'This Week' Transcript 6-11-23: Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Chris Coons
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, June 11.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, June 11, 2023 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: Historic indictment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Donald Trump charged for violating the Espionage Act Our and obstruction of justice.
SMITH: Our laws that protect national defense information are critical and they must be enforce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The first former president to face criminal persecution from the federal government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND RESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This vicious persecution is a travesty of justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: He's set to be arrested on Tuesday in Miami, sparking an unprecedented political battle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA) : This judgment is wrong by this DOJ.
REP. DANIEL GOLDMAN (D-NY): The Department of Justice has done everything by the book.
REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): The timing of it is very suspicious.
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): What the rule of law means is holding people in power accountable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: How will it change the race for the White House?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, (R) FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm deeply troubled about the indictment against the former president of the United States.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: It is a very, very evidence-filled indictment.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country.
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we see is a justice system where the scales are weighed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: We cover all the legal and political fallout this morning. Plus, voter reaction in your brand-new poll.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, this is a special edition of "This Week." Here now is George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning and welcome to "This Week."
One year from today, there's a decent chance that Donald Trump will be sitting in a courtroom as a criminal defendant and there's a decent chance, he'll be set to accept the Republican nomination of president of the United States. And there's a nonzero chance that he could be both, a criminal defendant and the GOP nominee.
Now, none of this is normal, but that's the surreal world we are living in today now that Trump is the first former president to face criminal charges from the federal government. His second criminal indictment in the last two months.
We're going to analyze all the angles of this unpresented legal and political story this week. Chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas starts us off. Good morning, Pierre.
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: George, good morning. The Special Counsel was under enormous pressure after news broke that Trump had been indicted. Trump quickly went on the attack, attacking the prosecution so the Special Counsel knew he had to tell the nation why he made such a dramatic move.
THOMAS (voiceover): The U.S. Justice Department taking an extraordinary step, now part of an ongoing presidential campaign in a deeply divided nation. Sources telling me Special Counsel Jack Smith felt he had no choice but to take action against Former President Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents.
JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Our laws that protect national defense information are critical, for the safety and security of the United States, and they must be enforced. Violations of those laws put your country at risk.
THOMAS (voiceover): In a sweeping 49-page indictment of Trump, Smith argues that the former president willfully retained documents containing the nation's most sensitive secrets after leaving office. Trump is accused of keeping a breathtaking amount of classified documents, some involving our spies, defense and weapons capabilities and U.S. surveillance programs. And the Justice Department making the case that Trump was cavalier in how he handled the documents.
Look at them stored in Mar-a-Lago, boxed in ballroom, in a storage room, even in a bathroom next to a toilet.
FMR. REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): This is someone who is spitting in the face of the thousands of men and women who put themselves in harm's way every single day.
THOMAS (voiceover): And the Special Counsel says that Trump not only took these critical secrets, he actively tried to thwart efforts when he was asked by the government to return them and faced with a federal subpoena. Allegedly telling his lawyers to falsely represent to the FBI and grand jury that Trump did not have documents called for. And that his legal team should hide or destroy those very same documents.
Prosecutors even saying they've obtained notes from one of Trump's own attorneys. Trump allegedly saying, well, what if we -- what happens if we just don't respond at all or don't play ball with them? And wouldn't it be better if we just told them, we don't have anything here? And perhaps most damaging the former president, audio recording from a July 2021 meeting with the writers working on a book. That audio capturing Trump's own words on tape, allegedly admitting he still had a classified document. Outlining a potential plan of attack on a run.
This is secret information. Look, look at this. The indictment alleges Trump also said, see, as president I could have declassified it. Now, I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.
And prosecutors say Trump had a co-conspirator in this crime. His longtime close aide, Walt Nauta, also indicted, accused of obstruction of justice and of helping Trump hide documents.
And the Special Counsel using Trump's own words from before he was president to point out his hypocrisy.
TRUMP: In my administration, I am going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.
THOMAS (on camera): Trump has maintained that he's done nothing wrong and that he declassified those documents. But so far in court, Trump's attorneys have not identified anyone that Trump told actually about declassifying those documents, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Pierre Thomas, thanks. Trump's going to be arrested Tuesday in Miami. Senior investigative correspondent, Aaron Katersky, is on the scene. Good morning, Aaron.
AARON KATERSKY, ABC NEWS SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: George, good morning to you.
Former President Trump has already called on his supporters to rally here at this courthouse come Tuesday, and one of the agents in charge of security told us this morning, George, they are planning for a crowd. Extra officers are going to be here and available to handle any protests. The feds are monitoring social media now in case there are signs of violence.
And Trump is going to become the highest profile federal defendant to appear in court that has hosted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, al-Qaeda recruiter Jose Padilla, and rapper Lil' Wayne who Trump later pardoned.
His case has been assigned to a judge he appointed and who has already stirred controversy in this investigation. After the FBI raided Trump's West Palm Beast estate, Judge Aileen Cannon intervened, only to be later overruled by a federal appeals court. The clerk said the assignment was random. And Judge Cannon usually is based in a part of South Florida that is heavily Republican. So, Trump's legal team could try to move the case there.
On Tuesday, Trump will be placed under arrest for the second time in two months. He could be fingerprinted and photographed before he's brought to the 13th floor where he'll enter a not guilty plea to multiple felonies that call for decades in prison. And, George, with criminal charges possible in two other investigations, Trump could be facing this process again and again. George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As we said, the new normal. Aaron Katersky, thanks so very much.
Let's get analysis now from our legal panel, Chief Legal Analyst Dan Abrams, Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Asha Rangappa, assistant dean at the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, also a former FBI special agent, and Elizabeth Neumann who served in the Trump administration as assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the Department of Homeland Security.
And, Dan, let me begin with you. Just talk about the strength of the indictment to begin.
DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are really two-points here. Number one is they're laying out the intentionality of the conduct. The whole obstruction piece, the lying, the concealing, the hiding, and that he did it on purpose, that he knew what he was doing, why he was doing it. That's the first piece.
The second piece is how sensitive the documents were. This is not a case about the illegal retention of classified documents. The 31 counts on those documents are basically saying, these were documents that were so sensitive to the national defense, regardless of who classified what, that it is a crime under the Espionage Act to have withheld those documents. And those two things together, I think are what make -- sort of highlight the --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Asha --
ABRAMS: -- of the case.
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- walk through what we know about the documents that he was holding onto.
ASHA RANGAPPA, ASSISTANT DEAN, YALE JACKSON SCHOOL OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS AND FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. So, there are 21 top secret document, nine secret documents and one unmarked document.
And I think what's most interesting is not the document they used for the indictment to charge but the ones they didn't use. Because there were 34 top secret documents that were actually collected during the course of this whole saga, and that means that beyond what we see in the indictment there was stuff that was potentially even more sensitive that they could not even risk using as evidence because its disclosure could harm --
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to the implications of that in a minute. But first, Preet, let me go to you, former U.S. attorney here New York in the Southern District. Talk about the indictment, also the challenges facing the prosecution.
PREET BHARARA. FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes. So, for -- excuse me. Further to what Dan said, the indictment is quite strong. As we heard at the top of the program, I think the most damning piece of evidence in the entire case and I think brings it from a strong case to a very strong case is the audio tape. You have powerful evidence in the defendant's own words, which comes into trial, very easily.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He knew he had them.
BHARARA: He knew he had them. He says, this is secret information. See, as president, I could have declassified it. Now, I can't. The main defense in the case that we have been told was going to be some version of the president didn't understand, he thought there was a standing order, they could be automatically declassified.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Although, they never presented that argument?
BHARARA: They didn't. But this audio tape simultaneously makes out many of the elements of multiples of the crimes. And simultaneously, rebuts and debunks his defenses. He couldn't declassify telepathically, he couldn't declassify automatically, there was no standing order, and this tape makes that very, very clear.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the obstruction portion of the case?
BHARARA: The obstruction portion I think is relatively strong. You'll note that the language in the indictment is not necessarily that Donald Trump told a particular lie or Donald Trump filed the false certification, but that he caused those things to happen. And there's a lot of evidence based on the narrative here that Donald Trump had his co-defendant take documents out of the -- you know, out of a storage room when he knew that one of his lawyers was coming to examine the documents for purposes of turning them over to the FBI after a subpoena was issued.
So, you know, that -- that story of Donald Trump deliberately, you know, knowing that a lawyer was coming to look at the document, having them removed with a subpoena pending I think it's very devastating.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Elizabeth, the president's treatment -- former president's treatment of the (ph) classified documents is something you're familiar with inside the Trump administration.
ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER DHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR COUNTERTERRORISM AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, that's right. I found the indictment to be a really vivid picture for the American publica of what the National Security Community dealt with for four years when he was president.
He had a blatant disregard, just did not care to follow the rules. And not only did he not protect our country's most sensitive secrets, that's not protecting American lives, because you have military and Intelligence Community personnel that are now put at risk. You have assets, our foreign allies' information is put at risk. So, all of these things are leading to if, if, any of those documents have been accessed by --
SNOW: How possible would it be down at Mar-a-Lago?
NEUMANN: Well, there were -- the indictment has 10,000 people that went through -- tens of thousands, I think it actually said, that went through it at various times where the boxes were easily accessible. And if you're a foreign intelligence agency, you know that Mar-a-Lago is a great target and you're probably trying to figure out what might be there.
So, we don't know and -- or hopefully, the investigation and there are things not in the public domain, hopefully, we're finding out what might have been leaked. But this causes people to die. Like this is very serious top secrets, special access programs. When they fall into the wrong hands, people die and the United States security is deeply compromised.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Dan, let's talk about how this case is likely to play out. One of the first things we've found out, it's been assigned to this judge. You've had jurisdiction over the Trump case earlier.
ABRAMS: Yeah, Aileen Cannon. We don't know if she's going to actually have the trial itself. We know she's going to have the early portion of this case.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What would prevent her from having the trial there?
ABRAMS: Well, look, they're going to determine down the road who the judge is going to be in the case. But for now, she's handling the first hearing in the case. And look, and I think that's a good thing. It's a good thing because at least the focus won't be on who the judge is, right? Because in a lot of these cases you see Donald Trump is saying, this judge is biased against me. There's no way he can argue this judge is biased against him. He appointed this judge. This judge had a favorable ruling to him. It was ultimately overruled by the appellate court. And these initial proceedings I don't think are going to make or break the case either.
You know, it's going to be interesting to see what are the early motions that they make. We know already what some of the legal arguments that they're going to make are, but what are they going to try and keep out of evidence? What are they going to say shouldn't be admitted, et cetera? That's going to be interesting in the early days of the case.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Preet, one thing this judge could control is the timing of the case. I read a lot of analysts saying that the fact that Aileen Cannon has now been put in charge of the case, at least initially, guarantees -- or all but guarantees that this case will not be -- go to trial before the 2024 election.
BHARARA: Yeah, look. I mean, at one point, further what Dan said about whether or not she will continue to be on the case, I imagine that the government is thinking about making a former recusal motion, not on the ground that she was appointment by Donald Trump, but in the ground that earlier on the case she ruled very favorably, arguably in a biased fashion in favor of Donald Trump in a way that was roundly rejected by the appellate court, in -- in language that was quite strong.
ABRAMS: But they won't win that.
BHARARA: But, you know --
ABRAMS: Don't we think it would be a mistake though for them to make that motion in early days to already try and get the judge dismissed?
BHARARA: I -- I -- I don't know. That early decision was remarkably bad.
BHARARA: You know, we're on television, we talk about these cases as it matters all the time. There was pretty much unanimity among legal experts at how bad that early decision was. So, it maybe be a basis for recusal. They might wait to see how some of these motions play out and see what kinds of decisions she makes.
It may be the case -- and I'm guessing here -- maybe she doesn't want to preside over this case. Maybe she's had enough of her time in the spotlight on these kinds of things. But if Donald Trump, himself and his team, want the trial to happen quickly in any of these venues, either in the Manhattan D.A.'s office case or the federal case or the perhaps in the Georgia case, it can happen quickly.
Ted Stevens, you may recall, you know, many years ago, fought for and received a quick speedy trial before an election. I think it's in his political interest, Donald Trump's political interest not to have a speedy trial, and he probably won't get one.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Asha, one of the things we've heard from the former president's defenders is that there's a double standard of justice going on here.
Address how the case is, how this is distinguishable from the case, say, of Mike Pence and President Biden?
RANGAPPA: Yeah, I think that's the piece that the indictment really spells out, is the willful and deliberate, I mean, it -- it's quite astonishing, the orders that were being given to his body man to move these, to conceal them, to actually conceal these documents from his own lawyers implying, suggesting, hinting that maybe they should be destroyed or plucked out.
These are all his own words that he's using. There's audio tape of him knowing that this is classified information. There are text messages. The receipts are here that this is conduct that I don't think Mike Pence or Joe Biden engaged in in any way at all.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Dan, turn back the clock, go back to 2021, had the National Archives gone to Donald Trump and he'd done a thorough search and turned overall the documents at Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster, although they were at Bedminster later, would we be sitting here today?
ABRAMS: Absolutely not.
ABRAMS: Absolutely not. And that's why, I think, it's less important when people talk about, well, there were documents in a bathroom, well, there were documents in a ballroom. OK. You know, that's important and interesting, et cetera, but it's really not as significant, I think, to the legal charges here.
The legal charges here are not that, oh, it's just a mess, et cetera, it's that the effort to conceal it and hide it was one of the key elements to the crime. And number two is the fact that those documents that he made an effort to hide and conceal were so sensitive. Those two things together brought, I think, are what led us to where we are today.
Because in my view, you needed both. You -- you should not have been charged if the documents were just random, sort of classified documents, but not particularly sensitive ones because you're talking about the former president, here, you have both.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You agree with that?
BHARARA: Yes. Look, it is not a part of the element of the crime --
BHARARA: -- that particular documents be -- even classified, much less, you know, super sensitive classified information, but we talk about a thing if you tried cases of jury appeal and the significance and the dangerousness of the -- of the conduct plays into how a jury thinks about a case, which is why the -- the prosecutors in the indictment, not necessary at all important to trial recite words from Donald Trump's own mouth, not of a criminal nature. But in 2016, during the campaign, how seriously he will take classification rules and laws.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and -- and that's the final thing I want to get to, Elizabeth. Given all of this, Elizabeth, if Donald Trump is indeed elected president of the United States again, what are the national security implications?
NEUMANN: It's -- I have a hard time going there. It was so traumatic for four years trying to figure out how to keep the country safe from a man who had this -- he just didn't care. He did not care to keep our country's secret safe. He did not care that it was putting people at risk, and the idea that we would do four more years of that, and by the way, they've actually learned how to use the tools of government now, it -- it will be much consequential and very -- a very serious threat for the -- the safety and security of the country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much.
Coming up, Senators Lindsey Graham and Chris Coons join us live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. We can't haves someone in the Oval Office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word "confidential" or "classified."
Service members here in North Carolina have risked their lives to acquire classified intelligence to protect our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: We are joined now by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2024.
Senator Graham, thank you for joining us this morning.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Donald Trump has said repeatedly -- repeatedly that did nothing wrong. Do you believe that?
GRAHAM: Well, here's what I believe. We live in an America where, if you're the Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, you can set up a private server in your basement to conduct government business. And when an investigation...
GRAHAM: ... is had about your activity -- no, let me finish.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you didn't answer the question.
GRAHAM: This panel you had was ridiculous -- well, yeah, I'm trying to answer the question from a Republican point of view. That may not be acceptable on this show.
Yes, I don't like what President Trump did in certain aspects. I don't like that Joe Biden had classified information on the garage. I don't like that Mike Pence carelessly took classified information. I don't like any of that. But what I don't like is a system in America where the secretary of state, who's a Democratic candidate for president, has people take a hammer to social media devices and break them apart, apply BleachBit to a hard drive to erase e-mails, allow classified information to get on a felon's computer -- Anthony Weiner. You haven't even mentioned that.
Most Republicans believe we live in a country where Hillary Clinton did very similar things and nothing happened to her. President Trump will have his day in court. But espionage charges are absolutely ridiculous. Whether you like Trump or not, he did not commit espionage. He did not disseminate, leak or provide information to a foreign power or to a news organization to damage this country. He is not a spy. He's overcharged.
Did he do things wrong? Yes, he may have. He will be tried about that. But Hillary Clinton wasn't. Your old boss committed perjury in a civil lawsuit, lost his law license, obstructed justice in a dozen ways, and he didn't get prosecuted.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, and he was impeached. Well...
GRAHAM: I can't stress to you enough...
GRAHAM: He was impeached, but he wasn't prosecuted.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You -- you've made -- you've made your point. But you also said something that I believe is not true, based on what's in the indictment. You said that he did not disseminate any of this information. In fact, there's an audiotape in the indictment where he's talking about the secret information, saying he knows it's secret, knows it's not declassified.
GRAHAM: OK, let's -- let's talk about that. I don't know what happened; I haven't heard the audio. But look at who's been charged under the Espionage Act, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, people who turned over classified information to news organizations to hurt the country or provide it to a foreign power. That did not happen here.
Donald Trump -- you may hate his guts, but he is not a spy; he did not commit espionage. What he did is very similar, in my view, to what Hillary Clinton did. People in the Clinton case took a hammer to a BlackBerry and destroyed it. They wiped clean, with BleachBit, e-mails. They said they were all personal, but some of them actually were classified. And it wound up on Anthony Weiner's computer, and not a damn thing happen to her.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, first of all, she was fully investigated and they found no -- the investigation found no...
GRAHAM: Yeah, right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... intentional holding back.
Well, fine, Donald Trump was president for four years. He had his Justice Department in place for four years.
GRAHAM: Give me a break.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, setting that aside, you keep.
GRAHAM: He didn't do it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: There is an audiotape of Donald Trump saying he knows this is secret information; he knows he's sharing it with other people. How is that OK?
GRAHAM: It's -- I'm not saying it's OK. I'm not saying it's OK to take a hammer to a -- a BlackBerry. I don't think -- I think none of this is okay.
When I -- when Chris Coons and my good friend will be on a minute, when we view classified information, we have to sign in, go into a room and turn it back over. You’ve got vice presidents, secretary of states and presidents handling this stuff. You had Bill Clinton with tapes in his sock drawer.
I would like to review the system, but here’s the point I’m trying to make -- what's happening to Manhattan with Donald Trump has never happened to anybody in the history of New York. I think the espionage charges are completely wrong and I think they paint an impression that doesn’t exist. This is not espionage.
And I do believe, George, that most people on my side of the aisle believes when it comes to Donald Trump, there are no rules. And you can do the exact same thing or something similar as a Democrat and nothing happens to you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hold on a second, Senator.
GRAHAM: The leading candidate for president of the United States on the Republican side is being prosecuted by his opponent.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Had Donald Trump turned over the documents -- had Donald Trump turned over documents as Mike Pence did and you heard our legal panel addressed that as well, we wouldn’t be sitting here.
GRAHAM: Yeah, I heard that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And there would be no case. There would be no case at all.
GRAHAM: Well, I don’t know if that’s true. He believes he has the power to do that. He will argue the Presidential Records Act. I don't know if he's right or not.
There will be a trial about this, because I cannot stress to you enough that we live in a world today where most Republicans believe that Hunter Biden's laptop was real and people knew it was real but they told the public something else to help Joe Biden. We live in a world where it takes four years to investigate Hunter Biden and you can go after Donald Trump in about 18 months.
I know you don’t get what I’m saying, but people on my side believe it, and I think Donald Trump is stronger today politically than he was before. I think the espionage charges are ridiculous. I think what happened to Hillary Clinton where she got away with is very similar to what happened to President Trump. And we'll have an election and we’ll have a trial.
But I promise you this, most Americans believe -- most Republicans believe that the law is used as a weapon against Donald Trump.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, sir, I’ve heard that. I’ve heard your attack on President Biden and his Justice Department (ph).
STEPHANOPOULOS: I’ve heard your attack on Hillary Clinton. I’ve heard your attack on Bill Clinton.
What I’ve not heard from you is the defense of Donald Trump’s behavior and why you think that’s the kind of behavior you want to see in a president of the United States.
GRAHAM: I’m not -- I’m not -- I’m not justifying his behavior. If it were up to me, nobody would take classified information in their garage or Mar-a-Lago.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you’re endorsing him for president of the United States. You’re saying he should be president of the United States.
GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think what's happening here is trying to delegitimize him is what I’m saying.
The game has changed for future presidents. Bill Clinton's under the ’23 -- 2023 standard would be persecuted for perjury. All I can say is we changed the game.
You impeached him after he was out of office. Now, you bring in charges in Manhattan that are completely ridiculous. You’re accusing the guy of being a spy through espionage. It’s not going to change my support for Donald Trump.
He's innocent until proven guilty. But what I’m trying to convey to you and I’m sorry I’m not doing a better job, that most Republicans believe that the law now is a political tool, that Hunter Biden's laptop story was -- that the people in charge that had their thumb on the scale, and that the reason it was not known to be true in October of 2024 before the election is the intelligence community wanted you to believe it was Russian disinformation when it wasn’t.
This double standard is real in the minds of most Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thank you for your time this morning.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We are joined now by Delaware Senator Chris Coons. He joins us now.
Senator, your response to Senator Graham.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, George, thanks for a chance to be on this morning.
There is one thing that I agree with Senator Graham on here. Former President Trump is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Under our system, anyone who’s charged with a federal crime is entitled to due process of law, to effective representation and to a presumption of innocence. That's where we then diverge.
As I think you stated clearly and has been stated clearly in the indictment, former President Trump has no one to blame but himself for being federally, criminally indicted. All of the charges arise from his misconduct, his alleged misconduct after receiving a federal criminal subpoena to produce classified documents, critical national security documents relating to our nuclear defense, to our nation's potential response to an attack that he then spoke with his attorneys about concealing or destroying. He directed his aide Walt Nauta to move in order to conceal them from his own attorneys in the face of the federal subpoena.
President Trump behaved in ways markedly different from former Vice President Pence or President Biden, in how he responded once he became aware that he inappropriately retained critical national security classified documents. That's the basis of this prosecution. And it is a sad day George for a former president of the United States to be federally criminally charged.
But the basis of the rule of law in our democracy is that no man is above the law. And although President Trump went on the offensive last night has attacked, the Department of Justice has called for the defunding of the FBI, I remain confident that he will get the due process of law to which he's entitled. And in the end, a jury, a jury of American citizens, a jury of his peers will determine whether or not he was properly charged. And whether or not he violated federal criminal law.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Was pretty clear that a series that a central part of the Republican campaign for president is going to be over the next year that the Department of Justice has been weaponized against Donald Trump. Your response to that?
COONS: I think there's no evidence that the Federal Department of Justice has been weaponized. Let's just look at who's leading this investigation at the prosecutor. He is someone who is a career federal prosecutor, he ran the Public Integrity section for years. He led the prosecutions, the investigations and prosecutions of high-level Democrat.
Now former Senator John Edwards, a candidate for president. It was this federal prosecutor Jack Smith, who led that investigation in those charges. He went after State Senator Silver from New York, a prominent powerful Democrat. This is a man with a real record of independence. And as I just reviewed with you, George, the critical differences in the conduct of the charged individual here, former President Trump from the conduct of Vice President Pence, and President Biden is the basis of this case.
So, look, although, you know, my colleague pointed back to things that allegedly happened years ago under former President Clinton or former Senator Clinton. I think the challenges here are for Republicans to explain to the American people why they are confident President Trump should be reelected, given his casual even callous mishandling of critical national security documents. This isn't a minor case of who kept a handful of documents inadvertently. He's been charged for knowingly and willingly concealing, that he retained willfully federal documents that were critical to our national defense.
So, I think as we move forward in the election campaign, President Biden is going to keep doing his job as president, he's going to keep showing that he's not distracted by these issues, that he's focused on delivering good and real results for the American people. He'll keep working to deliver lower prescription drug prices -- costs, protecting veterans' health care, investing in infrastructure, all things that he's able to do because of bipartisan legislation he signed into law last year. Whereas --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet he --
COONS: -- former President Trump promised to do all those things. But Joe Biden got them done. That'll be the focus of the campaign. And that's why I support Joe Biden for reelection next year.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet, despite all that, in many polls, Donald Trump is leading, President Biden or they're close to tide. Given all this what do you say to Democrats who are worried about the prospect of Donald Trump defeating President Biden?
COONS: I think we should be worried given his conduct and given his record. And given what he says, frankly, that the former President responded to this stunning indictment by going on the attack that he and a number of other Republican contenders for the presidency focused on attacking law enforcement on calling for a defunding of the FBI, on criticizing federal law enforcement, rather than having any pause or any moment of reflection about the consequences for our national security. I think the best thing for Joe Biden to do in this campaign is to keep showing that he is an effective and capable president by continuing to solve big problems.
George just two weeks ago, he skillfully and successfully negotiated with Speaker McCarthy a resolution to the potential threat of default that gave us a strong framework for moving forward in budget and appropriations matters for the next two years. Despite some suggestions by his opponents, he's sharp, he's skillful, and he's continuing to lead as our president, despite the distractions of former President Trump's rising legal problems.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Coons. Thanks very much, Senator.
Roundtables coming up. Plus, political director, Rick Klein breaks down our brand-new poll. Stay with us.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ll be right back with political director Rick Klein and our new poll.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Our new poll with Ipsos, taken right after news of the charges dropped, gives us a first glimpse at the indictment's impact on the presidential race.
Political director Rick Klein here to break down the results.
And, Rick, a familiar partisan split?
RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, George, look, nearly a majority of the country, 48 percent, say that Donald Trump should be facing federal charges in this case. But an almost identical number, 47 percent, are saying at the same time that the charges are politically motivated.
If you look at the party breakdown, you start to see something interesting. But overall, you've got the public dialed into this, 61 percent of the country thinking that these are serious charges, as you might expect, Democrats far more likely than Republicans to see this as serious charges.
But I am struck by this number. Even among Republicans, 38 percent say these charges are serious. And among independents, it's an overwhelming number; 63 percent of independents say these charges are serious. There's also a good chunk of voters who say they're not yet sure; they don't know where they stand just yet. And as we know, there's going to be a lot more information that comes out over a long period of time in this case.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure, as we also have the campaign going on right now. And right now, at least, the Republican nomination is still Donald Trump's to lose.
KLEIN: Yeah, look, there's nothing in polling right now that suggests that Donald Trump is being hurt by federal indictments -- by any indictments. The case of New York from a couple of months ago, it may actually have helped his standing.
Look at this. This is our 538 polling average. Back on April 4th, when those charges against Donald Trump in Manhattan were first unveiled, Donald Trump was leading Ron DeSantis, his closest rival, by about 20 points. Now, you fast-forward two months to this weekend, Donald Trump is leading DeSantis by 30 points-plus. None of the other candidates are seeing any movement at all. Donald Trump's numbers are going up; Ron DeSantis's numbers, a little bit down.
Now, it may be that this case is more serious. It may be that his rivals are making the case, and they can, sort of, get in there a little bit and change these dynamics, but for those who were saying that Donald Trump is done politically as a result of facing criminal charges, there's just no evidence of that yet.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Rick Klein, thanks very much.
Roundtable is up next. We'll be right back.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE & (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm deeply troubled to see this indictment move forward.
The former president, like every other American, is entitled to a presumption of innocence.
FORMER GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) ARKANSAS & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are serious charges that merit serious considerations by the public.
SEN. TIM SCOTT, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we've seen over the last several years is the weaponization of the Department of Justice.
FORMER GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the facts that are laid out here are damming in terms of Donald Trump's conduct.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Early reaction there from some of the other Republican candidates for president. Joined now on our roundtable are Donna Brazile; former New York Republican congressman Lee Zeldin; the executive editor of the AP, Julie Pace; and the New York Times reporter who owns the Trump beat, Maggie Haberman, author of the number one best-seller "Confidence Man."
And, Maggie, let me begin with you. You've covered Donald Trump for a long time. And as you read through these 49 pages of the indictment, vintage Donald Trump?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER & AUTHOR: That was what I was thinking as you started talking. I mean, it's -- it is him distilled to a T. It's all aspects of his personality, thinking that he can talk his way out of everything, thinking that things are -- and, again, these are allegations. He is entitled to a presumption of innocence. But these are based on insider accounts, his lawyer, an audio recording of him. And it's him boasting; it is him having a disregard for certain rules. It is him believing he can talk his way out of almost anything. And I think that it is one of the most devastating indictments that I have ever read.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you addressed this in the New York Times this week. One of the big mysteries of all this is why Donald Trump would want to keep all these documents?
HABERMAN: And that's not addressed and doesn't have to be, legally, in the indictment. But it is going to be an enduring question. And it may be one that prosecutors try to deal with at trial. There's obviously been a range of question about this. Trump used everything as leverage. Was he in some way trying to monetize it?
We know that prosecutors went down the road of was he trying to use this for business deals? None of that is there.
Chris Christie said on this set, I think seven months ago, that he believed part of this was about Trump's inability to accept that he wasn't president anymore.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Lee, let me give you the chance to do what Lindsey Graham really didn't want to do, and that is actually defend Donald Trump's behavior here rather than simply attaching the prosecution.
FORMER REP. LEE ZELDIN, (R) NEW YORK: Well, I don't think -- I'm someone who doesn't believe that federal criminal charges shouldn't have been brought forth. What's interesting about the poll that you just released is that you see, 48-35, people believe that charges should be brought, and then 47-37 saying that this is a politically motivated indictment. It really shows where America is right now.
And there are -- there are people -- and I believe, as far as process goes, when you see all of the issues related to classified documents with President Trump, President Biden, Vice President Pence, regardless of trying to compare it apples to apples, apples to oranges -- putting that aside, clearly there's something that needs to be improved on the process. Because this keeps on happening.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the reason you can't put it aside is because they're different cases. Both -- both Mike Pence and President Biden turned over the documents; they didn't refuse to turn in their documents after a subpoena came in.
So I'll just ask you a good question again. Based on the indictment, are you comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump being president? Can you defend the behavior outlined in that indictment?
ZELDIN: So again I'll sell (sic) you that I don't believe that federal criminal charges should be brought in this case.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not?
ZELDIN: I don't think believe that he committed a crime. The Presidential Records Act is not a criminal statute.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not what he's being charged on.
ZELDIN: Right, so then you are launching a criminal investigation on something that isn't criminal. And when you analyze the Presidential Records Act, it really gets to the retention of documents. Now, was President Trump out there destroying the documents? Because that would be a different dynamic when you read the contents of the Presidential Records Act.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't know that he didn't destroy them. But we know that...
ZELDIN: But that's now what...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... he didn't turn them over.
ZELDIN: That's not what's being charged. And now you have a chase that goes before a judge. And potentially you'll get appealed based on how legal decisions get -- get brought. As you go through the process, there might be a different interpretation because the Presidential Records Act, for example, is silent on a timeline. So, if the president of the United States outgoing has a requirement to retain the document -- they're not destroying the document but is retaining the document -- at what point is that former president required to turn it over?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Just to be clear, and I want to go to Donna, you have no problem with the president refusing to return the documents in -- after a subpoena? You have no problem with the president concealing the documents? You have no problem with the president moving the documents? You have no problem with the president sharing secret information with people who aren't authorized to see it? You have no problem with any of that?
ZELDIN: None of which I've said.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you said that...
ZELDIN: I don't believe that federal criminal charges should be brought on this case.
And I -- I -- if you're going to bring federal criminal charges, again -- and maybe Senator Graham has a very different way of articulating in his interview with you, but there -- there have been -- there are not equal scales of justice. OK? There are Americans who are out there who, across this country, believe that this isn't about saying that no one's above the law. It's about, because President Trump is running for office, that he should be the target of a politically motivated indictment. That's in your poll. I mean, the respondents saying --
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm asking you these questions, you're responding --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- with the poll. And that's sort of what I'm trying to --
ZELDIN: Well that gets to the heart of where America is right now. There's a part of America who believes that President Trump should get targeted with a politically motivated indictment. And there's a segment of American who says that he should not. And as far as supporting him for President United States next year, there are Americans who are deciding who they want as their next president of the United States, based off of the economy and inflation, the border, drugs, foreign policy, the list goes on.
The average independent minded undecided voter who is out there in September, October of 2024, they are going to be deciding their vote based on the issues that matter most to them and their family in the future of this country. And I think for a lot of Americans, they're going to make their decision based on stuff other than this case.
DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let me just say thank you, Lindsey Graham, for putting some Tabasco in my coffee, I'm going to have to have an extra bit of Tabasco, because you know what, the Republicans are willing to wage war on the bedrock on the principles that founded this nation, a government of laws, the rule of law.
And what surprised me in reading this indictment, and you have to sit and read it, is that the President knew what he was doing. He knew when he commanded or directed his aide to bring the boxes to him, will take the boxes away, or he played a game of hide and seek. You don't have to be a lawyer to understand what the President was trying to do, the former president, he was trying to retain these documents after he was subpoenaed. And he delayed.
So where are we now? We're going to play a game of politics. Of course, we're going to talk about Hillary Clinton. We're going to talk about that. And I was chair of the party. So, this is part of the reason why this is so beautifully gray, is that Comey came after Clinton, came after the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A month before the campaign, this is what the Clinton campaign had to deal with. This is what we had to deal with. And two days later, it was announced that, oh, we're not going to bring any charges. So, bring them all up.
Joe Biden was in playing hide and seek with documents, Mike Pence went playing hide and seek with documents, no one was playing hide and seek, but Donald Trump.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Julie Pace, it appears right now that Donald Trump has decided that his best legal strategy is a political strategy. That the best way to avoid political consequences is to run and win the White House again.
JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Absolutely. And if you look at his history, it's no surprise that he would take this approach because it's what's worked for him in the past, even as recently, as we saw with Rick, even as recently as the case in New York. I do think, though, that there are some differences in this case versus in the New York case.
And I think part of it does come down to his own conduct. I think it was much easier. And we saw this after the charges in New York were released. It was much easier for Republicans to both argue that that was politically motivated, and actually to defend his behavior. They might not have liked it. But it didn't feel as legally egregious.
In this case, it has been challenging to find Republicans who will outright defend his behavior here. That's why everything is pointing toward the process. Everything is pointing toward political motivation in the charges, but it's becoming very difficult for them to defend his actions because of how central he is, his words, his actions are to these charges.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Maggie, Donald Trump, not the only person who indicted on Friday was not his personal assistant was his valet, naval valet in the White House. What do we know about him? And how do you explain why he was willing to go down this road with President Trump?
HABERMAN: I think that you have to look at whatnot a different way than we have seen other people who have ended up on the wrong side of prosecutors alongside Donald Trump. This is the first time Trump himself has been charged in a case like this, in the Trump Organization case in Manhattan, he was not charged.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When Allen Weisselberg (INAUDIBLE).
HABERMAN: Allen Weisselberg was, when Michael Cohen was charged and Trump was president, Michael Cohen got charge, Trump was not. This is a different incident. Walt Nauta is a military veteran. He was a -- in the Navy, he worked as a White House valet, he became close to Trump. But you have to remember that somebody who has a military background is going to view the commander in chief differently.
And so, I think that Walt Nauta who has been described to me and my colleagues, as you know, not political, not having some kind of side game as many Trump aides are accused of doing. I think he really just felt like he was supposed to do what he was told --
STEPHANOPOULOS: And willing to risk going to jail.
HABERMAN: Well, I think we're going to see whether that happens. Right? I think there's an open question as to whether prosecutors are now going to try to pressure him to accept a plea deal and cooperate. But I do think that Walt Nauta is -- is a case study and what happens to people who are loyal to Trump, and we have seen that over and over.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Lee Zeldin, let's say -- let's go back to the politics now on all this, you were addressing that in your first answer, but for Republican voters, when they're looking at Donald Trump versus all the other candidates, what about this idea that there might be as the campaign Republican primary campaign goes on? Trump fatigue, they might elect Donald Trump, might have liked what he did as president, but worried that he's bringing too much baggage to the general election?
ZELDIN: At this point, the fact that he keeps going up in the polls as this stuff is happening. I think a lot of that is baked in. I mean, if you're going to be tired of who President Trump is or how he speaks, or how he acts, and this is in 2015, or 2016, it's now been a long-time people know who he is.
They know what they get. And I thought when the Bragg indictment came out, that President Trump's candidacy was going to get launched into a different stratosphere as far as the Republican primary. And that's exactly what happened.
What happened -- what's going to happen here, I mean in your -- in your poll, you're showing across all voter registrations. Imagine what that number looks like of whether or not you think this is politically motivated. If that was just Republicans, Republican primary voters. It's possible that coming out of this he ends up being even more popular with the Republican primary base, but we'll see.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But now -- go ahead.
PACE: Well, I think what Trump is trying to do is he said this last night at his rally, you know, he's trying to make himself a proxy for his voters --
PACE: -- saying, I -- they're coming after me because they want to come after you. And that has proven to be a very powerful message to a lot of Republicans. I do think to the Congressman's point earlier, though, one of the -- one of the questions will be for Americans who have been dealing with inflation, who have been watching this very unshaky or uncertain economy, how much do they actually wish they were hearing about some of those issues from Republicans? Right now, the campaign is completely centered around Trump and his legal issues.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Donna concerning a lot of Democrats, the fact that with all this going on, Joe Biden is not soundly defeating Donald Trump in the polls.
BRAZILE: Well, look, it's still early on Joe Biden's weaknesses in terms of where he's standing right now is among some of the Democratic base, the young voters. On June 17th, he will launch his official campaign in the great city of Philadelphia and I believe in the long run, those voters will come back home.
But back to the Republican field, because, as you well know several people into the race this week, and nobody heard about them, including the governor from North Dakota because Donald Trump dominates the news cycle. He dominates the political field. And I don't see how anybody can get to his left or his right to even go down the middle as long as Donald Trump is in the news.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much. That's all we have time for today. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT." And I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.
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