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Security Tightens around U.S. Capitol amid Increased Threat; Stop the Steal Organizer Says He was Helped by Three GOP Congressman. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 13, 2021 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:01]

DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: So we're talking about the same that were in D.C. that I expect to be back in Lansing. And we have a state capitol that is simply not safe if you're going to continue to allow firearms.

I don't know why it makes a difference how much security you have in there and how many state troopers you have or capitol police if you're allowed at will to bring firearms into the capitol as the legislature is meeting. It makes no sense to me. So I'm very concerned about it.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We should also point out that, I mean, what happened at the state capitol there, you were sort of the canary in the coal mine. I mean, this was an early example of people with long guns targeting lawmakers, going into a capitol, getting in the face of police officers with obviously -- some of them had very nefarious intent beyond that.

And the president of the United States at the time praised those people, having seen the images of them screaming at law enforcement, screaming at legislators, praised those people, encouraging that sort of behavior.

NESSEL: Yes. I think that Michigan was definitely ground zero. I think it was a dry run and people saw how very easy it was to essentially take over a state capitol building. And the lesson that they drew away from that was why not try it at the nation's capitol. If we can do it in Lansing, Michigan, maybe we can do the same thing in Washington, D.C., and they were right.

COOPER: Many Republicans today who have been speaking on the House floor about the impeachment vote say that it's only going to cause more division. It's only going to be -- this is a time for healing, this is not what should happen there should be a bipartisan commission investigating security lapses at the Capitol. I don't know why the argument has to be either/or. I'm wondering what you make of that warning though.

NESSEL: Well, I think it's important that people be held accountable when they violate the law. And perhaps if we had held some of the people accountable in April of last year in their activities at the capitol, I saw many crimes that were committed, that there were no arrests that I'm aware of, perhaps if they had been held accountable then, they wouldn't have been emboldened to do other things.

And I see the same thing, honestly, with threats against public officials. When you don't hold people accountable, they feel like they're impervious, they can do anything. And they continue to get bolder and stronger and more motivated to commit illegal acts. So, absolutely, I think the president ought to be held accountable. Everyone who violates the law should be held accountable.

COOPER: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

NESSEL: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Just ahead, a deleted video from a member of the insurrectionist mob under scrutiny this hour. A MAGA organizer says he got help from sitting members of Congress.

Also, critical debate on the article of impeachment set to start any moment. You're watching CNN live special coverage. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:00]

COOPER: Security is tightening on Capitol Hill. National Guard troops were seen receiving weapons shortly before Congress arrived for today's vote to impeach Trump from citing last week's deadly insurrection. Outside the House chamber, metal detectors have now been installed.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is at the Capitol. So, some Republican lawmakers were angry about the metal detectors, even refusing to walk through them, refusing to obey Capitol police. What's going on?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. This is a security change that many House Republicans are furious about. And when they put those new metal detectors outside of the doors of the House last night, we did see a lot of House Republicans either go around and deviate around those metal detectors or we saw them go straight through and set them off and then kind of had some choice words for U.S. Capitol police there, making it clear they are unhappy with the security development.

Now, we know from our reporting, many House Democrats have expressed concern to the security forces up here about those more outspoken members of Congress, many of the new freshmen who have been very outspoken about their desire to be armed while up here on Capitol Hill.

First and foremost, Congressman Boebert from California -- excuse me, from Colorado, and Madison Cawthorn, additionally, he was one that said that when those riots broke out up here on Capitol Hill last week that he was actually armed when they did break out. And Boebert has promised that she intends to -- it is unclear if she has yet -- that she intends to carry her Glock up here on Capitol Hill.

So, amid all of the security questions about the rioters, of course, you have members really openly fighting between each other and openly fighting with the Capitol police about these new security protocols. And, Anderson, it certainly speaks to the increased tensions up here on Capitol Hill at this point.

COOPER: Sunlen Serfaty, I appreciate it, thanks. Erin?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So, as the country braces for the possibility of more violence, we are now hearing from the man who organized last week's rally that turned into a deadly insurrection.

Drew Griffin is with us now. And, Drew, you've done a lot of reporting on Ali Alexander and what he's done and the Stop the Steal movement. Obviously, you saw a lot of it in Georgia. And he is saying now that he had help from multiple Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This guy is a bragger. He has made a business out of this stuff, the steal business. But his bragging online could have three congressmen in pretty big trouble.

Erin, remember, the Department of Justice says not only is it investigating what happened inside the Capitol but the conspirators and instigators who may have started this whole thing. And according to Ali Alexander, which you're about to hear in his own words, these three congressmen were in on it all along. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI ALEXANDER, STOP THE STEAL LEADER: I'm the guy who came up with the idea of January 6th when I was talking with Congressman Gosar, Congressman Andy Biggs and Congressman Mo Brooks. It was to build momentum and pressure, and then on the day change hearts and minds of congress people who weren't yet decided or saw everyone outside and said, I can't be on the other side of that mob.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona is running away from those comments. He is, through his staff, saying he never even remembers meeting Ali Alexander, even though he did send a taped message to one of Alexander's Stop the Steal rallies.

Mo Brooks of Alabama facing a lot of heat at home and possible censure is now saying that his words at that rally about going down to the Capitol and kicking ass were somehow taken out of context.

Paul Gosar also of Arizona, he won't say anything to us, but he has just got a string of tweets that show in the weeks after the election and leading up to January 6th, he appears to be in constant touch with Ali Alexander at rallies and talking about joining him for the January 6th. So I think all of this will be investigated at least by the House Ethics Committee, if not, by the Department of Justice itself. Erin?

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, obviously incredibly serious allegations here. Drew Griffin, thank you very much.

All right, back with me, let me go straight to former Congressman Charlie Dent. Charlie, you heard Ali Alexander, Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks, proof that they interacted with Ali Alexander, certainly in the case of Mr. Gosar and the others. It seems it's going to be hard for them to say it didn't happen. What do you make of that?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it seems to me those three members of Congress are going to need to lawyer up very fast. They will likely have -- be interviewed by Department of Justice officials or the FBI. It's already been mentioned. I was a former chair of the Ethics Committee. No doubt they will be investigated by the Ethics Committee and they could be sanctioned for bringing discredit upon the House and various other charges.

I think they're going to be under tremendous pressure to resign, quite, frankly. I think that's where this is going. Because if they, in any way, were part of a conspiracy to assist this mob that really attempted to undermine the constitutional order and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, this is a moral crime against the republic that has been committed, and I think these members are probably real anxious right now.

BURNETT: I mean, it is incredible when you see this and certainly the words of Mo Brooks, which -- it is stunning to hear him say they were taken out of context. You can look at all the context you want around what he said. He said what he said.

Nia, this comes as President Trump himself -- we're seeing this fight right now of what are they more afraid of, anti-Trumpism or Trumpism, right, on Capitol Hill for Republicans today. And yet, Trump himself has been -- the emperor has no clothes, I guess, would be the polite way of saying it, right?

He has become untouchable for so many, completely untouchable. I mean, even here in New York, right, they're trying to strip all the business contracts. He's lost his PGA contract. And sources saying he may be about to declare bankruptcy when all of this is done.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. And you saw his involvement in Georgia completely backfire against Republicans. This is one of the reasons Mitch McConnell is done with him, because he cost Mitch McConnell his leadership position in the Senate. But yet, still, you have folks, particularly in the House, who do see that he is still a very powerful person in the Republican Party in the country, that he does have millions and millions of followers who he has brainwashed.

And we should also note that these are primarily white men who we saw march on the Capitol there. They are disgruntled and afraid of a kind of new America where there are people who are black and brown increasingly showing not only sort of demographic shifts, but also just power at the ballot as well.

And so I do think if this were a different kind of group of people, if they were black, if they were brown, if they were from a foreign country, everyone would be having a different conversation. Certainly, Republicans would be.

[11:45:00]

If you can imagine those people were a group of black men, I am sure those Republicans would be talking about black culture, where is Obama, where are the black leaders, what about the absent black fathers.

But here, sort of the culture and the whiteness of these protesters is completely invisible in much of the conversation that we're having, and we also know that white supremacists and white nationalism is the big domestic terror threat that this country faces. So if these folks can talk about process here, they can sort of ignore this larger threat that is looming that they saw.

But at some point, they're going to have to really get down to business, certainly in this incoming Biden administration, this idea of how do you go after right-wing terrorists, but also sort of not alienate much of the country.

BURNETT: So, David, in the context of what we're hearing on Drew's reporting on Ali Alexander and Representatives Gosar, Biggs and Brooks, we also have Marjorie Taylor Greene saying President Trump will remain in office. You have Jim Jordan, right, who just said that Liz Cheney needs to be removed from her leadership position. This is an incredible thing, right? This is not saying I'm afraid that my family may be targeted if I stand up for the truth, right, which one could debate the level of cowardice that that implies or not.

This is very different. This is, as you said earlier, taking what the president said literally and fighting to the death for him.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's exactly right, and there's another level to it. And I think -- I mean, I'm very interested in everything that Nia just said because it's so important.

We've also seen this before. In the '90s, I covered the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, and from whence he sprang, which was this anti-government, militia-based right-wing extremism that was primarily geared toward the federal government, was anti the Brady bill for any gun restrictions on a tyrannical government, a lot of the same symbols that you saw in the mob insurrection last week.

The Republican Party has to decide where it wants to be and it has to stop saying, oh, well, those protesters, that mob, they weren't Republicans. Well, here is the reality, is they love Trump. And why do they love Trump? Because Trump spoke to them, he played footsie with them. he sent them signals, he wouldn't denounce them.

That's the fact, that a presidency built on nursing grievances among those white men who cannot handle a loss of power or the changing of America, he courted that group and agreed with them about immigration and brown people coming across the border that he warned about and that Mexicans are rapists and on and on and on, all of that vitriol.

So, now, there is a choice for Republicans. Mature leaders, experienced leaders, real leaders who will do something that's unpopular because it's right, like a Liz Cheney and a Mitt Romney, have to find common cause with other conservatives who want to rebuild that party and leave behind what is a populist, extremist wing that has been led by Donald Trump, and that's what propelled it.

BURNETT: Right. And you see like the lieutenant governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan, has said, looking for that GOP 2.0. There are those people around the country but they are not the loudest voices. They are not. And they are not the majority of the Republican Party on Capitol Hill from the vote that we're going to see today. Jamie, you have some new reporting on that.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So just to David's point, a Republican source said to me that what we're seeing is the split of the Republican Party. Let's see who wins. The source said that this is someone who is familiar with Mitch McConnell and the reporting we've been getting for the last 24 hours that he is in favor of impeachment.

The source said, unlike Kevin McCarthy, who is on the House side, Mitch McConnell doesn't think Trump will just fade away. He thinks the party needs to make a clean break to save itself.

And to the point about process, I also heard from another Republican who was pushing back on Republican House members saying, this is going too fast. And this member said to me that saying it's rushed is, quote, a lame excuse. This is not about process. We know what happened. We were there. We saw it. We were the targets of it.

So, just to go back to what David said and what Nia-Malika said, the question is, how many people are going to stand with the Liz Cheneys, the Mitt Romneys.

[11:50:00]

And let's see what Mitch McConnell does in the end. He has leaked this information to reporters but he hasn't gone on the record. He is deliberately being quiet.

BURNETT: Right, right, in terms of his final decision. Thank you all very much.

And in moments, the critical debate on the article of impeachment itself is set to begin. And you're going to see it all live here. You're watching our special live coverage. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Right now, as lawmakers are set to vote on whether to impeach President Trump for second time, security is ramped up across Washington in anticipation of more protest in the coming days.

CNN Marquardt is on Capitol Hill. What are you seeing this morning?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it is significantly beefed up. We're on the western side of the Capitol. This is where many of the events started last Wednesday when the riots on the Capitol started on the next day.

I want to show you some of the fencing that went up. This is that eight-foot tall steal fencing that new have seen elsewhere in D.C. earlier in the past year after the -- during the George Floyd protest.

[11:55:08]

And what you're looking at now is part of the National Guard contingent that is going to be coming out to protect the city, protect the Capitol before and around the inauguration.

Now, the Pentagon has said that they will be primarily focused on the U.S. Capitol grounds and that they will be armed, which is the change. Anderson, up to 15,000 National Guard troops are going to be mobilized ahead of the inauguration.

And, actually, now, we're hearing from the acting chief of police in Washington saying that number could actually be as high as 20,000. These troops that were seeing on here today, they are alongside U.S. Capitol police as well as Secret Service.

We know, Anderson, that there are groups, armed groups, who would like to come here and protest in the coming days and around the inauguration, and that is what they are trying to prevent, not just here in D.C. but, according to the FBI, across the country.

So there is going to be an extremely complicated coordination between all these different law enforcement bodies to essentially turn this area, turn this city into a fortress, so that if anybody has any idea, just thinking about carrying out any sort of violence that they think again. Anderson?

COOPER: Alex Marquardt, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Presidential Historian Tim Naftali joins our coverage right now. Tim, as we wait to see the debate now on impeachment itself this afternoon, what stands out to you from what you've heard so far?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDDENTIAL HISTORIAN: This is a clarifying moment for our country. The world is watching just as are most Americans who are traumatized by the events of January 6th and remain concerned about the clear and present danger to our Constitution and to our liberty.

Historically, it met fear not by running away from it but by confronting it. This is a time for Congress to break the fever in this country by making clear that the chief demagogue of the mob acted unconstitutionally.

The chief demagogue is the president. And under our Constitution, the appropriate measure at this moment is impeachment. Impeachment would be an act of healing. It would be a step towards the de-radicalization of the Republican Party, which, at the moment, faces the prospect of being our country's anti-democratic party.

So, this is a moment for courage. This is not a moment to play politics or to try to gain the system. That's why Congresswoman Liz Cheney, I suspected what she did, that's why we're hearing that other Republicans plan to join with the Democrats. This is a moment for healing, which means bipartisanship against chaos and unconstitutional --

COOPER: Ross, not clear how many Republicans will actually go along with this, but as somebody who has studied the impeachment and is an expert on this, what are you going to be looking for? What should our viewers keep in mind on this historic day?

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. And I haven't just studied them. I've represented lots of public officials. I've probably been involved in more impeachments in any lawyer in history. And what I'm looking for, you know, Tim Naftali's comments reminded me of our discussions, his and mine, during the first impeachment process. You know, Tim appeals to kind of our better angels. But, unfortunately, politics is politics.

And so here is among the things I'm watching for. Number one is what is the final number of Republicans who vote in favor of impeachment? The first impeachment process, zero Republicans supported impeachment. Now, we are going to have more than that, but how many? And so how much of a divide will there be in the Republican Party? So that's one thing.

Second thing is, you know who we haven't heard much from is any official with the White House on this impeachment process. The White House counsel, unless he said something in the past few minutes, has been completely absent. That is extraordinary for an impeachment process. During Clinton, during Nixon, and during the first impeachment, the White House counsel took on a very, very active role.

Third, I'm looking to see whether we hear anything official from Mitch McConnell, number one, on when the Senate will come in and, number two, what his position on conviction will be. And, finally, and a big one, do we hear from the president? What does the president come out and say? We know the president will be impeached today. It's a historic impeachment process. But there are a lot of questions going forward.

COOPER: Yes, and a lot of questions still to be answered. We will get some answers as we see the debate start to take place. Right now, they are voting on rules.

[12:00:01]

That's what you are seeing on the right-hand side of your screen that the vote is underway. Given COVID restrictions it takes longer than normal.