'This Week' Transcript 8-13-23: Rep. Jamie Raskin, Former Gov. Chris Christie and Gabriel Sterling
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, August 13.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, August 13, 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.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: Legal mess.
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm here today to announce the appointment of David Weiss as a special counsel.
KARL: Attorney General Merrick Garland makes a major decision in the Hunter Biden probe. An abrupt reversal that's likely to send the case to trial.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Nobody in their right mind believes that making him a special counsel cleans up the mess that's been created.
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): There isn’t a scintilla of evidence to show that President Biden did anything wrong.
KARL: A federal judge warns Donald Trump not to intimidate witnesses or reveal sensitive and confidential evidence.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I will talk about it. I will. They're not taking away my First Amendment right.
KARL: And the former president braces for a likely fourth indictment. This one in Georgia.
FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DA: If someone broke the law in Fulton County, Georgia, I have a duty to prosecute.
GEOFF DUNCAN: Yes, I did just receive notification to appear on Tuesday morning at the Fulton County grand jury.
KARL: The campaign and the law on a collision course just ten days until the first Republican primary debate.
MIKE PENCE (R), FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think everyone that is standing for the Republican nomination, from my former running mate on down, ought to be on that stage.
NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't understand any candidate not signing the debate pledge.
KARL: Our exclusive interviews this morning. Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, top Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling.
Plus, legal analysis from Preet Bharara and Sara Isgur, and our powerhouse roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC NEWS, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, Jonathan Karl.
KARL: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK.
We'll get to the major political developments in a moment. But first, tragic news overnight in Hawaii. The death toll in Maui now climbing to more than 90 and expected to grow, making this the deadliest U.S. wildfire in the last 100 years. Thousands have been left homeless and buildings have been burned to the ground.
ABC's Whit Johnson is on the scene tracking the latest.
WHIT JOHNSON, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Jon, good morning to you.
We're still getting a sense of the scope and scale of this disaster and the heartbreak that so many are experiencing in this community and across the island here on Maui. Here we are standing in front of yet another burned out home. And this morning there are still two wildfires burning as fire crews work to put out hot spots.
The death toll from those devastating wildfires has now increased to at least 93, making this the deadliest U.S. wildfire in modern history. Search and rescue teams scouring the rubble, looking for hundreds of people still missing. And many families separated by the flames, the burned out buildings and the roadblocks are now desperately trying to be reunited.
Hawaii’s state attorney general announcing a comprehensive review of decisions that were made before, during, and after the fire and whether people were given enough warning to be able to get to safety. Many telling us they only decided to evacuate after seeing the smoke and the flames and hearing explosions or having neighbors knock on their doors to warn them to get out.
But despite all of this and everything that people are going through, that aloha spirit remains strong. We've seen so many banding together in this community, offering help, supplies, doing everything they can to help each other in need.
KARL: Thank you, Whit. We'll have more on "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT."
We're going to turn to politics now. Just ten days from the first Republican primary debate. The emerging campaign has been eclipsed by investigations, special counsels, court proceedings, accusations of nefarious and criminal behavior, and talk again of impeachment. If you’re having trouble keeping track of it all, you are not alone. Our friends at “Axios” are now calling this the scandal election. A few weeks ago, the DOJ investigation of Hunter Biden was thought to be all but over. But in a surprising move Friday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced he's now elevated the prosecutor in that case to the status of special counsel.
Garland's move seemed to please nobody. It made Democrats unhappy because it raises the prospect of drawing out an investigation that has already been going on for nearly five years. And the possibility that we can add a trial of the president's son to the crowded 2024 legal and campaign calendar.
Republicans had called for a special counsel, but they denounced the move saying that now Special Counsel David Weiss is the wrong man for the job, and vowing to turn up the heat with their own investigations of the Biden family and moving toward an election year impeachment inquiry of the president. Oh, and by the way, President Biden still faces his own special counsel investigation into his handling of classified documents.
And then there’s former President Donald Trump, who already faces charges in three criminal cases and the very real possibility that he’ll be indicted for a fourth time in the coming days for trying to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. In court Friday, Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing Jack Smith's election interference case, issued a stern warning to the former president against sharing confidential evidence and intimidating potential witnesses, saying that she will take, quote, whatever measures necessary to safeguard the integrity of these proceedings.
We're going to cover it all this morning. Start with former U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara, and former Justice Department official, Sara Isgur.
So, Preet, let me start with you.
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes.
KARL: What does this special council designation mean for the Hunter Biden case?
BHARARA: So, it doesn't mean terribly much more than has already been the case. As Merrick Garland has made clear throughout, David Weiss, who was a holdover from the Trump administration, was accorded great independence informally to make whatever decision the authorities would allow him to make with respect to Hunter Biden. Now he's designated him as special counsel in the same way that back in the day you may recall Jim Comey designated someone from within the department, Patrick Fitzgerald, to investigate the Valarie Plame leak.
A couple of things it does. In addition to what was already the case, it gives him a little bit -- makes him a little bit harder to fire. It also requires that at the end of his investigation, David Weiss' investigation, he's required to file a confidential report with the attorney general, in the same way that Bob Mueller did. And also, if it turns out, at the end of the day, that David Weiss makes some decision and Merrick Garland disagrees and overrules him, he has to let Congress know.
KARL: But doesn't it signal this will be a longer investigation? I mean, this is clearly going to go to trial, right?
BHARARA: Well, the whole thing was going to be wrapped up a few weeks ago.
BHARARA: That's not the case. And it’s also likely the case because the – the government moved to withdraw the information, which is parallel to an indictment. That doesn't happen usually unless bigger charges, larger charges, more counts are going to follow. This could take quite some time now.
KARL: You – you -- you’ve -- you're familiar with special counsels. So, why do you think Weiss asked for this?
SARAH ISGUR, FORMER TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: I think this is not a great moment for the Department of Justice. You had the plea deal fall apart in very public fashion where it looked like the Department of Justice didn't really know what was in their plea deal. You had a whistleblower saying that Weiss had not been given all the latitude. That then Weiss himself claimed that he had. For instance, bringing charges in different jurisdictions. And so a lot of political pressure builds. And then you have the attorney general give this designation.
The department never wants to be seen as responding to these outside forces and this outside pressure. And that's exactly what it looks like here.
Now, I agree with Preet that in the end this doesn't change a whole lot. Special counsels, by and large, just have the powers of a U.S. attorney. So, to make a U.S. attorney a special counsel with the powers of a U.S. attorney doesn't change much, but it does signal that the department certainly felt that things were not going their way.
KARL: I know that Democrats are not happy about this, but why are -- Republicans called for this special counsel. And then they came out and, once appointed, and it’s a sign of a coverup. But what --
ISGUR: Yes. You know Jim Jordan, back in February, saying, where's the special counsel?
ISGUR: And then you have Jim Jordan this week saying, why is there a special counsel?
ISGUR: You know, politics.
KARL: OK. I want to – we’ve got a lot to -- the other – the other major news this week in the legal case is, Judge Chutkan had her first hearing. She's issued this protective order. Donald Trump cannot reveal confidential, sensitive grand jury information.
KARL: That's standard. But let me ask you this, Preet. What – what happens if he violates that order?
BHARARA: Well, I think –
KARL: What do you do, indict the guy again? Put him in jail? What do you do?
BHARARA: Well, she said one of the things she might do is move the trial date up, right, which is probably the biggest hammer that you could wield against Donald Trump. He's got three cases pending. He's got another one that may be pending. He really wants those things to happen after the election. And this judge, I think very wisely, some say -- would say cleverly, has said she has very various powers, including perhaps acquiescing in the government’s request to have this trail start very soon, January 2nd. She could also change the other conditions of bail and release. But I do think the most powerful –
KARL: I mean how likely is that? I mean you can’t like –
BHARARA: Well, it depends on what Donald Trump does.
Look, I think this whole debate about the protective order is not so important insofar as certain documents have to be designated sensitive and certain documents not. I think it’s more sort of a basis for seeing how this judge is going to let the case unfold. Neither side is going to get everything that they want. The government wanted a blanket order, didn’t get it. The Trump side wanted a, you know, no order at all. They didn't get it. This judge means business, and it's going to be a tough haul I think for both sides.
KARL: Yes, what did you read listening to this judge? She was tough.
ISGUR: Obviously we got a lot of insight into her mindset over this trial and how she views it vis-a-vis it being part of a presidential campaign. You know, the --
KARL: She doesn't really care.
ISGUR: She -- not only does she not care, she says this is more important. This -- you know, any problems that you may have with the trial or the Iowa caucus or a debate, that goes underneath this. You are a criminal defendant first. Your free speech rights will give way to this trial.
That is -- that portends as if this is like any other criminal defense trial going on in the country, and frankly, you know, as the prosecution is asking for an early January trial date that would put him sitting in a courtroom rather than in Iowa, you can make a political argument that actually helps Donald Trump, but at the end of the day, all of this is going to be very unprecedented.
KARL: Do you think that’s realistic? January 2nd is what they asked for.
BHARARA: You know, I don't know, but what I’ll say is to me, the government in its application talked about the interest -- the public interest in a speedy trial, and the speedy trial does not only benefit the defendant, it says the defendant and it’s the public.
What is implied in that argument that they didn’t state explicitly is, I think it’s what they mean, if we don't have a speedy trial of Donald Trump, in other words, before the election, there may not be accountability for Donald Trump, there may never be justice. Because Donald Trump, if he gets re-elected, has various means including by way of self-pardon and by controlling the Justice Department for him and that Office of Legal Counsel opinion that says you can't prosecute a sitting president -- if we don't get a trial, the government is implicitly saying, before the election, there may never be one.
KARL: And if he is convicted and then gets elected president and he appeals, what happens there?
BHARARA: Look, he has a right to an appeal. He can -- as you implied by your question, nothing about being charged, nothing about being convicted prevents him from running for president.
BHARARA: There will be an awkward moment when legal scholars like us will have to sit around and discuss if he gets a jail sentence, how that works in terms of being commander in chief?
KARL: The resolute in the jail cell perhaps. This is unbelievable, the issues here.
Sarah, Preet, thank you very much.
BHARARA: Thanks, Jonathan.
KARL: Joining us now is Congressman Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
So, Congressman, thank you for being here.
What do you make of this appointment of the special counsel in the Hunter Biden case? Do you --
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Of course, it's what my Republican colleagues have been demanding and asking for for months. And now, they seem to disapprove of it for some reason.
But to me, it seems to formalize what has basically been the understanding from the beginning, which is that David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware who’d been nominated by Donald Trump can make the decisions about what to charge, where to charge, and when to charge and with the collapse of the plea agreement that he had apparently worked out with Hunter Biden, now, he wants to be certain that he's got the authority to go bring charges wherever he wants.
So, from my perspective, it is the rule of law and the justice system working itself out the way that it does, and, you know, obviously, it's bumpy and this side or that side doesn't necessarily prefer this course of events, but our job, I think as political people, is to allow the justice system to run its course.
KARL: But as you point out, Garland said he had exactly the authority. He could change venue if he wanted to. It was his decision to -- he was going to abide by whatever decisions he made.
So, obviously the plea deal collapsed, but what changed? Why -- I mean, is there -- is there any sense that there's new evidence here or the investigation is going to take a different turn? I mean, why -- why would he demand this now or ask for this now?
RASKIN: I mean, I don't know what factors went into the calculus to appoint. Obviously, there had to be some public interest rationale for it.
You know, the material change in circumstance that I can discern is simply the collapse of the plea agreement. There was no need to have a special counsel when it looked like they had agreed to the tax charges, the failure to pay in two cases, two misdemeanor charges, and then a felony gun charge.
But when that agreement appeared to evaporate, then I suppose they wanted to formalize that the U.S. attorney for Delaware had the authority that he needed in order to prosecute the case, and certainly, there was political pressure being brought on it which I don’t approve of myself. I think it’s not our job as politicians to be second-guessing and trying to micromanage.
KARL: Or prosecutors to be responding to political pressure.
KARL: But you’re exactly right. Republicans demanded this. Chuck Grassley actually wanted Weiss to be the special counsel. Now, they’re -- now they're crying foul because they say that Weiss was the wrong guy.
This is what Kevin McCarthy said: If Weiss negotiated the sweetheart deal that couldn’t get approved, how can he be trusted as special counsel?
RASKIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, you may as well just say, how could Kevin McCarthy who told Donald Trump that it was his people who had stormed his own office and the Capitol was at fault, but then turned around, you know, a week or two later to curry favor again with Donald Trump, be trusted on any of this. So, you know, and this is why we have a justice system. Let's just let them do their job.
KARL: So, I want to ask you more about the – some of the stuff that the Republicans have been highlighting regarding Hunter Biden. You know, we've seen -- we saw Donald – you know, we saw Joe Biden at one point say that Hunter Biden had no dealings, got no money from China. We now see from hunter's own words that that's not true. Does – are – does any of this raise concerns for you, you know, the money from Ukraine, the money from China, the money from Russia? Does any of this, you know –
RASKIN: Well, look –
KARL: Whether or not it's criminal, whether or not it warrants special counsel status, are you concerned by the -- about this stuff?
RASKIN: Here's what I'm concerned about. During the Trump administration, we saw the development of a completely new public philosophy, which is that government is not an instrument of the common good in the public interest. Government is an instrument for private self-enrichment, for the guy who gets in, for his family, for his private businesses. And that's a model that we’re seeing all over the world now that that’s a --
KARL: But you don't approve of that model, obviously.
RASKIN: I do not.
KARL: You denounced that model of (ph) Donald Trump.
RASKIN: That's what Putin is doing.
RASKIN: That -- you know, that's what Orban is doing. That’s what Marcos is doing. That’s what El-Sisi’s doing. That’s what president –
KARL: I mean it’s been going on since the dawn of mankind, this --(CROSSTALK) RASKIN: Well, but it’s new for America that somebody would get in and basically just say, you know, everything is corrupt and I'm just as corrupt as the next guy, and I'm going to take money, as Trump did, from China, from Saudi Arabia, from the United Arab Emirates.
I mean, look, you know, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, pocketed a cool $2 billion --
KARL: From Saudi Arabia.
RASKIN: From Saudi Arabia, in a corporation he –
KARL: And he had the Saudi – and he had the Saudi portfolio in the White House.
KARL: But what about Hunter?
RASKIN: So – but – so, I am concerned about it. And I’m concerned not just about public officials like Donald Trump and Jared Kushner doing it, but even family members who water ski along for the ride. And I have been, you know, begging my colleague, Chairman Comer, for us to do a serious analysis of what the laws should be about money-making by people --
KARL: And you would take part in a serious investigation on --(CROSSTALK)
RASKIN: Yes, of course, we would. And – and we’re going to release a report about all of the foreign government emoluments, millions of dollars we can document that Donald Trump pocketed at the hotels, at the golf courses, through business deals, when he was president and that his family got. But they’ve not laid a glove on Joe Biden as president. They haven’t been able to show any criminal corruption on his part. What they’ve got is Hunter Biden. And we’ve all seen clear that this guy was addicted to drugs and did a lot of really unlawful and wrong things. And we have said, let the justice system run its course. They’re not saying that about Donald Trump. Any time Donald Trump actually gets indicted, after a grand jury has already determined that there’s probable cause –
KARL: They attack the prosecutors, they attack the judge.
RASKIN: They attack the prosecutors. They attack the judges.
RASKIN: They attack the system.
KARL: We’re –
RASKIN: For them, Donald Trump could never be guilty of anything.
KARL: All right, Jamie Raskin, thank you. We’re out of time.
The roundtable is coming up. And former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie joins us live, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You see, everybody. I want the people at home to think about this. That's what Washington, D.C. does. The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the memorized 25-second speech. That is exactly what his advisers gave him.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Here's the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true.
CHRISTIE: There it is.
RUBIO: He knows exactly what he is doing.
CHRISTIE: There it is, the memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.
RUBIO: That's the reason why this camp…
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: That was Chris Christie swinging hard at Florida Senator Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary debate in New Hampshire. The former New Jersey Governor and current presidential candidate joins me now. Governor Christie, before we get to this race, a quick question about that race. Looking back at all that has happened since then, do you ever wish that you had taken that swing at Donald Trump and not at Marco Rubio?
CHRISTIE: I wish that I had taken swings at both of them, Jon, looking back on it. I think we all made a mistake in 2016 -- myself, Marco, Jeb Bush, John Kasich -- in not going after Donald Trump. I think we all were under the illusion that somehow what was obvious to us at the moment, that there were better candidates on the stage than him would be obvious to the public. It wasn't, and I think it should inform everybody's approach to the race this time. It certainly is informing mine.
KARL: The first primary debate is obviously ten days away. You're going to be there. We don't know if you will have a chance to take on Donald Trump, because he hasn't said if he's going to be there. But the pledge is out, this pledge from the RNC. We actually see that the language of it, they're requiring everybody to sign -- I want to put it up for a moment here. It says, I will honor the will of the primary voters and support the nominee, and will not seek to run as an Independent.
So, Trump says he won't sign the pledge. Do you think the RNC would really keep him off the debate stage if he doesn't sign? They would keep the front-runner off the stage?
CHRISTIE: I do. I do think they would. I think that they are serious about wanting this pledge signed, and I do think they would keep Donald Trump off the stage if he chose not to sign the pledge. Now, Jon, you and I have been through this before. He did the same thing in 2016 in terms of not wanting to sign the pledge and waiting until the very last minute to do it. We don't know how much he would have respected the pledge even after having signed it. So, look, I think this is all kind of nonsensical theater. I've made that clear to the RNC as well, way back, even before I entered the race, that I thought the pledge was a bad idea, and Donald Trump is now playing that game. But that's what he does. You know this, Jon. He plays misdirection all the time.
I would not be the least bit surprised if sometime around Sunday or Monday of next week that he signs the pledge, and he shows up on the stage on Wednesday. He might not also, but I would not be the least bit surprised if he did. This is about Donald Trump keeping the attention on Donald Trump, and he's doing pretty well because, in the first question this morning, we're talking about him and that's what he likes.
KARL: It's interesting that 2016 pledge, very similar to this one, was violated by two of the candidates in the debates. John Kasich and Jeb Bush both signed the pledge, and didn't support Donald Trump. Have you signed this pledge yet?
CHRISTIE: I haven't. I haven't been presented with the pledge yet, Jon. They're still going through, I guess, the process of verifying all of our donors and all the rest of it. But, I'm sure I'll be presented with the pledge at some point in the next week. But I have not been presented with it yet, no.
KARL: More on Donald Trump, if you don't mind, with the Special Counsel. We had the judge -- the judge in the election interference case at the first hearing. She has put this protective order on. She has also said that she will not let politics interfere with this case. Is that possible?
CHRISTIE: Well, let's first start, you know, with what the judge said. I think it is impossible to not have politics inform some of this case. It's not a normal criminal case, and so politics is going to inform some of it. But I also think Donald Trump needs to be smart and careful about this, if that's at all possible, which is that he is a criminal defendant.
Jon, let me remind the viewers out there -- if he's indicted in Atlanta this week as we're anticipating that he will be, we will have the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president out on bail in four different jurisdictions -- New York, Miami, Washington, and Atlanta. Four different jurisdictions he's out on bail.
And when you're out, you get subject to certain restrictions, and the reason you're subject to those restrictions is because a gra -- a grand jury has found there's probable cause that you've committed criminal acts. And there's not a presumption, a presumption that you should stay out of jail at that point, and they put certain restrictions on you to stay out of jail.
So I think all of these things are things people are going to have to process for the very first time in a presidential race.
And what I think Republican voter haves to ask themselves is two things. First is, is he really the guy under indictment in four different cases given the conduct that he committed, someone who can beat Joe Biden or any other Democrat in November, 2024? And when are we going to stop pretending that this is normal?
KARL: Do you think that pledge --
CHRISTIE: He’s not, and it's not acceptable.
KARL: Do you think that pledge should have a -- do you think that pledge should have a little caveat saying that if the nominee is indicted -- excuse me, convicted of a felony that it no longer applies?
CHRISTIE: Who knows? Maybe it will, Jon. We'll see how it develops over the next week or so.
KARL: All right. Chris Christie, thank you very much. Good to have you back on the show. Talk to you again soon.
CHRISTIE: -- Jon, for having me on, and I’m looking forward to the debate in 10 days.
KARL: All right. The roundtable is just ahead, and Rachel Scott joins us from the Iowa state fair.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's about time that we saw the appointment of the special counsel to get to the bottom of not only what Hunter Biden was doing, and what the Biden family was doing.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It just seems to me that they're going to find a way to give him some type of softball treatment.
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people want answers and right now, there are more questions than there are answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Just a few of the Republican presidential hopefuls reacting to the appointment of special counsel in the Hunter Biden investigation. Most of the candidates had been out at the Iowa State Fair this weekend, and so has our Rachel Scott.
Good morning, Rachel. I see that the candidates are happy to talk about Hunter Biden. But what are they saying about Trump's legal status?
RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jon, nearly the entire Republican field has been at the Iowa State Fair this weekend and almost no one is talking about that possible fourth indictment of the former president. His closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has been on a blitz throughout this state. He's at nine stops, and the last two days he was hoping to finally make his mark here at the Iowa State Fair. And all of that was overshadowed when the former president stepped onto the fairgrounds.
DeSantis was heckled by protesters when he finally made his way over to the pork tent to flip some pork chops and burgers. There were chants of We Love Trump. The Trump campaign even flew a plane overhead with a banner teasing, Be Likable Ron.
Now Trump has been to Iowa far less than DeSantis only traveling to this state seven times since announcing his third bid for the White House. But it will be more challenging for the President to campaign in the coming months. I asked Trump if he's concerned about spending more time in a courtroom than out on the campaign trail. He pushed back pointing to his commanding lead in this race. But the Iowa caucuses are still five months away. And they have been known to surprise, Jon.
KARL: That's for sure. Thank you, Rachel Scott.
The Roundtable is here ready to dig into it all, next.
KARL: Welcome back. Let's bring in our Powerhouse Roundtable. Former DNC Chair, Donna Brazile. National Review editor and Washington Post contributing columnist, Ramesh Ponnuru, New Yorker staff writer, Susan Glasser, and we want to welcome our newest ABC News contributor, Rachael Bade also, of course, the co-author of the Politico Playbook.
And Rachael, let me start with you. Because you were just out in Iowa, I think you just landed maybe even this morning, but very originally (ph). What's your sense? Is anybody able to break through all the Trump noise and then the other candidates?
RACHAEL BADE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean, it's interesting, because, you know, in light of all these negative headlines that the DeSantis campaign has sort of experiencing lately, they've been sort of clinging to this bright spot, and that is Iowa. He's actually pulling better there than he is nationwide. He's seen as more likable, more trustworthy than Donald Trump in that state. And yet, when you're at the fair on Saturday, Donald Trump comes in on the day that DeSantis is there and all of a sudden, you know, crowds are swarming him, and he is sucking up all the headlines.
I will say, you know, from the point of DeSantis' campaign, they're very much looking at Iowa as this sort of Field of Dreams sight type mantra, if you build it, they will come.
They’re really focused on creating this sort of hyper local campaign, visiting all 99 counties, appointing county-level chairs in all 99 counties, and trying to sort of woo local leaders. They were telling me, and there's a belief that if you look at Republicans who won the state of Iowa previously, a lot of them were barely polling in the single digits at this point in the campaign, and would end up coming in to win Iowa. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee. And so there's a feeling amongst the DeSantis people --
KARL: Rick Santoro (ph)? So what --
BADE: That -- it's not over. It’s not over yet. So, we’ll talk (ph) about it.
KARL: I mean, Donna, you’ve worked Iowa from the other side.
DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, yes.
KARL: Does that sound like wishful thinking coming from –
BRAZILE: First of all, I miss those fried cheese curls. I miss the pork chop on a stick, the fried butter and the fried dill pickles.
KARL: Fried butter. Not familiar with that.
BRAZILE: So, I -- I just want to put it all on the table that I enjoyed my time at the fair.
Look, president -- former President Trump, as the judge called him now, Mr. Trump, he – he brought the sunshine. He brought Floridians on the – on his plane. He created that circus that we saw yesterday.
And you're right, there was no more oxygen left for Mr. DeSantis. I don't know if Mr. DeSantis can recover some of the momentum he had earlier this year when everyone thought -- I say everyone but not me, that he was going to be the best alternative. You still have Tim Scott, who's rising in Iowa. You still have, I think, this unknown factor of what might happen over the next two months that could also spell disaster. But for right now I think everybody’s waiting for the debate. And I know I am.
KARL: So, Ramesh, does he show up? Trump that is.
RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW EDITOR & WASHINGTON POST CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST: Well, I think that the normal political calculation for somebody in his position, with such a huge lead in the national polls, is not to show up. What's the upside? Except that Trump has always had such a keen sense of drama. And the drama of keeping everybody guessing and then showing up and showing that he's not intimidated, you could see how that might appeal to him.
KARL: Does he pay a price if he doesn't show up?
PONNURU: Well –
KARL: I mean I know that usually if you’re way ahead, don't take a risk.
KARL: But is there a risk in not showing up?
PONNURU: The other candidates presumably start making the argument that he feels entitled and that he feels afraid. And traditionally that kind of thing does have some effect. Whether it has an effect against Trump is a – is an open question.
KARL: That seems like a pretty weak way to go after Trump considering everything else that's there. I mean – and if – Susan, if he does – let me ask you what I asked Chris Christie. If he doesn’t sign that pledge, does Ronna McDaniel really say, no, we're going to leave the frontrunner out of the debate?
SUSAN GLASSER, THE NEW YORKER STAFF WRITER: Well, since Ronna McDaniel and the RNC have been essentially an arm of the Trump campaign, both in 2020 and so far in 2024, you know, when in doubt, when it comes to, you know, sort of this Republican Party, it's become so Trump-ified, I imagine that they'll find a way around it.
Chris Christie, by the way, you know, I believe in the past he’s said that he would sign the pledge but then disregard it and doesn’t plan to support Donald Trump. But, you know, again and again and again, Jonathan, this is his story. The story is the Republican Party finding a way to justify the unjustifiable. Donald Trump -- you know, there's nothing that man doesn't love more than a camera. So, our default setting has got to be that he's going to find his way in the middle, right?
KARL: He might show up. That he might show up.
But, you know, Christie, I thought, was interesting, Rachael, saying that, you know, he thought he made a mistake, and the others made a mistake by not taking Trump on in 2016 early. Actually, Christie waited another four or five years to do so. But, I mean, what – what is your sense? Are they finally going to -- going to take him on or is this --
BADE: Is – is he – like is he going to actually show up? I mean –
KARL: I mean you’re seeing Pence. I mean, you made a very interesting point. Pence is going nowhere in the polls, his fundraising is in trouble, barely made the debate stage, or is he campaigning for something else?
BADE: Yes, I mean, it was really interesting to watch Pence because the vice president, you know, after January 6th, and for several months, you know, after Trump left office, he didn't want to talk about what happened that day. And, you know, at the fair, we very much saw Pence lean in on talking about Donald Trump and how he was wrong about the 2020 election, and how he didn't have authority to just throw out, you know, Electoral College votes. I mean, I watched as a number of people came up and shook his hand, thanked him for doing that. He also got heckled for doing that.
But he – he brought it up unprompted. And he was very much taking shots at Trump on this. And sort of the observation my colleague and I had at “Politico” was that, you know, this doesn't really help him with GOP voters. So, is he running for something else? Is he running for legacy? And we asked him about that. He said, you know, I'm running to win.
KARL: Well, of course, (INAUDIBLE).
BADE: But you’ve got to wonder because, you know, it certainly wouldn't help him in the polls.
BRAZILE: Yes. You know, Donald Trump took on the Republican establishment in 2016. And I don't think the establishment – and maybe you know better since you understand the Republican establishment, they haven't been able to really get their sea legs back. I don't know if the Republican Party will ever be a, quote/unquote, a mainstream party again like it was before, when you understood conservatism, conservative values.
But now you have an indicted defendant out on bail who is leading the party, who is basically running on a platform of retribution, and that is going to define not just the presidential race, but I think all of the down ballot races as well.
KARL: I mean, explicitly running on retribution.
PONNURU: In fact, you know, let’s get it back to the Pence point. I understand everybody thinks it is, you know, so many Republicans either think that Trump won in 2020 or think it's rude to point out that he didn't win in 2020, but I do think that the other candidates have to make that case if they're serious about winning because what is your argument left?
If Trump actually won in 2020, counterfactually, you know, and it was stolen from him --
KARL: Yeah, yeah.
PONNURU: -- then, of course, that's the tough issue and you can't say he's a loser. You can't say he's not electable because he, in that alternate reality, won two presidential races already.
KARL: And meanwhile, we have what happened in Ohio which would be a big one to sign for Republicans, right? This, you know, Ohio big victory for the abortion rights movement, big defeat for Republicans.
GLASSER: Well, I think part --
KARL: In a Republican state.
GLASSER: That’s right. Look, part of this is the incredible distortion field where we are -- we are all somehow living in Donald Trump's alternate reality, right? We are talking about -- well, it's a great benefit to him according to, you know, big story in the "New York Times" today that he's been indicted criminally, what, three times and it looks like a fourth coming up this week because we're living in this warped distortion field of a Republican primary in which Donald Trump is stampeding. It's a minority of a minority in the country.
And so, then you have something like the series of abortion rights referendum in the wake of the Roe versus Wade decision. And you realize that in this country, even in deep red states, there are solid majorities that don't think, you know, Donald Trump should be the president again, who defeated him in the popular vote in 2016 and in 2020, who support by actually record numbers abortion rights.
And yet we live in this world where it's somehow good that Donald Trump is a criminal defendant, but somehow bad electorally for the president that his son is being investigated for something that as far as we know does not directly concern Joe Biden.
KARL: But let me ask you about that, Donna. Hunter Biden is elevating this to a special counsel. I mean, the White House cannot be happy with Garland about this.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, let me just say this. I mean, no one is above the law, not even the son of a president of the United States. We need to stress that.
You don't see Democrats out here attacking Merrick Garland. You don't see Democrats out here, you know, saying the Justice Department is weaponized against the Bidens.
Hunter Biden has been under investigation for five years. I can tell you, that must -- that is painful. That's painful not just to the president, but for people who love the Biden family because he has been under attack.
He signed the plea deal a couple of months ago and it fell apart. It collapsed once the judge took a look at the writing and said, I don't like all of these commas. I’m not a lawyer. So I don't want to pretend to be one.
BRAZILE: But the fact is he's now going to go through this arduous --
KARL: I mean, like you said, it's almost five years and it's going to go on longer now.
BRAZILE: Five years and there's no evidence linking Hunter's business dealings to the president.
The Republicans have tried everything in Congress. They've tried everything, but this is warmed-over leftovers and I do believe at the end of the day, if they can get that deal back on the table, Hunter Biden will finally be able to live his life again.
KARL: So, Republicans called for the special counsel now are denouncing the special counsel. I understand they say Weiss shouldn't be the guy, but is there another reason behind this, Rachael? Why are Republicans upset by the Justice Department is doing something they asked the Justice Department to do?
BADE: Yeah, the hypocrisy on it is -- is speak Washington there. But, yeah, I mean, it’s -- publicly Republicans are saying they don't trust the guy who was named specifically.
KARL: David Weiss.
BADE: But -- yes, of course, but there's other reasons. I mean, this really blows a hole in their top talking point when it comes to the White House and that is this idea of, you know, weaponization of the Justice Department, you know, saying that Hunter Biden's being treated differently than President Trump.
Now, the Biden family has more, you know, special counsels than Trump does himself, and this is a man who's been indicted for what will be the fourth time potentially this week.
And the other reason is that Republicans really wanted to do a quick impeachment of Joe Biden. They were sort of planning on it, and this really complicates that plan --
BADE: -- because usually when you go back to when Democrats took the House in the 2019, there was a belief, you know, they were going to impeach Trump at some point, but the mantra on Hill was like, okay, we don't touch this until the special counsel finished his work.
BADE: Exactly, Robert Mueller.
BRAZILE: That’s right.
BADE: This could very much, since it's just starting, could drag out into next year which means that any impeachment push they have is potentially going to stall. And moderate Republicans are not going to want to vote for an impeachment inquiry if there's a Special Counsel investigation into this.
KARL: Right. What (ph) McCarthy raise in the impeachment? I mean…
BADE: You know…
KARL: Was he ever serious about it or…
GLASSER: You know, he has to be serious about it because he is being led around by the nose, essentially, by a faction of any five House Republicans. And I think, you know, he has flirted again and again with whether it's shutting down the government or the impending crisis we may have with government spending in September. Same thing with impeachment. He has a radical sort of fringe that is able to threaten essentially to depose him at any moment. You know, I can't even keep straight what the message is from Kevin McCarthy at this moment. I can't tell you. Is he -- wait, is he for impeachment right now or he's for it, maybe, I can't…
KARL: All right, (inaudible) we'll get you next week on this one.
Coming up, another indictment looms for Donald Trump in Georgia. Our Aaron Katersky is there at the courthouse, and we speak with one of the likely key witnesses in that case, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GABRIEL STERLING, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE'S OFFICE: Mr. President, it looks like you likely lost the State of Georgia. We're investigating. There's always a possibility. I get it. And you have the rights to go through the courts. What you don't have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get hurt. Someone is going to get shot. Someone is going to get killed. And it's not right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: That was Georgia Election Official Gabriel Sterling in 2020 rebuking then-president Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the state's election results. We'll talk to Mr. Sterling in a moment. But first, let's go to Senior Investigative Reporter Aaron Katersky who is outside the courthouse in Atlanta for the Fulton County District Attorney where she will be making her case this week to a Grand Jury. Good morning, Aaron.
AARON KATERSKY, ABC NEWS SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Jon, good morning. There is every indication here that former President Trump and others could be charged this week over efforts to tamper with the 2020 presidential election results in this state, including Trump's browbeating phone call to the Secretary of State asking him to find some 12,000 votes that he needed to win. Our insecurity barriers are up around this courthouse.
The District Attorney Fani Willis has said her work is accomplished and the case is about to go to a grand jury. Several witnesses said this weekend, they have been called to testify the grand jury could be asked to vote any day now.
Of all the Trump criminal cases, the one here in Atlanta may be the most expensive, taking aim not only at the former president but also some of his allies that sought to keep him in power. There was Rudy Giuliani, who gave testimony to the state legislature filled with falsehoods, Sham electors held a ceremony at the state capitol and some Trump supporters harassed Fulton County poll workers. You'll remember Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss told the January 6th Committee of fearing for their safety and retreating from their lives. The former president has tried to disqualify the prosecutor, Fani Willis from even bringing this case. So far, though, Jon, those efforts have been unsuccessful.
KARL: All right, Aaron Katersky, we'll be hearing more from you this week. Thank you.
We're joined now by Gabriel Sterling, the Chief Operating Officer at the Georgia Secretary of State's Office.
Mr. Sterling, we heard what you said so memorably back in late December of 2020, warning about the possibility of violence. I'm wondering, as you look at what's happened since an indictment from the Special Counsel for election interference, and now potential indictments in Georgia, did you think this is where that would ultimately end up indictments of the former president?
GABRIEL STERLING, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE OFFICE: I mean, no, it's -- it's hard to believe we've gotten more we've gotten, and I know, I'm kind of like probably most Americans, and we're sort of got fatigued over the entire thing. Obviously, the Fulton County case is different from some of the other ones it is it looks like little more expansive, a RICO kind of case. But, you know, the system has to work its way through one way or the other.
KARL: How closely you're going to be watching this, and what will you be looking for?
STERLING: I mean, I'm kind of like, let's, let's start off the political junkie before I got this job. So, I'll be watching it pretty closely like any other political junkie, just to kind of see what happens. I mean, the reality is, before the Bragg indictment in New York, Donald Trump was behind DeSantis. I mean, this has been giving oxygen to his campaigns, this is raising tons of money. And a lot of that money now is I think, was pointed out earlier, it's being used to pay for his lawyers and not for an actual campaign. But it's driving him being ahead because he is becoming make himself a victim. He's made himself a martyr. And a lot of the American people are growing behind him, because I do feel like some of these things are a little bit of a stretch.
KARL: Do you think they're a stretch?
STERLING: The Bragg one especially is I mean, he's sort of bootstrap that thing through to get it to be, you know, even avoiding the timelines to be able to get at statue limitations. I don't know what's going to be in the case in Fulton County yet. I mean, the one thing that we can do is we've been doing in our office, and Brad Raffensperger and I for over three and a half years and since he got elected, tell the truth, do our jobs, follow the law, follow the Constitution. That's all our role is in this situation.
KARL: You and Brad Raffensperger have both said many times that Trump lost the election in Georgia. Let me ask you a question central to Jack Smith's case, do you think Trump knew he lost?
STERLING: Well, the reality is, and these are the facts, I mean, 27,000 people just decided to skip the top of the -- of the election. This -- didn't vote for Biden or Trump. About 35,000 people who requested absentee ballots in the primary elections, Republicans did not vote at all in the general election. Because Donald Trump demonized voting by absentee and we were still in the COVID crisis. So, there's a lot of senior citizen voters who just didn't do it.
And we keep on saying this over and over again. The one of the things that we've learned and public reporting on this is he requested there were two independent audits and verifications by outside groups. And both these paid $600,000. And both them said, there was no fraud. You lost the state. We've been saying this over and over again, we counted the ballots three times. He lost the state, and it continued to say he didn't lose it. And it's just creating a lot of tension and a lot of chaos. It's completely unnecessary. I mean, there's real issues in this country. Anybody talking about 2020 election is going to lose the general election. You're not gaining any voters by doing that.
KARL: You testified before the special grand jury that did so much the investigation in this Fulton County case. Have you been asked to testify before the grand jury this week?
STERLING: Well, you're right, I testified for special grand jury, the two interviews with the D.A.'s officers. My lawyers haven't said I can talk too much about this one way or the other. So, but if I am called when I am called, I will go and do what I did before, I will tell the truth answer honestly, that's all we can do in this situation.
KARL: The Trump campaign is out with an ad labeling the prosecutors investigating them as the fraud squad. Willis is among those included in this ad, that she said contains derogatory and false information.
Are you concerned that Trump's words -- and it's not just ad, it's obviously much more than just that. Are you concerned once again that we could see violence as a result of the former president's words?
STERLING: Obviously, at this point, you never know what's going to happen. My biggest concern for years now, and I've said this at election conferences, where you get professionals who run elections around this country, is somebody will be motivated by some of these kind of languages at some point and do something stupid.
It's not going to be an organized things. It's not going to be a bunch of conspirators together. It's going to be one probably mentally unstable individual who's going to be radicalized through this process and that's my biggest concern through this.
But the underlying concern of this -- and what I've seen -- I've been involved in politics since the '80s is with this -- and I've got accused of both-siderism on this. One side does something then it justifies the other side doing something, and keep on scaling it up, and scaling it up, and scaling it up. And Trump is just the latest version of that. It's along with the left now demonizing the Supreme Court and saying it's OK to harass Supreme Court justices.
We need more grown-ups. We need people to say, we've got to knock this crap out and focus on the American people and what they need. I know everybody is getting tired of it and it's difficult to say and it's -- unfortunately, it is both sides and it has been building, and it's like almost a reality TV show versus actual governance.
KARL: I think a lot of people would agree with that sentiment. But let me ask you one final question. You've been crystal clear that Trump lost the election. There was so massive fraud. Why do so many Republican voters believe the lies about that?
STERLING: I think what it comes down to oftentimes now are parties are -- it's tribal. If my party believes this and therefore, I will believe it. And if you don't believe it, then you're committing apostasy and you're not following the rules -- and both sides. Again, both sides are doing this.
I mean, the people in Georgia are very sick of this. I mean, between the Russian hacking lie about Hillary winning, and the Stacey Abrams' claim that the election was stolen, and then Donald Trump claiming the election was stolen, everybody who has talked about stolen elections has the lost in this state.
If you're going to be president of the United States, you have to win Georgia, to get into the game.
KARL: You don't complain about election fraud when you've won.
KARL: Thank you very much, Gabriel Sterling.
We'll be right back.
KARL: Before we go, one more word about the heartbreaking devastation in Hawaii. If you would like to support the relief effort, scan the QR Code at the bottom of your screen or go to our website, abcnews.com, for information on how you can help. Have a good day.