Return to Transcripts main page
At This Hour
Attorney General Announces Strategy to Combat Domestic Extremism; Supermarket Cashier Shot to Death in Argument over Mask; President Biden in Geneva Ahead of Putin Summit. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired June 15, 2021 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Department of Defense will train service members on the potential targeting of current former and military members by violent extremists in order to help prevent radicalization.
The Department of Health and Human Services will work with the Departments of Education, Homeland Security and Justice to develop a website that aggregates and publicizes information on federal resources, including grants, training and technical assistance that can assist state and local authorities and the general public in identifying the resources they need to implement their own counter- domestic terrorism programs, and those are just a few examples.
We have a track record of successful collaborative approaches to the challenges posed by terrorism, not just at the federal level, but also with our state, local, tribal and territorial partners. The Justice Department's first joint terrorism task force, for example, was established in New York in 1980. At the time, it was staffed with just 11 FBI investigators and 11 members of a New York City Police Department.
Today, our approximately 200 joint task force terrorism task forces have over 4,300 officers from more than 550 local, state and federal agencies, who work together every day as our first line of defense against terrorist attacks. The work that we do to support and enhance the resources and capabilities of our local partners who are on the front lines of our counterterrorism efforts is vital to our success.
Nearly every day, I get a briefing from the FBI director and his team. In those briefings, I'm struck by the frequency with which a critical tip or lead in an investigation comes from a state or local law enforcement member or from a member of the public.
The FBI reports that roughly 50 percent of our cases originate from tips and leads from law enforcement or private sector partners and private citizens who identify potential threats and report them to the FBI or our partners. Creating and retaining an environment in which individuals, community groups and others continue to come to us depends on the ability in which we can continue to merit their trust. This includes making sure that our determinations are made free from bias. So that, too, must be part of our long-term approach.
Equally important is our work with private industry and with international partners. The national strategy emphasizes that the government should continue to enhance the domestic terrorism-related information it offers to the private sector.
The technology sector is particularly important to countering terrorist abuse of internet-based communication platforms, to recruit, incite, plot attacks, and foment hatred. Along with more than 50 other countries, the United States has joined the Christchurch Call to Action, to collaborate with each other and relevant stakeholders, including tech companies, NGOs and academics to tackle the online aspects of this threat. The Christchurch Call is just example of one of the many interactive engagements we have had with our international partners.
Our third principle is that we build upon and learn from the past. A look at our past efforts to combat terrorism teaches valuable lessons about what can go right and what can go wrong. It should also give us hope about our ability to rise and adapt to the challenge.
I'm personally struck by three events that occurred not far from each other at different points in the last 100 years. When I visited the Greenwood district in April of this year, where Black Wall Street once thrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was struck by the failure to do justice after the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Over 1,250 homes were burned down, some 10,000 people were left homeless, businesses, schools, houses of worship and 35 city blocks were destroyed. The number of people killed is estimated in the hundreds.
All that destruction and death and not a single person was prosecuted for it.
Almost 75 years later, just over a hundred miles southwest of Tulsa in Oklahoma city, after an attack that resulted in the deaths of 168 people, the Justice Department successfully apprehended, prosecuted and convicted the man responsible for the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. And five years ago, across Oklahoma's northern border in Kansas, federal authorities disrupted a plot to bomb an apartment complex and its mosque and to kill its residents, immigrants from Somalia. Working with joint terrorism task force partners, the government prevented the bombing. No one died and those who sought to commit it were convicted of their crimes.
Since the tragedy of 9/11, we have changed our intelligence community infrastructure, created national mechanisms for coordinating counterterrorism efforts across the government and disrupted and prosecuted hundreds of terrorism-related offenses through a legal system that has proven resilient and just.
We cannot promise that we will be able to disrupt every plot, diffuse every bomb or arrest every co-conspirator before they manage to wreak unspeakable horror. But we can promise that we will do everything in our power to prevent such tragedies. And we can further promise that we will never again fail, as we did after Tulsa, to pursue justice.
Finally, the long-term issues that contributed to domestic terrorism in America must be addressed to ensure that this threat diminishes over generations to come. To diffuse the underlying causes of domestic terrorist attacks, we must promote a society that is tolerant of our differences and respectful in our disagreements.
The Justice Department remains acutely aware of the continuing threat posed by international terrorist organizations. We will never take our eyes off the risk of another devastating attack by foreign terrorists. At the same time, we must respond to domestic terrorism with the same sense of purpose and dedication. Attacks by domestic terrorists are not just attacks on their immediate victims, they are attacks on all of us collectively, aimed at ending the fabric of our democratic society and driving us apart.
To confront the menace they pose, we must understand and share information regarding the full range of threats we face, prevent domestic terrorists from successfully recruiting, inciting and mobilizing Americans to violence, redouble and expand our efforts to deter and disrupt domestic terrorism activity before it yields violence and address the long-term issues that contribute to domestic terrorism in our country.
The national strategy for countering domestic terrorism is a key step in our efforts. We have much work ahead.
Thank you all for joining me today and for the work you will do to put this strategy into action. Thank you.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: We're listening there to the attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, making a significant announcement about the first national strategy to combat domestic terrorism in America. We are waiting to see if he was going to take any questions. He did not.
Let me bring in right now, who's been listening along with me, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Andy, what do you think of this announcement?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Kate, I think the first thing you have to say about it is that they did it at all, right? This is -- I've been working and following and tracking and overseeing terrorism investigations for two decades. This is the first time I have ever seen a focus and a commitment at this level from across the federal government on domestic violent extremism. I think it's enormously significant and I think appropriate.
It's acknowledging that domestic violent extremism as the biggest terror threat we face in this country. And the plan to me seems to be a pretty reasonable, pretty broad, all-encompassing effort to direct some resources at that threat. BOLDUAN: Andy, I thought it was significant, the attorney general said very clearly that the FBI's view, the top domestic violence extremist threat right now comes from racially and ethnically- motivated violent extremists. He's talking about white supremacists. But he also took care to note extremism and attacks on all political parties, on all races and creeds and religions. He noted the congressional baseball practice that was attacked, only after the gunman had asked if they were Republicans. I thought it was significant. Did young that was significant that he raised this?
MCCABE: Yes, it was, Kate, and an incredibly deft way to bring in that other side of the equation. I mean, let's call it what it is, right? He came right out and said, our biggest hot spot right now is racially-motivated, ethnically-motivated extremists, and we all know that the broad majority of those are white supremacists, people targeting people of color and immigrants and things like that.
But he brought the other side of the equation into it by referring to the shooting of the congressional baseball practice and he did it very carefully, by saying a shooting by someone only -- who committed the shooting only after he confirmed that the players were Republicans. So I think that reflects the fact that the FBI still doesn't exactly know what that shooter was up to.
They never really uncovered the sort of detailed evidence that laid out a specific plot or an objective. But it is undeniable that he was targeting Republicans. So it was really, I thought, very effective.
BOLDUAN: And he made very clear a couple of other points that are important that the threat of domestic terrorism, I think, the report calls it, persistent and evolving. He emphasized how technology is amplifying the domestic threat. It also presents an ever-changing problem for law enforcement, as we've seen.
And case in point, Andy, we've got new reporting from CNN that the FBI warning lawmakers that QAnon conspiracy theorists may want to carry out more acts of violence following January 6th. And this is the reporting. The shift is fueled by a belief among some of the conspiracy's more militant followers that they can no longer trust the plan set forth by its mysterious standard-bearer everyone knows as Q.
I just -- this really -- this isn't theoretical. This threat that Merrick Garland is talking about and the role of technology here is very real and ever-present.
MCCABE: Absolutely, right, Kate. And, you know, look at this historically, right? The racially-motivated extremism started in this country essentially with the Ku Klux Klan, gets paramilitarized in the1970s after the Vietnam War. You have guys -- but at that time, you know, propaganda and plotting and literature is exchanged through the mail, much easier to follow, much easier to keep an eye on.
But Louis Beam, one of the forefathers of the white supremacist and white power movement, brings the internet of Klan and to the paramilitary groups at the time. Fast forward to today, right now, the plotting, the inspiration, the recruitment takes place over encrypted chat groups, places where the government even with lawful court orders cannot conduct effective surveillance. So you can't overstate the impact that social media and technology has had on facilitating and really turbo-charging the extremist threat in this country.
BOLDUAN: So this is needed. We've established that. But what is missing? Where are the holes? Evan Perez pointed out at the top of the show that there is still no specific domestic terrorism law. And it is almost as if the attorney general alluded to that, if there would be -- if there would be something more that maybe needed in the future. What's missing here, Andy?
MCCABE: Well, that's a really volatile question among practitioners and investigators and academics on this topic. There are just as many people on each side of the issue. Many folks, myself included, believe that it would be a significant and effective way to draw more attention, resources, and be more effective investigations if we had a true domestic terrorism statute. But many others believe that because domestic terrorism investigations are basically predicated on violent criminal acts, that we have the statutes we need in place already.
I think it's notable that the -- that the administration's plan essentially puts this ball in DOJ's -- in DOJ's lane to conduct an assessment and determine whether or not the department recommends, advocating for new legislation.
I think that's the right place that this should come out of this and we'll have to wait and see where that lands.
Andy, thank you, as always. I really appreciate your perspective on this.
MCCABE: Thanks, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the first state to shut down over the coronavirus is now dropping capacity limits, opening up its economy in full force. Most mask rules will be gone today. What California's reopening will look like, that's next.
BOLDUAN: A supermarket cashier is dead this morning over what police say was a dispute over a face mask.
It happened just outside of Atlanta. Police say a customer argued with a cashier about his face mask during checkout. He left the store, immediately returned, when the sheriff says he pulled out a handgun and shot her.
Signs are clearly posted at the entrance of the store requiring face coverings upon entering. One other person was injured, a reserve sheriff's deputy, who was working security at the store at the time. He exchanged gunfire with the suspect, both were wounded, the cashier is dead and the suspect and the reserve sheriff, they are recovering from their injuries, the suspect is in custody now awaiting charges.
Joining me right now for more on this and the state of the pandemic is Dr. Megan Ranney. She's an emergency physician at Brown University. Dr. Ranney, I just still cannot understand why a face covering, and none of us should -- we should all refuse to accept this, that a face covering that takes absolutely zero effort, it does nothing but protect you and others, how people have gone so past the point of no return over this. A woman is dead today because she was enforcing a private business's policy. Your reaction.
DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: It is terrifying and infuriating. And coming off of the Attorney General Garland's press conference, it's the same trends, right? It's misinformation, it is easy access to firearms, and it is resorting to anger before anything else.
You know, let's be clear, masks work. The science supports them. We need to get rid of the misinformation saying that they don't. Firearms, it is so easy to get a gun these days. You can purchase a gun more easily than you can purchase Sudafed in some states and some people are not safe to own guns. And then anger, you know, what happened to a country where we can shake hands instead of shouting at or shooting each other first? All three are fixable. But it is the confluence of all the worst of our country, in one horrible event.
BOLDUAN: It really is all connected, and I think it's -- it's important that you -- that you made that connection, Dr. Ranney. So that happens -- is happening in Georgia. But there, at the same time, is another major moment happening as well. It's kind of this juxtaposition of the pandemic right now. The most populous state in the country has reached this big moment of lifting all COVID restrictions as of today for the first time in, I think, it's over 15 months, California is essentially fully reopening. What does this signify?
RANNEY: California was one of the first to close and is now one of the last to reopen. They have done a good job of following the science. Their vaccine rates are excellent, their infection rates are low, but we can't be seduced into thinking this pandemic is over. The virus is still spreading out of control on a global level, and, of course, there are many states across the U.S. where vaccines are not being given at the rate that they are in California.
And we know those folks are going to be coming into California, going to Disneyland, going to L.A. and San Francisco, and I fear that we're going to see more conflicts like the one in Georgia as individual business owners are put in the spot of having to dictate what public health precautions are instead of our states and federal government standing up for the rest of us.
BOLDUAN: And, Dr. Ranney, also at some point today, the country is expected to reach and pass the 600,000 mark of Americans who have died from coronavirus, and everyone has become a bit numb to the numbers. But look at these comparisons that the team put together. Comparing COVID death -- the death toll, it's surpassing all like major recent U.S. war casualties. How do you reflect on this now? Because there is so much hope in getting past this pandemic, it almost feels extra cruel that folks are still dying of this when there is this protection out there now with the vaccines.
RANNEY: Yes. You know, as an E.R. doc, the only people I am seeing now who have COVID, the only people I am hospitalizing, the only families I am calling to tell them that their loved one is on death's door are people who have not chosen to get vaccinated.
Every American adult can get a vaccine now. And I think it is so important for us to remember that each of these 600,000 people is a person who is a mother, a father, a sister, a brother of someone and they left behind of family, not only that, of course, the millions of people who have had COVID and are still suffering from its aftereffects.
I hope we take this moment, really take a moment to grieve what we've been through as a country and then double down on making sure that we do get those vaccines in arms.
BOLDUAN: Yes. Dr. Ranney, thank you very much for today.
RANNEY: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Back to our top story, right now, President Biden now in Geneva for his high-stakes, highly anticipated meeting tomorrow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
CNN has learned that President Biden has been consulting allies, aides and Russian experts in preparation for the summit, spending a lot of time intensively preparing.
Joining me right now for some thoughts on this is Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks. He, of course, is the chairman of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, Chairman, thank you for being here. Thank you for joining me on this.
What is your -- your score card of Biden's first overseas trip so far, clearly, incomplete before this meeting with Putin, but so far?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Well, I think that it has been very, very good and I think that he has laid the foundation, the appropriate foundation for this retreat that he's about to engage in. You know, when I think about it, different than the prior president, what he wants to do is to make sure that he locks in the countries across the Atlantic that share the same values that we have, whether you're talking about the E.U., whether you're talking about NATO, whether you're talking about the entire European Union, that is tremendously important in that regards.
Because one of the things that I think that Putin wants to do is to try to make sure that Putin would like to divide us. See, that's his game and that's what he knew he could do with the other administration. He would divide us from our E.U. partners, he would divide us from our NATO partners, he would provide us from the -- divide us from G7, which we had the meeting with earlier, and then that opens cracks.
What President Biden is doing is closing all of those cracks. And part of the message that he's going to be able to let Mr. Putin know is that you can't divide us. We are together and we are focused on you. If you violate -- getting involved in our elections, it's going to be our collectiveness, our togetherness that's going to make a difference. If you're getting involved in cybersecurity, trying to violate our cyber issues, we're going to united in our opposition to you.
So I think that he's laid the foundation perfectly to show that the success that Mr. Putin had under the prior administration of dividing and making sure that we were at odds with one another, those days are over.
BOLDUAN: And I look forward to your reaction of what comes out of the summit tomorrow because there is low expectations but a whole lot riding on it, it seems to be where we are in this moment.
But speaking of divisions, I do want to ask you, Congressman, back here at home, there are two censure resolutions that are potentially coming down the pike in the House, one brought by Republicans against Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar over a statement that even Democrats criticize as equating U.S. and Israel to terrorist organizations, another censure resolution could be coming by Democrats against Marjorie Taylor Greene for her equating face masks to the horrors that Jews suffered in the Holocaust.
Just a couple questions. Greene attempted to apologize yesterday after visiting the Holocaust museum, saying that she made a mistake. Do you accept her apology?
MEEKS: Look, my problem with Ms. Greene is -- Representative Greene, and where I think there's differences, and she continues to talk, you know, in the past about, look, we've got to now go through (INAUDIBLE) to get in to vote because she has made members feel personally unsafe, that's threatening their personal safety. That's one thing from a policy position that Ms. Ilhan has talked about. So there's two different things. I can't equate the two.
So I would hope that in the long run, we will get away from all of these resolutions back and forth and get back to business of what we're supposed to be doing here in the House of Representatives and debating policy of which we can have differences of opinions on, and let's debate the policies that are moving forward, domestically and internationally, as opposed to all of the resolutions, as far as I'm concerned.
Let's get the work done and the work that needs to be done is debating the policies, winning over the votes of our colleagues so that we can pass legislation to make this nation run and be a more perfect union.
BOLDUAN: And what is very clear is what you just laid out, that's hard enough, set aside any personal attacks or inflammatory things or incendiary or anti-Semitic things that people are throwing out there or accused of saying. So, Congressman, thank you for coming on, very important to have you here on this day, as the president is preparing for his big summit with Vladimir Putin. I'm looking forward to hearing your reaction on the backside of it. Thank you.
MEEKS: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for joining us At This Hour. I'm Kate Bolduan. John King, Inside Politics, picks up our coverage right now.