when they come to immunity, they'll come down hard, and say there is no immunity, for criminal prosecution for the President.

So, I think that they're political, in their own way, not partisan, necessarily. But in what works for the country when it needs it.

COLLINS: Shan Wu, you heard a few of the arguments that Elie laid out, of what Trump's team has been saying, in response to this. It's not just one argument. There are several here.

But part of it is that they say the Colorado Supreme Court, in their view, is wrong, in saying that Trump engaged in an instruction. And that even if it was an insurrection, and there was a insurrectionist ban, as we know there is, that wouldn't apply to Trump, given the oath that he took, and the language of that.

I mean, how do you think the justices are going to hear that argument?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, FORMER DOJ COUNSEL: Well, I think they want to avoid having to get into the facts. I mean, the Colorado Court did engage, in fact-finding. And they're the fact-finder. And the appellate courts shouldn't venture into that.

And I think for them to venture into that puts them in very deep waters, with a lot of minds in it, frankly, because that forces them to start to evaluate his action. So, I think they'll try to avoid doing that if they can.

And I think, as Elie and John were both saying, if they can find a way out of this, on more procedural grounds? For example, they could look at the question of was the process used in Colorado, sufficient?

And they could also adopt a view that only Congress can do this. Although, frankly, from an originalist and textualist point of view, that makes no sense, because obviously, the drafters of that provision knew how to involve Congress, because they said Congress could take away the disqualification. They could have just as easily said Congress is the only one that can disqualify. So, that's going to be a little bit of a hard navigation, for them, to rely on that.

But from their motivation standpoint, they don't want to be the ones deciding this. Their credibility is just bleeding out, at this point. So, if they can find the way procedurally, to avoid getting into those sorts of merit questions, I think they will.

There's a way for them to say, yes, the President is an officer of the United States, within the meaning of the 14th Amendment, yet, still avoid having to get into the merits of it by finding a process type way out.

COLLINS: But if they do that, Shan, just quickly, if they have some narrower decision here, that it's not this broad scope of what's at stake here? How does that affect other states?

Can other states still see these complaints of whether or not he belongs on the ballot in those states, based on, on their state's constitution? Or is that something that it'll nullify all of these challenges?

WU: It depends. And one thing's important to know is we don't know the specific questions yet. This granting of the cert was fairly open- ended. So, they might still narrow the questions.

That really depends, Kaitlan, on what they end up ruling on. So, for example, if they say that he is an officer, then certainly, other states can follow that. But the problem for them there is then these states may come to different outcomes, which to me is fine. But they're going to want uniformity.

So, one way out of this is to say, you have to have a certain kind of process. And if that Congress -- if Congress is the one to do that process, then that's going to apply across the board.


COLLINS: Elie, we heard from one of Trump's attorneys, earlier. You just heard that soundbite there, of Trump on the campaign trail, just a few moments ago, saying that he wants to make sure that the justices are going to be fair, noting that he put three of them on that court.

One of his attorneys, Alina Habba, reminded people, on Fox News, of what Trump has done, for one of the justices, who is going to hear this case.


ALINA HABBA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: I think it should be a slam-dunk in the Supreme Court. I have faith in them.

You know, people like Kavanaugh, who the President fought for, who the President went through hell, to get into place, he'll step up. Those people will step up. Not because they're pro-Trump, but because they're pro-law, because they're pro-fairness. And the law in this is very clear.


COLLINS: I mean, Elie, that's a little more than just saying the quiet part out loud here.

HONIG: Gosh, what a ridiculous statement. First of all, it's inappropriate. Second of all, if anything, it's self-defeating. Does she think that's going to make Justice Kavanaugh more likely to rule in favor of Donald Trump? I think if anything, it's going to make him self-conscious about doing that.

And this whole notion that, we just heard Donald Trump say it earlier, that the justices, who were put in place, by a certain president owe that president favors or will do him personal favors, is completely unfounded.

First of all, they all have life tenure. They don't owe the president anything. There's nothing any president can do to or against any of them. They're on the bench for life.

And second of all, if we look at the history, those three Trump- appointed justices have ruled against him, on major cases. They ruled against him, when he tried to claim he was immune from a subpoena, back in 2019. They rejected all of his ridiculous 2020 election challenge cases.

So, this whole idea that any justice, whether it's Justice Jackson, for Joe Biden, or the three Trump-nominated justices, for him, are going to do them favors? I throw that out. I think that's ridiculous. And I think it's irresponsible, for a lawyer, to say that.

COLLINS: John Dean, when you look at this, and the fact that, even if the court doesn't decide whether or not Trump engaged in an insurrection? If that's not something they're going to take up, which there seems to be agreement is not going to be something that they're going to do, as Elie said, no fact-finding missions here? Trump has not been convicted of an insurrection.

So, how does that factor into their decision-making here, potentially?

DEAN: Many of the facts that relate to being involved in insurrection are actually in play, in the federal district court, in the January 6 case, although they did not charge an insurrection.

I don't think that -- they can -- they don't want to be a fact-finder. That already has been determined. I don't think they'll reverse the fact-finding. They don't have any ability to find contrary facts, if you will, and as another case comes in from some other state that raises the issue.

So, we're really not going to find that kind of definitive ruling, from this court. We're going to find a process, to resolve what the states should do. And I think they'll want to have it applicable, to all states.

That's why saying, for example, if Congress must resolve this? Then, it is going to be applicable everywhere. If they just said, we accept the Colorado ruling, then it's chaos. And they don't want that. So, they're going to sort this out.

I'm concerned that they don't do it fast enough. Because we have ballots going out, as has been mentioned. And this is going to make it very difficult, for Secretaries of State, if they don't rule sooner rather than later. So, I look for an early ruling, also.

COLLINS: John Dean, Shan Wu, Elie Honig, thank you all very much.

Ahead tonight, President Biden firing hard, at former President Trump, in his first campaign event of this year, all of it on the eve of the Capitol riot.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Trump's campaign is about him, not America.

He's willing to sacrifice our democracy.

TRUMP: He's a threat to democracy. I'm a threat?


TRUMP: They've weaponized government. He's saying, I'm a threat to democracy.


COLLINS: Coming up, I'll speak to a former Capitol Police officer, who claims that the U.S. is one election away, from the end of American democracy. Has also just announced a bid for Congress.



COLLINS: In his first speech, of the election year, President Biden defined the 2024 race, as a battle for democracy. And he urged Americans not to forget what happened, three years ago, tomorrow.


BIDEN: Donald Trump's campaign is about him, not America.

We saw with our own eyes the violent mob storm the United States Capitol.

Jill and I attended the funeral of police officers who died.

Because of Donald Trump's lies, they died because these lies brought a mob to Washington.

I had won the election and he was a loser.

Trump is trying to steal history the same way he tried to steal the election. We all know who Donald Trump is. The question we have to answer is: Who are we?


COLLINS: Biden asking that question, as he made clear that he believes Donald Trump will be his opponent, in the 2024 race.

Of course, Trump is now indicted, on federal charges, for conspiracy to overturn the results of that election, and state charges in Georgia as well, I should note.

On the campaign trail, in Iowa, tonight, as he is attempting to reclaim the White House, Trump responded to Biden's fiery speech.


TRUMP: Crooked Joe is staging his pathetic fear-mongering campaign event, in Pennsylvania, today. Did you see him? He was stuttering through the whole thing. He's going, he's a threat to Democracy. I'm a threat?


TRUMP: They've weaponized government. He's saying, I'm a threat to democracy.


COLLINS: Here with me tonight, former Obama administration official, now CNN Political Commentator, Van Jones.

And also, the former Communications Director for the Republican National Committee, Doug Heye.

Van, I just wonder what it's like for you, to not only have watched Biden's speech earlier, but to see that back-to-back there, of President Biden's message, outside of Valley Forge, earlier, and then former President Trump's message, responding to that.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, kind of a statesman, and then an insult comic. I mean, that's kind of the dynamic there.


But for me, Biden's in some political trouble, there's only so much a speech can do. The only thing bad about his speech is that I don't think enough Americans are going to see that speech. That wasn't actually strong speech. He put together a case, for that, that explains the real threat that we're in, the peril that we're in.

And we kind of got used to Trump. It's kind of like, yes, whatever. He's kind of like a -- like it's an insult comic. But when you lay out all the things that he did, to try to basically overthrow that election, to refuse to leave office, when you hear it back-to-back? It is arresting. It's jarring. It's frightening. And I do think it's important.

And so, listen, was that one speech going to turn the whole thing around? It won't. But it does lay out the case that can be made, by a discipline party, against the kind of threat that Trump represents. And I thought that Biden did a great job, tonight. The only bad thing about the speech, none of the people are going to -- they'll hear it.

COLLINS: Doug, I also think the backdrop of that is important. For people who weren't watching closely, it's a community college.


COLLINS: About 10 minutes away from Valley Forge, where obviously George Washington mobilized forces, in the Revolutionary War.

And when you hear what Van says there, that he's worried not enough people are going to see it? For the Republicans who do see it, does it resonate at all with them? What about Independents?

HEYE: With Republican voters, it doesn't. It's not designed to, anyways.

And I agree with a lot of what Van said. When I was taking the train up to New York today? I wasn't able to see the speech. I watched it in segments, initially, when I was on the train up.

But my Twitter feed was filled with Democrats, saying how forceful and how great and how strong Joe Biden was. And I was reminded that Twitter is not actually America. And my question was to myself, how many people were seeing this? And I think that's important.

But also, what Joe Biden was laying out was essentially he was talking about chaos. That's what Nikki Haley was saying, the other night, when she was on a forum, on CNN, just an hour after you, where she was talking about Donald Trump is surrounded by chaos.

That is an argument that Republicans could make, and should have been making, for almost a year now, from the first indictment, use that against Donald Trump. They chose not to, until the last minute, which means that Donald Trump's probably the nominee.

Joe Biden is using some form of that same argument. It can be an effective argument. But he has to make it over and over and over again. One speech on a Friday afternoon, just doesn't do that.

COLLINS: Well, Van, for even the people, who did see this speech, on a Friday afternoon? It wasn't a primetime Oval Office address, or anything of that nature. I mean, is that enough of a message, to drive out the people, who helped put President Biden, in the White House? Or as he, referenced it today, corrected himself, he said, my Oval Office, when he was talking about what Trump did on that day.

But is that enough? What do Democratic voters--

JONES: Yes. COLLINS: --what do Independent voters want, going into 2024?

JONES: It's not enough. But listen, the one thing that holds -- if anything holds this Democratic Party together, this kind of pro- democracy coalition together, it's a fear that we're going to lose our democracy.

You have the two big issues, democracy and women's right to choose, are bigger issues than just a Joe Biden, bigger issues than just your congressperson, or a school board member. These are fundamental issues about American character, purpose, destiny. And I think when he stands there, he's standing in the strongest place he can stand.

Now, what he's doing is he's laying out a roadmap, how they're going to start, you know, watch, I guarantee you, you're going to start seeing 16 ads that reinforce it, surrogates that reinforce it.

But this is the opening shot. It's not the final shot. It was the opening shot, in trying to basically reconfigure, reconsolidate the Biden-Harris coalition, which has been falling apart. We've seen it in every poll, it's falling apart.

But this issue, plus abortion, those are the two issues that are the strongest for him. And he was very strong on them today -- on the democracy issue, today.

COLLINS: Well, and Doug, on the Republican side, and what this is looking like, I just want everyone to listen to kind of the evolution of the way that Ron DeSantis has been talking, about January 6, as we're approaching the anniversary tomorrow.

Well, this is something that he said essentially, over the summer, compared to what he said, last night, at the Town Hall.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wasn't anywhere near Washington that day. I have nothing to do with what happened that day.

RONALD LANGEL (ph), INSURANCE AGENT AND RETIRED FARMER: Did the January 6th insurrectionists display patriotism, as some of them claim they did?

DESANTIS: No, of course not.


COLLINS: He continued, even sharper today, as he was on the trail, in Iowa and a reporter asked him what he would have done differently, on January 6th.



REPORTER: Governor, tomorrow is the third anniversary of January 6th. What would you have done differently than Trump that day?

DESANTIS: That was the time for leadership. He didn't deliver it.


COLLINS: He also said, and that, you know, I wouldn't have had that problem, because I would have won the election. That was his retort to this reporter. But--

HEYE: Yes, that's the obvious answer. Isn't it?

COLLINS: So, one, he's hitting Trump.

But two, what do you make of how he was telling a kid in New Hampshire, well, I wasn't near Washington that day? Something that Chris Christie criticized him for. To now saying, that wouldn't have happened, I would have won, but also, those people were not patriots?


HEYE: Well, I worked in the Capitol, for two and a half years, in the Capitol building, and then other Capitol offices, around there. Ron DeSantis was a freshman member of the House of Representatives, when I worked in the Capitol. Anybody who worked in the Capitol, at any point, takes January 6 very seriously, and very personally. At least they should.

And so, nobody thinks that Ron DeSantis was anywhere near there. Of course, he wasn't. He was in Florida. But well you--

COLLINS: Not the point.

HEYE: But then they use that to sort of distract, because they run in fear of the very core of the Trump base.

And I would tell Republicans, whether it's Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, or anybody else, be not afraid. You can stand strong here, and talk about that chaos argument that Nikki Haley made. You can use the loser argument that Ron DeSantis has made. Use this as your example. Because what happened on January 6 is an outcrop of Donald Trump losing, and not being able to accept it.

And so, if Republicans had taken, all these Republicans, who are running against Donald Trump, had said, the first time he was indicted, the second or third time he was indicted, that there were problems with this, and that Donald Trump might not be able to be an effective candidate, this is your reason why.

COLLINS: Doug Heye, Van Jones, as always, thank you both, especially on a Friday night.

Up next, an officer, who defended the Capitol, on January 6th, now running, to help defend democracy, in a different way, he announced to be a member of Congress. Harry Dunn will join me live.

Also, tonight, we are learning about a health scare, for the Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, with a lot of questions, from the Pentagon press corps and others, tonight.



COLLINS: On January 6th, 2021, Capitol Police officer, Harry Dunn, stood between lawmakers, who were trapped in the halls of Congress, and a violent mob that had been fueled by election conspiracies, and was determined to stop the peaceful transfer of power. That was three years ago, tomorrow, it's hard to believe.

But today, Dunn announced that he is running, to represent Maryland, in Congress, become a member of that group that he once swore to protect.


HARRY DUNN, FORMER CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER, (D) MARYLAND CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Few weeks ago, I left the force after more than 15 years of service, so that today, I can announce I'm running for Congress. We can't ever let this happen again.


COLLINS: I should note that ad comes as tonight we do now know that the Supreme Court is preparing to decide, whether or not Donald Trump can remain on the ballot, because of that day, and what happened before it. As the former President's team is arguing, it was not an insurrection. And even if it were, he did not take part in it.

I want to talk about this, with former Capitol Police officer, now candidate for Congress, Harry Dunn.

Thank you so much, for being here, tonight. I just want to--

DUNN: Thanks for having me.

COLLINS: Of course. And just the fact that you were there, three years ago, tomorrow, I wonder what you make of that decision, coming tonight, that the Supreme Court is going to hear whether or not Trump can be banned, from the ballot, based on the Constitution's insurrectionist ban.

DUNN: There's two things that immediately come to mind, when you talk about the Supreme Court deciding to take up this decision.

One, it's surprising that the Supreme Court wants to interfere with the states' decision, the states' rights, and the states' decisions that they made, to take Trump off the ballot. That's kind of ironic. I thought they stayed out of the states' business.

And secondly, we wouldn't be in this position, if the Senate voted to impeach Donald Trump, for the actions that he did, on January 6th, that they knew he was responsible for.

Lindsey Graham comes to mind, with his words that he knew that the President was -- and he was finished with him. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate, who spoke candidly and said that Donald Trump bears responsibility for what happened that day.

So, we wouldn't even be in this position, if, the Senate did what they knew was right. But they were too intimidated by Donald Trump.

COLLINS: Well, based on what those Republicans that you cited, said back then, I wonder if it resonated with you, today, when you heard President Biden, in his speech, talking about how, that they had spoken out against Trump, but whether it was fear, money, power, or some kind of combination that brought them back into his fold, and they're still supporting him and backing him.

DUNN: That's one of the things. They know what was right and wrong. And it's not just in the Senate too. In the House, you had Representative Scalise, Leader McCarthy, at the time that also condemned Trump, for what happened that day.

Many people in the party did. They didn't get new facts that happened that day. They didn't get new facts. They talked to Donald Trump, and he said, get in line. So, the influence that Donald Trump has over these individuals, one, it can't be dismissed. But it definitely exists.

And that's why we need to continue to get out here, and vote, and elect Democrats. So, we don't put -- we don't have to worry about Donald Trump again.

COLLINS: Did you ever think you'd be running for Congress, the group of members that you once swore to protect?

DUNN: Not in this capacity.

I've been in public service, basically, my whole adult life, for the last 15, 16 years, as a Capitol Police officer. So, if you were to ask me, before January 6 happened, would I ever run for office? Maybe after I retire, after 55-years-old, 57-years-old, sure, I would consider it because I like the idea of public service. I like being a servant to people.

But January 6, did happened. And it forced me into this place. I refer to it as this moment that we're in right now, in this country. We're in a moment. And we need to step up and we need to meet the moment. Everybody has a role to play, in protecting this democracy. And I'm ready to embrace this role, for me. And I think I'm the best person, for the job, for this moment, right now.

COLLINS: If you win in this moment, how will what you've lived through that day shape you, as a lawmaker?

DUNN: I don't think it will shape me necessarily as a lawmaker. I've always been, standing strong in my convictions. I like to say that my moral compass faces north often.

[21:35:00] Obviously, I aligned -- I'm running as a Democrat. I align with the Democratic values, for the most part. But I don't think that that day necessarily is going to help shake my -- the way that I legislate. That day, I guess, makes me realize that we can't sit around, and just wait for somebody else to stand up and do something.

Look how many members are leaving Congress, at the rate that the members are leaving Congress in. So, do we just sit back and just wait? We can't. Democracy, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say, we are one election away from the extinction of democracy, as we know it.

Donald Trump has said himself that he wants to be a dictator. He said it that he just for a day. But, at what point do we start taking him seriously, and believe in the words that he says, and not just take them as, as Joe Biden says, hyperbole.

But no, I don't believe that that day is going to shape the way that I would legislate.

COLLINS: Harry Dunn -- Officer Harry Dunn, maybe potentially Congressman Harry Dunn, one day, I know you got a crowded primary. Thank you, for coming on tonight, to talk about your race.

DUNN: Thank you. Check out harrydunnforcongress, and donate. I thank you so much for having me.

COLLINS: Thank you so much.

We have some other news, also tonight, out of Washington. Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, now recovering, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, after complications from an elective procedure.

In a short statement with few details, the Pentagon said that Secretary Austin is quote, "Recovering well," and that he is expected to resume his full duties today. They did not say when he would be released.

And first and foremost, our best wishes go out to Secretary Austin, for a speedy recovery. We hope that he is doing well.

But I should also note tonight that this disclosure is concerning, given when it was released. The Pentagon did not say anything, for four days, about one of the most critical members, of the Biden administration, being hospitalized, especially amid an ongoing war, increased tensions in the Middle East. The press secretary, who confirmed the hospitalization today, did not mention it, while briefing reporters, at a news conference, at the Pentagon, yesterday.

The Pentagon sought to explain this by saying in part, quote, "This has been an evolving situation in which we had to consider a number of other factors," including medical issues and personal privacy issues.

I should note that this does not even follow the Pentagon's own precedent here, when there are these medical issues, given that when the Marine Corps Commandant, General Eric Smith, was hospitalized, last fall, the Service notified the public, within 24 hours.

And we hope the Pentagon will do better, on this, going forward.

Up next, with House Republicans trying to impeach President Biden, at least pursuing their inquiry, at the moment, House Democrats are now alleging it was former President Trump who raked in millions, from foreign countries, while he was in office. More on that report, right after this break.



COLLINS: Three years after he left the White House, we are now just learning how much Donald Trump's businesses made, from foreign governments, while he was in office.

House Democrats have released the results of their investigation that shows that the former President and his entities took in $7.8 million, from several countries, including $5.5 million from China, and China government-owned properties alone. It's the kind of conduct that House Republicans have been trying, for months, to pin on President Biden. But so far with no evidence, in that department.

Democratic congresswoman, Katie Porter, of California, is on the committee that investigated and released this report. And she joins us, here tonight.

Congresswoman, thank you, for being here.

Just when you look at the totality of this report, what was the most -- what stood out the most, I guess I should say, to you?

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): I guess, what stood out to me is just the extent to which this president didn't even consider, following the Constitution, following the rules that the Framers set out, to safeguard our public officials, from engaging in foreign influence, and being bribed.

He just totally rewrote those rules, and refused to disclose these payments, for years and years and years. You're supposed to get congressional approval, if you receive a payment, from a foreign state. And President Trump just essentially, instead of following the Constitution, decided to make his own set of rules here.

COLLINS: So, he didn't seek that congressional approval that's required.

And I know his son, Eric Trump, who obviously runs a lot of his businesses, is responding to the framing, at least of this report, not the numbers, or disputing those. But he said, that the Chinese bank that's mentioned that, that they had signed a 20-year lease, at Trump Tower, before his dad took office, back in 2008.

And he also said that the Trump Organization, in the quote that he gave the New York Times, said they did not have the ability or viability to stop someone, from booking through third parties, at a hotel.

As someone who did this investigation, what's your--

PORTER: Oh, nonsense.

COLLINS: Yes, what's your response to that?

PORTER: That's nonsense. Look, we all -- the goal here is you have to disclose the payments.

So, for him to say, well, we couldn't stop them. We couldn't end the release? First, President Trump should have done what every ethics expert told him to do, which is divest his businesses, so these conflicts didn't exist in the first place.

Second, if he was going to keep his businesses, then he needed to disclose these payments, not years and years later, after subpoenas and court orders, but at the time they were made to seek congressional approval. And if it was something as innocent as a long-term lease, in an ongoing situation, then probably Congress would have approved it.

But the point -- the real problem here is a president, who time and time again decided that the rules didn't apply to him. And that should concern anybody, Democrat or Republican, regardless of your political views. We shouldn't want this kind of corruption, this kind of self- dealing, and this kind of flattened -- blatant kind of ignoring the Constitution, from any leader of our government.


COLLINS: Well, and I should note that this information came about, as a part of a court battle that was going on. And the ability to continue that was basically shut down, when House Republicans -- when Republicans won control of the House.

I mean, is this the totality, you believe, of the numbers, and the money that they got from foreign governments? Or is there more that you weren't able to get access to?

PORTER: We know for a fact that this isn't all of the money. Now, it adds up to millions and millions of dollars, from governments like China, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar. But this isn't even all of President Trump's major hotels.

This doesn't include things like the hotel in Chicago, a property in New York. It doesn't include all of his businesses. This is really, if you think about it, a tiny little sliver, a little, the tiniest little pie slice, of the what foreign governments paid, to influence President Trump, during his presidency.

And again, the Constitution, this rule was put in place hundreds and hundreds of years ago, by the Framers of our government, because they were concerned about foreign influence.

And so, we know this is not all of it. But there's not a test for oh, it's only a little bit, or only, it's only this many millions of dollars. It's per se wrong, for a president, to decide to ignore an entire part of the Constitution, solely--

COLLINS: Well and--

PORTER: --to line his own pockets.

COLLINS: I think it's important for people, who are watching Capitol Hill, as closely as we are, to know that this was provided, to respond to the Republican claims, which they have yet to backup or prove. We've asked many of them, who have come on the show, to have concrete evidence, about their claims, about President Biden.

I mean, do you think a report, like this, makes a difference, to Republican colleagues -- your Republican colleagues in the House? Or do you think that they will just impeach President Biden anyway?

PORTER: Well, I can't speak for what my Republican colleagues are trying to accomplish. Because I've been in those hearings, about Hunter Biden and about President Biden.

And the fact is, you're exactly right. They have no evidence, showing that President Biden received payments from foreign actors. To the contrary, we have millions and millions of dollars, hard evidence, showing that this money went to President Trump.

So, it's hypocrisy, for Republicans, on the Oversight Committee, to look the other way, to ignore Donald Trump's violations, of the emoluments clause of our Constitution, and then try to fabricate against evidence to the contrary, allegations, baseless at this point, allegations toward President Biden. And I think Americans are sick of that kind of hypocrisy.

Oversight is about even-handed application of the law, about holding anyone accountable, if they don't follow the rules of our Constitution. And the fact is, we have hard evidence that President Trump didn't.

The Republicans, sadly, for them, have no evidence, with regard to President Biden. But they're spending their time, searching for evidence that may or may not be there, rather than being willing, to conduct the investigation, and hold President Trump accountable, setting the record out, for what we expect from our president.

COLLINS: Congresswoman, I should also note that tonight, you're here, as a congresswoman. But you are also running for a Senate seat, in California, in quite a crowded race.

Congressman Adam Schiff, also running. And he is expected to enter this year with $35 million cash on hand, we have now learned.

How competitive are you with that right now?

PORTER: We are running a very competitive race. And the polling shows this. Poll after poll shows a very, very tight race. California has a top-two primary. And so, I'm looking forward to advancing to the general election. And feel very strongly that we have the resources, the message, and the track record, on things like oversight, on things like fighting corruption, on things like refusing to do the bidding of big corporations. And instead, put the people's interests first that's going to allow us to get that message out to every Californian, and to ultimately win this election, next November.

COLLINS: Congresswoman Katie Porter, as always, thank you, for your time, tonight, on this investigation.

PORTER: Thank you.

COLLINS: One of the most polarizing figures, in American society, has resigned, tonight. It's the head of the NRA. The question is does it change the course of the gun rights movement, in America that he had such a role in shaping?



COLLINS: The man, who spent more than a quarter century, transforming American gun culture in politics, is now preparing, tonight, to step aside.

Wayne LaPierre says that he is resigning as the head of the National Rifle Association, a move that I should note comes, on the eve of a corruption trial, here in Manhattan that threatens the future of the powerful lobbying group.

But no matter how that case plays out that starts on Monday, LaPierre's legacy stands, as a bulwark, against virtually any gun control legislation. For decades, he resisted wave after wave after wave of demands, for more restrictions.

Whether it was amid the surge of gun violence, on American streets, in the 1990s? Or a generation, growing up amid mass shooting after mass shooting? As the scenes of children running, with their hands out, from their classrooms has now grimly become all too normal? LaPierre's power and influence, in Washington, grew to heights that very few others have ever reached.

It was in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in Connecticut, where 20 young students and six adults were murdered, by a gunman, wielding an AR-15 that LaPierre gave voice to the philosophy that is now ingrained into the very fabric of the Republican Party.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.


COLLINS: Days after 17 people had been murdered, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, LaPierre shifted the conversation, by positioning any discussion of gun control, as an evil plot to destroy America.


LAPIERRE: If these so-called new -- European socialists take over the House, and the Senate, and God forbid, they get the White House again, our American freedoms could be lost, and our country will be changed forever.



COLLINS: It's fiery rhetoric like that that propelled LaPierre, through the waves of corruption scandals, and embarrassing revelations, during his time, at the helm of the NRA. But at its height, it drove the membership rolls there to nearly 6 million.

The NRA filled its coffers with money, to fill the airwaves, with political ads, allowing it to spend outright -- to outspend rival lobbying groups, to the tune of $30 million, in the election, before Donald Trump was elected in 2016. That money translated into muscle, to turn out voters, in numbers that really did matter.


VIVECA NOVAK, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: I think that the NRA, as a single-issue group, is extremely potent as a political force out there.

They have these members, millions of members they can mobilize, who are passionately motivated, on this issue.


COLLINS: To really understand just how far LaPierre shifted the conversation, about guns, in this community? In 1995, he called the federal agents, involved in the Waco and Ruby Ridge incident, quote, "Jackbooted government thugs."

After then-President George H.W. Bush resigned from the NRA, in protest, LaPierre came on CNN, to apologize.


LAPIERRE: Well, Larry, if you say something, and you offend people, and you didn't mean to, what you do is you apologize. We never meant that letter to broad-brush all of federal law enforcement.


COLLINS: More than 20 years after that appearance, in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings that happened in Texas and Ohio, then- President Trump was briefly appearing open, in conversations, to expanding background checks for gun sales.

But after a call with Wayne LaPierre, he backed off of that stance, and with that, any hope of new gun safety legislation.

In fact, this was Donald Trump, tonight, in Iowa, speaking about the latest deadly school shooting, in America, the one that happened, just yesterday, in the very same state and killed a sixth-grader.


TRUMP: It's horrible to see that happening. That's just horrible. So surprising to see it here. But we have to get over it. We have to move forward.


COLLINS: Joining me tonight, CNN Contributor, and Writer for The Trace, Jennifer Mascia.

Were you surprised that LaPierre stepped down?


Wayne LaPierre has fended off coup attempts, from within the NRA, in the last several years. This is somebody, who would not have left this position, in my opinion, unless he was forced to.

And it makes sense on the eve of a trial. There are a lot of receipts that have been reported about allegations of misspent tens of millions, maybe even hundreds of millions. It would make sense for the organization, to come to some agreement, for him to step down, to distance itself, from what might be a guilty verdict. This is a New York jury.

And it's interesting, the allegations are that the misspent millions, and the opaque spending, wasn't to circumvent regulators. It was to get around the NRA's own board. This really exposed a civil war within the NRA. Wayne LaPierre was winning. Today marked the day that he didn't win.

COLLINS: But he basically -- what you're seem to be saying is he could kind of get away whatever -- with whatever he wanted, at the NRA?

MASCIA: Wayne LaPierre had the most power at the NRA. And he had--

COLLINS: Why is that?

MASCIA: --a group of individuals behind him.

I think it was his star power. He had a lot of power.

25 years ago, most people remember Charlton Heston. He was already a movie star.

Wayne LaPierre stepped into the void, when Heston stepped down, and he doubled down in public, in a way that earned him the respect of gun rights activists. But that earned him an infamous place, in American society. Nobody at the organization, today, has that kind of star power that can replace him. COLLINS: Yes. And when you look at that, and the question of whether -- I mean, he -- his reason that he gave was health. But the question of whether it has to do with these settlement talks, potentially, or whatever it was that the A.G. is seeking here.

I mean, what does it mean though, for the NRA? When people look at the NRA and what its future looks like, what's your sense of that?

MASCIA: There are key moments in recent history, where the NRA could have gone a different way. Columbine, Sandy Hook, how are we going to react. Wayne double down. He took them into unprecedented territory.

In a way, if the NRA disappeared tomorrow, which I don't think this will do? It might continue in a streamlined fashion, maybe move to a friendlier state, Texas. NRAism is with us.

There is a political party, in America, that's absorbed the NRA plank. The NRA, for them, this is mission accomplished. This has been 50 years, and 30 with Wayne LaPierre at the helm.

COLLINS: And presidential influence.

MASCIA: And they set up shop in George W. Bush's White House, before President Trump. NRAism has been absorbed by the Republican Party. So, they're not necessary anymore. They've done their job.

COLLINS: Jennifer Mascia, it's quite a moment, to see this happen, today.


COLLINS: Thank you for your expertise, and watching this so closely.

MASCIA: Good to be here.

COLLINS: Thank you.

And I want to thank all of you, for joining us, tonight, and every night this week. I hope you have a great weekend. We'll see you back on Monday.