Return to Transcripts main page
Interview With Fmr. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND); Deadly Wildfires; Crisis in Afghanistan; Interview with Lucy Walker; Interview with Preet Bharara. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 12, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): The Taliban break through into Afghanistan's second largest city. What does this mean for the future of the country as
the U.S. withdraws.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After years and years of infrastructure week, we're on the cusp of an infrastructure decade.
GOLODRYGA: How trillions of dollars of investment could transform America.
NARRATOR: All over this planet, wildfires are burning us alive.
GOLODRYGA: Feeling the heat. Filmmaker Lucy Walker talks about her new documentary on California's deadliest fires.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's pretty stunning, and it should get more attention than it's gotten.
GOLODRYGA: Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara and Walter Isaacson discuss Trump's efforts to subvert the 2020 election.
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, who will be back next week.
The Taliban have just taken control Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city. Now, this happened just moments after they charged into its second
largest, local officials saying there is fighting on the streets of Kandahar, as militants battle government forces.
It's yet another day of major gains for the Taliban, who have also taken control of the city of Ghazni just this morning. That means 11 provincial
capitals have fallen to them in less than one week. This map highlights just how dire the situation is. And it's likely to get even worse.
The latest U.S. intelligence assessments warn that the capital, Kabul, could fall to the Taliban by mid-November. That is according to officials.
Joining me now on these shocking developments is Barnett Rubin. He's a senior fellow for the Center on International Cooperation and served as
senior adviser to the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also with us is veteran journalist Ahmed Rashid. He's written
extensively about the Taliban.
Welcome, both of you.
Barnett, let's begin with you, because you had been someone who had been supportive of the president's decision to withdraw troops. Obviously, we
knew that that would be met with some resistance from the Taliban. Did you expect this to happen so quickly?
BARNETT RUBIN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.
I mean, I'm not surprised that the Taliban would try to do this. But I have been surprised at the speed of the disintegration of the Afghan National
Defense and security forces, which were -- which the United States spent, I don't know, hundreds of billions of dollars building up.
And in his speech announcing the withdrawal, President Biden said that they have the money, the equipment and the training that they need to resist.
And I believed that at that time. So I'm still not -- I'm still not -- I still don't fully understand why they -- this rather large and well-
equipped army is disappearing so quickly.
GOLODRYGA: And in addition to the symbolism here of taking so many cities in such a short period of time, Ahmed, let me turn to you, because what
does this suggest that the future holds for the country there? And can you possibly answer Barnett's question of what happened to Afghan forces in
terms of resisting the Taliban?
AHMED RASHID, AUTHOR, "TALIBAN": Well, I think one of the major causes was a lack of leadership.
President Ashraf Ghani has not been able to provide the kind of leadership that the military needed and even that the population needed. He's barely
left his office. Only the other day, he left for one visit to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. But he hasn't been out anywhere since then.
He's hardly given any pep talks to the population. And now, of course, there's a huge crisis in Kabul itself, with tens of thousands of refugees
pouring in from outlying areas, even coming in from the north, which is now entirely in the hands of the Taliban, except for Mazar-e-Sharif.
So you have now refugee crisis. And, remember, Afghanistan is landlocked. So there is now really a stranglehold that the Taliban have because of the
GOLODRYGA: And it's happening in the midst of a pandemic. Let's not forget about that.
Barnett, in terms of Kabul, we talk about the significance of Kandahar. That obviously is the birthplace of the Taliban. But Kabul, the capital, is
something entirely different. And there are reports of real concern for the city within the White House, in the administration.
"The New York Times" headline just an hour ago, USS Taliban asks to spare its embassy in coming fight for Kabul. It does appear that the Taliban is
leading the charge here.
I mean, Kabul is not comparable to any other city in Afghanistan. It has six or seven million people. That is to say, it's maybe the size of Los
Angeles. Kandahar, the second largest city, has half-a-million people. It has -- it's huge. It has infrastructure and so on. And it has a population
with a very, very large share of anti-Taliban groups.
So, it would be a much bigger operation than taking the smaller cities. But the fact is, Kabul -- as Ahmed said, Afghanistan is landlocked. And the
Taliban have captured nearly all of the border crossing points, so cutting off the government from its revenues and from trade.
They can still -- it still has one with Uzbekistan and one with Pakistan. Kabul is kind of an island in the middle of this landlocked country. And it
depends on those other things coming over the border for its supplies and so on. So, if the Taliban do take Mazar-e-Sharif and/or Jalalabad in the
east, which we haven't heard much about, which is the mains supply route from Pakistan to Kabul, then it really will be isolated.
GOLODRYGA: We have heard from President Biden on this very issue. And though there does seem to be surprise and a lot of concern within the White
House, he is standing by his decision and says he has no regrets over it.
Let's take a listen to what he said just a few days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces.
And Afghan leaders have to come together. We lost thousands -- lost, death and injury, thousands of American personnel. They have got to fight for
themselves, fight for their nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Well, Barnett, we see how that fighting has been going in just the past few days. And if that's a sign of what's to come in the future,
there are some dark days ahead for Afghans.
The president stands by his decision. Do you stand by your earlier view that it was a right decision?
RUBIN: Well, I think, in a contradictory way, the fact that the security forces are evaporating like this after 20 years of building them up and
training them sort of justifies the withdrawal.
The security forces were supposed to be our ticket out of Afghanistan. They would be able to take over the fight. You can't say it was early after 20
years. And it's wasn't sudden, because President Trump agreed to do this over a year, well over a year-and-a-half ago.
But, apparently, everyone acted as if they had been totally unprepared for it. And that the fact is, the military, as far as I can see, trained the
Afghan security -- the U.S. military trained the Afghan security forces in a manner which assumed that the United States would always be there,
because they trained them in such a way that, for their enablers, airlift, logistics, intelligence, communications, and so on, not combat, but all
those other things that you need to have an army, they needed American advisers and foreign consultants, foreign contractors to carry out those
Because they weren't -- they were unable to do that themselves. And now that those people have left, the army, the individuals there are well-
trained, but it doesn't have the -- apparently, it does not have the infrastructure to act as an army, in addition to the lack of leadership
that Ahmed Rashid talked about.
And I should say that lack of leadership extends a bit further, in that President Ghani and those around him in the palace refused to believe that
the United States was actually going to withdraw from Afghanistan, even after President Trump's secretary of state, Pompeo, went to Doha for the
signing of an agreement that -- under which the U.S. promised to get out of Afghanistan, and so did not adequately or seriously prepare and did not
negotiate with the Taliban in Doha in a manner as if the regime was actually going to be at risk.
GOLODRYGA: But many, yourself included, had been arguing for a regional strategy as well, right, that the onus wasn't just on the United States,
but on neighboring countries, including Pakistan.
And there are Afghans today who are blaming Pakistan for not doing enough to fight back on the Taliban, or at least to warn them about their position
and any advances they may be making.
But, Ahmed, let me turn back to you, because there is a debate as to what, if anything, was to show for the 20 years that the U.S. had been in
Afghanistan. And many, like yourself, argue that, in fact, there is a lot to show. There was a lot of promise there, and particularly in terms of
education, in work opportunities for girls and women and journalists.
And you talk about this in a piece that you wrote: "Today, vibrant networks of radio, television, online media reach all 34 provinces. Female
journalists, in a country that previously barred women from education, number over 1, 100."
What happens to them now?
RASHID: Well, that's a really huge question, because, for the first time, there had been the sort of development of a middle class in the -- at least
in the urban areas, in the cities.
And young people, in particular, really benefited from it, from education and job opportunities, and traveling abroad on scholarships, et cetera. And
the real tragedy is that this whole generation that was -- a great deal of Western money was spent on bringing up these youngsters to take charge of
their country, you now have a group, the Taliban, which, when they ran the country in the '90s, they were incapable of governance of any kind.
And, right now, we feel very much that looking at the Taliban and at the leaders, there's very little technical ability to govern -- how they will
govern their country. We just don't see the (INAUDIBLE) and the personnel to do that, which, of course, means that there will be increasing
GOLODRYGA: Barnett, I will leave the last word to you. And that is just the question of what, if anything, came out of these peace talks in Doha
that we had been covering for so many months between Afghan officials and the Taliban.
RUBIN: So far, nothing has come out of them. Right now, in Doha, there is a meeting not just of the Afghan negotiators on both sides, but also of the
special representatives of all the major countries that are concerned.
And they are trying to come up with a common initiative, which would include U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Iran, which, of course,
is as difficult as it sounds, though they have some convergent interests in Afghanistan.
However, there are reasons -- I'm not predicting this. The Taliban might make a huge mistake and try to capture the city of Kabul militarily, but
that would cause an incredible amount of destruction and suffering, even if they ultimately succeeded.
They might want to surround it and then make demands in Doha for virtual surrender.
GOLODRYGA: These advances are happening quickly, by the day and even by the hour, as we have seen develop today.
I want to thank you both for joining us. We appreciate it.
RUBIN: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: We turn now to correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is in Kabul.
And, Clarissa, you just heard that conversation. What are you seeing and hearing from your sources on the ground about these advancements that we're
seeing from the Taliban?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's absolutely an alarming situation, Bianna, and no one could have predicted
just how quickly the dominoes are all following.
Herat now has fallen, the country's third largest city, the Taliban there confiscating large amounts of military hardware and weaponry. And Kandahar,
the second largest city, but also the sort of spiritual birthplace of the Taliban, the original capital for the Taliban's Islamic emirate, is on the
brink of falling.
We were there last week. We were at a wedding hall that had been transformed into a sort of front-line position for Afghan forces. That
position now has been completely overrun by the Taliban. And the M.P. who we spoke to while we were there, I have just spoken to him again. He says
the city hasn't fallen yet, but it will.
He said that there are teams of 12 to 15 fighters of the Taliban who have essentially broken through the front line in the western part of the city,
and are now causing chaos, popping up in the central square popping up, outside the governor's house, shooting in the air, and really contributing
to this sense of a complete lack of control.
The situation here in Kabul, Bianna, is still relatively stable. It's calm. I think a lot of people are skeptical that the Taliban would try to push
their luck, if you will, by making an advance on the city.
But, still, people here see the writing on the wall. And they are desperate now to get out of the country, particularly anyone who has worked with the
military, who has worked with the U.S. Embassy, who has worked with NGOs or Western publications. And so there is definitely a growing sense of dread
and panic in much of the country, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: And you're seeing that people are being killed in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal that are associated with the government, the head of
communications there just a few days ago.
In terms of how the people on the ground are reacting, we spend so much time focusing on women and girls, who have made such large inroads over the
past two decades. How apprehensive are they about what's to come?
WARD: I think it depends where you are in the country. But if you're talking about young women in urban centers who are educated and who, over
the 20 years, have enjoyed some real advancements in their lives in terms of being able to work and being able to leave the house and being able to
get an education, they are, of course, deeply, deeply concerned about what happens.
And you speak to some of these women, and there's this wrenching kind of sense of, how do you make the choice between staying in a country that you
love and that you care about and that you want to serve and want to contribute to, but also knowing that you can't have a proper life anymore
in that country, if, indeed, the Taliban does completely take over?
And, by the way, I should add that that's a luxurious position to be in. Many other women don't have the option of leaving at all. And they are
looking potentially at a very bleak future indeed. Obviously, there are other parts of the country, I'm thinking rural areas, where women don't
tend to be educated, no matter whether the territory is held by the government or the Taliban.
For them, it's unlikely to have as much of an impact on their life, but, for many others, there is absolutely a sense of real dread.
GOLODRYGA: And I don't know what we just heard. It sounded like gunshots or something behind you.
But, Clarissa, please stay safe.
WARD: Gunshot, yes.
GOLODRYGA: We are so happy and lucky to have you on the ground there. And we will continue to follow the story with you. We appreciate it.
WARD: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now we turn to the U.S. domestic agenda, where a gigantic investment in the country's infrastructure could be just around the corner.
This week, a bipartisan group passed a trillion-dollar bill through the U.S. Senate, a trillion dollars. Hot on its heels was an additional $3.5
trillion budget blueprint, something unheard of just a few years ago.
Well, this one, however, is a lot more partisan, and Democrats are hoping to push it through in a process known as reconciliation. This level of
investment is a throwback to the era defining work of presidents like FDR, whose New Deal programs changed the face of America in the 1930s.
So let's dig into what's in these bills with Heidi Heitkamp, the former Democratic senator from North Dakota.
Senator, thank you so much for joining us on what is appropriately described a historic moment here. This is something that the president
sought out to achieve early in his administration. He had many naysayers, many of those within his own party.
How significant is this moment, when you look at that bipartisan $1 trillion deal?
FMR. SEN. HEIDI HEITKAMP (D-ND): This is huge for President Biden. He promised to be a president for everyone. He promised to bring the country
together and do bipartisan deals.
And the fact that this was so broadly bipartisan, not just marginally bipartisan, is huge. He's got to get it through the House of
Representatives yet. And there is some pushback from more progressive members there.
But this is huge. And you can tell how big it is, in terms of a political victory, by how much the former president hates this deal and is
threatening Republicans who supported it.
GOLODRYGA: It is quite stunning to see 19 Republicans were able to ignore or overcome President Trump's constant push for them to not pass this bill.
And yet here we are. Can you break down for us what this means for everyday Americans? You're talking about traditional infrastructure here, roads,
bridges, Internet access, broadband access, as well.
HEITKAMP: Well, in my part of the world, which is rural America, the inability to have stable broadband has really diminished economic capacity
And so that's not true in North Dakota. We have made huge investments here, but throughout the rest of the country, in rural America, this is a huge
package and hopefully will bring hope and some economic development to rural areas.
But, more importantly, there is -- everybody's concerned about debt and deficit. You can pass on debt by not taking care of your infrastructure.
And this is really for that next generation who won't have to pay now for the bridges, who will inherit infrastructure that is modernized, whether it
is in our mass transit and passenger rail, or whether it is just roads and bridges and preparing for the next century.
And so I liken this package to what happened when Eisenhower passed the Interstate Highway System in our country. And so this is huge not only for
a bipartisan win politically for President Biden, but it is huge for all parts of our country.
And that's why you had 19 Republican senators supporting it. They can't very well go to a ribbon-cutting for a new bridge unless they actually
stood on the floor of the Senate and voted for this bill.
GOLODRYGA: And yet not one of those senators voted for the other larger package, the $3.5 trillion so-called human infrastructure package, that
many progressive Democrats see as a pertinent.
And the reason that they allowed and agreed to the initial $1 trillion package to pass was because they have invested so much into this package.
Now, Republicans are saying that this is social welfare and this is costing way too much for the U.S. government.
President Biden seems to think both can pass through. Let's take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: It's not a short-term stimulus. It's a long-term investment in American families.
Our Republican colleagues have argued that long-term investments in physical infrastructure will grow the economy and reduce inflationary
pressures. And I thank them for that. They're exactly right. We agree on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: So they agree on that, but not necessarily the larger bill.
And this is including health care, education, supporting for working families, climate mitigation. How optimistic are you that the bill in its
current form will pass through the Senate and Congress?
HEITKAMP: Well, I mean, obviously, the reconciliation package has passed by the slimmest of margins.
And so now this is headed over to the House. And we will see what happens there. But it's interesting, because one of the big challenges that we have
right now is with labor. And one of the big things -- one of the reasons why we don't have a robust labor -- new people coming into the labor market
is because of many of these things that are in reconciliation, whether it is expanding our K through -- our early childhood education, paying for day
A lot of these policies are incredibly popular with people in the United States of America. I think how successful the Democrats are going to be is
how successful they are in messaging this. If they cede the messenger lane to the Republicans, what's going to happen is, you're going to hear about
inflation, you're going to hear about deficit and debt, which they didn't care about for four years during the Trump administration.
And if the Democrats are really smart, what they're going to do is they're going to talk about what this means for families when getting back to work
and exploration of opportunities for people's children, and then that all- important, how do we take care of our seniors and how do we take care of our kids?
And so, again, these are popular programs. The debate will function and I think be determined by who wins the messaging war.
GOLODRYGA: But you see not only Republicans making the argument about the deficit, but moderate Democrats as well. You yourself were a moderate
Democrat. I'm wondering if you would have supported this bill in its current form.
You don't have guarantees from Senator Manchin and Sinema. They moved forward with the blueprint, but not a final package. Would you have and how
would you sell it to your constituents?
HEITKAMP: Well, I think it's really important to break it down and to make sure that what you're looking at is actual investment, and it's not just
giveaway money, it's not just a program that would necessarily make a constituency group happy, but really doesn't add to the value of building
And so it's really important to understand, I think, the difference between investment and reckless spending. And debt and deficit comes in a lot of
forms. When we don't educate our kids, that adds to additional debt into the future, when we don't provide for families.
Right now, interestingly enough, we are seeing the growth rate, the population growth rate in our country really stagnate. How do we build our
population? How do we build that next generation of work force? And that's what I would talk about. I would talk about the impacts that it could have
And I also might just say, look, no one cared when they were handing out billions of dollars in tax relief to some of the largest financial
institutions. That's their priority. My priority is helping American families.
And I think, when you win that war, that message war, I think you can, in fact, get the hearts and minds of the American public, the vast majority of
the American public, to support you. And so it will be up to Sinema and up to Senator Manchin, great -- both great friends of mine, to kind of find
their way in all of that.
But I think they also -- I always like to say, we get criticized a lot, but we are New Deal Democrats. We believe that, when we invest in people, this
country grows and gets better. And I think that's the message that will carry the day, if we're successful in delivering it.
GOLODRYGA: Final question.
What is it about this president that you think enabled him -- he's not fully there, right, but to even get a $1 trillion bipartisan deal? It was a
pretty big deal. He's used another word in between that, but you know what I mean about a big deal and President Biden.
How has this been something he's been able to achieve, when presidents before him, including Trump, have not?
HEITKAMP: Well, I mean, that's a little unfair, because we passed WRDA. We passed a lot of highway bills when I was there with Senator -- or with
And so infrastructure is always the sweet spot for bipartisanship. The problem that the former president had, former President Trump had, was that
he wanted it all his way and was never willing to sit down and actually have a conversation with moderates.
This president knows the Senate, has worked with the Senate. He has a lot of friends in the Senate. And you should also look at who led this effort
in the Senate. It was senators who were leaving who just wanted for a moment to get something done. And I think that level of frustration, we're
here to do with -- the work of the people, I think that really broke through.
I think it's going to be interesting to see whether you can do more bipartisan efforts based on how much the former president, how successful
the former president is in pushing back and making life miserable for the 19 who actually supported it.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, there are many progressive Democrats who say this may be a one-and-done kind of a deal, to get any sort of big bipartisan package on
But, hey, we will take one in this day and age.
Senator, thank you so much for joining us, Heidi Heitkamp. We appreciate it.
HEITKAMP: Thank you so much for having me.
GOLODRYGA: Take care.
Well, the Senate's infrastructure bill would also give a long-awaited pay raise to federal wildland firefighters. This is a high priority item for
Senator Dianne Feinstein, as her state, California, is battling its second largest wildfire ever, the Dixie Fire. Firefighters are exhausted and
traumatized trying to stop the blazes that are devastating the land and destroying people's homes.
Oscar-nominated director Lucy Walker saw this up close when she embedded with California firefighters during the mega-fires of 2018.
Her new documentary is called "Bring Your Own Brigade." Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen anything like it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire equivalent of an ice age.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like peering into Dante's "Inferno."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's only going to accelerate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's only beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're surrounded by fire. My dad put his hand on my shoulder and he said, "Don't leave."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you do, do not let that building burn down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Evacuate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything was on fire. The looks on their faces, they were sure they were going to die.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run for your life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen that look in anybody's face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And Lucy Walker joins me now from Los Angeles.
Lucy, welcome to the program.
And congratulations on a compelling and really, really powerful film that I recommend to everybody watch. It was painful at times, but so important.
And I was struck by your background, and perhaps this is what led you to this story. And you were not a California-raised citizen. You had moved.
You had been a transplant from the U.K. and had been shocked by the sheer number of massive wildfires and the seemingly benign responses or
unassuming responses from so many who are just used to it.
LUCY WALKER, DIRECTOR, "BRING YOUR OWN BRIGADE": Yes, that's right. I grew up in the U.K. in London. I'd also lived in New York City.
And in those places, you think of fire as a problem that we have solved hundreds of years ago. So, when I moved to California, I was scared. I was
confused. Why is the hillside on fire and why can't they put those fires out?
I didn't understand this landscape and how fires work here and the strain that the firefighters are under. But I got to know residents of
firefighters caught up in these huge fires. And I thought, oh, my goodness, what is going on?
And, of course, it's getting worse and worse.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, there are so many videos that you have compiled into this piece and images of people driving along the highway with massive fires to
the left as if it's some sort of horror movie that we're watching. In fact, it was reality.
And you really hone in on the November 2018 California fires in both Malibu and Paradise; 88 residents were killed, tens of thousands lost their homes
and were displaced.
And you spent a lot of time with these firefighters. And I have to say, they are heroes and the emotional toll, the physical toll that this took on
them. Why was it so important for you to highlight and focus on that?
WALKER: Well, because I think that it's easy to forget quite how extreme the circumstances are expected to work are. And with the big wild fires,
you're not going home every night. Your shift may be 70 days long and you may come home for one day and then be sent right back out again.
And with fire season going longer and longer, in fact, they say, there's no fire season anymore because with climate change, with extreme events and
with the other factors that are pushing these fires. Because I learned that it's not just climate change that's having a huge impact. You know, we're
asking them to do more and more and the strain is absolutely breaking people. And I was really moved by that.
And also, they had information for us that we're not listening to. So, I was fascinated that they actually, you know, have incredible ideas and
there's a wealth of knowledge about how we can do better and how we don't have to be having these huge fires or when the fires do come through, they
won't be as destructive to, you know, structures, you know, thousands, tens of thousands of homes being burnt, you know.
But when the fires come through, the homes don't need to burn, if we're listening to people about the building codes. And so, something that is
very shocking in the film is you see the fire chief of Paradise where 85 people were killed and 18,000 of structures were lost being ignored in his
recommendations for building codes and I think that's something that was really astonishing to witness as well.
GOLODRYGA: And this happened at the end of the film, which is the first time I believe we actually see you because you attended the city council
meeting and the vote. You would think and you hone in on this, that a community that has lost and experienced so much, given facts and data
points and analysis showing that homes built after a certain year, 2008, withstood many more fires than those built prior and not having shrubbery
around their houses would protect them. And yet, most of those people voted no. What do you make of that? And what does that say about our current
WALKER: That's right. I was so shocked that I put myself in the movie. I don't normally put myself in my documentaries. I've made many documentaries
and I'm always behind the camera. But in this case, my own journey of discovery became part of the story.
And there was a moment when I was sitting in this town council meeting in Paradise, which have burned so tragically, a little bit like Greenville we
lost just this last week with the Dixie fire, which started actually right next door to where the fire that destroyed Paradise started, same for the
River Canyon, these places burn all the time.
But in the case of Paradise, we lost 85 residents and even more structures. And I'd really assume that the people most affected by these fires would be
doing anything they possibly could so that when the fire came again, as it is actually right now, you know, they'd be -- their homes might not burn
and the evacuation route might stay open and all these pounding effects.
And yet, you know, human beings are funny creatures and we have our own psychology and, also, we have political systems and structures where, you
know, sometimes the decisions are all sort of dislocated from the impacts. And it's tough to sort of make these decisions.
And I'm really got to thinking about how with climate change as we learn in the report this week, you know, that seems to be really here already and
these bigger problems like these wild fires, as with the pandemic, you know, it's really hard to get everyone on the same page and making
decisions. Even when you know what is sensible and know what is going to save lives. The path to implementing that can sometimes really not work
out. And I think that might be the biggest take away from the film.
But there is something that we can learn. There are some things we can do about the fires that I really look at in the film. We talk about fire
(INAUDIBLE). We talk about native Americans and their indigenous fire practices that actually are a whole different way of living with fire as a
tool and not always the enemy. They're actually are much -- yes.
GOLODRYGA: I'm saying, I was taking notes. I learned so much myself and I, like you, entered and started watching this film thinking that this was all
attributed to climate change. You say and explained that it's much more complicated than that. These fires go back centuries. And you also talk
about the many solutions and many factors behind them.
There are solutions on the table, it's just a matter of people willing to take them and listen to the data, to the facts. I'm glad you made the
through line to the crisis we're in now with COVID. Quickly, in just the final minute, if you can explain why it was so important to you to
highlight these two really different cities within one state, one red city, Paradise, largely voted Republican, and then Malibu, typically voting
Democrat, one home values at $200,000, one to $2 million. Why is it important to highlight these two cities?
WALKER: That's right. The film looks at these two fires and embeds right in them. But it doesn't stop there. It follows through so you follow these
residents and firefighters ongoingly. And I wanted to use these fires as case study.
It was never my intention just to show you the fire and say kind of, wow, that's absolutely horrifying. It was always to get to the bottom of what's
actually going on because when I moved to California, I didn't understand. And I felt like, if I didn't understand, maybe other people don't, too. And
they, also, like me want to figure out are we safe living here? What can we do? What's really driving these fires? And what is it really all about?
And so, what was really useful, I think, about using those two fires as a case study is, they're really different communities. They are opposite ends
of the state, opposite ends of the economic and political spectrum and yet, of course, people suffer in just the same way.
WALKER: And of the thing that you lay out are just the same and some things you see play out quite different within, you know, the different
communities with different means. And I thought, to get a big understanding of how fires are affecting us in California and also the world. We've just
seen this terrible fire in Greece, for example. You know, it's not just the Western United States. We have a real problem right here. And I think
looking at the two fires, you kind of get to understand the whole issue much better.
GOLODRYGA: And that we all burn the same, right? Thank you so much, Lucy Walker, for highlighting this important, important piece of work here and
the work ahead that we have. We all have to do to contribute to ending these massive wild fires. Thank you. We appreciate your time.
WALKER: Thanks. Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, frightening details. That's how Senator Dick Durbin described the testimony of former acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen.
Rosen testified over the weekend about what happened at the Justice Department during the waning days of the Trump administration. Our next
guest, former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, said the relations were pretty stunning. And here he is talking to Walter Isaacson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Bianna. And Preet Bharara, welcome to the show.
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Thanks for having me. It's good to be here.
ISAACSON: The former acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, just gave astonishing testimony. Seven hours of testimony about Donald Trump's
attempt to subvert the election. Walk us through that testimony and your thoughts about it.
BHARARA: So, I love to see a transcript. I love to get my hands on that hot transcript. I've seen some reporting about what he said. And what we do
know, we know we don't have the full testimony, all the language and all the information, is pretty stunning and it should get more attention than
And basically, what Jeffrey Rosen details as the acting attorney general in the final days and weeks of the Trump administration, after even Bill Barr,
a staunch supporter of the president left for various reasons that we can speculate on, says that again and again the president of the United States,
and some of this is documented by contemporaneous notes taken by his deputy, tried to get Jeffrey Rosen, the head official of the Justice
Department, the top legal officer in the country, to take actions to overturn the election.
Among other things, Donald Trump was sort of conspiring whether I can use that, even though it's a legal term, with another official lower down in
the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, who was the acting head of the Civil Division.
And they had come up with a scheme whereby they would Jeffrey Rosen, the person you mentioned, to author a letter, to sign a letter to Georgia
officials and to other officials basically saying, there are problems with the election, without evidence, and that you would be within your rights to
convene a special session and reject the election.
So, you have multiple occasions where the president was trying through his chief legal officer of the country, Jeffrey Rosen, and other people around
Jeffrey Rosen to try to get action taken by the election. One of the most interesting bits of reporting about what apparently happened is that at
various junctures, Jeffrey Rosen stood his ground along with the deputy attorney general at the time, Richard Donoghue, and said, no, we're not
We can't snap our fingers and change the election to which -- and this to me is very stunning -- to which Donald Trump says, and it's part of the
pattern, I get -- something like, I get that. Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me.
So, you know, I can go on about other details that have been reported. But in essence, I think the people who are saying this was something of an
attempted coupe are not wrong. They're not far off the mark. I don't think it's an exaggeration.
And -- but for people who said, we're not doing this -- and by the way, also, the reporting about the testimony is that at some point, Trump was
going to replace Jeffrey Rosen with his more, you know, partial person, Jeffrey Clark, who was going to go along with the program. And that was met
with a threat of mass resignation of the Justice Department.
So, I know we've heard this tale before. We know about Donald Trump trying to subvert the election, perpetrate the big lie, calling Georgia officials
himself, but this stuff is in many ways more stunning than the old stuff.
ISAACSON: What laws might that be violating?
BHARARA: That's an interesting question. It could be violating, you know, various laws in various states. I think it's a little bit tough to do that
because the argument would be made and I don't know all the facts and I don't know all circumstances, I don't know the local laws in Georgia, and
there's some federal laws that may apply.
But, you know, we trust presidents to act within norms with respect to their Justice Department, to stay out of prosecutions and enforcement
actions, specifically, particularly when they're -- for the benefit of that person in office personally.
And the president, as Jeffrey Rosen and others, you know, responded in this way for this reason, the president was acting his personal capacity as a
candidate. Was he interfering with the election? Was he obstructing a proceeding? I think we need more information for that. But the defense
would be, I was doing things even though they're out of the ordinary and not within the norm and might have been an impeachable offense, it maybe
that I was allowed to direct my people to do whatever they want.
And at the end of the day, by the way, it didn't happen. This is the repeated defense that Trump and his allies and lawyers have used with
respect to the findings in the Mueller Report. At the end of the day, the thing didn't happen.
ISAACSON: You mentioned Richard Donoghue took notes at the time. You know Richard Donoghue. Tell me about him and what you make of the notes.
BHARARA: So, I do know Richard Donoghue and had a very good opinion of him when he was attorney in the Southern District of New York. He was the chief
of the Criminal Division for a period of time in the Eastern District of New York, across the river. Professional, good lawyer, integrity. He took
notes like anybody does.
The history of our understanding of President Trump, myself included, is that there are often concerns about what he's going say and how he's going
to represent conversations later. That's why Jim Comey took contemporaneous notes, that's why the Georgia official recorded the phone call. That's why
when the president called me, and I didn't return the call, I briefly considered taping the call but I thought that was a bridge too far. So, it
was a smart thing that he did.
The notes themselves, I think, given that they were contemporaneous and that Richard Donoghue is a person who I think is honest and trustworthy,
probably accurately reflect what the president said.
ISAACSON: Jeffrey Clark, who you mentioned was a person that Trump relied upon at the Justice Department. Is there a case against him that you see
and what you know of the testimony and notes?
BHARARA: I don't see such a case. I think there might have been -- there might be questions given what additional evidence comes forward, if he was
violating some oath as an attorney. If he, you know, was trying to make arguments in court, although they didn't happen, right? These are all
drafts. So, I think it's a little bit more difficult, you know, to bring an ethics charge or for a bar association to examine what he was doing.
But, again, Justice Department officials have wide discretion and authority to do things, which includes unethical things. I think what he was
attempting to do was to circumvent the chain of command, what he was attempting to do was to circumvent norms and most importantly, to undue an
election without any facts or evidence in cahoots with a political candidate. Not a president. Not the person who his superior but a political
candidate. And that's bad enough without there having been, you know, a criminal law violated.
ISAACSON: Do you consider this almost an attempt at a coup?
BHARARA: Yes. So, you know, some of these words are charged and we've heard almost the last number of years people use the word treason casually
and some people don't like the word insurrection. Although, I think January 6th was an insurrection.
Coup, I know to various people, scholars including yourself, has a particular meaning. We apply that word other countries. And whether you
call it a coup or not, I think it tends to fit what was happening here. You have an election that was decided, definitive evidence that the election
was decided in a particular way. There was due process in dozens of scores of legal proceedings, virtually all of which went against the president.
And so, I don't know what else you call it when you have people at a high level in office who have been voted out of office, attempt to remain in
office and positions of power, against all law, against all regulation, against all facts. You know, I think attempted coup is not a bad phrase to
ISAACSON: With everything you've seen about the attempts to overturn the past election, including the January 6th insurrection, are you as surprised
that the system held?
BHARARA: Yes, I think that's a good way of saying the glass is half full. I'm not surprised so much as relieved. And if you engage in counter
factual, you're a historian, Walter, and you know that you think about things. You think about the lives of the people you have written about and
covered exhaustively. You change a couple of facts. How different would the world have been?
ISAACSON: So, you're saying we're just lucky? It could have gone the other way?
BHARARA: A little bit. Yes. I think -- look, if Mike Pence and Jeffrey Rosen and Bill Barr, and a number of other people, and the head election
officials in Georgia and maybe some folks in Arizona, a handful of people, had done what the president of the United States at the time wanted them to
do, I don't think we would have lost the Republic necessarily but we would have been much closer to it.
ISAACSON: Should we rely on luck?
BHARARA: No, we should not. We should not. But, you know, it takes not only, you know, policies and laws and regulations, it takes good people.
And I know, again, that sounds unsatisfactory to folks but, you know, when Nixon did what he did, there was an understanding in the country by both
Democrats and Republicans there needed to be accountability and there needed to be reform and there needed to be an inquiry.
And now, we're at a spot -- I mean, that's the most damage I think that Donald Trump has done to the country, that he has caused people to put
proximity to power over sort of the strength of the Republic and I don't know how you get out of that overnight.
I think it helps for there to be electoral defeats so that people who, you know, stick their head in the sand and spout nonsense and garbage, whether
knowingly or unknowingly, and I think the select committee, if it can do its work with two Republican members, although they're not members of good
standing in the Trump Republican Party at the moment, can shed light in a lot of these things.
And I think over time, as we've gone back to certain norms, in the Justice Department and elsewhere, what you hope is that good Americans will come to
the view in increasing numbers, in an increasing majority that what happened on January 6th and what led up to 6th of January 6th is
unacceptable in this country.
ISAACSON: Walk me through the -- what must be going through Merrick Garland's mind? What are his options? What do you think he should do?
BHARARA: So, that might take a while. Merrick Garland is a smart person. He has a very capacious mind. And I don't envy him, his job, and the
difficulty of his job because he's balancing multiple things. And I think he's trying to steer a path of doing the right thing in the right way and
there's some institutional considerations that he holds dear. You know, he was a former member of the Justice Department at a high level and also a
trial attorney there.
And so, there are certain issues relating to deliberate process, privilege, and executive privilege that some people who are Biden supporters don't
like because some information is not coming out and there have been decisions made about continuing to represent the president of the United
States -- former president of the United States in some litigation that some people who are on the other side of the aisle from Donald Trump
doesn't like. But then on the other hand, he's trying to make sure that he's transparent with Congress.
So, with respect to the things we're talking about now, what's very interesting about Richard Donoghue's notes, the former acting deputy
attorney general, it doesn't appear to be that that was released or is being looked at as part of an internal DOJ investigation to see what crimes
have been committed or what norms have been breached or ethics rules have been violated, but rather, in response to requests from Congress for that
So, you know, I think he has an interest in making sure that bad conduct comes to light and there's some transparency. I don't know how much
interest he has, and people can debate this, in making sure that there's a complete review in reporting of and holding accountable of people who
engaged in this semi coup-like behavior toward the end of the administration.
I think he would be well served to figure out a way to do that, that doesn't derail him from other things like civil rights priorities and other
issues that are important to the department. But I think it's a little bit of a tough line for him to walk.
ISAACSON: Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned this week after a lot of sexual misconduct allegations and investigations. But there's also a story by
Ronan Farrow, a great reporting in "The New Yorker" this week, that Governor Cuomo called Valerie Jarrett of the Obama administration to try
interfere with the investigation you were doing. Tell me about that and tell me if there's some things comparable to what Donald Trump did.
BHARARA: Yes. So, I've drawn that parallel. You know, it is not a good thing for a political official to, in any way, try to bring their influence
to bear on people at the Justice Department or other political figures to put pressure to bear on members of the Justice Department. To engage in an
enforcement action against somebody or to hold off on an enforcement action against somebody. You know, you're not supposed to use the Justice
Department to protect allies and to harm and penalize and punished adversaries.
And so, the one difference between some of the things that Donald Trump did and what happened in my case, was during the time in 2014, as Ronan Farrow,
outlined and it's confirmed by multiple officials of the White House and the Justice Department, the almost former governor of the State of New York
didn't like being investigated and that is true of a lot of people, whether they're well-known or powerful or not.
And apparently, I'm informed, made a call to one of the top advisors to the president of the United States at the time, Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett.
And it became clear to Valerie Jarrett by her own testimony in the article that it was an inappropriate call. That it was intended in some way to
cause me to get brush back from the investigation I was overseeing, which was being conducted by career prosecutors and investigators, by the way, I
And she immediately changed the subject or ended the conversation and she reported immediately to the White House Counsel. The White House Counsel
reported it immediately to the deputy attorney general of the United States, and the deputy attorney general recounted in the article informed
me and said, make whatever use of this is appropriate in your investigation. And we proceeded in that way.
Now, yes, the analogy, I think, good faith and reasonable people I think is hard, you know, to criticize. And that is, you have a person who is in some
investigative jeopardy, ultimately charges were never brought. We never brought charges. You have someone who is in investigative jeopardy, who
tries to pull a political lever to prevent independent prosecutors from doing what they're supposed to do, and that's wrong. And it wasn't allowed
to go any further.
The difference between that case and what we've seen in the Trump administration is the members of the White House, unlike Valerie Jarrett,
you know, were solicitous of this kind of conduct. Mark Meadows, at the request of the president, almost certainly made his own phone calls.
So, rather than shutting down the requests and saying, no, that's not appropriate. I'm not allowed to get involved. You're talking about this in
your capacity as a candidate, Justice Department is supposed to be independent on enforcement actions. No. He took the baton and ran with it
and made his own calls to the Justice Department.
So, whether there's an analogy between what two different politicians have done, there's no real analogue with respect to how the Justice Department
ISAACSON: Tell me about your phone call with Donald Trump.
BHARARA: So, the phone call -- so, I don't know how many folks are aware of this. You know, I stayed on as U.S. attorney at the request of Donald
Trump because I thought I was going to be able to do my job independently, which is the mandate of being the U.S. attorney anywhere but certainly in
the Southern District of New York. And he began calling me a couple of times during the transition. I reported those phone calls. Made a note of
those phone calls.
But then he called me when he was actually the sitting president of the United States in March of 2017. And a message was left by the secretary to
the president. And I thought about what I should do. Now, at the time, there were calls for investigations for Donald Trump based on the
(INAUDIBLE) it's caused and some other things. I had no relationship with Donald Trump.
Ordinarily, if this was going to be something related to my job, it would be the attorney general who would be calling me. Jeff Sessions was nowhere
to be seemed. It seemed to be a side phone call to me. And based on my, you know, sense of how the world works and also for my protection, and also for
Donald Trump's protection, where we wouldn't know and be able to prove why he was calling, what he was saying in the call, how would it look?
So, I respectfully called the secretary back and said I decline to speak to the president unless I know what it's about or it involved the attorney
general. And the next day, I was asked for my letter of resignation. That decision, by the way, which likely cost me the job and the job that I love
but I had no entitlement to serve in any longer than I had, that decision was born out as correct time and time again by the experiences of Jim
Comey, the experiences of the Georgia officials, the experiences of Jeffrey Clark.
I have no doubt -- I mean, at the beginning I would say, you know, I'm not sure how this would have played out. I have no doubt in my mind now given
how Donald Trump and Mark knows and others that you have mentioned, have tried to weaponize the Justice Department, that at some point, if I had
played along with Donald Trump, wanting to have a side relationship with the sitting Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney in Manhattan, which has
jurisdiction over his properties and his businesses and his organization, that I would have been asked to do something inappropriate at some time.
By the way, the other thing that's worth mentioning in this whole business of the end of the Trump administration is there was a sitting U.S. attorney
in Atlanta who is now being reported, and maybe Jeffrey Rosen says something about this, who was forced out. Was made to quit in a way that's
parallel to mine and other people's experiences. Apparently, because he wasn't doing enough to cast doubt on the election in Georgia.
So, nothing good could have come of having a relationship and being cultivated by the sitting president of the United States when you're
supposed to be an independent-minded prosecutor.
ISAACSON: Preet Bharara, thank you so much for joining us.
BHARARA: Thank you, Walter. Good to be here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Well, that is it for now. Thank you so much for watching and good-bye from New York.