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After Deadly Riot, D.C. Becomes Fortress Ahead of Inauguration; House Democrats Launching Probe into Capitol Riot; FBI Investigating Tip that Woman may have Stolen Laptop from Pelosi's Office, Possibly Planned to Sell it to Russia. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 18, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He said early this morning, the guard led him out of his cell and said, by the way, there's a hearing against you. It's starts in one minute, and that's where he was sentenced to that month detention, facing a lot of other problems as well.
One of the things he did do though is he called on his supporters to come out and protest on the 23rd of January. Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And, Fred, as you were talking, we were watching the emotional moment there as he kissed his wife goodbye before detention, a lot for her to bear as well. Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.
SCIUTTO: A very good Monday morning to you, quite a week here, I'm Jim Sciutto.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow. Welcome to a special holiday edition of Newsroom this morning. The nation is facing a sad and stunning reality just two days ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. The U.S. Capitol, a shining symbol of American democracy, is now fortified and on high alert, protected by tens of thousands of National Guard troops, there to ensure a peaceful transfer of power following the deadly siege on the Capitol building by pro-Trump rioters.
SCIUTTO: Now, we should note that an expected armed protest yesterday did not materialize in the Capitol but certainly on edge in the coming days facing a divided nation and out of control health crisis as well. We're learning more about Joe Biden's aggressive agenda to begin on day one in office.
We're also getting new details about President Trump's final plans as he stays mainly out of the public eye in his final days in the White House.
Let's begin this hour with CNN's Pete Muntean on this extraordinary security turnout in the Capitol today. Pete, I said this before but I haven't seen a U.S. military presence like this outside of war zones. Up to 25,000 by Wednesday?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that is right, Jim. More and more extraordinary here all of the time, the fortress only getting more fortified. You could see the National Guard behind me here. We actually had to pass by two encampments of the National Guard just to get where we are, which is about as close as one could get on foot to the Capitol, which is really blocks away. There is another barrier here and then the eight-foot fence that now surrounds the entirety of the Capitol complex, also going up around the National Mall. And you could see on top there the razor wire that has just gone in.
Beyond the fence, the National Guard says 21,000 members from all across the country are here right now. That number goes up to 25,000 by inauguration day. And the head of this operation, the head of the D.C. Guard, says it is thoroughly vetting all of these members of the guard to make sure there is no possibility of an insider threat.
Here is what he said to Good Morning America this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM WALKER, COMMANDING GENERAL, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA NATIONAL GUARD: We have the technology, we do that every four years as well. So what happens is they're screened before they leave their state and what it is, it is a credentialing process. So they're screened and then repeatedly screened until they are actually put on the street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MUNTEAN: It will only get harder and harder to get into D.C. from here on out. Metro has closed 13 stations around the National Mall and the Capitol. And the bridges from Virginia into D.C. will be closed starting tomorrow through inauguration day.
We've also learned that the FAA will more heavily restrict the already restricted airspace around Washington. This is going to be an inauguration day like no other. Jim, Poppy?
SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, listen, the insider threat is something we talk about with relation to partner forces in Afghanistan or Iraq. Now, we're addressing it inside of the U.S. military here in the U.S., just remarkable. Pete Muntean, thanks very much.
Well, with his time in office nearly over, 48 hours to go, President Trump is staying behind closed doors, though he is expected to issue around 100 pardons and commutations by tomorrow.
HARLOW: Will he pardon himself? Let's go to our John Harwood. He joins us and Joe Johns joins us as well.
All right, gentlemen, John, let me begin with you. Do we have any reporting this morning on whether the president will move to pardon himself?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the indications that we get from aides is that he's not currently inclined to do so, but there are so much that we don't know about this process, Poppy. President Trump has not been seen in public for six days. That's followed a general pattern he's made since the election of avoiding the press, avoiding taking questions.
Of course, he spent a lot of time propagating the election lie that culminated in the insurrection on January 6th. And that insurrection itself has posed some monkey wrenches into the pardon process at the end.
There has been some talk that the president might seek to pardon people who were involved in the insurrection. Lindsey Graham, the president's ally, warned over the weekend, that he could not do that, that that would be a big mistake, it would be very harmful to the president. He's got an impeachment trial in the Senate to worry about.
But the one thing that we know above everything else is that President Trump is a transactional figure. He contemplates what will be good for himself before making a decision. This is an area of unilateral power that he possesses even in disgrace, even with two days left in his term, he could dole out favors to people, he can make political statements and he can act to protect himself as he's done by pardoning people like Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone who were involved in the Russia investigation.
Don't know if he is going to pardon on himself, don't know if it would stick legally if he did but he is going to be calculating all the ins and outs of whether it is good for him to do that or not, guys.
SCIUTTO: To your point earlier, John, be prepared for surprises.
Joe, the president also has to now plan a defense in the Senate impeachment trial. It is interesting because one of the names brought up, of course, Rudy Giuliani, but he told ABC this weekend he can't do it because he might by a witness, his words to the crowd as well before the assault on the Capitol. Who is going to step in for the president?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That is anybody's guess, because the White House said over the weekend that they have no idea or, frankly, they haven't said and don't know who is going to be on the president's legal defense team.
Giuliani is a very interesting case because he first said he wanted to be part of this but the fact of the matter is legal ethics rules flatly forbid an attorney from advocating in a case in which that person could also be a witness. And that is a situation with Giuliani.
Though he's not just a witness, he's a participant in the events that gave rise to the complaint when he gave that speech January 6th out on the ellipse around the same time the president gave his speech, so Giuliani clearly conflicted and not able to do too much. Plus, the New York Bar Association has a lot of people complaining about him, though they don't have the power to disbar him. There are others who can't or won't or don't want to participate, like Alan Dershowitz, for example, the White House counsel, Cipollone, and others. So the question is who is going to come out and advocate for the president? We just don't know right now. We don't know also when they are actually going to start the trial.
But the president better figure it out quick. When Nancy Pelosi sends those articles or the article over to the Senate, the trial has to start at 1:00 the next day.
SCIUTTO: A lot of news to cover. It is 2021,what a start. Joe Johns, John Harwood, goodness.
Well, House Democrats are launching a probe into the January 6th attack on the Capitol. The letter to the nation's top law enforcement and intelligence officials House Democrats write, quote, this still emerging story is one of astounding bravery by some U.S. Capitol police and other officers of staggering treachery by violent criminals and of apparent and high level failures, in particular with respect to intelligence and security preparedness.
Joining me now is Tennessee Democrat, Representative Steve Cohen, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.
REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Jim, nice to be back you with, and Poppy.
SCIUTTO: So let's begin with the question about failures here. You heard the former chief of Capitol police say he had no intelligence that there would be an armed violent attack, but he did say they knew there would be armed people among those who attended the protest. And, by the way, we did hear the president say very much in public, let's go to the Capitol together now.
I just wonder, do you buy the excuse, the explanation from the former leader of the Capitol Hill police or was there a failure here?
COHEN: I actually do not buy it. I was with a very fine Capitol Hill policeman for a good amount of time on Sunday evening before the invasion. I told him that I read on the internet, social media, that there was a lot of people are going to try to come to Washington with weapons. And he kind of responded tersely but honestly, he said, our intelligence indicates that, and that it will be a very difficult day. That was on Sunday.
Capitol policeman who was a line Capitol policeman, and he knew the intelligence and knew it was going to be very difficult. Everybody knew it. They just didn't prepare.
SCIUTTO: That is remarkable, remarkable to hear. I want to ask you about something specific, because several of your colleagues have alleged that the riots may have received inside help, including raising the prospect of tours conducted or with the okay of fellow sitting members of Congress. This is quite a charge to make. Have you seen any hard evidence to substantiate that allegation? COHEN: The only thing that I've seen, Congressman Yarmuth refreshed my recollection yesterday. We saw Congresswoman Boebert taking people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th.
I remember the day we were walking in a tunnel and we saw her (INAUDIBLE) and she had a large group with her.
Now, whether they were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know. (INAUDIBLE) have a large number of people coming to be with her on this historic occasion and just wanting to give them the opportunity to have a tour. But it is pretty clear that her team is the team -- she's not on the home team. She was with the visitors.
SCIUTTO: But do you know that any people who were in that tour led by Boebert later attended the riot? That is the question I have.
COHEN: I do not.
SCIUTTO: Okay, all right. There were many former -- both member -- actually current and former members of the U.S. military and law enforcement who took part in the riot and we now have the remarkable step in this country of the U.S. military running background checks on its own people like it might do in a foreign country with partner forces to see if there are any sympathizers. Based on what you've seen, what is your level of concern of an insider threat?
COHEN: Well, it certainly raises. I was reading about this on my Twitter account, I guess, and people were reminding people of Anwar Sadat and Indira Gandhi who were killed by their own people. I was thinking, the guard is 90 some odd percent, I believe, male.
Only about 20 percent of white males voted for Biden. You have got to figure that the guard, which is predominantly more conservative and I see that on my social media, and we know it, they are probably 25 percent of the people that are there protecting us who voted for Biden.
The other 75 percent are in the class that would be the large class of folks who might want to do something. And there were military people and police who took oath to defend the Constitution and to protect and defend who didn't do it who were in the insurrection. So it does concern me. But the vetting at the last minute --
SCIUTTO: That is far -- to have voted for Trump does not make you an insider. I mean, that is far different from being a threat of violence inside, whether the National Guard or law enforcement. I'm curious, is there anything you've seen to substantiate just how broad this insider threat may be, if it exists?
COHEN: Actually not, Jim. But you draw a circle of people who work for Trump and not for Biden as far as people who would be within the zone of folks who you would be suspect of. The suspect group is large. SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can, and just quickly, there is this open question as to whether the president might pardon people who took part in this riot. If he were to do so, what would your reaction be?
COHEN: Well, they would obviously be wrong and it would be something that he feels responsible for those people going down there and that would be the reason he would pardon on them (INAUDIBLE). He is responsible for the Congress, the Capitol and the Constitution.
I have a proposal and have it for four years for pardon power for presidents and one of the things in it was corrupt pardon wouldn't be permitted. But right now, the president pretty much could do what he wants, except for self-pardon, maybe illegal and taking a bribe would be illegal. But we should make a corrupt pardon illegal and make it clear that he can't pardon his family, his administrative staff or his campaign team, which is what he's been doing.
SCIUTTO: Okay. We'll follow those efforts. Congressman Steve Cohen, thanks so much and glad to see you're safe after January 6th.
COHEN: Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, dramatic new video of rioters storming the nation's Capitol. This is the floor of the Senate screaming through the halls, rifling through Senate desks, a bizarre new claim about a laptop that may also have been stolen in the midst of this.
HARLOW: Also, President-elect Biden takes aim at President Trump's policies. He will issue a number of executive orders on his first day in office. What are they? We'll talk about it.
And later, governors across the country sound off on the distribution disaster that we have seen.
HARLOW: There is startling new video that shows more of what took place as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Take a look at this. This is part of the footage we're going to show you in a moment released by The New Yorker.
SCIUTTO: To be clear, before we show it, we want to warn you it does contain graphic content.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hawley and Cruz would want us to do this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any chance I can get you guys to leave the Senate wing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Weill. I'm making sure they ain't disrespecting the place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay. I just want to let you guys know, this is like the sacredest place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to take -- sit on this chair because Mike Pence is a (BLEEP) traitor.
I'm not one that usually take pictures of myself but then (INAUDIBLE) I'll make an exception, okay? Hey, you in the red, can you take a picture of me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they ain't got a choice. There's half a million people here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not stopping us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. He is doing the right thing. He is obeying his oath.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm making sure you guys don't do anything else. Now that you've done that, could I get you to walk out of this room, please?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, in a second.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would greatly appreciate it.
SCIUTTO: Can I get you guys to walk out of this room, please? That is the floor of the Senate.
CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joins us now. And, Evan, there is an investigation now of a tip that someone might have stolen Speaker Pelosi's laptop. I mean, when I saw this, what occurred to me is Russia is inside the system via cyber means. I don't want to dismiss that as a security risk. I'm just curious how serious is it and is the focus more on the domestic as opposed to the foreign threat here.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. I think the focus is more on the domestic. Look, you could bet that foreign intelligence services, the Russians and Chinese and so on, are very much interested in what happened, but this was carried out by Americans. They didn't need the Russians or the Chinese to help them, the president was telling them what to do.
And so here we have an example of one of the people who the FBI is interested in. They're investigating in particular this claim that a woman by the name of Reilly Williams (ph) who told friends and associates that she had obtained a laptop from Speaker Pelosi's office.
Now, the FBI simply describes that she showed pictures of this laptop, pictures of her emerging from Speaker Pelosi's office. And then she also claimed that she was trying to use some contact in Russia to try to sell this laptop to the Russians to try to turn it over to the Russian intelligence services.
Now, it is not clear that what exactly happened here. the FBI is not -- or the prosecutors are not charging her with theft. They only say they're charging her with violent entry and disorderly conduct. And it is clear that she never actually went through with whatever this transaction that she was trying to get through but it just gives you a sense of the level of just nuttiness that some of these folks were trying to accomplish after they emerged from the halls of Congress.
And so we're trying to reach out to Speaker Pelosi's office to find out more about this laptop. We do know that they publicly said that there was a laptop that was taken from a conference room. This is a laptop that was used for presentations. They didn't seem particularly concerned about it in terms of national security risk. But do I know that, Jim, I've talked to officials that have told me they're still trying to assess what damage, national security damage may have happened from this -- the assault on the Capitol, because they do know that sensitive documents, sensitive electronics were taken.
And I'll just point out that now we're up to about 70 cases, charges. And now we're starting to get into the militia groups, sort of the militant groups that were associated with this. We'll see more arrests today.
HARLOW: More arrests today, Evan, thanks for the important reporting.
Let's bring in former CIA Covert Operations Officer Mike Baker. He is also CEO of Diligence USA, a global intelligence and security firm. Good morning.
Let's just start with, can you believe that footage that we're now seeing? I mean, I just wonder your thoughts.
MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER: Well, I mean, top line thought is, look, I've spent most of my life in unstable and difficult challenging environments overseas where political violence is almost the expected norm. Yes, it is surprising. It's sad. You don't expect to see it here. It is not the American way. We've got to figure out a way to dial this temperature down, there is no doubt about it.
SCIUTTO: Beyond the rhetoric, there is the issue of what is a real domestic terror threat. FBI has been warning about this for years. It didn't start yesterday but we saw a sign of that. And I've been covering terrorism for 20 some odd years and the parallels to Islamist terrorism is just alarming, I mean, insider threats in the military, investigations into that, radicalization online.
Just using your experience overseas, how do you compare the current domestic U.S. terror threat from right-wing extremist groups to what we've seen for years from international terrorism? BAKER: Well, I mean, the concern for security is the same. Comparing the groups, from an operational, from an intelligence perspective, some of the methodologies you used to gather that intelligence and the analysis and worry about operations that you have to try to mitigate risk. Those could be the same.
We can do several things at the same time, right? We can multitask. And the thing about security, whether it is for an inauguration, a state of the union speech, when you're talking about a national security special event, everything is on the table. So you made an important point. There is concern about domestic terrorism, political violence here that is homegrown, it isn't something new.
And so I suppose if you're looking sort of for an upside, the FBI and the variety of other agencies have experience in trying to understand the fringe groups, the extremist groups that exist out there. So this is not a new effort that they're just trying to gear up.
SCIUTTO: Mike, Sue Gordon, who was working in the Trump administration for two years as a principal deputy director writes in Washington Post, her recommendation as a 30-plus year veteran of the intelligence community, quote, is not to provide President Trump any briefings after January 20th with this simple act she argues, which is solely, by the way, the new president's prerogative, Joe Biden can mitigate one aspect of the potential national security risk posed by Donald Trump private citizen.
And she notes his business ties to many different parts of the world and the increased intelligence sensitivity there from continuing to brief him. I suppose the down side of stopping those is the precedent that is sets for any political revenge in the future against past presidents. What do you think?
BAKER: Yes, you're right, that was a prerogative. It is done as a courtesy. And oftentimes these briefings are sanitized, so it is not the same, it is not the president's daily brief that gets, you know, provided. So I don't disagree.
I think we can be smart enough to kind of think courses for courses. Not every outgoing president is going to be the same as the previous. So if we choose not to provide briefings to President Trump once he's out, that is the next administration's prerogative, and I don't disagree. I don't even know if the outgoing president would be interested in getting one of those briefings, frankly.
SCIUTTO: Yes. We should note this outgoing president, of course, denied those briefings to former senior intelligence officials in sort of retaliation, Brennan, Jim clapper as well, just notable.
HARLOW: Yes, for sure. Okay. Mike Baker, thank you for being here with your expertise this morning.
President-elect Joe Biden has an ambitious first 100-day agenda and it all begins on Wednesday. We are live with the moves that he hopes to make and the people that he wants to bring into his administration.