Trump's CNN town hall could have implications for ongoing criminal cases: former FBI counsel

Thursday's episode of "Deadline White House" with MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace compared CNN's Town Hall with Donald Trump to Fox News' platforming of people who are accused of defaming Dominion Voting Systems.

"An anti-free press politician takes control of a press event hosted by a network and a company he hated so much when he was president that he actually sought to use his own Justice Department to take retaliatory measures against it," Wallace began. "So now, the company's part of the story, too. CNN recently very publicly parted ways with anchor Don Lemon. It came in the aftermath of a comment he made on his broadcast that was viewed by his managers as misogynistic. Those very same managers are the people who aired Trump's misogynistic attacks last night on E. Jean Carroll that could invite further defamation suits."

"We knew who Trump was of course. But last night showed us who we are and what’s about to happen. This is the GOP frontrunner. He is still the star who can do anything. And it will get worse," conservative Charlie Sykes wrote for the Bulwark on Thursday morning.

Wallace asked Andrew Weissmann, the former FBI general counsel and senior prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller's team, if CNN has put itself at risk given they gave Trump a platform to lie, knowing that he would. Weissmann explained that it questions whether the legal system is going to be forced to be the answer to the problems seen with the town hall.

"It's worth noting, Nicolle, that it's not just Dominion that won a defamation claim and showed actual malice against Fox, but that is actually one of the two claims that E. Jean Carroll won on with respect to Donald Trump. You have two victims who, in civil cases, took many, many years and a lot of tenacity and a lot of money in order to hold people to account. Fox News and Donald Trump. That can't be the answer because it just takes too long," said Weissmann. "That kind of exposure is something that is — the timeline doesn't work when you've got an election coming up."

"The other person at the table here is CNN," Weissmann continued. "This is one where they're going to start becoming dangerously close to 'reckless disregard and actual malice' because they know what he's going to say in advance. The idea that they created this forum and they had this particular audience, this wasn't just a general audience of voters. This was a select group of sort of Republicans as if you just said I'm going to interview Joe Biden and we're only going to invite Democrats. So CNN is exposing itself to potential legal liability, typically if it does this again and again. But I don't think that can be the answer because the timeline is too long."

Wallace argued that what was happening wasn't merely "covering Trump" as CNN chief Chris Licht claimed, it was platforming Trump and therein lies the difference both legally and ethically.

"The format here reveals what CNN was trying to do. There was no reason it had to be a town hall and a town hall with just Republicans," Weissmann agreed. "You could see what they were goading and what they were trying to do. To me, they're a handmaiden to his malignancy. The quote you have where he said we need to have Republican voices. That's not what this was either. Of course, you should have Republican voices and Democratic voices, and Independent voices. Of course, that's the case. This is a democracy, and people should be heard. That's part of a news organization. The way that — you've got somebody who you know is going to lie and defame, you have to structure that if you're going to view that as news, you have to structure it in a way that you can actually hold that person to account and bring light to the issue rather than simply go to the ratings."

He said that it was a lot like Fox and he can see that CNN might be positioning themselves to become a network that is based off of business decisions and not journalism.

"That's where, yes, it could have potential legal ramifications, but worse than that, if you don't have responsible journalism covering this upcoming election, we are so dangerously close to losing our democracy to an autocrat, and the fourth estate has to rise above just considering its business interests," he explained.

In the second half, Weissmann discussed the ability of Carroll to move forward with a lawsuit against CNN for platforming Trump to defame her. he explained that there's already another case before Judge Lewis Kaplan that is related to Trump's alleged defamation.

"How CNN behaves going forward is on the table, as it would be with respect to any news organization, whether it's Fox or whether it's an individual like Donald Trump," he explained. "So, that's all fair. The one sort of optimistic note I will mention since this is quite a pessimistic, rightly so, series of questions that we're going over is, if you're Jack Smith, last night was a good night. There's a reason Donald Trump did not testify in the E. Jean Carroll case and would never testify. There's a reason Donald Trump didn't come in to be interviewed by Robert Mueller. He is incapable of telling a consistent, truthful story. That's why he can say now, oh, this was unfair when he had every opportunity to testify in the E. Jean Carroll case. When he was pontificating last night, he said a number of things that are just very damaging to future criminal cases."

He cited the Jan. 6 case that is before Smith and the DOJ, he also mentioned the classified documents scandal also being investigated by the feds, and in both cases, Weissmann said that Trump said things that were counter to what his lawyers have said in court less than a month ago.

See the full conversation in the two videos below or at the link here.

Is CNN turning into the new Fox for money

Part 2:

Part 2