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At This Hour

Trump's DOJ Weaponized Power to Target Sitting Members of Congress; Bipartisan Group of Senators Announce Infrastructure Plan; Biden Meets with World Leaders at First G7 Summit as President. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 11, 2021 - 11:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Erica Hill, in today for Kate Bolduan.

Here's what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

A bombshell report on just what was happening at the Justice Department during the Trump administration. Secret investigation to find the source of leaks and investigation targeting Democrats in Congress.

President Biden hinting at a message for President Putin in their summit next week, but first, critical meetings in England with his G7 allies.

And just what do we need to know before younger children can be vaccinated for COVID-19. One doctor warning shots in the coming months may be too soon. But what does that mean for the fight against the pandemic?

AT THIS HOUR, shocking revelations about how the DOJ weaponized its power under Donald Trump, targeting Democratic lawmakers, their staff, even their family members. It is the latest example of the very real threat facing our democracy.

The Trump Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for data from at least 100 counts as part of a leak investigation. And among the targets, House Intel Chair Adam Schiff and Committee Member Eric Swalwell.

The DOJ was looking for the source of news stories which revealed connections between Trump associates and Russia. That data did not tie the committee to the leaks.

Chairman Schiff called the revelations a terrible abuse of power. He is set to brief house Democrats on the Trump DOJ subpoenas in the next hour.

CNN's Whitney Wild and Manu Raju joining us now with the very latest on this major story. So, Whitney, right now, what do we know? I mean, this is a whirlwind,

what, 14 hours at this point.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, absolutely. So, what we know is that these are now coming to light. There was a gag order that expanded for years. Three times the DOJ renewed that gag order to keep this information a secret. This gag order extending all the way through the Trump administration and then only being revealed because it was expired in May.

So, the reason that anybody is hearing about it now, Erica, is because members of the House Intelligence Committee learned from Apple, not from DOJ, from Apple, that their data had been subjected to these subpoenas and seizures by federal prosecutors.

So here's what we know. This began under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It hit a brick wall at some point. Now we're learning today that the then Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not have any involvement, didn't know about these subpoenas because he notably had recused himself from any investigation involving Russia.

It hit a dead end. Then Bill Barr came on the scene and revived this. Basically, investigators had gone to Bill Barr and said we hit a brick wall. And he said keep digging.

So what we know is that didn't turn up anything. But what is so significant here is that typically when the Department of Justice is going after members of congress, it is because of some sort of public corruption investigation. Or other types of crimes.

It's rare to see the Department of Justice simply go after a president's political enemies for the sole purpose of he didn't like the leaks that were coming out of what he thought was the House Intelligence Committee.

So this -- the subpoena was extraordinarily broad. Shocking that you would go after members of Congress and then further, Erica, that you would go after the personal connections of the members of Congress, family members, and what is even more startling is this dragnet swept up metadata from a child, a minor was involved in this in some capacity.

We know it's just the metadata, so we don't know the contents of the communications were, but it is really shocking. It follows a pattern we've seen.

So, I think we have a full screen up to bring this would be into clearer view, because here is who DOJ had gone after. House Intelligence Democrats, CNN reporter Barbara Starr and "Washington Post" reporters, "New York Times" reporters and Twitter. This is the group that Trump administration and apparently the Department of Justice at the time believed were in some way the enemy and so they went after them. Again, going after the personal connections which is extraordinarily rare, Erica.

And so the questions now moving forward for the Department of Justice is Attorney General Merrick Garland going to review this? If there is a policy in place now that would have allowed for that, is that going to change moving forward?

HILL: Yeah. A lot of questions. And a lot of them from Merrick Garland, as you point out.

Manu, next hour Democrats on House Intel are set to be briefed on this by Chairman Schiff. Have we heard any tidbits about what he is going to tell them? What more we know about the meeting?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the first time that a lot of members are learning about what happened here when the news broke last night. In fact, speaking to a number of the members on the committee, a lot of them simply do not know whether or not their records were seized.


Because the way they were notified was via Apple and it was -- and the e-mail that came to them that looked like a spam e-mail according to people that I spoken to. And presumably some of the e-mail notifications if they actually came to them were swept up into the spam folder themselves.

So some of the members simply do not know if they or their staffs were targeted by the Justice Department subpoena, if the records were seized in any way. And it comes amid tension among the house Democratic leaders of the House Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department because the Democrats over the past month Adam Schiff, the chairman of the committee when learned about this, he engaged in communication with the Justice Department staff to try to get more information about what exactly this subpoena entailed, try to get all the details about this.

And according to Schiff, according to committee officials that I spoke with, they have not gotten that information yet. So, expect that tension to play out then demanding more information and if they don't get it, we'll see what they decide to do next -- Erica.

HILL: Absolutely. Manu, Whitney, thank you both.

Joining me now, CNN senior law enforcement analyst, former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, and CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig. He's a former federal and state prosecutor.

Good to have both of you with us.

Andy, I want to start with you, because we're talking about how people found out about things. You were a target here. And as we know, this gag order was just lifted.

So how and when were you notified?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, Erica, I actually don't -- I haven't been notified yet, to my knowledge. It's possible I received a notification and just didn't see it or didn't recognize it for what it was. I think Manu described that accurately. It comes into your account with everything else and doesn't grab your attention.

So, I'm still hanging in the breeze here to see if that sort of notification comes my way. I think we're far beyond the point of having to rely on or being forced to rely on being notified by service providers. I think it's time that most of us heard from the Department of Justice.

HILL: I mean, that in itself really is shocking. You know, it's a fair point. The question a lot of people have is what not only what was happening at the Department of Justice about what happening now?

Elie, as we look at this, you just wrote a book, couldn't be more timely, about Bill Barr. Your title is "Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department".

Look, that's a clear indication of how you feel about Barr as attorney general. But based on what has transpired since last night, how would you refer to him now?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's worse than that. It's worse than I even knew. The fundamental corruption is deeper than we understood.

And let me try to explain exactly how, first of all. As a prosecutor, you have an ethical duty not to pursue an investigation unless you have some what we call predication, some basis of evidence and the reporting that Whitney gave us is that Bill Barr had none. He told the prosecutors you have nothing but keep going. That's what we call a fishing expedition.

Not only that, they targeted politically only Democratic members of Congress. They targeted those people's families and staff members. They went to court to get a gag order to keep it secret.

I want to pick up on something, Andy, just said that's so important. It is not fair for the current DOJ, for Merrick Garland, to leave people that might or might not have been violated, had privacy violated to leave them in a state of flux.

Merrick Garland has an affirmative obligation to dig into these files, figure out whose records were subpoenaed and affirmatively notify them, let them know one way or the other right now.

HILL: There is the notification. But what else does he need to do? There could still be people, right, the understanding is there are still people at DOJ who were involved with some of this.

MCCABE: Yeah --

HONIG: Well, there needs to be an investigation by the inspector general for one thing and Congress needs to do its job. I know Andy has thoughts on that as well.

HILL: Go ahead. MCCABE: Absolutely. I mean, you know, look, the fact that there are still Trump political appointees at the Department of Justice is just head spinning -- there's no excuse for that, especially now that we know what is going on in the waning months of that administration.

And I agree with Elie entirely. It is time for the attorney general to take hold of the situation, to deliver transparency to the American people, to Congress, to those folks like myself that have been tormented with one investigation after another for the last four years. This has been going on for me.

It's time to have an accounting of where we stand and what inappropriate measures are taking place.

HILL: You know, as we're trying to figure out what was happening and when, I just want to take us back to this moment in 2019, when then Senator Kamala Harris was questioning Bill Barr. Let's take a listen.


THEN-SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?

BILL BARR, THEN-ATTORNEY GENERAL: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't --

HARRIS: Yes or no?

BARR: Could you repeat the question?

HARRIS: I will repeat it. Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone. Yes or no please, sir.

BARR: The president or anybody else?

HARRIS: Seems you'd remember something like that and be able to tell us.


HILL: Look, at the time there was a lot made of that non-answer, and the exchange. Knowing what we know now, so Barr didn't open this investigation. But he revived it. That puts his answer in a different light.

HONIG: Yeah. That clip is so telling. Look, I will stipulate Bill Barr is a smart man. However, when asked a very straight forward question by then Senator Kamala Harris, he suddenly played dumb. He hemmed and hawed and he pretended not to understand the meaning of words like suggest or ask. That answer to me is so telling, because if it's a no, nobody ever asked or suggested. Say no. If it's a yes, and there is nothing wrong with it, say yes.

And that answer by Barr tells me the answer is yes and he knew damn well it was wrong and he was trying to wiggle out of it. HILL: It also makes you wonder if there anything else we're learning

in the coming months or the coming years.

You know, when we look at what we're learning about this one incident, the fact that there was this investigation which by all accounts and by all the reporting didn't really turn anything up. But the gag order, Andy, was renewed three times and brought it all the way through to May when finally there started to be some acknowledgement because it was lifted.

That in itself, if we're looking from a political lens, the way that the gag order was extended should we read anything into that, Andy?

MCCABE: Absolutely, you should. So, there are only two reasons they would extend that gag order in the way they did in that situation. The first is to continue holding open an investigation that is turning up no results. An investigation that should have been closed months, maybe years, who knows, earlier. So that in itself raises all kinds of political questions. Why have they dug their teeth in so hard and won't let this thing go?

The second reason they may have extended those gag orders was simply to keep delaying the revelation of this inappropriate investigation until they're gone, again that's just political cover. Let's postpone the inevitable and let the next administration have to deal with this time bomb when it goes off.

HILL: Yeah. It is -- it is remarkable. I fact you have still not officially been notified yet another piece to add to that. Andrew McCabe, always appreciate it. Thank you both.

Meantime, while we're following all of these rapid developments here at home, President Biden, of course, on the world stage for the first time as president. We'll take you live to England for the G7 Summit.

Plus, a new focus on COVID-19 vaccines for younger children. Just how young is too young? What experts say they need to know before answering that question?



HILL: AT THIS HOUR, as President Biden continues this overseas trip, the domestic is agenda is at a crossroads. A bipartisan group of senators now says they reached a deal on a new infrastructure package that includes no tax hikes. Some progressive senators, though, are not onboard, threatening to oppose it.

CNN's Lauren Fox joining us now with the latest.

So, Lauren, what is in the deal and based on that, where do things stand right now?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we don't have all the details of specifically what has been included. This bipartisan group has kept some of those details under wraps. And that's because they are looking to try to see if they can sell this proposal to both of their sides.

You know, Republicans are going back to their leadership. Democrats going back to their leadership. Also briefing the White House on what they think they have agreed to.

But we do know a few things. One of them is that this proposal is about $1.2 trillion total. It's about $579 billion in in new money. That is significant, of course, because that's above about the $300 billion that Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican's top negotiator in the talks with the White House got to before discussions were completely ended by the White House.

But I do think one thing to keep in mind is there are a lot of progressives that have argued privately and publicly this week that they are not just going to back this proposal because the bipartisan group of members, ten people agree to something. They are arguing they want to make sure there are other proposals, climate change proposals included as well as enough money for mass transit from a lot of lawmakers who are from the East Coast corridors. Those are the kinds of items that they're going to be looking for.

So I think that we have to let this play out in part because Democrats and Republicans are going to have to see if they can get broader buy in from not just those members who are in the middle and have been negotiating privately for several weeks -- Erica.

HILL: All right. We'll continue to watch it. As we know, you will. Thank you so much.

Just ahead, President Biden on the world stage. His first G7 summit as president now under way, and his message for Putin ahead of their meeting, next.

But, first, a quick programming note for you. President Obama joining Anderson Cooper for a rare one-on-one interview talking about his life post-presidency. It's an "ANDERSON COOPER 360" special, "Barack Obama on Fatherhood, Leadership and Legacy." It airs this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. right here.



HILL: Happening at this hour, the first in person G7 summit in nearly two years now under way. It's also President Biden's first since taking office. He's, of course, meeting with leaders from around the world.


Up first on their agenda, a focus on the global economy and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Joining me now, CNN's Jeff Zeleny and CNN's Nic Robertson who are there at the location of the summit.

So, Jeff, as we move knew move into day one here, what are we expecting over the next couple days?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, these leaders really want to know, you know, get back to know each other in a face to face basis.

The fact that they're meeting together in a room which they're still in at this moment is pretty extraordinary given the global pandemic. So there was a lot of elbow diplomacy. We saw them earlier this morning giving each other the elbow.

But now they're meeting without cameras in the room and really talking about how to move the world beyond this pandemic that has crippled the economy and, of course, caused deep ramifications. So, there are some tough issues that they're going to discuss. They all are likely to come to an agreement on a global minimum tax, for example, a 15 percent. President Biden, of course, has supported that as are all the others.

But the biggest part of this, I think, is the relationships that are building. President Trump who, of course, for four years really rattled this establishment no longer here. President Biden wants to say America is back and show that is the case. But, of course, all of this is leading into his meeting next week with Russian President Putin. He was asked earlier this morning about what that meeting would look like.


REPORTER: Mr. President, what's your message to Putin?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll tell you after I deliver it.


ZELENY: So says -- he says he'll tell you us after he delivers it.

This follows just a couple days ago. He said I will let Putin know what he needs to know. So clearly a lot of brinksmanship or talking about some tough talk, if you will. But the point of meeting these leaders of democracies first is to create momentum going into that meeting next Wednesday in Geneva with Vladimir Putin -- Erica.

HILL: Creating that momentum. But, Nic, there is also made a lot that it's not just about the momentum, right? It's as Jeff touched on, it's about these relationships, and in many ways, rekindling some of them. And also sort of giving a new sense, I guess, to how the United States is being represented on the world stage.

What's your sense at this point, Nic? How is that playing out for President Biden in terms of achieving those goals?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah. I suppose you can take what Boris Johnson said as a litmus test of the change between President Trump to President Biden. He described him as a breath of fresh air.

I think when you look at that family photograph that was being taken today of the leaders standing there, a little bit of social distancing, all standing out in the fresh air, slightly away from each other.

But as they walked off of that sort of set, if you like, you saw President Biden put his arm around one of the leaders. I couldn't quite see if it was Justin Trudeau or if it was Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister. But that sort of human warmth, human touch very un-Trump like.

I was just looking at a tweet that came in seconds ago from the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, a big voice at the European Union, of course. And I think this speaks to how President Biden is reaching across to other leaders in a way that president Trump didn't.

This is what she is saying about the meetings coming up: Like minded countries sharing the same values and interests on world view. We'll discuss how to come together over the pandemic and be stronger. And talking as well about a close transatlantic unity is essential to face today's challenges.

These leaders are not coming into this meeting keeping their thoughts close to themselves. They're not coming in with position that appear to be antagonistic to president Biden.

So, I think the White House is messaging in it advance of the G7 about what they want to achieve and how they hope to achieve it, bringing in allies and sharing values of democracy, you know, a potential inflection point in history where the democracies need to stand up against autocracies, all that messaging has gone down well.

The real test, of course, is going to come in the detail of the talks to see the depth of the agreements that are established here. But I think where we stand at the moment, you know, President Biden is certainly on the course that he wants to be on as far as we know.

HILL: And there is also, Jeff, this delicate dance, right, for President Biden in terms of this obviously the White House wants this to be about the Biden administration. They want it to be about where President Biden is taking the agenda, is taking the country, is taking the relationships.

But it's tough to look at that lane without looking at how we got here even though I know there is not a real desire to bring up former President Trump.

ZELENY: I think former President Trump's name certainly comes up a lot on television, and in a political circle.