'This Week' Transcript 8-20-23: Former Vice President Mike Pence and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, August 20.

ByABC News
August 20, 2023, 10:06 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, August 20, 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.




JONATHAN KARL, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR (voice over): Man in the middle. Our exclusive ABC reporting on what Mark Meadows told investigators in Trump's classified documents case.


KARL: As Donald Trump faces a fourth indictment in Georgia.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia’s presidential election result.

KARL: Facing historic legal peril, Trump plans to skip the first primary debate.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Show up on Wednesday night and stop being such a coward.

MIKE PENCE (R), FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can't wait to get to that debate stage, and I hope everybody shows up.

KARL: This morning, our exclusive interview with former Vice President Mike Pence, legal analysis from Preet Bharara and Sarah Isgur. Plus, our powerhouse roundtable.

Painstaking recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire came so fast. I don’t know if – if he got away.

KARL: One hundred and fourteen dead, hundreds unaccounted for. Maui's wildfire now the fifth deadliest in U.S. history.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll be there in Maui as long as it takes.

KARL: We're on the scene this morning, and we'll talk to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

And --

DANA RAO, ADOBE GENERAL COUNSEL & CHIEF TRUST OFFICER : We really think that deepfakes can pose an existential threat to democracy.

KARL: As artificial intelligence blurs the line between fact and fiction, Emmanuelle Saliba reports on the race to restore trust ahead of the 2024 election.


ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK. Here now, Jonathan Karl.

KARL: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK.

In just three days Republican presidential hopefuls will face off on a stage in Milwaukee for the first debate of the 2024 campaign. But the man who could be center stage plans to skip it, saying there's no reason for him to be there.

Donald Trump, though, has plenty to do outside of that debate. He was indicted for a fourth time last week, this time by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, for allegedly heading up a criminal enterprise to overturn the certified and repeatedly verified results of Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. Trump's lawyers are working out the terms of his surrender with Willis. It's expected to come some time before the Friday deadline set by the DA.

One of the key figures in the Georgia indictment is the man who was so frequently by Trump's side during those tumultuous final weeks of his presidency. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Meadows is also believed to be a central figure in both of special counsel Jack Smith's investigations, the alleged mishandling of classified documents, and the election interference case. As one piece from "The New York Times" put it this weekend, Mark Meadows is “everywhere and nowhere,” “a visible ghost,” because so little is known about what he has had to say about any of this.

But this morning, for the first time, ABC News can report key details about what Mark Meadows has told federal investigators about the classified documents case.


KARL (voice over): From the moment federal authorities revealed they had found hundreds of documents marked classified at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump has insisted it was all declassified. Something he repeatedly claimed in the months that followed.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, when they left the White House they were declassified.

I took what I took. And it gets declassified.

And, by the way, they become automatically declassified when I took them.

Everything was declassified, because I had the right to declassify.

KARL: But Mark Meadows, the man who served by Donald Trump's side as his chief of staff, has told investigators he was aware of no such broad declassification order, according to sources familiar with the matter. The sources tell ABC News, Meadows told investigators that he had no idea Trump had brought classified documents and other official records with him to Mar-a-Lago. And that when the documents were first requested by the National Archives, he offered to help Trump go through the boxes he had taken from the White House to find and return official records. Meadows, according to sources, said the president did not accept his offer.

One of the key pieces of evidence in the case is an audio recording of Trump allegedly describing a classified document he appears to have in his possession as he was being interviewed by a writer and publisher who were at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, for Mark Meadows' book about his time as chief of staff. Meadows was not present for the interview.

TRUMP: This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is, like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. This was done by the military and given to me. As president I could have declassified it, now I can’t.

KARL: ABC News has reviewed an early draft of Meadows’ book that describes Trump talking about the document, allegedly a four-page war plan prepared by Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley.

“On the couch, in front of the president’s desk, there’s a four-page report typed up by Mark Milley himself. It shows the general's own plan to attack Iran,” the draft reads. “When President Trump found this plan in his old files this morning, he pointed out that making this declassified would probably win his case.”

But those words did not appear in the final version of the book. According to sources, Meadows told investigators he directed that the reference to Trump possessing a classified war plan be taken out of his book and that he knew it would be, quote, “problematic” if Trump had such a document in his possession.

A Trump campaign spokesman responded to our new reporting by accusing the DOJ and special counsel Jack Smith of, quote, “selectively leaking incomplete information” without providing evidence. And called the investigation a “witch-hunt” meant to hurt Trump's political campaign.


KARL: Joining us now our legal form, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, former Trump Justice Department spokesperson Sara Isgur, and, first, let's turn to ABC’s senior reporter Katherine Faulders, who broke this story for us.

Katherine, Trump fought mightily to keep Mark Meadows from testifying, talking to investigators. Now that we see he has talked to investigators, it looks like he was pretty candid.

KATHERINE FAULDERS, ABC NEWS SENIOR REPORTER: Yes, and I think this reporting shows exactly why the Trump team fought to keep Meadows from testifying. It undercuts one of Trump's main public arguments that he’s been making, that he declassified all of these documents before he took them from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. You really couldn't find a more senior official in than the former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who knows the inner workings of the White House, the operations of the White Hise, what was happening in those final days. You would think that any declassification order would need to cross his desk or that he would at least have knowledge of it.

KARL: It's hard to imagine that it would have happened without Meadows' knowledge.

FAULDERS: It’s hard to imagine that it would have happened without Meadows’ knowledge. So, if this argument is presented in trial by Trump's legal team, they essentially will have to say, well, Meadows wasn't aware of anything that was going on. And to your point about them trying to prevent Meadows from testifying, they fought under seal in court to prevent Meadows from testifying as it relates to January 6th, but also in the congressional investigation.

KARL: Well, that's – that’s what I'm wondering because there's been all this speculation, has Meadows flipped. And I – you know, looking through this, I wouldn't say that he's become a hostile witness, but he's become a problematic witness for Donald Trump. But what do you think this means about what he may have been saying in the January 6th case? Do you think he was equally candid in the January 6th case?

FAULDERS: Sure. I think he was equally candid. We know that Meadows has spoken to grand juries related to both of these cases. Sources have told us that he has candidly answered questions.

Now, to your point, he hasn't flipped, per se. There's been a lot of speculation that he has because of his silence.

KARL: Yes.

FAULDERS: We don't understand there to be any cooperation agreement. But the reality is, it could be problematic for Trump. He is answering questions.

KARL: Problematic, the word he uses.

FAULDERS: Problematic, the word he uses, exactly. It could be problematic for Trump, candidly answering.

KARL: Thank you.

So -- so, Preet, what -- what's your sense? How damaging is Mark Meadows actually to Donald Trump?

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: He’s – he – he’s pretty damaging. I don't – I don’t think he's flipped. We have a situation in which he has been charged in the Georgia case and it's unlikely that you're a charged defendant in one case but you flipped in a related case. So, I don't know that he's cooperating.

As we saw in the – in the preview, Donald Trump himself undermined his own defense in that audiotape, which is very damning. But this is additional evidence by someone, as was pointed out, who was very close to Donald Trump, undercuts his theory, which was, on its face, a little bit laughable, but he could telepathically or automatically declassify something.

KARL: Right.

BHARARA: We'll – we’ll have to see how it works out with respect to his testimony. Can he be compelled to testify Would he take the – the Fifth Amendment? Would he get immunity? You know, all those things are possible. We’ll have to see how that unfolds.

But, yes, I agree, it's pretty damning.

KARL: So perhaps the two most key -- key witnesses here are Donald Trump's own words and the words of his chief of staff?

SARAH ISGUR, FORMER TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: When you're thinking about a jury, there's just no better witness than Mark Meadows in terms of, like we said, his closeness to Donald Trump, both in terms of what he'd know crossing his desk, but also his closeness to Donald Trump, understanding what Donald Trump was thinking. The only thing better, of course, is going to be the audio of Donald Trump himself in that interview with the writer.

But this is also where I think that the Fulton County district attorney sort of violated the “Jurassic Park” rule. She was so concerned about whether she could bring the largest case possible against Donald Trump and his associates, she didn't stop to think whether she should include someone like Mark Meadows as a defendant.

Now as a result, she has this large unwieldy case when she could have had, I think, the strongest case on the fake electors, stronger than the federal case. But instead, it's been muddied up by all of these other defendants, by all these other charges, and it could take forever.

KARL: And Meadows is trying to switch venue. He's saying he was -- he's being prosecuted for stuff he did in his official capacity.


KARL: Therefore, he wants to be charged in federal court.

Do you think that’s going to succeed?

BHARARA: I think it may. You know, we've seen this play out before with respect to the Manhattan case. In that situation, Donald Trump tried to remove or transfer venue from the state court to the federal court. That was denied pretty quickly.

Here, I think you have a more, as lawyers would say, colorable argument, a better argument, that the conduct that was engaged in by Mark Meadows and others was related to official duties, more so certainly than giving hush money payments to pay off an adult film star.

And there’s precedent in Georgia in federal court for those kinds of cases to be removed. There's also precedent in Georgia, as I understand it, that if one party, even though there's 19 defendants, succeeds in transferring the case to federal court, everyone goes to federal court.

At the end of the day, by the way, to get to the most important question, does it really matter that much? I guess it depends on who the judge is assigned, who gets assigned to it in federal court. But they still have to apply the Georgia RICO statute. That doesn't go out the window.

The facts are the facts. The witnesses are the witnesses. So, at the end of the day, there’s a lot of skirmishing. I don't know that it helps Mark Meadows or any of the other Trump defendants much at all if it does get transferred to federal court.

KARL: Well, one argument is the jury pool may be more sympathetic because it's not just Fulton County, it's a wider area in Georgia.

But there's another thing. It won't be televised if it's in federal court.

ISGUR: This will have been one of the largest strategic errors I’ve ever seen a prosecutor make to include defendants she didn't need to include, and then because of that have her case move from state court, far more prosecution-friendly in Georgia than the federal court rules are going to be, different jury pool, no televised.

And you're going to have a state prosecutor basically having to try this case under state law, true, but with federal procedural rules that she's not familiar with.

And for what? She had, again, the strongest case against Donald Trump on the fake electors. She should've brought that alone, and instead, you know, she wanted the bigger headlines.

BHARARA: But Donald Trump -- Donald Trump would've had the same arguments for transfer to federal court. And you have to bring the case against Donald Trump. So, I don't know it’s the case that it’s -- it’s undermined by adding these other defendants.

ISGURE: Except on -- I think you're right, though that, Mark Meadows has a much stronger case if he was acting in his capacity as chief of staff, and then they’re going to have to actually have a federal defense as well, which I don’t think Donald Trump was --

KARL: All right. We are -- we are out of time. We will continue this debate later.

Sarah, Preet, Katherine, thank you very much.

Joining us now is former vice president and current presidential candidate Mike Pence.

Mr. Vice President, thank you for joining us.

I want to start with our new reporting --


KARL: I want to start with our new reporting about Mark Meadows. As you know, Donald Trump has claimed that all those documents he took with him to Mar-a-Lago, he had declassified. But we are learning that Meadows has told investigators that he knew of no such broad declassification order from Donald Trump.

What about you? Had you heard anything to suggest that the president had issued -- you know, an order, or even a standing order declassifying documents like that?

PENCE: Well, first off, the handling of classified materials is enormously serious in the life of the nation. But I can't really comment on your reporting. But, in my case, I was never made aware of any broad-based effort to declassify documents.

There is a process that the White House goes through to declassify materials. I’m aware of that occurring on several cases over the course of our four years. But I don't have any knowledge of any broad-based directive from the president. But that doesn't mean it didn't occur, I just -- it's just not something that I ever heard about.

KARL: And knowing what you knew about how that White House operated, if there had been such a broad order, wouldn't his chief of staff have known about it?

PENCE: I -- you know, I would expect so. But, again, you know, I sure hope we're not getting back into the lane of leaks from the Justice Department about these cases.

You know, the special counsel is currently working on investigating Joe Biden's pattern of retaining classified materials. We haven't heard a peep out of that. I know there's discussion about them making arrangements for President Biden to be interviewed for that.

But, look, I – look, President Trump is entitled to a presumption of innocence. He’s entitled to his day in court. And – and I'm just not going to comment on the latest leak or the latest reporting coming out of that process.

KARL: OK, let me ask you, though, taking -- fully taking your point that everybody is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

I remember in 2002 you voted to expel James Traficant, not after he was accused, but after he was convicted of a felony on corruption charges. You and virtually every other member of the House voted to expel him, saying that it wasn't right to have a convicted felon as a member of Congress. Would you hold that same standard for the White House?

PENCE: Well, I – I – I – I would tell you that the -- it is the function of the Congress to determine membership where there's ethical violations. And – and I remember the Traficant case from about 20 years ago. It was really quite outrageous, Jon.

But if you're saying would I – would I apply that to my former running mate in this race, look, I – I think that needs to be left to the American people. Look, let’s – let’s – let’s let -- have -- the former president have his day in court. Let's maintain a presumption of innocence in – in this matter and in the other matter that, you know, unfolded this week here in Georgia.

But – but, you know, it -- I've said many times, Jon, I would have preferred that these matters be left to the judgment of the American people. I mean no one's above the law, but – but with regard to the president's future, I -- my hope is when we get to that debate stage, and I'm – I'm still kind of hoping maybe he'll come, is that we – we can really have a debate about the challenges facing the American people, the issues the American people are – are facing in the wake of the failed policies of the Biden administration.

KARL: How do you intend to break through on that debate stage? This will be your first big moment, whether or not he comes, there with the other candidates. What's your strategy?

PENCE: Well, you know, I've had a little bit of experience with nationally televised debates. But it's – it’s different with a group on stage. And, look, I'm – I'm just going to be me. I mean I feel like I've been preparing for this first Republican presidential debate my whole life. And, frankly, as Karen and I have traveled all across the country, that one of the things we've come to realize is that I'm well known, but I'm not known well. Most – most people know me as that – that loyal vice president who fought alongside President Trump until the day came that my oath to the Constitution required me to stand apart.

But -- but, you know, you’ve known me, Jon, a long time. You knew me back when I was a House conservative leader fighting big spenders in my own party. You knew me when I was a conservative governor showing you could balance budgets and cut taxes and expand educational choice and achieve record employment.

You know, one of my goals in – in that debate is -- is for the American people, Republican primary voters, to get to know me in a little bit broader context and to demonstrate the kind of leadership that we bring to this, which I think is what the moment calls for.

Look, this country's in a lot of trouble. Joe Biden has weakened America at home and abroad. I think there's no time for on-the-job training. I want to project when I'm on that stage to the American people all of what came with the experience of serving as vice president, as a governor, and as a member of Congress. And my determination to bring that experience and that conservative record to bear on the challenges facing this country.

KARL: So – so you're – you’re going to be there – Trump is, at least we're hearing, is not going to be there. What will it say about him if he doesn't even bother to show up to the first presidential primary debate?

PENCE: Well, you know, I – I served alongside the president for a long time. And one thing I realized about him, it's not over till it's over. So --

KARL: Right. So you –

PENCE: I'm actually still hoping he shows up, you know, Jon. I mean, you know, to – to – to get on that plane and -- Trump Force One and head up –

KARL: Yes.

PENCE: And head out on that stage.

KARL: Well – well – I’ mean we’ll – we’ll –

PENCE: I think, look, I think – I think every one of us that have qualified for that debate stage ought to be on the stage, be willing to square off, answer the tough questions, and also draw a bright line contrast.

You know, my differences with – with – with the former president go far beyond that tragic day in January two and a half years ago. As I've said many times, I mean now I see the president and others on the stage walking away from America's leadership in the world, our role as the arsenal of democracy. I – I see the president literally walking away from a commitment of fiscal responsibility and reform. I mean President Trump's position on entitlement reform.

KARL: You mean – you mean Donald Trump?

PENCE: Yes, look, President -- President Biden's policy on reforming entitlements in this country is insolvency, and the former president's position is identical to Joe Biden's position. They won't even talk about common-sense reforms of Social Security and Medicare for younger Americans.

And, as you know, I'm pro-life. I don't apologize for it. And I see not only the former president but others on the stage trying to relegate the question of abortion to a states-only issue. And I want people to know my long record being a champion for the right to life and that I'll...

KARL: All right. We're...

PENCE: I'll champion the cause of life in every statehouse and in the Oval Office if I'm president of the United States.

KARL: We're almost out of time. Chris Christie said, if he doesn't show up, he's "running scared, hiding from the debate stage, a certified loser, a verified coward."

We just heard from Governor Sununu saying he's "chicken" for not showing up. Do you agree with that...


... verified coward or chicken?

PENCE: Well, you know -- you know...


... they talk a little different in New Jersey than they would do out in Indiana, Jon, so...


... look, I'll let other people make their judgment. But I hope he's be there. I hope everybody that's qualified for the debate stage, and I'm grateful we did, is on that stage. And, you know, let's talk about the challenges facing the American people, and let's talk about what each of us brings to meet that moment. Because we have got to come together and make it clear that Joe Biden must never be re-elected president of the United States and we have a better future for the American people.

KARL: All right. Former Vice President Mike Pence, thank you for joining us.

The roundtable's...

PENCE: Thank you.

KARL: ... coming up.

Plus, President Biden is heading to Maui tomorrow as recovery efforts continue after the deadly wildfires. We're on the scene, and FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell joins us next.



GOV. JOSH GREEN, (D) HAWAII: This loss we have suffered is unspeakable and devastating. We will continue to mourn as we care for the survivors and begin to move forward together. With federal aid, we will begin a massive recovery effort to clean up and begin to rebuild the affected areas of Maui. we will rebuild Lahaina.


KARL: Recovery operations continue in Maui as the death toll climbs to at least 114, making it the fifth deadliest wildfire in U.S. history, the worst in a century.

President Biden is headed there tomorrow. We'll speak with the FEMA administrator in a moment. But first let's go to ABC's Melissa Adan in Maui.

Good morning, Melissa.

MELISSA ADAN, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jon. Anger growing here on Maui over the lack of warning surrounding this devastating wildfire, some residents concerned they're being left out of conversations on rebuilding their communities.


ADAN (voice over): Almost two weeks after the deadly wildfires swept through Lahaina and other parts of Maui, the recovery of victims is moving painstakingly slow. Hundreds of people still unaccounted for. And of the 100 remains discovered, only a handful identified.

The emotional toll still sweeping the community.

JOY RICHTER, SURVIVOR: It was just crazy. And when you see how many of us are there.

ADAN: Joy Richter's father-in-law died as they were seeking shelter from the flames.

RICHTER: There was fire coming at us in that direction, and I turned around and, look, and there was fire coming at me from behind me.

ADAN: Mounting outrage and frustration by devastated residents asking why the island's siren warning system was not deployed.

The man in the middle of the controversy, Herman Andaya.

HERMAN ANDAYA, FORMER HEAD OF MAUI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: It's an outdoor siren so a lot of people who are indoors, air-conditioning on, whatever the case may be, they're not going to hear the siren.

ADAN: The head of Maui's Emergency Management Agency resigning, citing health concerns. FEMA says roughly 470 first responders and 40 search dogs are combing through the debris, hoping to reunite separated families.

GOV. JOSH GREEN (D), HAWAII: This process is agonizing for the families waiting for word from their loved ones, and heartbreaking for those sifting through the debris.

ADAN: The governor ordering the state attorney general to begin a civil inquiry into the response. On August 7th, a surveillance camera capturing this moment, a flash, possible power line arcing after being hit by a falling tree.

More questions why didn’t Hawaiian Electric Company shut down power with such strong winds in the forecast?

As a focus turns to recovery and rebuilding, residents asking for time to grieve.

TIARE LAWRENCE, MAUI RESIDENT: The governor should not rush to rebuild the community without first giving people time to heal.

ADAN: Intensifying the tension of the island's reliance on tourism and its dollars, with housing shortages and the constant presence of climate change, all obstacles in rebuilding.

Foremost in their concerns, the preservation of the historic roots of Lahaina.


ADAN (on camera): President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are expected here tomorrow to tour the devastation in Lahaina and meet with first responders and survivors -- Jon.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Melissa Adan, thank you.

And joining us now if FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell.

Administrator Criswell, thank you for joining us.

Can you give us the latest on the search and recovery efforts in Maui?


The update that I got last evening is, right now the search efforts are 78 percent complete in Lahaina town. And we continue to have our teams on the ground going through all of the structures that were lost as a result of this fire.

But we’ve also given out already over $8 million to families that have been impacted and registered for assistance with FEMA. And our shelter population is down to just over 40, with over 1,200 people that are -- people that have been moved into hotels, motels and other types of short-term rentals.

KARL: What should we expect from President Biden’s visit tomorrow?

CRISWELL: You know, I think the biggest thing is, he is going to be able to see what I saw when I went to Maui last week and just really experienced the complete and utter devastation that this town had experienced. But he’s also going to be able to talk with people and hear their stories and provide a sense of hope and assurance that the federal government is going to be with them as he has directed. And we will continue to bring in resources to support the requests of the governor and the needs as they go through their recovery process.

KARL: As you bring in those resources, what now, at this point, are the greatest needs for survivors in Maui?

CRISWELL: The biggest thing for them right now is that we continue to get them into the system so they can either move from congregate sheltering where, again, that population has reduced drastically, and into the short-term rental assistance, whether that’s in a hotel or a motel, you can Airbnb. And then as we continue to work with the governor and his team, working with each of these individuals, each of these families, to help them with what their longer-term strategy is going to be and where they’re going to stay while they are making plans for what they’re going to do to rebuild.

And so, we’ve got teams that are working with the individuals case by case, because we know that everybody’s situation is going to be unique to them.

KARL: And before you go, what is the latest on Hurricane Hilary as it barrels towards the West Coast?

CRISWELL: So, I mean, people really need to take this storm in California serious. It’s a -- I think it's interesting that the total rain amounts aren't like what we see in some of our Atlantic storms and gulf storms, but it's going to really be potentially devastating for them in these desert areas.

And so, they're going to have impacts for sure. It's just making sure people stay out of harm's way that they don't drive to this water and they take it serious.

KARL: Thank you, Administrator Criswell. If you'd like to support the Maui relief effort, scan the QR code at the bottom of your screen or go to our website abcnews.com for more information on how you can help.

The Roundtable is next. Please stay with us.


KARL: The Roundtable is here ready to go. We'll be right back.



GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think everyone should debate if you qualify. I think you owe it to the people to put out your vision, to talk about your record.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You've been a nominee of this party twice. Do you not owe it to the voters to stand up there and allow them to compare you to the rest of the people running? He can make whatever strategic decisions he wants, but he's a coward.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have no problem with him skipping the first couple of debates. He's been on the debate stage plenty of times.


KARL: It doesn't appear that Donald Trump will attend the first Republican debate in Milwaukee on Wednesday, but the other leading Republican presidential candidates are gearing up for it.

Let's talk about that and more with our ABC roundtable.

Former DNC chair Donna Brazile, political director Rick Klein, NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid, and welcome back Sarah Isgur, former spokesperson for the Justice Department.

So, Rick, let me start with you.

Trump, we can understand why he's not going. He's got the huge lead. It's a risk. But is there also a risk in not showing up?

RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Oh, 100 percent. And the other candidates are -- he's going to take a lot of incoming and not have any effective response. He -- this comes in the wake of the – of the – the – the Georgia indictments last week. He's not really been able to talk publicly on that. He's even canceled the plans for the press conference he was going to have. So, he's going to be out there without an ability to – to – to push back in real time.

Now, he's going to do some counter programming. He's going to basically test the proposition that he doesn't have to engage with the other candidates. But for the other candidates, if you think that this is a race to become the non-Trump candidate, this is the perfect opportunity to do that with Ron DeSantis now at center stage. They're going to have a chance to – to – to kind of strut their stuff without having to worry about the direct rebuttal where he always dominates. He’ll come up a lot. But there is a risk in him not actually being there.

KARL: OK. And we have news that -- just as we were coming on the air, Asa Hutchinson says he has met threshold polling and donor threshold to be in the debate. But how does that work with the RNC pledge, because he’s also someone who has said that he would never support Donald Trump. How does he sign that pledge?

KLEIN: Yes, Jon, I – I just talked to – to – to someone with his campaign. They’re – they’re – he’s going to sign it and say publicly that he doesn't think Donald Trump can be the nominee. He's even saying that he thinks that the 14th Amendment might disqualify him from serving. So, kind of taking care of itself, saying voters should take that into account.

So, basically, he is doing what Chris Christie is doing in saying, I'm going to – I'm basically going to ignore the pledge if Donald Trump becomes the nominee.

And a bunch of these candidates are really testing the RNC right now. How much are they going to hold to this? Keep in mind, Donald Trump himself isn't signing that pledge.

KARL: So, Donna, you're – you’re watching. You’ve got the popcorn out. As somebody –

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR” And the wine. And the wine. Don't forget the wine, OK.

KARL: As somebody who once headed up a national committee, not the Republican National Committee, but the Democratic National Committee, I mean what -- what do you make of how this is playing out?

BRAZILE: Well, look, I would only hope that the chair of the Republican Party tomorrow will set firm guidelines, not just on what will happen on Wednesday, but going forward.

There should be some policy that says, if you fail to show up for the first two debates, you know what, we're going to make sure that you're not able to show up at the last four when perhaps Donald Trump face some new allegations and have to defend his record.

This will be an opportunity for all of the second-tier candidates to have a breakthrough. And the first-tier candidates, the Ron DeSantis and those who are polling in double digits, to really shine, to show that they have some expert knowledge on foreign policy and domestic policy.

So, on one hand, as a – as a former chair, I would be reluctant to allow Donald Trump to pick and choose which debate he would show up in the future. But also I would say to the candidates, go out and give it your best shot.

KARL: And, you know, Asma, one thing that’s interesting is, he’s not going to be there, but he’s sending his campaign people to be in the spin rooms.


BRAZILE: Sure (ph).


KARL: So, you're going to see, you know, his campaign manager is going to be there, and his spokesperson. You know, some of his congressional supporters. I believe Matt Gaetz is going to be there.

KHALID: Yes. I mean I think there's a clear sense from his team that they can't totally seed the ground, right? They can’t allow for Trump not to have any part of this conversation.

But what I think is really interesting is who steps up in Trump's place. You know, I think a lot of folks have been very intrigued with Ron DeSantis. And when, if ever, his campaign might launch.

But I will tell you, who I’m most intrigued by is Vivek Ramaswamy. I interviewed him for the NPR politics podcast. It was a long form interview, 45 minutes. He is an extremely effective candidate in terms of being able to pivot the conversation. He has an agenda. You know, he calls it "America First 2.0." But he, to me, is perhaps, kind of, the underrated candidate who really, if folks get a chance to see him, I think could, kind of, capitalize on this moment.

KARL: And he -- and this is a guy that won't utter a single word of criticism about Donald Trump.


KARL: He's even defending Trump skipping the debate.

But, Sarah, let me ask you about these debate -- this debate memo that was prepared for -- by Ron DeSantis' SuperPAC. The campaign says they never saw it. But the New York Times reported it was -- it was put online. I want to read.



KARL: Yeah, they've certainly seen it now.


KARL: I want to read one -- one section from this.

"Trump's drama pitted brother against brother, friend against friend. He's got so many distractions that it's almost impossible for him to focus on moving the country forward. This election is too important. We need someone that can fight for you instead of fighting for himself."

Strong words from Ron DeSantis's SuperPAC.


What do you make -- first of all, how much of a problem is it to have this debate memo out there for everybody to see?

ISGUR: It's a huge pain for the Ron DeSantis team because now they can't use anything that was in that debate memo. And, frankly, it was all pretty pat advice.

I will say one of the more baffling parts of it was that he shouldn't attack Donald Trump, but he should attack Vivek Ramaswamy, like, this is 2016 all over again but worse. You're not even trying to be the guy against Donald Trump; you're now just attacking backwards to the number three guy, when you're the number two guy? None of that made a lot of sense to me.

But this part where you're trying to convince Republican primary voters that they need to shop for another candidate, that absolutely is what Ron DeSantis has to convince people at this debate stage of. And this memo, I think, opens up the door for a Chris Christie, or some very talented other person on this stage, any time Ron DeSantis comes close to that.

And by the way, that was almost word for word from a Club For Growth ad that has already aired about a different candidate, a different race, rather, that, you know, you're just saying what your consultant said. This is what your billionaire SuperPAC said, et cetera. It puts DeSantis in a bad spot when he was already having so many weeks of bad spots.

KARL: Well, I also want to play something from an interview with DeSantis this week that got a lot of attention, where he seems to be criticizing not just Donald Trump but also Donald Trump's supporters. Take a listen to this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA & (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a strand in our -- in our party that views supporting Trump as whether you are a RINO or not. And so you could be the most conservative person since sliced bread. Unless you're kissing his rear end, they will somehow call you a RINO.


KARL: "Unless you're kissing his rear end." I mean...

BRAZILE: Who would want to do that?




BRAZILE: Look, the -- the most important part about that memo was "Defend Trump." Ron DeSantis needs to lay out his vision. He needs to go beyond talking about his policies in Florida. But what is that -- what's in that memo? "If -- if Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, attacks Donald Trump, defend Trump."

Look, I still believe that Ron DeSantis has a lot to prove on a national stage. And so far they say he's finally figuring out how to talk to people, how to personalize, how to show some emotion. He should show up at the Brazil House on a Friday night when we have some good food. We'll show him how to have some emotion. Because, after you eat our gumbo, you'll -- all you will go back and say, "Ooh, that was damn good."

So DeSantis has a lot to prove. But, you know what, I'm looking for Tim Scott to have a breakout moment. I'm looking for Nikki Haley, who's also out there trying to talk about the next generation. So I think this is an opportunity for Republicans -- not me, I don't have an appetite for them. It's an opportunity for Republicans to talk to the American people in ways that Donald Trump has not talked to the American people, in ways that the party has not talked to the American people about the things that we care about, lowering inflation, making sure that we are protected at the border, making sure that we have sensible policies to continue to grow the economy.

If they can talk about that, they may be able to reach beyond that...


ISGUR: Jon, Trump is up by 40 points. If these Republicans on the debate stage can't make a case against Donald Trump at this debate, this thing is over. You can't just fight amongst each other like 2016 again. He's up by 40.

KHALID: Yeah. I think that there seems to be this huge elephant in the room that nobody wants to discuss on the Republican debate stage, beyond Chris Christie, maybe. And, ultimately, like, this -- this doesn't seem to make any sense to me. You know, earlier, Donna, you were saying that the Republicans would -- the RNC will at some point have to say that these are the rules, and if you don't show up to the debate stage, you're not part of this.

The challenge for the RNC, though, is that Donald Trump is the Republican base. I mean, he controls the Republican base electorate. The RNC doesn't have the power to put those rules on Donald Trump.

KLEIN: And that's the point DeSantis is making in that interview, right? You can take Trump out of the room, but you can't take Trumpism out of the party...


KLEIN: ... right now. And Ron DeSantis knows it as well as anyone. I do think, big picture here, the view from the DeSantis camp is he is the man in the middle now. He is going to be the guy that people are going to be taking shots at, physically at center stage because he's the highest-polling candidate not named Trump. He's going to have to engage in some way, and there's a lot of other candidates that would love to be closer to the center of the stage than they are right now.

So, Ron DeSantis, look, no one's voted yet, right? No one has even had a debate yet. There’s a lot of opportunities for him to right a ship.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: I mean, it’s interesting in that interview. He also said that if we are all -- if all we are, meaning all Republicans are, is a listless vessel, those were his words, a listless vessel doing whatever comes down from Truth Social, you know, we're not going to have an enduring movement. That looks like where we are, at least with a huge segment of the party.

KLEIN: A huge segment of Republicans are following Donald Trump's lead and continue to. Although we continue to see, we saw it in our poll with Ipsos this past week, Jon, people view these criminal charges as very serious -- increasingly serious when it involves January 6th activities in Georgia, as well as federally. And there may be a cumulative effect around that that gets to electability. That's where DeSantis has to -- and the other candidates have to start to make their angled play.

KARL: Well, let me give you somebody else who’s not being a listless vessel, the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, who has said these are serious allegations in Georgia, who has said flatly the election in Georgia was not stolen.

Listen to what else he had to say this week.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: For people that are still out there complaining, look, you can believe whatever you want about the 2020 election. That is your right. I understand that. I have no problem with that.

But the thing is, that was three years ago. And if you're still mad about that, quit complaining about that.


KARL: You know, and, quit complaining, but also, I don't think it can be said enough that that election in Georgia was the most scrutinized election of all in 2020. No state more -- three different recounts including every single ballot by hand.

ASMA KHALID, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: And you've had a number of Republicans, including the governor, come out and say, no, it was not stolen. This was a legitimate election. I think what you hear also from the governor of Georgia that I think is interesting for his party is if we want to start winning elections, we need to look forward.

That being said, I think it's also very notable that he decided to not raise his hand and run for election this year in 2024 because, presumably, he didn't think that he had a winning shot with Trump --


SARAH ISGUR, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: There is the problem for Republican candidates -- this whole summer has been about Donald Trump. it's been about the indictments. Maybe down the road, it will have political ramifications or legal ramifications.

But right now, it has allowed Donald Trump to control the field. None of them have been able to break through the endless news cycle of indictments that Donald Trump has controlled. And that's why Republican primary voters haven't been willing to shop for another candidate. Maybe that'll end.

KARL: Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: That's because this is a movement. I have come to look at the MAGA movement, the Make America Great movement, as one that is very entrenched, that supports the former president, and they're not willing to walk away from Donald Trump. It's up to these other eight or nine candidates -- I forget how many are now in the field -- to basically go to that movement, or go engage them and say, look, I may not be Donald Trump but here's my vision, why don't you give me an opportunity to serve.

I don't think that will happen because they really love Donald Trump. I’ve come to respect that.

But, you know what, the debate moderators should basically open the debate stage with, do you believe Donald Trump won the last election? Because if they can't settle that question at this debate, then, you know what? They have no legitimacy going forward, because the American people know who won that last election, that was Joseph Biden. And that needs to be settled within the Republican Party.

KARL: So, we know how some of them would answer. I mean, Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson would say absolutely not. I think Ron DeSantis would say no.

KLEIN: Yeah, and it's a difficult question not just for where they stand on their own but because they know where their party is, because there are so many Republicans that believe falsely, flatly, wrongly, that the election was stolen. Do you want to offend them?

So many of these folks are still making the calculation that Trump’s going to stumble somehow, he’s going to make a big mistake and there, I’m going to be an heir to his -- to his supporters, to his followers. You don’t want to offend that, maybe third of the party that’s staunchly pro-Trump.

But it's a really hard thing to do. To Sarah's point, it risks replaying some of the mistakes that the other Republicans made in '16.

ISGUR: You've got a bunch of --

KARL: Very quick.

ISGUR: You've got all of these outside attacks from Donald Trump. Republican primary voters feel defensive of him right now. That's the part that they have to get over.

KARL: All right. Thank you to the roundtable.

Up next, a look at how artificial intelligence is changing American politics.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Kim Reynolds is a conservative champion. She signs the Heartbeat Bill and stands up for Iowans every day. So why is Donald Trump attacking her?

DONALD TRUMP (R) FMR PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I opened up the governor position for Kim Reynolds and which she fell behind, I endorsed her, did big rallies and she won. Now, she wants to remain neutral. I don't invite her to events.


KARL: That was a Ron DeSantis SuperPAC political ad. They used artificial intelligence to mimic the voice of former President Donald Trump without disclosing it. One of the most high profile uses of this new technology on the campaign trail so far.

With the rise of AI powered tools that can create hyper realistic fakes, ABC senior reporter Emmanuelle Saliba tracks the race to restore trust online ahead of the 2024 election.


EMMANUELLE SALIBA, ABC NEWS SENIOR REPORTER (voice-over): As the 2024 campaign races ahead, new AI technology is showing no sign of slowing down, from hyper realistic AI images falsely depicting what appears to be President Biden in Republican Party ads to candidates using this technology to create fabricated images of their opponents doing things they never did. With the rise of generative AI tools that can produce human like content from text to audio to video with a simple prompt, it's becoming harder to tell what's real and what's not online.

MOUNIR IBRAHIM, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUEPIC: Think about the way in which we make our decisions on who we vote for, what we believe. So much of it is coming from what we see in here online.

SALIBA (voice-over): This is Mounir Ibrahim, he works for Truepic, a software company that developed new camera technology, allowing users to save details about how and where a photo or video was taken.

IBRAHIM: If you don't actually have transparency and, and a level of authenticity on the images and videos you're seeing you could be easily misled without knowing the difference.

SALIBA (voice-over): We tested this tool. He says it's a possible solution to the proliferation of misleading content, flooding our feeds. Truepic is part of the Content Authenticity Initiative, a coalition of companies hoping to restore trust and what we see online. We took our image to Adobe, a founding member of this group were Chief Trust Officer and General Counsel, Dana Rao showed us how transparency can be implemented through the next step of our photos journey, the edit.

DANA RAO, CHIEF TRUST OFFICER, ADOBE: Type in any sense, describe whatever you want, and the AI will make up a new image based on that sentence. It's really amazing this text the image technology. So, while you add some pigeons.

SALIBA (voice-over): Users in Photoshop have to opt in to record these changes in what Adobe calls "Content Credentials."

RAO: Think of it as a nutrition label for content. So, like a nutrition label, when you're eating the food, you know what you're consuming while you're consuming it. It tells you the important information about that content, who took it, when it was taken, where it was taken and what edits were made. You get to decide for yourself whether or not you want to believe it.

SALIBA: But what would we see if we published our altered image?

RAO: So here we are at the social media feed that you could be consuming your daily news from. And you go through the feed and you see an image that you like, and you just simply click on the icon there and you'll be able to see information.

Again, this was like the nutrition label for the content. It tells you what happened to the image, where it was taken, who made it and the edits that were made along the way.

SALIBA: Rao acknowledges the only way this will work is if there's wide public adoption and if social media platforms agree to display these credentials.

RAO: We're talking to all the social media platforms right now. You know, we expect soon, hopefully by the 2024 election, when this is going to be very important, this technology will be everywhere.

SALIBA: The stakes for democracy couldn't be higher, says digital forensics expert Hany Farid.

HANY FARID, U.C. BERKELEY PROFESSOR: There's a handful of states, a handful of districts, where you move 50,000 votes in one direction or another, that's the ball game. And between social media, algorithmic manipulation, fake content, existing distrust of governments and media and scientists, I don't think that's out of the question. And that, to me, is worrisome, that our very democracy we are talking about here is at stake.

SALIBA: But Farid believes there's hope.

FARID: I think that the technologists, the C-suite of the tech companies, the government and the media dropped the ball for the first 20 years of technology. I think our regulators are asking a lot of good questions, and they're having hearings, and we're having conversations and we're doing briefings. And I think that's good. We have to now act on all of this.

SALIBA: With the 2024 election quickly approaching, experts are urging that we need these solutions now.

RAO: We don't want to see an election won or lost based on some viral deepfake. We have to have those protections in place in time.

SALIBA: For "This Week," Emmanuelle Saliba, ABC News, New York.


KARL: Thanks to Emanuelle for that. We'll be right back.


KARL: And that's all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News Tonight," and have a great day.