On this “Face the Nation” broadcast, moderated by John Dickerson
- CBS News chief election and camapign correspondent Robert Costa
- Rikki Klieman, CBS News legal analyst, and Catherine Herridge, CBS News investigative correspondent
- CBS News elections and surveys director Anthony Salvanto
- New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu
- North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
- Anthony Salvanto, CBS News elections and surveys director, Amy Walter, Cook Political Report editor-in-chief, and Ed O’Keefe, CBS News senior White House correspondent.
Clickto browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation. Margaret is off. I’m John Dickerson.
We find ourselves once again sorting and explaining the challenges to the American system following the actions of former President Donald Trump, for which there is no previous example in American history.
Last week’s news, for the first time in history, a former U.S. president has been charged with multiple — 37 in this case — federal charges stemming from the investigation into his removal of classified material from the White House and his attempts to hide it from authorities.
This is the second time Mr. Trump has been indicted this year. These federal criminal charges are part of a two-pronged investigation being conducted by a special prosecutor Jack Smith, who is also looking into Mr. Trump’s role in the events leading up to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Smith was named to oversee the investigation following the FBI’s seizure of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago in August of 2022. The 49-page indictment outlining the evidence against Mr. Trump is exhaustive in its detail. Prosecutors accuse Mr. Trump of conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements and allege his willful retention of hundreds of classified documents, including some that contained top secret military plans and information about U.S. nuclear capability and vulnerability.
The indictment leaves little to the imagination. It uses photographs of boxes of materials, including the classified documents stored carelessly in open locations at Mar-a-Lago, including a public ballroom, a bathroom and spilled over a storage room floor.
It cites detailed notes by Trump’s attorney, audiotapes of the former president showing classified materials in two instances to people without security clearance, noting that — quote — “As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” undermining the former president’s public defense that anything he took was automatically declassified.
JACK SMITH (Special Counsel): Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States. And they must be enforced.
We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.
AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up!
JOHN DICKERSON: Flash back to the 2016 campaign, when Mr. Trump highlighted the investigation into the misuse of Hillary Clinton’s non- secure e-mail server to forward classified e-mails.
Back then, he repeatedly pledged to enforce all laws protecting classified information.
DONALD TRUMP (Former President of the United States): We can’t have someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified.
JOHN DICKERSON: Most of Mr. Trump’s 2024 rivals and supporters in Congress did not address the substance of the indictment, but complained that it existed at all, declaring it an example of government abuse.
GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS (R-Florida) (Presidential Candidate): You can’t have one faction of society weaponizing the power of the state against factions that it doesn’t like. And that’s what you see.
JOHN DICKERSON: A few contenders say the actions of Mr. Trump’s show he should not be president.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who announced his campaign this week, says, wait and see.
MIKE PENCE (R-Presidential Candidate): We also need to hear the former president’s defense. Then each of us can make our own judgment on whether this is the latest example of a Justice Department working in injustice, or otherwise.
JOHN DICKERSON: For Mr. Trump’s MAGA faction, there is no otherwise.
KARI LAKE (R-Former Arizona Gubernatorial Candidate): If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KARI LAKE: And I’m going to tell you, yes, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KARI LAKE: That’s not a threat. That’s a public service announcement.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JOHN DICKERSON: On the campaign trail Saturday, former President Trump tried to turn his personal woes into a campaign message.
FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I put everything on the line. I will never yield. I will never be deterred. I will never stop fighting for you, never.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JOHN DICKERSON: There are a lot of questions so we’re going to try to answer today.
And we want to explore how these aren’t just documents in a criminal proceeding. They are also a window into the behavior of a candidate, a man who would like to be given responsibility with the most sensitive things a president handles again.
We begin with our chief election campaign correspondent, Robert Costa.
Bob, you have been reporting inside the Trump team, the legal team, but also getting reaction on the former president’s response to all of this. What are you hearing?
ROBERT COSTA: John, good to be with you.
Last night, as the former president was traveling around the country, his aides and allies say he was defiant privately, furious about this indictment and pledging to stay in the race even if he is convicted of a federal crime.
Some of his allies describe privately his behavior and his conduct yesterday as someone — somewhat akin to what happened in October 2016 with the “Access Hollywood” tape and that drop. And it created a major political crisis.
What did he say then? “I’ll never quit the race.” That’s what he’s saying this weekend.
But Trump faces so much uncertainty, both politically and legally. His own legal team continues to have this unfolding shakeup. Two lawyers left the team in recent days. And now some of his remaining lawyers are trying to get it all together, but they’re trying to still come up with a strategy. How are they going to counter this sweeping indictment?
JOHN DICKERSON: Bob, there’s something — one of the most striking parts of the indictment is a transcript of a conversation the former president had with some authors who were in front of him.
And, in that conversation, he mentions Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, which immediately reminded me of the reporting you did for your book “Peril.”
What do you make of the former president bringing up the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
ROBERT COSTA: In recent days, John, we have been casting our net widely, trying to figure out, why did this all happen? Why did the former president bring these documents back to Mar-a-Lago? What was the motivation?
And part of our answer in our reporting is that he was angry. So much of this, as with many Trump stories, is driven by grievance, his grievance with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the recent one, Mark Milley, and how Mark Milley in the public eye was becoming a major figure in 2021.
And to counter Milley’s growing public profile, Trump, in interviews with reporters and friends, he started to bring out documents to make his own case on national security, on foreign policy to say that he was, in a sense, better than Milley, that Milley didn’t know what he was doing.
And when he did this, according to our sources, he was cavalier, bringing out things he should not have shown to people writing books and writing articles.
JOHN DICKERSON: We mentioned the fact that this is happening in the campaign context. People sometimes call the campaign a job interview. This is a — this is a candidate who’s had the job before, and this is the way he treated it.
What’s been the response — treated the obligations of the job. What’s been the response inside the Republican race to this indictment?
ROBERT COSTA: There is alarm, in the sense that they believe, if he wins the presidency again, he is so now comfortable with the levers of power, and he ignores the rule of law, in the eyes of some of his competitors, that he could be a threat to American democracy.
Yet very few are saying that publicly, because they know Trump voters across the country, who they want to win over, are still standing with Trump as he faces this legal showdown.
But former Vice President Mike Pence, who recently jumped into the race, has said that Trump, in his view, doesn’t follow the Constitution, doesn’t understand the rule of law. And former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is making a similar case against Trump. So there’s a bit of a growing refrain.
But so many of the rival campaigns at this point are in a wait-and-see mode. They know that on the horizon is not only a trial with this federal special counsel indictment, but also another possible federal indictment on the ongoing January 6 case. And, in August, you could have an indictment in Georgia over Trump’s pressuring of election officials, and, of course, the ongoing trial and litigation that looms on the horizon in New York.
JOHN DICKERSON: CBS News chief campaign and elections correspondent Robert Costa.
ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.
JOHN DICKERSON: For more on the legal implications, we’re joined by senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge and CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman.
Rikki, I want to start with you.
You have been a prosecutor and a defense lawyer. So what stands out to you, now that you have read this indictment?
RIKKI KLIEMAN: I think what stands out, obviously, is the magnitude of detail in this indictment.
It’s not only that you’re dealing with 31 counts under the Espionage Act, which simply means the unlawful, willing retention of classified information, or even unclassified information that would hurt the defense of the United States and aid our enemies. It’s the detail of a speaking indictment.
We have to remember that much of this indictment, John, is to educate not only ultimately a court and jury, but it’s really to educate the public. Much of this indictment, in terms of the detail, may not even come into evidence, in terms of what’s admissible or not in the course of a trial.
What also strikes me, John, is, the overwhelming detail leaves the Trump legal team with real need to have powerful motions to dismiss, because, if this goes to trial, the way it reads, it’s rather overwhelming for anyone to be able to fight it on the facts themselves.
JOHN DICKERSON: And I want to get to that motion-to-dismiss question in a moment.
But, Catherine, you have been doing reporting about the risk assessment about just what was in these documents. Educate us on that.
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Well, what jumps out to me, John, is when you go to the section the willful retention of national defense information, by my count, there are 21 top secret documents, and the disclosure of top secret information has the expectation of exceptionally grave damage to national security.
But what out — stands out to me is some of the classified codings, like TK, or Talent Keyhole. You don’t see that very often. That’s about intelligence from overhead imagery. For example, if we’re looking at a terrorist target, do we have such good visibility that we can count the hairs on their head? Can we see what they’re eating for breakfast on their terrorist patio?
Those are capabilities that we don’t want our adversaries to know that we have. And then also Special Access Programs, or SAP, these are highly restricted programs because of the sensitivity of the intelligence and the technology, such as stealth technology, for example.
Think of classified information like the Pentagon. Special Access Programs are these handful of rooms where there are just a limited number of keys to control and restrict access to that information.
JOHN DICKERSON: So it’s not just secret; it’s the top of the — top of the top?
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Some of these are way beyond top secret, like, I said, Talent Keyhole, when you’re talking about Special Access Programs or SCI, sensitive, compartmentalized information.
These really are the crown jewels of the U.S. intelligence community.
JOHN DICKERSON: Rikki, let me ask you about a part of this indictment which seems to come — which comes from one of the former president’s lawyers.
Educate us on the crime-fraud exception, how it’s possible for a prosecutor to have this information. And is that a weakness? Because we know, from our reporting, that this is something that the Trump defense team is going to talk about, is the behavior of the prosecutors.
RIKKI KLIEMAN: We all believe that, when you go to a doctor, that there’s a privilege, that what you say and what your ailments are will remain confidential.
Same thing if you go to a clergyperson. And it’s exactly the same thing. When you go to a lawyer. You believe that, if you are a client, that what you say will never be disclosed to anyone, let alone in the grand jury or court of law. It’s called the attorney-client privilege. It protects all conversations relating to legal advice.
So, how did it get broken? That is, how did a court in Washington, D.C., a judge, and then an appellate court affirm the idea that you could hear, listen, read the notes and the voice memos of a lawyer to testify against his own client?
It’s called the crime-fraud exception. So what the court believed was, the conversations between Evan Corcoran, the lawyer, and Donald Trump were really in furtherance of a crime or a fraud, and he was ordered and forced to testify.
Now, one could say, well, that’s one and done. So now Mr. Corcoran is going to be a witness in this case, should it go to trial. But we have to remember that that took place, that decision, in the District of Columbia. Now we are in Florida. So can it come up to a new judge? Might a new judge decide that it is not admissible at trial? Yes.
Will that hurt the case? Not necessarily. There’s plenty of other evidence.
JOHN DICKERSON: Catherine, I have got two questions for you.
The first is, what happens if you’re just a regular old Joe and you have this kind of information? Legally, what happens to you? What’s happened?
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Well, as one example, I have contacts who work in the nuclear weapons capability arena.
Let’s say you have a nuclear document, it’s on top of the photocopier, and you walk away, you leave it there. Your clearance is gone. You are out the door. There are immediate consequences.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about a number of the president’s defenders.
Well, first of all, we should note, the current president is under investigation by a special counsel.
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Correct.
JOHN DICKERSON: We don’t know much about that. But Republicans have brought that up in defending the president. They have also brought the case of Hillary Clinton.
You have been looking at that. Give us a sense of the apples and oranges or apples and apples in comparison with what’s on the table here.
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Well, what strikes me, John, in this indictment is I think the special counsel, Jack Smith, specifically charged willful retention of national defense information in an effort to sort of blunt criticism that these cases may be the same.
If you go back to the summer of 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey said that they found multiple e-mail chains on Hillary Clinton’s private server that she used for government business that contained highly classified information, including these Special Access Programs that we just discussed, but, in his view, it should not be charged because he didn’t feel there was sufficient evidence of intent or willfulness.
Critics would say that even just purchasing the server was an example of intent. And then, finally, you have to look at just the scope of the information and also the timeline. But I think this charging of willful retention really is by design.
JOHN DICKERSON: Right, the facts of the case quite different. But thank you so much for that and for all your other answers.
And, Rikki Klieman, thank you.
And Face the Nation will be back in one minute. Stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: CBS News elections and surveys director Anthony Salvanto and his team were in the field with a presidential survey when the indictment news broke, and were able to include questions to determine the impact of the charges against former President Trump.
Anthony, it’s good to have you here.
What’s the reaction been?
ANTHONY SALVANTO: Good morning, John.
Start with Republican primary voters, because we’re in the heat of this campaign. They say it does not matter. They expressly say that this will not change their views. And maybe that doesn’t surprise. They have been with Donald Trump for years. But what’s interesting is the why.
When you ask if they’re more concerned that this is politically motivated or if there’s a national security risk, they come down heavily on the politically motivated side, and 76 percent of them saying that. And what’s interesting about this is, you juxtapose that against the broader public, who is much more split.
And, in many cases, the public says these aren’t mutually exclusive. It can be, in part, both. But the Republican primary voter, Donald Trump is still on top, and this hasn’t changed anything.
JOHN DICKERSON: And the general election voter — so, the Republican Party primary voter overwhelmingly, but when you mix it all together, the majority believes what, of the country?
ANTHONY SALVANTO: So, if you take out just the potential national security risk…
JOHN DICKERSON: Right.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: … and you ask people, is this one, well, you get this big number among the public that says, yes, it is.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yes, it is a national security risk.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: Yes, it is a national security risk if true, if, in fact, as alleged, there were nuclear plans or military plans in these documents. That’s at 69 percent.
But you want to see that in comparison to the Republican primary voter, for whom that number is much lower?
JOHN DICKERSON: Sure.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: It’s at 38 percent.
So, it’s that difference that I think is essential to understanding why you’re going to see the rhetoric on the Republican side on the campaign trail that’s talking about what they say is political motivation, as opposed to national security risk.
JOHN DICKERSON: Right.
So, what happens if the president is actually convicted?
ANTHONY SALVANTO: So, if you look ahead to that possibility, we asked, would that be disqualifying for him to be able to serve a second term, if elected to one?
Republican primary voters overwhelmingly say, no, that’s not disqualify. He ought to still be able to serve, and they’re at eight in 10 on that. But the public is majority saying he cannot.
So, look, you get through the primaries, and you wonder about general election implications here, that difference is going to matter. But, for now, for Republicans, it is not disqualifying.
JOHN DICKERSON: And, finally, a question of history. We all remember the “Lock her up” chants from the 2016 campaign from Donald Trump’s supporters at rallies.
What did the survey show then about the way Republican primary voters thought about the allegations that Hillary Clinton had misused classified data?
ANTHONY SALVANTO: Well, back in the summer of 2016, our polling showed that Republicans overwhelmingly thought that what they thought she did was wrong and was even illegal, OK? Now, look, that may have ultimately had electoral implications for her as well.
But I think the takeaway from that comparison is that, sometimes, when the public makes up its mind, it’s often politics first. It’s who is doing something, as opposed to the abstract of what may have happened
JOHN DICKERSON: And Anthony will have more discussion about politics later in our broadcast with our political panel, where we will talk about the state of the race.
We will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation. Stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: We turn now to the first of two Republican governors joining us today, New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu, who announced last week that he would not be a candidate for president.
Welcome, Governor. Thank you for being with us.
You’ve taken a look at the indictment.
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU (R-New Hampshire): You bet.
JOHN DICKERSON: Do you think that the current front-runner of the Republican nomination should be given the responsibility to handle the most sensitive national security documents again with reelection?
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: Well, I guess we’re going to find out.
Yes, I mean, look, if — if half of what they say they can prove is provable, then he’s got a real problem on our hands. And it’s self- inflicted. Let’s remember that. This is a — he had every chance in the world to hand all those files and documents back. He did just the opposite. He bragged about keeping them.
So, this is very self-inflicted. I mean, I guess we’ll find out, of the 37 or whatever charges there are, how many he’s potentially found guilty on. So we’ll — we’ll see where it goes, and what’s disqualifying and not.
But I think you know, that last segment you had was — was really telling. It’s just another example that he could win the nomination, but cannot, mathematically cannot, win in November of ’24, which is why the Republican Party needs to look to another candidate, and they’ve got a lot of great options before them.
JOHN DICKERSON: This seems to provide an opportunity for them to not look to another candidate, because they are rallying around him.
I want to read you something — from “The National Review,” which wrote about this indictment: “It is impossible to read the indictment against Trump in the Mar-a-Lago document case and not be appalled by it, the way he handled classified documents as an ex-president and responded to the attempt by federal authorities to reclaim them.”
You seem to share that view, but many — the majority in your party and the majority of public officials have exactly the opposite view.
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: Yes.
So, this is the problem that the Department of Justice has. And — and whether you want to agree with it or not doesn’t matter. The reality is, a lot of people are looking at that kind of cloud that sits over the DOJ, and says there has been a little too much politics in that department over the past couple of years.
There’s been a lot of allegations of political handling. So, they have the responsibility to say, look, this is different. This is much more severe.
JOHN DICKERSON: But…
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: And I think they have to do that.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you this, Governor.
But, first of all, the Department of Justice is investigating the sitting president .There’s a special counsel. So, the same — same standard is applied to him.
And isn’t — isn’t it not the Department of Justice that’s applying a different standard, but the politicians, who are the same ones, in some cases, Kevin McCarthy and others, who are applying a standard to Donald Trump that they did not apply to others, most — Hillary Clinton being the primary one?
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: Yes, well — yes, but you can’t equivo — yes, if I may, you can’t equivocate the two.
JOHN DICKERSON: You mean equate.
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: Right? So you have folks on — on the — on the — yes,equate the two. Sorry.
But look, those are politicians. They’re — they’re on the Republican side. For the most part, they’re going to defend a political position. The DOJ has a responsibility to be above it all, and should be and historically has been, but recently has not been.
And so the average American watches this. You and I are in the weeds, right? We’re talking about this issue all the time in — over the last 48 hours. The average American is looking at this thing for 90 seconds. And they’re saying, wait a minute, they found files over there. They found a server in Clinton’s bathtub over there. They found files over here.
JOHN DICKERSON: But…
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: What’s the difference? And there is a very clear difference.
JOHN DICKERSON: Right.
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: There’s a huge difference.
JOHN DICKERSON: I’m…
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: But it has to be explained to the American people.
JOHN DICKERSON: But, I mean, Governor, that’s like saying New York and New Hampshire are the same because they have the word new in their titles.
I mean, there are great differences in terms of obstruction of justice in the — in the cases of, say, President Biden, and the case of President — former President Trump. So, let me ask you…
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: I agree.
JOHN DICKERSON: But — we’re going to run out of time, unfortunately.
So, I — hold on. We’re going to get you on the other side of the half- hour. And we’ll come back to this.
We’re going to take a break. Stay right there. We’ve got more when we come back to Face the Nation
JOHN DICKERSON: We will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation, including more with Governor Sununu and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.
Stay with us.
JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to Face the Nation.
We return now to the Republican governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu.
Governor, we were talking about the uniform application of standards, whether it’s by politicians, or the Department of Justice.
The former Attorney General Bill Barr weighed in on this question on FOX News when he was asked about whether this is politically motivated.
He said: “I defended the president on Russiagate. I stood up and called out Alvin Bragg” — that’s the Manhattan district attorney — “politicizing the hit job. And I have spoken out for 30 years about the abuse of criminal justice process to influence politics. But this is simply not true.”
So you have the former attorney general saying that these charges of weaponization are not true. I wonder what you think a responsible politician, looking at the evidence before us, should say about the Department of Justice, and whether there’s any danger in saying weaponization, when you have a former attorney general saying, no, this is on the level?
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: No, I think that’s a great point. And I think Bill Barr is absolutely right.
I — I don’t see this as being political. But you — but, again, the point I keep going back to is, the — the average person may — may still think it’s political. And a lot of people clearly do. And so if you’re going to take unprecedented steps like this, as valid as they are, as valid as they are, then they have to, again, acknowledge the responsibility of showing all sides of it, showing how it’s not political, not just saying, don’t worry, it’s not political.
They’ve done that before, and it — it didn’t work out so well. So they have the responsibility of showing how it isn’t political to give that calm, to give that confidence and that trust in the system, so, when this goes forward, and if and when he is found guilty, there’s trust that it was done the right way.
JOHN DICKERSON: As a politician of good faith, what is one’s responsibility when surveying this, when you — when you know it’s not a weaponization, when you know there’s no evidence of weaponization?
What should you say to the public? The public may feel one thing, but if the facts of the case suggest more complexity and gray areas, what does a politician of good faith say to the public?
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: Yes, well, look, I — I’m — I’m a big believer everyone has to be very straightforward and transparent about it and acknowledge the realities of the severity of these accusations and — and these allegations and the fact that they — again, they’re very real. They’re self-inflicted.
This is nothing like we’ve ever seen, anything we’ve seen before. And — and there’s very likely, I think, going to — going to come down to some type of guilty verdict on — on the president, at least on some of these charges. And so, again, we all have that responsibility.
Now, who takes that? Who wants to play political games? That’s — I — I guess, everyone, unfortunately will — will tend to do that, on both sides of the aisle, by the way.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let…
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: You just have to acknowledge both sides of this. You really do.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me move on to the state of New Hampshire, the first primary.
Does this — you want to change the conversation away from Donald Trump and to get some other candidates and perhaps get another nominee. Does this focus and the rallying around former President Trump make that much more difficult?
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: It makes it more difficult.
But, look, my — my message to all the candidates is very clear. You better come out. Just as you — you acknowledge, you have to come out and — and – – and they have to come out and acknowledge this is different. This is serious. Even — if even half of this stuff is true, he’s in real trouble. And it is self-inflicted.
And I just see too many of the candidates trying to walk around it: We’ll see what happens.
To your point, you have to be clear and transparent. You’re running against this guy. He’s whooping you by 40 points. Everybody needs to come out in concert, so it’s not just a Chris Christie hitting Donald Trump, or this candidate hitting Donald Trump. It is a party message. That’s very, very important, because Donald Trump doesn’t represent the Republican Party.
He doesn’t rep — he only represents himself. And so that — that is shown when all the candidates come out equally and unequivocally talking about this issue in the right way.
JOHN DICKERSON: Did you mention that to Governor Burgum when you had breakfast with him this morning?
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: Absolutely.
Doug — look, Doug is an incredible governor. I think he’s going to be a great candidate. And he’s hitting the ground running with — with all the things that you need to, to be successful. And — and a lot of the other candidates are — are kind of turning their machines on and — and starting to hit the ground.
So we’ll see where it all goes, but I think Doug’s a — a great governor, and he’s going to — he’s going to — going to be a spark to watch this fall.
JOHN DICKERSON: Another person you met with this week got into the race, former Vice President Mike Pence.
Here’s the thing that puzzles me. He is, by every measure of the old style of politics, a good old-fashioned conservative, and yet the polling consistently shows that he — though — though protesters at the — or — or the — those who attacked the Capitol on January 6 called for his hanging.
He seems to have paid a political price for that, more than the person who led to the circumstances that had them call for his hanging, which is to say his former boss.
What does that say about the nature of things?
GOVERNOR CHRIS SUNUNU: Well, look, all — all the candidates are a little bit different, but I think you have three candidates in a similar position, all great people, great candidates, Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, former Vice President Pence.
These are all folks that were on the Trump team, right? And now they’re kind of off the team, and — and they’re all running against him. So they each just have to make their cases. They know how to run a ground game. They know how to talk to folks with a sense of authenticity about what it is and what has changed between then and now.
But each of those candidates are in, I think, a similar position and will have to make their case as to why they — they not just — or have earned the job, but what’s going to spark them. What’s going to spark them beyond 5, 6, 7 percent in the polls to get people excited this fall?
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Governor Chris Sununu, thank you so much for being here. We’ll be talking to you again, for sure. Appreciate it.
And we’ll be right back.
JOHN DICKERSON: Three more Republicans jumped into the presidential primary race last week.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum was one of them. He is campaigning in New Hampshire, and joins us from Manchester.
Good morning, Governor. Thank you for being with us.
You’re trying to break through. All candidates running with — against Donald Trump are. This indictment, whatever you may think about the — about the details of it, creates an opportunity to talk about the responsibilities, obligations and character of the job.
So, is it an opportunity for you? And what are you going to do with it?
GOVERNOR DOUG BURGUM (R-North Dakota, Presidential Candidate): Well, John, you’ve — you’ve written, and written eloquently, about the presidency being the hardest job in the world.
And I think part of — part of your thesis was priorities. And this is something that we’ve been talking about. We’re on day four on the campaign trail, and talking about that, and sort of we make sure that people understand who we are, why we’re running and what we’ll do.
And who we are, I’m a small-town kid from — in North Dakota. I have had jobs growing up where you shower at the end of the day, not at the beginning of the day, went from those small-town roots. My dad died when I was a freshman in high school. I got a little bit of farmland, mortgaged that.
That became the seed capital for a startup software company, which grew into a billion-dollar company, with small-town kids from all over North Dakota working for that company.
And we had 130,000 customers and 120 companies. It’s like one of these only-in-America type stories. And the reason why we’re running is, we know that, now having been governor for the last six-and-a-half years, I know, when you’re in the top spot and executive role, how you pick your priorities, what you focus on.
You have an opportunity to improve the life of every citizen. And that’s what we’re planning on doing, is improving the life of every American and bringing out the best of America. And how we’re going to do that is, we’re going to focus on three things.
The economy, it’s touching everybody right now. Energy policy, that touches everybody right now and completely related to national security. Those three things are interrelated. And, right now, we feel it’s not just a course correction, but the Biden administration is 180 degrees in the wrong direction on the economy, on energy policy, and on national security.
JOHN DICKERSON: Governor…
GOVERNOR DOUG BURGUM: And that’s what we’re going to focus on and talk about in our campaign.
JOHN DICKERSON: And that’s — when you wake up every day as a chief executive who’s been handed the responsibility by the people of North Dakota, you have a certain obligation to the office, you feel. You’ve talked about it.
Would you do anything like what’s alleged in this indictment about former President Trump?
GOVERNOR DOUG BURGUM: Well, I — I have only made one campaign promise so far. And that’s, if — if elected, I will get down to the — to the southern border in the first two weeks, not take two years, like Biden did.
And I can also tell you that, when president and when we leave the office, that we will follow every rule related to handling classified documents.
JOHN DICKERSON: Governor Sununu was just on. He said he had a good breakfast with you, but he said, this is a competition. There’s only one top spot.
You’re — you’re in the business world. You can’t just get a little bit of market share. You have to get the entire — you have to get the most and biggest share. And his argument is that candidates like you have to make a clear distinction with the front-runner.
And this is a pretty big opportunity, particularly for somebody talking about the values they were imbued with by living in a small town, to make a moral claim about the office and the attributes required for it. But you’re not.
GOVERNOR DOUG BURGUM: Well, I think, obviously, the way we’ve conducted ourselves when I was a CEO, when I have been governor, when you have the responsibility of the top spot, it’s important to make sure that you’re — that you’re not only doing a great job for the people you’re serving, but when you’re — you’re the officeholder for a period of time, and there’s a dignity and a discipline that goes with being a governor and goes with being the president.
And, certainly, we would — we would strive to uphold that going forward, because it’s a — it’s such a key institution going forward. But, yes, absolutely, that’s what we — we’d be focusing on making sure we’re doing that. And, like I said, you’ve written about the importance of that.
JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about a moment from — you — well, you — you had an interview with the Fargo — Fargo Forum, in which you said that there’s a silent majority that’s being neglected.
Quoting you: “All the engagement right now is occurring on the edge.”
What did you mean?
GOVERNOR DOUG BURGUM: Well, I think it’s not just silent.
I — Governor Spencer Cox of Utah doesn’t call it the silent majority. It’s the exhausted majority. But the majority of Americans and the people that are touched every day by these issues of inflation, of — of government red tape, of high gas prices, of an open border, it’s affecting every American, they’re not on social media.
They’re not watching the cable news programs. That’s the majority of Americans. And so I think, again, in the tech world, we always said, hey, when you’re building a global world-class company from nothing, you’ve got to separate what’s signal and what’s noise.
And there’s a lot of noise. And a lot of that noise is in the echo chambers on the edges. And that — that exhausted majority in the middle, they’re yearning for leadership that’s going to come and talk to them and listen to them about the issues that are affecting them in their everyday lives.
And just in the few short days we’ve been on the trail, we know that. In the two days in Iowa, yesterday here in New Hampshire, there are people that want to talk about the issues facing this country and how it affects them and their lives every day.
JOHN DICKERSON: During the COVID pandemic, in the toughest part of it, you talked about masks and you said that — that everybody needed to be empathetic towards those who might wear it.
You said: “Dial up your empathy and your understanding.”
Are there other issues in the world you see today in domestic politics where you would apply that same guidance for people?
GOVERNOR DOUG BURGUM: Well, when we talk about the best of America, growing up in a small town, the best of America is when neighbors help neighbors.
When — when — when a farmer in North Dakota falls ill, the neighbors rally around, whether it’s to get the crop planted or the crop harvested. Every spring in western North Dakota in the Badlands, when it’s time for spring branding and roundup, the neighbors show up. They couldn’t get the work done if they weren’t neighbors helping neighbors.
And we need to get back to that. And I think part of what — our real enemies, when we talk about China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, they love it when we’re fighting with each other. They love it when we’re just throwing insults back and forth at each other.
But we have to approach — and one of the bywords we have in our administration is curiosity, curiosity to understand where the other person is coming from. And with that, it — also, I know, America has built its economy around innovation.
And we have the Biden administration completely focused on regulating, you know, regulating our industries out of business, as opposed to focusing on innovation. And the way you get to innovation is, you get there through curiosity and understanding that everybody can contribute to the conversation.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, Governor Doug Burgum, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.
Good luck out on the campaign trail.
And we’ll be back in a moment with our panel.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’re back with our elections and surveys director, Anthony Salvanto, and we’re also joined by Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter, as well as our senior White House and political correspondent, Ed O’Keefe.
It’s good to be with all of you.
Anthony, I’m going to start with you, more numbers. Give us the top-line number of the Republican field right now.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: So, Donald Trump is still on top comfortably, and in two important ways, one very simply, in vote choice. He’s at 61 percent when people say who they would support right now, but in another very important way in consideration.
That’s when people can pick multiple candidates, one, more if they like, because this is a point in the campaign where they’re evaluating things more generally. And he’s up in that consideration too.
JOHN DICKERSON: So, there’s not a fancy, a special second candidate that’s hiding in the wings that is accorded consideration.
But don’t answer that, because I want to ask you, in terms of what the president, former president, is talking about, is it what people want to hear?
ANTHONY SALVANTO: No, short — in a short answer.
They don’t want to hear him talk about 2020. They don’t want to hear him talk about himself or the past. They want to hear him talk about plans for the country. And yet he’s still leading.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yes.
Amy, what do you make of that in this current context, where there’s the first indictment of a former president — federal indictment of a former president?
AMY WALTER (Editor in Chief, The Cook Political Report): Right.
I think there are two things. One is, if the leadership of the party and his own rivals are echoing what Trump is saying about this indictment — this is politically motivated, this is rigged, this is a witch-hunt — why should we believe that voters are going to feel any differently? So they’re kind of all following each other in this.
And the other one about, why are they not talking about the number one issue, if you talk to the folks in and around, say, the DeSantis campaign, they believe the only way to go and chip away at Trump’s support is to go at him from the right on some of these cultural issues.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yes.
AMY WALTER: That’s where they see him as most vulnerable.
And when you talk about the economy, voters overwhelmingly — I’m sure you have seen this in your polling already, Anthony — voters in the Republican primary think that Trump did a great job on the economy. So, trying to out- economy him is going to be very difficult.
JOHN DICKERSON: And, also, he may not have to talk about it much. They’re like, yes, he’s our guy. We check that box. We — he can talk about whatever he wants…
AMY WALTER: That’s right.
JOHN DICKERSON: … because we have — we have assumed he’s going to do a good job.
AMY WALTER: And this is where the governor that you just interviewed is…
JOHN DICKERSON: Burgum, yes.
AMY WALTER: Burgum is trying to make his case that: Look, I’m actually the business guy.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yes.
AMY WALTER: I have actually done this. I’m going to address those issues.
Getting that traction, though, is going to be very difficult, when we still are focused much more on what’s going on with Trump…
JOHN DICKERSON: Yes, and I want to…
AMY WALTER: … than any of the other candidates.
JOHN DICKERSON: I want to ask about that blocking, which we talked a little bit about with Governor Sununu.
Ed, you have been out on the trail. There are some of former President Trump’s rivals who are trying to make the moral case, who are trying to make — how’s that going for them?
ED O’KEEFE: Not very well, as you can see in these numbers, I mean, 1 percent, right, for Asa Hutchinson, Chris Christie probably too early to measure.
What I was struck by is that the top five there in the consideration category — so, it was Trump, DeSantis, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley — those are the names I heard from voters…
JOHN DICKERSON: Oh, yes.
ED O’KEEFE: … the five of them.
And so that sort of gives you a sense sort of, of at this point, Mayor Bowser that’s the ball game, right, that Trump is obviously double digits ahead of all of them. But if anybody else right now in name I.D., staffing operations has a shot at Iowa, New Hampshire, it’s probably those five right now.
I’m struck too by Governor Burgum’s decision this week to come out and say: I’m going to talk about the economy, energy and national security. In some ways, energy bleeds into the other two.
So, maybe really, he’s just running for energy secretary one day. But he’s made a point. And it’s just been proven in the polling…
JOHN DICKERSON: I…
ED O’KEEFE: … that most voters want to be listening to candidates talk about inflation and the economy, which, for more than a year, right, has been the number one concern.
JOHN DICKERSON: And when you get there, by the way, that’s what’s on your plate…
ED O’KEEFE: Right.
JOHN DICKERSON: … the stuff he’s talking about.
ED O’KEEFE: Yes.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: Yes.
Look, I mean, first of all, it always feels good when the reporter on the ground is seeing the same things we’re seeing in the polling.
ED O’KEEFE: Right.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: But, look, when you list out for folks what they want in a president in the abstract, right — and, for Republicans, it’s been someone who challenges woke ideas. It’s also been someone who has economic plans or can make the economy better, et cetera.
Whatever it is, Donald Trump is your guy.
JOHN DICKERSON: Mm-hmm.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: And so you can sort of wrap that up. And they say, do they want someone like Donald Trump? Do they want someone similar to Donald Trump? They say yes. And he’s running.
JOHN DICKERSON: You know what is interesting? You mentioned — you mentioned that, though.
The — the woke — the attack on woke is an attack. We don’t have a lot of candidates in the — Tim Scott is the other one. But Governor Burgum is a: Hey, actually, I’m going to show you about where I came from, and these American values in a small town with 400 people, and building a — it’s the old optimistic message that, in the old days used — every candidate had to have one.
ED O’KEEFE: Right.
AMY WALTER: That’s right.
JOHN DICKERSON: Now it’s basically Burgum and Scott.
AMY WALTER: That’s right, that they want — Republican voters want somebody who’s going to fight for them, because, if you do believe, as a Republican voter, that the system itself is rigged, that you — we — as are these voters, we are being basically oppressed by whoever you wanted to put — to put in that category, coastal elites, the folks who run the Justice Department, all of them are against us, we need somebody who’s going to fight for us.
The other thing, just going back to the economy, I heard this a lot from Republicans after the election. They looked at the data. That’s in 2022, that election. They looked at the data that said, number one issue is inflation. We’re going to win.
But you listened to the voters, and what they said was, well, we never heard what your plan was, right? We knew that, yes, we don’t think Biden is doing a great job on inflation, but what are you going to do about it?
JOHN DICKERSON: Ed, let me pick up on something Amy just said which is interesting.
So, some people say, well, the Republicans have rallied around Donald Trump. He’s under threat. But what if, the way this has been framed by Republicans, which is this is all partisan, this is all a manipulation of the system, creates an appetite for Donald Trump?
In other words, if it’s all rigged, we want the best rigger in the game on our side?
ED O’KEEFE: Well, if that’s the case, then I think the polling continues to show us they can nominate him, but he may be set up to lose again, because, overall…
JOHN DICKERSON: In the general.
ED O’KEEFE: In the general election.
We’re seeing Americans overall believe that this was justified, that he should be prosecuted, right? And then, of course, he lost last time, and there’s nothing yet that suggests that he would win a general election, other than perhaps some horse race numbers this early.
The one thing I think gives Democrats reason to be hopeful about those general election matchups, you asked about attributes in a president, who you want, or what characteristics you want in a president, topping the list was truthfulness, right, character and empathy. At the bottom of that list was someone who is articulate, energetic and youthful, right?
So, if you’re the Biden campaign, right now, you go, oh, they want the truthful, truth-telling, character, empathy. That’s us, right? We’re not the articulate, youthful one.
JOHN DICKERSON: And…
ED O’KEEFE: So, that whole argument has gone away. That’s why they remain hopeful…
AMY WALTER: Yes.
ED O’KEEFE: … that, if it is Trump, they can still win this thing.
JOHN DICKERSON: And what are they saying inside the Democratic Party about their nominee?
ANTHONY SALVANTO: Well, what’s interesting about Biden is, OK, he’s at 41 percent approval. He’s been in low 40s for a while.
To Ed’s point, he does better in approval with folks who want a president that is calm, predictable, right, and steady. And those are all things that, if you go back to 2020, were settling points for him.
JOHN DICKERSON: Yes.
ANTHONY SALVANTO: All right?
But now the question is going to be, does that necessarily meet the moment? And there are concerns among Democrats about whether he should run again. And you get four in 10 Democrats in this survey saying that they don’t think that he should. And their concern is about his second term.
JOHN DICKERSON: Is this just a repeat, Amy, of 2020?
AMY WALTER: It sure feels that way, doesn’t it?
JOHN DICKERSON: I mean, in — structurally, as well as the…
AMY WALTER: It — structurally, it feels that we are going to be fighting and talking about the same types of voters, right, these voters who may not be in love with Joe Biden, but feel as if — the job that he’s doing, but feel as if they have little choice but to vote for him, because they don’t think the alternative is acceptable.
In 2016 — or maybe it’s a little bit like 2016. Are we going to see that repeat, where you have a significant number of people that say, I dislike both candidates, but, at the end of the day, I’m going to have to go with this person?
So you have a whole bunch of people are even more dispirited about their choice than were in 2020, where people were a little bit more optimistic, at least, about who they were choosing to vote for.
But this thing about Biden that has always been the case is, even in 2020, the significant number of people who voted for him said, I only voted for him because he wasn’t Donald Trump. So there’s never been this cult of personality around Joe Biden, like we saw around Obama, like we obviously see around Donald Trump.
So, rallying support for Biden has always been about the other, rather than about Biden.
JOHN DICKERSON: As you cover the White House, obviously, Joe Biden is not talking about this, and they won’t say anything about it, but one thing that struck me is, he had developed some kind of relationship with the speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, doing — through the debt ceiling negotiations.
But now Kevin McCarthy is coming out at the — sort of the furthest edge of response and saying, this is being led by the president, about — of which there’s no evidence.
How — what does that mean for lawmaking life in Washington going forward?
ED O’KEEFE: I think the White House understands that Kevin McCarthy has a real problem holding his own caucus together.
And there are Freedom Caucus, archconservative members who needed to hear the speaker say those things in the wake of the debt ceiling agreement. Remember, the House was sent home early this past week because they couldn’t move some very simple things through amid the conservative opposition to the debt limit deal.
By saying what he said, he’s appeasing those guys, in hopes that they can all come back next week and get things moving again. The president, the White House understand that, that McCarthy has to be out there talking, appeasing these people.
But, at the end of the day, they believe, when it comes to a government shutdown threat potentially in September and all the other things they will have to do, they will find a way to do it, because, ultimately, chaos just doesn’t favor Congress as it’s currently constructed.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right, so they’re not taking it personal, just business.
ED O’KEEFE: No, not this president.
JOHN DICKERSON: Amy, Ed, and Anthony, thank you so much.
And we will be right back.
JOHN DICKERSON: CBS News will have special coverage during the day, and the CBS Evening News will originate from Miami on Tuesday, as former President Trump makes his first court appearance there. That’s scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
Thank you for watching today. Margaret will be back next week.
For Face the Nation, I’m John Dickerson.
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