CNN’s Kaitlan Collins verbally sparred with one of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys during an intense discussion Tuesday evening.
Appearing on CNN’s “The Source,” attorney John Lauro was asked point-blank how he intends to defend the 45th president from the latest indictment.
He replied with a long retort about the freedom of speech.
“Our defense is going to be focusing on the fact that what we have now is an administration that has criminalized the free speech and advocacy of a prior administration, during the time that there is a political election going on. That’s unprecedented,” he said.
“We’ve never seen that in the United States, in the history of the United States. So literally, what we have is an attack, and really, an effort, to not only criminalize but also censor free speech,” he replied.
He added that Trump “had every right to advocate for his position[s]” about voter fraud irregularities and other electoral matters.
“He was being told, under oath, by people, around the country, that there were problems with the election. He also saw, in real-time, that the rules were changing, without the state legislatures weighing in. And ultimately, he had every right, in fact a responsibility, as the United States President, to raise those issues. And now, his advocacy is being criminalized,” Lauro maintained.
In response, Collins cried foul.
“You talk about free speech. [Special counsel] Jack Smith noted Trump’s right to free speech and to contest the election results. But what he says in this indictment is that when that did not work, the defendant, your client, pursued unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results. And that that is why he is being charged here, not because of anything related to free speech,” she said.
Lauro pushed back by claiming this narrative is “factually inaccurate.”
“Because the ultimate request that Mr. Trump made to Vice President Pence was pause the vote counting, allow the states to weigh in, ultimately, an audit or recertify. And under Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, the actual responsibility for qualifying electors is in the state legislatures,” the Trump attorney explained.
“Mr. Trump had the advice of counsel, Mr. Eastman, who was one of the most respected constitutional scholars in the United States, giving him advice and guidance. That’s pure politics. You may disagree with it. And people have spirited arguments about the law all the time. And that’s why lawyers are in business. But we’ve never had a situation where a spirited debate about the Constitution has become a criminal case,” he added.
“What’s going to happen when there’s a Republican administration? Is there going to be an effort to criminalize speech by Democrats? Is there going to be an effort to characterize something that a Democrat politician says, that’s not — that doesn’t meet some kind of truth standard, at the Department of Justice, that that’s going to be the subject of a criminal indictment?” he continued.
This time Collins claimed the narrative being told by Lauro was the false one.
“But John, I should note that you’re saying that he was just asking him to send them [electors] back. I was just talking to the Chief of Staff, who was with Pence that day. He said he was being asked to do something illegal, and that Pence did not have the right to do to reject them,” she said.
She added that Eastman, the guy Lauro had mentioned, is listed as a co-conspirator in the indictment. He’s not alone. Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell are also listed on it.
Five of the six co-conspirators are Republican lawyers.
— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) August 1, 2023
Lauro still wasn’t convinced.
“What was not true [is] that there were states where ballots were sent out without people asking for them, where there were changes in verification, where there were instances where ballots were not being supervised, at drop-off places,” he said.
“The president was told, given advice, that under these circumstances, the state legislatures have the ultimate ability to qualify electors. He followed that advice. Now you may disagree as to whether or not those things actually occurred or not. That’s why we have political debate; we don’t have criminal trials over that. We have the discussion, like we’re just having,” he added.
Collins immediately pushed back.
“But it matters if those things actually occurred or not, John,” she said.
“Not under the First Amendment,” Lauro countered.
“But it matters if those things actually occurred,” Collins pressed.
“No, not at all, because under the First Amendment …,” Lauro tried replying.
“It does matter if there was actually fraud,” Collins said, doubling down.
“No. No. The First Amendment allows …,” Lauro went off once more before being cut off again.
“But John, let me stop you there, because … the First Amendment doesn’t allow the president of the United States to go and claim there was fraud when he was told there was not fraud, and then try to subvert the election by overturning legitimate electors,” Collins claimed.
“The First Amendment protects all speech. … If we’re going to have a situation where the Department of Justice is going to fact-check politicians, and indict politicians for political speech, and whether or not they’re factually accurate, then this country will shut down politically because it’s a never-ending cycle of tit for tat. And that’s the risk of injecting politics into the criminal justice system,” Lauro said, pushing back.
“So right now, people disagree with President Trump. What’s going to happen four years from now if somebody disagrees with President Biden in terms of what he said during the election? That’s why we don’t criminalize political speech. Political speech, under the First Amendment, has an almost absolute protection. Nobody gets to judge, whether it’s true or not, except the American people. And we do that in an election.”
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