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At This Hour

President Biden Arrives in Geneva Ahead of Putin Summit; Attorney General Announces Strategy to Combat Domestic Extremism. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

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

Confronting Putin. President Biden is now in Geneva for his meeting with the Russian president tomorrow. New details on how Biden is preparing for his high-stakes talks.

Combating domestic terrorism. The White House unveiling its plan to fight homegrown extremism after the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

And deadly dispute, an argument over a mask leaves a supermarket cashier dead, as America nears another grim milestone in the pandemic.

Thanks so much for being here. We begin with breaking news.

The Biden administration unveiling the first ever national strategy to combat domestic terrorism. Attorney General Merrick Garland is about to make this announcement. You see live pictures from inside the room right there at the Justice Department. We are going to bring this to you live when Merrick Garland begins.

The new White House strategy comes five months after the deadly terrorist, domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol. So far, 485 Americans have been charged in the January 6th insurrection. The attempt to overthrow America's democracy cannot be ignored.


CROWD: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!




BOLDUAN: The deadly siege lays bear a growing threat posed by violent far-right extremists and the FBI is now warning lawmakers that QAnon conspiracy theorists could become more violent. CNN's Evan Perez is live at the Justice Department with much more on

what we're about to learn.

So, Evan, what can we expect to hear from the attorney general in mere moments.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think one of the things that the attorney general is going to talk about is the ways that the FBI and the Justice Department can essentially look at the things that they saw before January 6th, Kate, and they simply were struggling to figure out what to do about it. They saw so many postings on social media, with people saying what they intended to do on January 6th. And yet, it still happened.

And so what you see in the strategy, we'll put up the four points that we're talking about, one of them is to essentially analyze and share information with local law enforcement, the information that they can see on social media.

Another one is to try to prevent domestic terrorism recruitment. A lot of this recruitment is happening online. Again, this is something they do with regard to international terrorist groups. There's statutes, there's laws that are focused on international terrorist organizations that just cannot be used on -- when it comes to just wholly domestic terrorism.

There still is, under this policy, Kate, there still is no domestic -- specific domestic terrorism law. But what the FBI and the Justice Department are saying now is they'll take a look at what is causing all of this. They're going to spend a lot more money pushing out to the states, to try to make sure that they can stay on top of this.

Another important point that you see in this new strategy is trying to identify and figure out how to root out the number of members of the military and a number of people in law enforcement who could be part of this domestic terrorism threat. That's a big problem because we saw dozens of people who were affiliated with the military, former, current, who were part of the January 6th insurrection. That is something that is part of this new policy.

And, of course, Kate, one of the big problems is, what happens when your chief -- the person who's behind all of the disinformation that's driving some of this domestic terrorism threat is the president of the United States. That's one of the issues that was confronting the FBI and the Justice Department up until January 20th, because the fact was that a lot of the -- certainly, the big lie about the election and some of the other disinformation was coming from the boss, from the top. And that was the president of the United States at the time.

One of the things you see there that they talk about is to try to figure out how to like go and confront some of that disinformation, some of the anti-government and violent talk that you see online.

BOLDUAN: And we're going to hear more and more throughout the show of how far and deep and wide attempts of the president and those around were to try to push the big lie, even at the Justice Department. PEREZ: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Evan is going to be with us. Evan is going to stick. He's listening into this big announcement coming from the attorney general. We will bring that to you as soon as Merrick Garland begins.

But I want to talk to you also about the other major story we are tracking at this hour.


We are now less than 24 hours away from a pivotal meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Moments ago, Biden just touched down in Geneva, landing, getting off of Air Force One ahead of this high-stakes summit. This morning, we are also getting a clearer picture of what tomorrow's face-to-face could entail.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is live in Geneva with details on this.

Natasha, what are you learning about how Biden is preparing and what he is preparing for.


So Biden has been preparing very intensively for the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He's been meeting with his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, with the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, pretty much every morning, ahead of his meetings with G-7 leaders and E.U. leaders. In the free time that he has in the mornings, he's also been consulting directly with these foreign leaders to try to get their opinion on what he should discuss with Vladimir Putin and also to loop them in on their concerns and what he believes they should raise -- or he should raise with the Russian president.

So, a lot of intensive preparation going on here. He even brought it up with the queen of England. She asked him about the Russian president and what they might discuss.

So, clearly, he's getting a lot of input from a lot of different people, including a group of Russian experts who he had over at the White House with him earlier this month to get their opinion and their briefing on what he should do at this summit and how he should approach it. At that meeting, they recommended against holding a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, because they want to avoid those optics of the U.S. president standing side by side with the Russian president and kind of having them be at that same level.

They want to also avoid the Russian president from undercutting Joe Biden and kind of trying to get out ahead of what was discussed at the summit.

So, we're going to be seeing tomorrow, they're going to be holding a joint photo session and then there will be a private meeting between Joe Biden and Putin in the library at that grand villa that they're meeting at and then, of course, they'll be holding their separate press conferences, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, and, Natasha, the Biden administration administratively so has been lowering and managing expectations of what could be coming out of this summit. What is Biden -- how has Biden responded to what I've heard of some criticism and questioning of why he is not holding a joint press conference with Putin after.

I heard one analyst say, just as important as what is said behind closed doors and in private is what is said publicly with Putin standing right there.

BERTRAND: Yeah, and the president addressed this yesterday. He said, essentially, they don't want to step on each other in this instance. He thinks that it's important for each leader to try to get out their medication after the summit.

And the advisers who he met with earlier this month are again saying that this might not be a constructive way to get the message out to the public of what they discussed after this meeting, because the last time they met, it's important to remember, in 2011, they did hold a joint press conference, a joint availability. And the Russian president kind of threw a curveball into that discussion with the discussion of a visa free exchange between Russia and the U.S. And that kind of came as a surprise to Biden and his aides.

So I think they want to avoid those kind of surprises. The Russian president is always kind of trying to throw things in there that might throw off the foreign leaders. So they want really Biden to be able to discuss this on his own terms, convey to the public what they have discussed behind closed doors, without kind of that distraction of having potentially to one-up each other constantly during this press conference.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, performing in a press conference, I think, is somehow, Biden said.

Let me -- let me play for you and for our viewers a moment when Jeff Zeleny had asked President Biden yesterday during a press conference about how he -- about how he has talked about Vladimir Putin in the past. Let me play this.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You know, in a weekend interview, Vladimir Putin laughed at the suggestion that you had called him a killer. Is that still your belief, sir, that he is a killer?

JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm laughing, too. When I was asked that question on-air, I answered it honestly. But it's not much of a -- I don't think it matters a whole lot in terms of this next meeting we're about to have.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Why doesn't it matter?

BERTRAND: It does matter and I think Biden knows that it matters. I think he's been trying to cool tensions ahead of this summit. Just remember, the Biden administration did impose sanctions on the Kremlin for their poisoning and jailing of the top opposition figure there in Russia, Alexey Navalny.

And so, Biden has made it pretty clear publicly that he knows that the Russian president is behind these poisonings in foreign countries and is behind the jailing of dissidents and really does not have a respect or a regard for human rights. So I think Biden right now going into the summit is trying to calm the tensions, trying to go in. And that's why he said, of course, that he sees Putin as tough and he sees him as a worthy adversary, because he knows also as much as Putin responds to strength, he also responds to flattery.


And so, I think that this is a way for Biden to go in, kind of not in a hostile posture, but ready to discuss areas where they can cooperate, even if it's on a very incremental level.

BOLDUAN: Natasha, thanks so much. Great reporting.

Joining me right now for more on this is retired Army General Wesley Clark. He's a former NATO supreme allied commander, of course.

General, thank you so much for jumping on. I really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for your time.

In terms of what the approach going in and what can come out of this meeting, do you think Joe Biden can go in, despite the name calling that's happened ahead of this, do you think President Biden can go in to this meeting and say let's only focus on the areas where we can agree? Let's only focus on areas where we can make progress, like climate, like the pandemic. If he does that, what do you think?

CLARK: I think it's a mistake. He's told people that he's going to tell Putin what he can't do. He's going to, in his words, draw red lines, it doesn't mean he's going to be bound by that, but he's said, this is what you can't do. He's going to hold him accountable for what has been done.

Now, he's made those promises, so he's going to have to do that. He's not going to be able to walk in with Putin and say, I've told these people I'll be tough on you, but, really, let's just figure out a couple of things we can work on because we can both say it's a success.

Because Vladimir Putin has actually, in his own mind, he's at war with the democracies. Now, it's not the kind of war that we Americans call war with military, strikes and stuff like that. It's a war of misinformation, disinformation, cyber attack, using money to buy influence with people who don't have or aims, flaunting Western standards of human rights, killing his opponents in Germany and Britain or at home or airplane -- sky terrorism, taking airplanes out of the air.

So he's at war with Western standards, Western norms. And he's flaunting his power.

So President Biden can deal with him, with respect, but he can't sugar coat that. That's a fact. And the world is begging for President Biden to stand up and push Putin down.

BOLDUAN: You also say, though, that Biden needs to be careful, still, to not make a direct threat. Why is that?

CLARK: Well, I think you have to treat people with respect. And I think the best way for the president to handle this, of course, he's gotten all the advice from allies. He's incredibly experienced diplomatically, our president is. He'll know how to do this.

You've got to explain to Vladimir Putin what the consequences are. As President Biden has said, when I say it, I mean it. And when he goes in there and talks to --

BOLDUAN: General, I've got to jump in, because we've got to head back to Washington now. The attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, now making the announcement of the first national strategy to combat domestic extremism and terrorism.


I'm very happy to be in the great hall today with representatives of the FBI, the ATF, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Executive Office for U.S. attorneys, and with representatives of the National Security Division, Civil Rights Division, the Criminal Division, and the Office of Justice Programs.

I'm pleased to announce that the administration today is releasing the first national strategy for conquering domestic terrorism. Each of your components will play an important role in ensuring its success.

The National Strategy is designed to coordinate and provide a principled path for the federal government's efforts to counter the heightened domestic terrorism threat, using all available tools. It is a culmination of an effort undertaken at the president's direction by federal agencies, all across the government, from the Justice Department to the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State, Health and Human Services, and others.

As part of this effort, our law enforcement and intelligence agencies examine the evolving threat that faces us today. From that base of understanding, we develop this national strategy to guide the work of a broad set of federal actors. At the Justice Department, the deputy attorney general and I have

already begun implementing a range of measures. Among other things, we have begun to reinvigorate the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, and we will convene that interagency body in the coming days and months.

Attorney General Janet Reno originally created the Executive Committee in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The investigation of that bombing, which required an enormous commitment of resources from agencies across the federal and state governments, had demonstrated the importance of such a coordination mechanism.


Our current effort comes on the heels of another large and heinous attack. This time the January 6th assault on our nation's Capitol. We have now, as we have then, an enormous task ahead.

To move forward as a country, to punish the perpetrators, to do everything possible to prevent similar attacks, and to do so in a manner that affirms the values on which our justice system is founded and upon which our democracy depends. The resolve and dedication with which the Justice Department has approached the investigation of the January 6th attack reflects the seriousness with which we take this assault on a mainstay of our democratic system, the peaceful transfer of power.

Over the 160 days since the attack, we have arrested over 480 individuals and brought hundreds of charges against those who attacked and law enforcement officers obstructed justice and used deadly and dangerous weapons to those ends. That would have not been possible without the dedication of our career prosecutors and agents, as well as the critical cooperation of ordinary Americans, who in acts large and small, have shown that they are our best partners in keeping America safe.

Within the very first week following the attack, members of the public took it upon themselves to submit over 100,000 pieces of digital media to the FBI.

Unfortunately, we know from experience that domestic terrorism and violence extremism comes in many forms.

Six years ago, nine black men and women were shot and killed while praying at their church in Charleston. Four years ago, this week, an attacker shot four people at a congressional baseball practice after confirming that the players were Republicans. Two months later, a man drove his car into a crowd of peaceful protesters against white supremacism in Charlottesville, murdering one and injuring many more.

In 2011, 11 -- 2018, 11 Jewish worshipers were shot and killed at their synagogue in Pittsburgh. And two summers ago, 23 people, most of whom were Latino, were gunned down while shopping at a Walmart in El Paso.

Such attacks are not only unspeakable tragedies for the victims' loved ones. They are also a tragedy for our country, an attack on our core ideals as a society. We must not only bring our federal resources to bear, we must adopt a broader, societal response to tackle the problems' deeper roots.

This effort begins with taking a rigorous look at the problem we face. During President Biden's first week in office, he directed the organization to undertake an assessment of the domestic terrorism threat, and then to use that assessment to direct the national strategy being released today. Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies undertook that assessment in the first several weeks of this administration.

In March, they concluded that domestic violent extremists posed an evaluated threat to the homeland in 2021. Our experience on the ground confirms this. The number of open FBI domestic terrorism investigations this year has increased significantly.

According to an unclassified summary of the March intelligence assessment, the two-most lethal elements of the domestic violence extremist threat are racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and militia violent extremists.

In the FBI's view, the top domestic violence extremist threat comes from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocated for the superiority of the white race.

The March assessment concluded that the militia violent extremist threat, which is described as those who, quote, take overt threats to violently resist or facilitate the over throw of the United States government in support of their belief that the United States government is purportedly believing its constitutional authority, also increased last year and will almost certainly continue to be evaluated throughout 2021.

Particularly concerning is the March assessment's observation that the threat from lone defenders or small cells poses significant detection and disruption challenges because of those actors' capacity for independent radicalization to violence, the ability to remote discreetly and access to firearms.


The domestic violent extremist threat is also rapidly evolving. As FBI Director Wray has noted, we have continued to observe actors driven by a diverse set of violent motivations, sometimes personalized and developed from a mix of violent ideologies. Developments in technology exacerbate the overall threat.

Today, people may be drawn to social media and then to encrypted communications channels. There, they may interact with like-minded people across the country and indeed the world who want to commit violent attacks. And they may then connect with others who are formulating attack plans, as well as mustering the resources, including firearms and explosives, to execute them.

Technology has amplified and enabled transnational elements of the threat. In earlier days, foreign terrorist groups had to board airplanes to conduct attacks in America. Now, they take advantage of technology to inspire others already located in the U.S. to violence. The same is true for domestic violent extremists, who increasingly take common cause and inspiration from events and actions around the world, indicating an important international dimension to this problem.

The man who allegedly killed one person and injured three in an April 2019 attack on a synagogue in Poway, California, cited as inspiration an attack that took place a month before, halfway across the world, in Christchurch, New Zealand. That attack killed 51 people, and injured dozens more at two mosques.

In response to these many and serious challenges, the national strategy today seeks to confront the threat from all angles. The strategy rests on four pillars, each of which is essential to support the whole.

First, our efforts to understand and share information regarding the full range of domestic terrorism threats. Second, our efforts to prevent domestic terrorists from successfully recruiting and inciting and mobilizing Americans to violence. Third, our efforts to deter and disrupt domestic terrorist activity before it yields violence. And finally, the long-term issues that contribute to domestic terrorism in our country must be addressed to ensure that this threat diminishes over generations to come.

The National Strategy recognizes that we cannot prevent every attack. The only way to find sustainable solutions is not only to disrupt and deter, but also to address the root causes of violence. We have not waited until completion of the National Strategy to begin implementing it.

At the Justice Department, for example, the FBI has increased the domestic threat information it provides to our state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, is enhancing training provided to these important partners, and continues to work closely with them in our Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Through the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils that we have established in every U.S. attorney's office across the country, we are strengthening our domestic terrorism- related prosecutorial resources and expertise.

Our civil rights and National Security Divisions are working more closely than ever in determining whether a given investigation should be handled as a hate crime, an incident of domestic terrorism or both. This will ensure that we consider all appropriate criminal offenses and that wherever we encounter domestic terrorism, we treat it for what it is.

Through a directive we issued earlier this year, we are ensuring that we carefully track investigations and cases with a domestic terrorism nexus, and our grant-making components are dedicating additional resources to helping states, localities, and others focus on the threat. The Office of Community-Oriented Policing Forces, for example, has started prioritizing grants to local law enforcement agencies, committed community-based approaches to combating racially motivated violence and domestic terrorism.

And we will seek to determine whether there are any gaps in our capabilities that should, consistent with our needs and shared values, be addressed through legislation.


To support these efforts, the president's discretionary budget request for fiscal year 2022 seeks over $100 million in additional funds for the Justice Department to address the threat of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism.

The actions that agencies are taking in support of the federal -- of the national strategy are held together by several core principles. First, we are focused on violence, not on ideology. In America, espousing a hateful ideology is not unlawful. We do not investigate individuals for their First Amendment-protected activities.

In 1976, Attorney General Levi established the guidelines that form the guidelines for a detailed set of rules that continue to govern the FBI's conduct of investigations today. In doing that, he made clear that, quote, government monitoring of individuals or groups because they hold unpopular or controversial political views is intolerable in our country.

As a national strategy makes clear, safeguarding our country's civil rights and liberties is itself a vital national security imperative. We do not prosecute people for their beliefs. Across the world, extremists or terrorist labels at times have been affixed to those perceived as political threats to the ruling order.

But there is no place for partisanship in enforcement of the law. The Justice Department will not tolerate any such abuse of authority.

The National Strategy explains that it is, quote, critical that we condemn and confront domestic terrorism, regardless of the particular ideology that motivates individuals to violence, close quote.

Although we often describe violent extremist motivations by references to different violent ideologies, the purpose of those characterizations is to help us categorize and understand motivations. That is why even as we're here today to discuss domestic terrorism- related violence, we are addressing violent crime more broadly, including through a directive to reduce violent crime that the deputy attorney general and I announced last month in the form of a new initiative.

It is also why even as we augment our efforts against domestic terrorism, we remain relentless in our focus on international terrorism, perpetrated by foreign terrorist organizations, like al Qaeda and ISIS. Our focus as members of the Department of Justice and as a federal government is to prevent, disrupt, and deter unlawful acts of violence, whatever their motive. As a National Strategy makes clear, there is no place for violence as a means of resolving political differences in our democracy. The second principle is that we need not only a whole of government,

but also a whole of society approach to domestic terrorism. Implementation of the National Strategy will therefore occur across the federal government and beyond.

The State Department will focus on the transnational aspects of domestic terrorism, including mapping links between foreign and domestic terrorists. And with the Department of the Treasury, it will assess will foreign organization and individuals linked to domestic terrorism can be designated as terrorists under existing authorities.

The Department of Homeland Security is expanding its intelligence analysis production and sharing. It is prioritizing relevant grant funding to support state and local partners. It is enhancing its collaboration with community-based organizations and state and local and industry partners to address domestic terrorism threats while protecting private, civil rights, and civil liberties, and is working to support the development of resources that enhance critical thinking and media literacy as a mechanism to strengthen resilience to misinformation and disinformation.

The Department of Homemade Security is also focused on community-based violence prevention programs in order to empower and revamp support to community partners who can help to prevent individuals from ever reaching point of committing a terrorist attack.