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State of the Union

Interview With Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC); Interview With Fmr. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 18, 2024 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Pointing the finger. The world reels from the death of Alexei Navalny.


TAPPER: But when the U.S. reassures its allies...


TAPPER: ... do Republicans no longer agree?

Former GOP Congresswoman Liz Cheney joins me exclusively.

And go for broke? A devastating ruling for Donald Trump's business empire in New York...


TAPPER: ... with more legal cases picking up steam, just as Trump looks to vanquish his longshot challenger this week.


TAPPER: Will the legal challenges take a toll?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Four more years!

TAPPER: South Carolina Senator Tim Scott joins me next.

Plus: Majority rules? Democrats celebrate a key win in New York...


TAPPER: ... while, in Congress, Republicans struggle to pass what they say are priorities. What does all this tell us about November's election? Our panel of experts is here to discuss.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is reeling from the death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.

Only 47 years old, Navalny appeared in good health and reasonably good spirits in the Siberian penal colony where he'd been held on bogus charges in Putin's Russia. And yet, somehow, on Friday, the world learned that the pro-democracy anti-corruption activist was dead.

Putin is being blamed for the death by President Biden, Governor Nikki Haley, and so many other Western leaders. And yet Donald Trump has had nothing specific to say about this, this after Trump told a South Carolina crowd last Saturday that, as president, he had told a NATO ally that he would encourage Russia to do -- quote -- "whatever the hell they want" -- unquote -- to any NATO country that does not spend enough on its own defense.

Trump's last remaining Republican challenger, Nikki Haley, says of Trump -- quote -- "We cannot have a president who sides with murderous thugs who want to destroy America" -- unquote.

Yet Trump looks poised to easily defeat her in her home state of South Carolina this Saturday. And despite a bipartisan gathering of American leaders who tried to reassure allies overseas this weekend about the U.S. commitment to countering Russia in Ukraine, the Republican Party that Trump has remade in his image seems largely on board with the strategy of poking NATO allies and petting the bear.

Joining us now to discuss, former Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for being here.

So, the Russian prison service announced Friday that Vladimir Putin's critic Alexei Navalny is dead. Biden says Putin's responsible. Do you agree? And how should the U.S. respond?

FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Yes, there's no question. Absolutely, he's responsible.

The best thing that we can do right now is to pass the aid bill that the Ukrainians need so urgently to help them continue what they're doing to defeat Putin's army in Ukraine. And one thing that's really important, Jake, for the viewers to recognize and understand is, one man, one man has the power in his hands to get that done.

And that's Mike Johnson. Now...

TAPPER: The speaker of the House.

CHENEY: The speaker of the House, Mike Johnson.

It's very unusual actually in American history to be in a situation where one man holds that kind of power who's not the president. But Mike Johnson could, if he wanted to, today announce that he's going to call the House of Representatives back into session. He could put the bill that's already passed the Senate onto the floor of the House for a vote tomorrow. It could be on Joe Biden's desk by tomorrow night, and the aid could be flowing to Ukraine. And Mike Johnson ought to search deep in his conscience, understanding exactly what's happening, the slaughter that's happening in Ukraine today, the extent to which the Ukrainians are on the front lines in this battle for freedom.

And history will look back at this moment and ask, what did Mike Johnson do? He has said, and I take him at his word, that he believes that God has told him that he's called to be Moses. And I think Mike Johnson ought to look at whether or not this is actually that moment, and he ought to help the Ukrainian people.

TAPPER: It's been made clear to Speaker Johnson that, if he does that, he brings up this bill and just allows it to be voted on, even if he votes against it, if he just introduces the bill that, as you know, had already passed the Senate, there will be repercussions for his speakership, that members of the House Freedom Caucus may offer a motion to vacate and remove him from his speakership.

That is the threat facing him.

CHENEY: That's right.

And what I would say to that is he ought to understand that it is worth it if he has to lose his speakership in order to make sure that freedom survives, in order to make sure that the United States of America continues to play its leadership role in the world.


He ought to read what's happening in Ukraine today. He ought to read about the slaughter that's going on. And he ought to understand that we are at a turning point in the history, not just of this nation, but of the world.

And, again, he's going to have to explain to future generations, to his kids, to his grandkids whether or not he did what was right, whether or not he was a force for good and aided the cause of freedom, or whether he continued down this path of cowardice and doing what Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin want him to do.

TAPPER: Well, you say doing what Donald Trump wants him to do, Donald Trump has not responded directly at all to Navalny's death. Last night, he was attacking prosecutors at his rally in Michigan. He's posted dozens of times on his TRUTH Social media app calling Biden an incompetent president. So it's not as though he hasn't been speaking.

This is the likely Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. How do you feel about the fact that he has not said one word about Navalny? He's had harsher words about Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, than he has had about Vladimir Putin.

CHENEY: Yes, I mean, look Donald Trump, as you pointed out, said just a few days ago that he had told a NATO ally that he would encourage Putin to do whatever he needed to do, whatever he wanted to do. He's basically made clear that, under a Trump administration, the

United States is unlikely to keep its NATO commitments. And I think that Republicans who understand the importance of the national security situation who continue to support him are similarly going to be held to account.

When you think about Donald Trump, for example, pledging retribution, what Vladimir Putin did to Navalny is what retribution looks like in a country where the leader is not subject to the rule of law. And I think that we have to take Donald Trump very seriously. We have to take seriously the extent to which you have now got a Putin wing of the Republican Party.

I believe the issue this election cycle is making sure the Putin wing of the Republican Party does not take over the West Wing of the White House.

TAPPER: As you know, Donald Trump is standing by his comments about that anecdote where he told the NATO ally that, if they don't pay the correct percentage of their GDP on defense, that he would tell Russia to do whatever the hell they want to them.

What was your response to that when you heard that?

CHENEY: It is dangerous. It shows a complete lack of understanding of America's role in the world.

It's disgraceful. I can't imagine any other American president of either party since the establishment of NATO saying such a thing. And it's completely uninformed and ignorant and dangerous.

NATO, in my view, is the most successful alliance probably in the history of the world. And the extent to which, because of American leadership, we have been able to lead those free nations of Europe, we have been able to guarantee security, but we have been able to deter exactly the kind of thing that we're seeing happen today in Ukraine, because NATO members know and because our adversaries know that, if there's going to be an invasion of a NATO country, we will come to their aid.

We will all come to each other's aid. And I think one of the things that is so misguided about this current debate, people like J.D. Vance and others who suggest that we should just abandon the Ukrainians, is, if Putin wins in Ukraine, he's telling us, he's saying the Baltics are next, Poland is next, NATO member countries will be next.


CHENEY: If Putin wins in Ukraine, the security system -- and he knows this -- the security structures that have maintained peace and security and freedom since the end of World War II will begin to unravel.

TAPPER: One of the reasons that Speaker Johnson has not brought up the bill that has the aid for Israel and Ukraine and Taiwan is that it doesn't control -- it doesn't contain additional border security measures that had been added to the Senate bill, a compromise that made -- that raised asylum standards and had money for the wall, et cetera, et cetera, put forward by conservative Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma.

But it was not conservative enough for the House, so then it was stripped from that foreign aid bill, and now the foreign aid bill is there without the border security measures, and they're saying, we're not going to vote for anything that doesn't have border security measures.

What did you think of the compromise? And what do you make of this gambit that's really difficult for people to understand where the Republicans are coming from?

CHENEY: I actually -- I don't think it's that difficult for people to understand. I think the American people are really smart, and what the Republicans are doing now is really shameful.

I think that the Biden administration absolutely bears responsibility for failing to secure the border. And that's been going on now for a number of years. And it's inexplicable and its wrong.

But as soon as the agreement was reached, there was a bipartisan agreement to begin to take steps in that direction -- and, again, Donald Trump said, no, no, I don't want you all to actually begin to solve the problem, because he wants to run on the issue. So the Republicans walked away from it.


And now you're seeing these contortions from many leading Republicans, including Tim Scott, trying to explain why they demanded border security, and they got the border security provisions, and then they rejected it because Donald Trump told them to.

They said it was fundamentally important for us to support Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan. Now they have a bill that supports Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan, and they won't vote for it because it doesn't have anything about the American border in it.

I think, again, the American people are too smart to fall for that, and I think that my former colleagues ought to stop the political contortions and realize how significant and serious this national security moment is.

TAPPER: Stay here. I have got some more questions for you.

We will be right back after this break with former Congresswoman Liz Cheney.


TAPPER: And we're back with former Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

So, just in the last few days, a judge has ordered that Donald Trump and his organization pay a $355 million fine for fraud, this on top of $83 million that he's been ordered to pay to E. Jean Carroll, the writer who's accused him of sexual assault. He has to pay that for defamation.


This is -- and we're just getting started with the court cases here.


TAPPER: There's a lot more to come.


I mean, look, there's so many pieces to this. I think, with respect to E. Jean Carroll, people need to understand, and I think they ought to be asked, people who are supporting Donald Trump, what the jury found in that case is that Donald Trump was guilty of committing sexual assault, basically that he actually had done what he said on the "Access Hollywood" tape he did.

I mean, this is not something that's out of left field. And when you look at these cases and you look at the verdicts and the judgments, it's clear that the common thread that runs through all of them is Donald Trump's lack of willingness to abide by the law, lack of commitment to the truth, fundamental lack of character.

And I think one of the things that is so troubling about this political season is the extent to which you have got people that used to be good and honorable members of Congress, for example, who have simply, apparently, abandoned the need to actually elect people of character and honor, and instead are embracing him.

TAPPER: What's interesting also is Senator Mitt Romney said the other day something along the lines of, I'm not going to vote for somebody who's guilty of sexual assault.

CHENEY: Right.

TAPPER: That's a line for me.


TAPPER: It seems odd that that would be so unique among current senators and members of the House that that would be a line.


I mean, you would think that anybody with a daughter, sister, a mother would be where Senator Romney is on that issue.

TAPPER: Senator J.D. Vance, who you mentioned earlier, and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who now holds your former job as the GOP Conference chair, both of them are now saying that they -- if they had been vice president in January 6, 2021, they would not have voted to certify the election. They would have not allowed the process to go forward.

I'm not even sure what the constitutional agenda there is. There's no role.

CHENEY: There's no basis.


TAPPER: Yes, but they say they wouldn't have.

Should Republicans be comfortable supporting a ticket with J.D. Vance on Elise Stefanik on it?

CHENEY: No, of course not.

I mean, I think that what they're describing is the antithesis of the rule of law. What they're describing is a Congress that ignores the rulings of the courts, that ignores the plain language of the Constitution. And I think there's something very important going on here.

If you look, for example, at the Navalny assassination and how important it is for the West and for organizations that are committed to freedom and democracy to strengthen themselves and to stand tall now, one of the most important of those in the United States is the National Endowment for Democracy that was established during the Reagan administration that has long fought for freedom and stood for dissidents.

You have now, today, as we sit here, Elise Stefanik, who has said that she would be perfectly willing to steal the next election, who, as far as I know, has made no comment about the assassination of Navalny, she sits on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy.

So I would say, if they really are serious about being engaged in this hugely critical struggle for freedom, Elise Stefanik should not sit on that board any longer.

TAPPER: Axios reports that Trump's former Attorney General Bill Barr, who has been quite critical of Donald Trump in terms of the election lies in his effort to overturn the election, Bill Barr suggested in an event on Friday that he would vote for Trump over Biden.

He said -- quote -- "Voting for Trump is playing Russian roulette with the country. Voting for Biden is outright national suicide."

What's your thought on that?

CHENEY: No, he's absolutely wrong.

Now, I haven't endorsed anybody in this presidential race, certainly would never support Donald Trump. And we know what Donald Trump will do, because he's telling us every day. And anybody who has spent any time overseas, who has spent any time studying the history of autocracies and of autocrats knows we have to listen to what Donald Trump's saying. So electing Donald Trump's not Russian roulette. Electing Donald Trump

would mean putting in power a man who's committed to unraveling our constitutional framework. So Bill Barr is just wrong on that.

TAPPER: You still haven't ruled out a presidential run of your own in 2024, as far as I know. Are you still considering it, or would you rule it out?

CHENEY: I haven't made any decisions about it yet. I'm going to do whatever is necessary to defeat Donald Trump.

TAPPER: But if it came down to you not running, and it's Biden versus Trump, you would -- you would support Biden?

CHENEY: I'm not going to make any announcements or endorsements this morning.

But the most important thing is to defeat Donald Trump, and I will do whatever, whatever it takes to do that.

TAPPER: On Saturday, voters, Republicans in South Carolina are going to go to the polls. They have a choice between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. I assume you would support Nikki Haley? Would...

CHENEY: Yes, I mean, again, I am not making any endorsements, but I don't think that that's a hard call at all.

TAPPER: All right, former Congresswoman Liz Cheney, it's always good to have you. Thank you so much for being here.

CHENEY: Thank you. Great to be with you.

TAPPER: This week, members of a top conservative group will take a poll on who they want to be Trump's vice president. Is my next guest a shoo-in?

Senator Tim Scott will join me on what we're learning about a second Trump term. That's next.




South Carolina's primary is just six days away. Will that be the end of the Republican nomination contest?


TAPPER: And joining me now is South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who is backing Donald Trump.

Senator Scott, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

So, obviously the big news... SCOTT: Good morning, Jake. I hope you're doing well.

TAPPER: The big news the last few days, President Biden is blaming Vladimir Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny. He called it yet -- he called it -- quote -- "yet more proof of Putin's brutality."

President Zelenskyy of Ukraine said Navalny was -- quote -- "obviously killed by Putin." The head of the E.U. called Navalny's death a grim reminder of what Putin and his regime are all about.

What is your reaction to the death of Alexei Navalny?

SCOTT: Well, I mean, listen, the bottom line is simply this, that the murderous dictator that is President Putin always looks for ways to take out the competition and send a clear message just a few days or a few weeks before the Russian election, where he will sweep away with another six years, because there's really no election in Russia.

That's part of the challenge that we face across the globe. We need strong leadership coming from America that actually pushes back against Russia and other dictators. Unfortunately, Joe Biden is not up for that charge, and Donald Trump is.


TAPPER: Well, Donald Trump hasn't said a word yet about the death of Navalny or about Putin's culpability.

Alexei Navalny was poisoned and sentenced to 19 years in prison while Trump was president. Do you want Trump to say something? And why do you think he hasn't yet?

SCOTT: Well, Jake, I think a better question really is, let's look at the middle -- let's look at the middle of the challenges that we face today across the globe.

The middle of the challenge you see front and center is the failure of Joe Biden. And when President Trump was our president, there was no incursion in Ukraine like there was under President Obama. When Trump left office, there was an actual all-out war in Ukraine.

And so when you ask the question about keeping Putin in check, you look at the actions in the administration of Donald Trump and you come to one clear conclusion, that, without question, Ukraine was safer, the world was safer, and America was certainly safer.

TAPPER: Well, Navalny wasn't safer. He was poisoned, likely by Putin or the Kremlin while Trump was president.

And Navalny's death, we should note, comes on the heels of comments Trump made last week in your home state of South Carolina. He relayed an anecdote where Trump supposedly told a NATO ally that, if that country didn't pay up, if that country didn't spend more on defense, he would tell Russia to -- quote -- "do whatever the hell they want" to them.

Here's what you had to say about the importance of the NATO -- the NATO pact just three months ago. Take a listen. This is you.


SCOTT: Keeping our NATO partners safe from the Russian military is absolutely essential. As you understand, Article 5 would require to support and to defend NATO, our troops on the ground.

The fastest way for us to eliminate that possibility is for us to destroy, to the extent possible, the Russian military. By doing so, we actually achieve the objective of keeping our military home.


TAPPER: How do you square that with what Donald Trump said about NATO?

SCOTT: I was 100 percent right then too.


SCOTT: Listen, I was 100 percent right then too.

And I will tell you this. Without any question, from the beginning of the Ukraine war, what we have seen is actually Joe Biden dragging his feet. This is after we saw the botched withdrawal in Afghanistan. We have seen war in Ukraine. We have conflict in the Middle East. We have instability in the Indo-Pacific.

What we need is strong American leadership. And when we have that, what ultimately happens is in fact world peace. The fastest, most effective way for us to get there is to look at the four years when Donald Trump was our president and ask the question, how was Eastern Europe?

Well, Putin stayed away from Ukraine. In the Middle East, Hamas did not invade Israel. In the Indo-Pacific, China, because of the 301 tariffs, because of the headwinds put on their economy, they were not talking about Taiwan.

But, more importantly, Jake, the number one national security issue facing America today is our insecure, unsafe, and wide-open southern border. Americans have spoken, whether I'm in church, whether I'm at the gym, or when you look at the polls. One thing is completely clear.

Our southern border is the greatest national security risk we have as a nation. And, unfortunately, Joe Biden has failed miserably on keeping Americans safe here at home. We can see that through the 70,000 Americans who've lost their lives to fentanyl, including my good friend's son Alan Shao II.

TAPPER: I hear what you're saying about the southern border. I want to get to that in a second, because I know you just came back from there.

SCOTT: Yes. TAPPER: But I don't understand how you can criticize President Biden for dragging his feet when it comes to helping Ukraine, when Donald Trump is out there saying that we shouldn't -- the United States shouldn't be giving any money to Ukraine.

And he sent out alarm bells throughout NATO countries when he talked about Russia doing whatever the hell it wants to do to countries that don't pay enough. Let's talk about what Russia's doing right now, because the key city of Avdiivka fell to Russian forces yesterday, in a major setback for Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy blamed the loss on the artificial deficit of arms and ammunition because of Western inaction. He pleaded for Congress to act. You said after Hamas attacked Israel, you said President Biden had blood on his hands because he hadn't confronted Iran more aggressively, and Iran supports Hamas.


TAPPER: If the U.S. fails to support Ukraine right now in the fight against Russia, will Congress have blood on its hands?

SCOTT: Well, we have already supported Ukraine with over $100 billion.

And when I said that Joe Biden dragged his feet getting into this conflict at the beginning, I meant that. Look at the fact that we followed Germany. We followed Germany to help NATO out -- to help Ukraine, not a NATO ally, but to help Ukraine.


That is a really important first step that set us back by months. What we have been doing since then is playing catchup. That's one of the reasons why Congress has appropriated over $100 billion. Even President Donald Trump has said a loan to Ukraine would actually provide more resources.

The bottom line is this. Joe Biden's failure on the global stage is undeniable and can be measured in the loss of lives. It can be measured in the instability in the Indo-Pacific. It can be measured in the October 7 attack. It can be measured in Iran's actual aggression and their acceleration towards a nuclear weapon.

It can be measured in the JCPOA and the failure of that deal when he was vice president and trying to go back to it as president. There are so many ways to measure the failure of Joe Biden on the global stage.

But you don't have to take my words for it. You can take the words of Democrats, independents, and Republicans who all come to the same conclusion. The world was a safer place under President Donald Trump than it is today under President Joe Biden.

TAPPER: You were just down at the border following your vote against the bipartisan Senate border deal that the Border Patrol union wanted passed. You voted against the deal and you voted against the stand- alone Ukraine-Israel aid bill...


TAPPER: ... in part because it didn't provide provisions to secure the border.

So, at the end of the day, are you fine with no additional aid for Ukraine, no additional aid for Israel, and no compromise border security measure that even the Border Patrol union wants? You're OK with the status quo right now?

SCOTT: Jake, thank you for that great question. It makes me laugh out loud, actually.

Here's the truth. I supported the $14 billion in a stand-alone package for Israel. Let's be very clear. Joe Biden the Democrats said they would -- he would first veto the bill and the Democrats would oppose the bill. Chuck Schumer would oppose a stand-alone aid package for our ally in the Middle East.

Why? Because they wanted to leverage the deaths of Israelis to fund Ukraine. My first objective is always to keep America safe. In the border bill, we did not see a border wall. A border wall, having just returned from Eagle Pass, Texas, listening to the Border Patrol agents themselves, here's what they're telling us, Jake.

A border wall would make the actual officers safer themselves. It would see a precipitous drop in the number of illegal immigrants crossing our border. In that border deal was no funding for a wall. There was no new policy or reinstating the policy of remaining in Mexico.

Without those two pieces, allowing two million Americans -- two million illegal immigrants into America, that's not a border deal to pass. That's a border deal that should fail.

TAPPER: It had $650 million for additional funding for a wall.

SCOTT: Six hundred and fifty million dollars, when the president of the United States is selling off the construction material for the wall?

Come on, Jake. Let's get serious about protecting America's -- America, so that we can actually help defend the rest of the world when we find it appropriate. We cannot, we cannot forget America's number one national security issue is in fact securing our southern border.

TAPPER: Well, so is the Border Patrol wrong?

SCOTT: ... if we were to finish that wall.

The Border Patrol agents, the Border -- I will you what the Border Patrol agents told me when I was literally in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Friday. Yes, they were right to ask for a bigger wall. Yes, they were right to want us to take some of the resources, as I put in legislation, from the IRS and take $40 billion and give it to the Border Patrol agents, so that they can double the number of agents, so that they have more resources for overtime.

I absolutely agree with doing the things that are in my own legislation. The question we should ask ourselves is, are we safer without a physical impediment? And the Border Patrol agents that I met with said, absolutely, unequivocally not. Are we safer without having the remain-in-Mexico policy?

They said, in two weeks, with the remain-in-Mexico policy, Jake, in just two weeks, we would see 90 percent potential drop in the Eagle Pass, Texas, area from illegal border crossings.


SCOTT: We have got to think about Shelby Park and the thousands of folks that invaded small neighborhoods in America, 28,000 people living in Eagle Pass, Texas, with one hospital, being confronted with thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants overrunning their community.

TAPPER: Right.

SCOTT: That's one of the reasons why Texas and Governor Abbott had to act.



No, look, I'm just telling you, the Border Patrol union is very -- which supports Donald Trump very strongly, and they say they're going to endorse him again, they supported the legislation and money -- there was $650 million for a border wall.

But I want to move on to another question.

Your fellow vice presidential hopefuls...

SCOTT: Sure.

TAPPER: ... Elise Stefanik and J.D. Vance have both said that they would not have certified Joe Biden's Electoral College victory if they had been vice president on January 6, 2021, if they had been in Mike Pence's place.

Would you have?

SCOTT: I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions, number one. And I didn't know that I was a vice president hopeful. Thank you very much, Jake, for letting me know where I am on the scale.

I will simply say this, that having four more years of President Donald Trump means that we will have low inflation, low crime. We will have record low unemployment. We saw that happen, for the first time African-Americans seeing unemployment under 6 percent, Hispanics for the first time under 5 percent, Asians under 3 percent, the majority population at 50-year low, women a 70-year low.

What I'm actually more interested in is not my future, the future of America. I want poor kids today growing up like I did in impoverished neighborhoods, in single-parent households to look to America's future and say, there's a place for me at the top. You work hard, get a good education, all things are possible for every single American.

That's my goal. And as long as I keep that as my primary focus, I will do the right thing.

TAPPER: But you voted to certify the election results in the Senate.

SCOTT: I did.

TAPPER: And in the first Republican debate last year, you said Vice President Pence -- quote -- "absolutely did the right thing."

That's still your view, though, yes?

SCOTT: I have not changed my view.

Here's the question. You're asking a hypothetical question that you know can never happen again. That's the challenge. What CNN and you are focused on are the past. Americans, voters are focused on the future. So what I want to make sure that I do is actually focus on the primary issues confronted by the American people.

That starts with the wide-open, insecure, unsafe southern border. The next issue, according to the American people, is the economy, people living paycheck to paycheck; 65 percent of Americans say they don't have $1,000 in their savings account for an emergency.

We're talking about poor kids in poor neighborhoods not having quality schools. In New York City, the illegal immigrants come in and take over the school and the poor kids, oftentimes black and Hispanic kids, have to stay home from school.

We have a crisis that Americans want us to deal with. I want to deal with their future and not the past.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, thank you so much for joining us today, sir. Appreciate it.

SCOTT: Thanks, Jake. Good to see you, buddy.


TAPPER: The $355 million question. What impact might Donald Trump's mounting legal issues and legal bills have on the presidential race?

Our panel is next.




TRUMP: Our court system is a mess. What's happening in our country, they have to straighten it out.

All you see is bitterness and revenge and hatred. Judge Engoron just fined me $355 million for doing everything right, 355.



TAPPER: Yes, it wasn't for doing everything right.

Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Trump clearly upset -- he was campaigning in Michigan last night -- after a New York judge fined him $355 million for fraud and barred him from running his New York businesses for three years.

My panel joins me now.

Scott, let me talk with you.

Look, first, $355 million for fraud. And when you read the decision, I mean, he lays it out why, why he's doing it? There was a set of books for the government in which they accentuated their liabilities and losses and downplayed their assets, the opposite for banks that they wanted to get loans from. They talked about their assets and downplayed their liabilities.

And then the third set of books that actually told the truth.


SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If I were Trump, I wouldn't do any jaywalking in New York any time soon. He's going to find himself in the electric chair up there if, like, he keeps breaking all these laws and regulations.

I mean, to the average Republican, it seems ridiculous. There were no victims here. And the banks that were involved in this didn't seem to have a problem with doing business with Donald Trump. And it seems vindictive.

I mean, everything going on in New York to the average Republican looks like politically motivated actors using the legal system to try to destroy the leading Republican candidate for president and, right now, the leading candidate for president generally, since he's beating Biden.

So I think what's happening in New York will motivate Republicans. I think the other case in Washington is more problematic that could come up later this year, but those New...

TAPPER: The January 6 case.


Those New York cases right now are fuel for Donald Trump as he tries to rally these Republicans to think that he is the victim.

TAPPER: And, Kate, there are Democrats who are concerned about these New York cases going first because of that, because they are -- they might look trifling or vindictive to Republicans. And they're not as serious as the January 6 case or the classified documents case.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that it is absolutely something that is motivating Republicans, but it is not something that is motivating independents and most Democratic voters.

So, if you think about it from a Republican primary perspective, sure, is it firing up the Republican base? Is Donald Trump going to win the Republican primary? Breaking news, yes, he is.

But is this going to be a winning strategy for him in a general election, where he's going to be -- we're going to be hearing every day about how he was a fraud and a cheat in his businesses in New York, which we know, by the way, is something that really gets at him, that really undermines the way he views himself?

So if he's out there every day having to defend, well, no, actually, I am rich, I am a great businessman, we know he struggles with that. So I don't think this is going to be a winning platform, shall we say, for him in a general election.

TAPPER: Matt, more critical words for Judge Engoron in the remarks that Donald Trump made yesterday and in his remarks since Friday, period, than anything about Vladimir Putin, which is, I think, inarguably, a much more important development, the death of Navalny.


MATT GORMAN, FORMER NRCC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He's had a good couple of weeks, Trump, right, cruising in the South Carolina primary.

The Hur report in its aftermath has been good for him. He's been winning some polls. But I think what we're seeing now is a transition to where we're going to be for a lot of the year, where, for the campaign trail, he's going to be in and around a courtroom. How does he leverage that?

How much is he talking about what's going on in a courtroom and what's going on for the average American voter? Take out Putin, but, like, what about what average American voters are facing every day? How does he balance that? I think that is going to be the tenuous thing.

And, look, I think you're right with New York. That is always -- the Alvin Bragg case is the one that Republicans writ large as a party feel the most comfortable defending on...


TAPPER: That's the hush money case. GORMAN: The hush money one.

TAPPER: The idea that they were hiding things in the tax code or -- but to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels.



GORMAN: Exactly. I think we view that as kind of the weirdest and the weakest of cases. We feel comfortable on its merits defending that.

Little different possibly January 6 and others. But I think, as we transition in, campaign is going to be a lot of times the courtroom. How does he respond to that?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think there's a similar narrative, right? The hush money case is also about, voters had the right to know that information before they went to the polls.

Voters have told us they want to know about these other cases, particularly the federal case with Jack Smith, before they go to vote. And I think part of what it does is, it reminds people that this is a man who will do whatever it takes, whether it's about money or sex or his proclivities or winning...


FINNEY: Power, anything that -- and it's all about him.

But I do think the most important thing in the context of the 2024 race, which is something we learned in 2016, you have got to continually bring it back to, why does it matter to you and your life?

So I would argue, for example, around Navalny and the NATO comments, that actually makes us less safe. That is bad for America's national security. The thing I would say about the $355 million is, and where's he going to get that money? We know he doesn't have it.

TAPPER: Well...

FINNEY: And that makes him a national security risk.

TAPPER: Here's one possibility. He's now selling $400 gold Trump- branded shoes.


TAPPER: There they are. He went to a -- I think, a sneaker convention in -- maybe in Philadelphia, was it, trying to raise -- I don't know if he's trying to raise money for his legal bills, or this is just another branding opportunity.

But he does make a lot of money off of branding. I think somebody bought an autographed pair last night there for several thousand dollars. JENNINGS: People seem to be really upset about this.

TAPPER: I'm not upset.



JENNINGS: The online people. I mean...

TAPPER: I'm posing it as a possible way for him to solve the $355 million problem.

JENNINGS: I think, whenever he tries to break into pop culture stuff like this, people get really angry that he's trying to break into nontraditional...


TAPPER: Nobody here seems angry.

Kate, are you angry?

JENNINGS: No, I'm saying generally...

BEDINGFIELD: No, I think it's actually quite funny.


JENNINGS: You think it's funny?

BEDINGFIELD: I think it's amusing, yes.

I think the man is now -- he now owes the courts, what, we're up to what, $440 million and counting. And he's...


TAPPER: No, no, $355 million to the courts, and $83 million to E. Jean Carroll, just to be clear.


BEDINGFIELD: To E. Jean Carroll. So he's got to sell -- I'm no math major, but that's a lot of pairs of cheaply made tennis shoes.

So, if this is the plan...

TAPPER: Well, you don't know that they're cheaply made.

BEDINGFIELD: .... if this is the plan -- I...

TAPPER: You have no idea what -- how -- the quality of the shoe.

BEDINGFIELD: I'm going -- you know what? I'm going to go out on a limb and say, these are not well-made shoes. I'm going to say it. (LAUGHTER)

BEDINGFIELD: I will put -- I'm going to put myself out there.

FINNEY: I think you should.


FINNEY: But here's the thing. Like his campaign gear, was it made in China? That's what I want to know.



TAPPER: That is a question.

But we have -- on Saturday, we're facing -- this Saturday...

FINNEY: Bring us back.

TAPPER: ... the GOP primary in South Carolina.

JENNINGS: Exactly.

TAPPER: Nikki Haley still trailing former President Trump.


TAPPER: It's her home state.

And here's some sound from Haley speaking at rallies in South Carolina yesterday.


HALEY: It is time that we finally put the past behind us and elect a new, generational conservative leader.

In a general election, you're given a choice. In a primary election, you make your choice. I just have one more fellow I got to catch up to.



TAPPER: Now, Matt, you used to work for Tim Scott.


TAPPER: South Carolina -- it does look like Donald Trump's going to win South Carolina. We don't know that. The voters get to weigh in.

But why?

GORMAN: I mean, look, Nikki wanted to wanted a one-on-one race. She got it. At some point, she has to start winning, right?

Just a couple of weeks ago, she said she has to do better than she did in New Hampshire. I think it was around 11 points, the margin. She's down by 30. So she has to start winning somewhere.

And, look, I think one of the things that the folks running against Trump underestimated was how strong he was in the Republican primary. And also, in the fall, we constantly were hearing kind of before that, I like Trump. I just don't think he can win.

But what you saw, I think, in the fall was him starting to either pull even or beat Biden in general election matchups. And it allowed for a lot of Republican primary voters, their head and their heart not to be bifurcated. It gave them license. And it took away one of the best arguments for folks like Tim Scott, Nikki, Ron DeSantis, where it was, Trump is great, love him, but he can't win a general.

Suddenly, that was off the table. I think that was a crucial moment in the primary.


TAPPER: Oh, so it's Biden's fault.


BEDINGFIELD: Well, except that there continue to be -- except there continue to be polls that show that Nikki Haley runs stronger against Joe Biden even right now.

So, I think there's a...


GORMAN: But it's a matter of what -- you hit the threshold. It's not about by how much.

BEDINGFIELD: But there is a loyalty and a fealty to Donald Trump amongst the Republican primary electorate that is driving their...


TAPPER: Thanks, one and all, for being here.

TAPPER: From "The National Enquirer" to the courthouse, some of the nation's most sensational political scandals, we're going to take a look at that next.


TAPPER: Tonight, I'm taking you behind the headlines to some of the biggest political scandals in recent history. Here's a preview.


FMR. GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D-IL): I did the same as them, and nothing worse.

TAPPER (voice-over): What drives powerful people to break the rules?

SCOTT ENGLISH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR MARK SANFORD: I have never done an interview about this ever in my life, and -- until today.

TAPPER: And what happens when they get caught?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I didn't feel like it was sexual either.

TAPPER (on camera): You didn't?


TAPPER: Because it sounds like there was an attraction. You said, "You're so hot."


TAPPER (voice-over): And, most importantly, why do they risk everything to do it?

Over six episodes, CNN's new original series "UNITED STATES OF SCANDAL" will try to peel back the headlines of some of the country's most sensational political scandals.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The governor disappeared and didn't leave anybody else in charge.

TAPPER: Full disclosure, I was friendly with Mark and Jenny Sanford.

There are some scandals we never saw coming, such as when the governor of South Carolina dropped off the face of the Earth, so he could fly to Argentina to have an affair.

(on camera): When it was proven true, I felt dumb. I felt duped for naively believing that I ever knew Mark Sanford the person.

(voice-over): And we will revisit scandals that you think you know.

FMR. GOV. JIM MCGREEVEY (D-NJ): I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man.

TAPPER: Giving you an up-close perspective.

(on camera): In 2004, the Democratic governor of New Jersey, Jim McGreevey, stepped into a press room just like this and became an overnight sensation.

MCGREEVEY: I have decided the right course of action is to resign.

TAPPER (voice-over): We were also quick to embrace the headline that we may have forgotten to dig a little deeper, because the reason why Jim McGreevey resigned is a lot more complicated than we remember.

MCGREEVEY: I didn't wake up and say I'm going to be deceptive for the sake of deceiving.

TAPPER: And we will speak to some of the key players and scandals that were so explosive, the fallout did not just topple careers.

BLAGOJEVICH: I'm here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.

TAPPER: People were sent to prison.

(on camera): So, Governor, thanks for doing this.


TAPPER: So you have been out of prison now for almost two years?

BLAGOJEVICH: A little over two years.

TAPPER (voice-over): Such as former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges, including trying to sell Obama's open Senate seat.

(on camera): I guess one question I have is....

(voice-over): Why? Why did he do it?

BLAGOJEVICH: Look, I had 2,896 days in prison to ask myself 1,000 questions, including that. But you know what? What was the alternative? I have all my staff and lawyers. We all go to sauna and get naked and talk to each other, so nobody's got wires on them?


TAPPER: The new series "UNITED STATES OF SCANDAL" premieres tonight at 9:00 p.m. And a second episode will follow at 10:00 p.m. I hope you will tune in.

Thank you for spending your Sunday morning with us.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.