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At This Hour

Pelosi Announces Members of Select Committee on Insurrection; Supreme Court: Arizona Voting Rules Do Not Violate Voting Rights Act; Trump Organization CFO Surrenders in New York Tax Probe; Rescue Work Halted Over Fears Rest of Tower Could Fall. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 01, 2021 - 11:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. I'm joined by my colleague Wolf Blitzer.

Breaking news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced members of the House Select Committee to investigate the deadly Capitol insurrection. It includes Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney.

CNN has learned that Kevin McCarthy is threatening to strip Republican members of their committee memberships if they join Pelosi's committee to investigate the insurrection.

And we're also following breaking news from the U.S. Supreme Court. A major ruling upholding two Arizona voting provisions saying they do not violate the Voting Rights Act.

And more breaking news, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization has surrendered to authorities after a grand jury indicted him, as well as the former president's family business in connection to a criminal tax investigation -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Fred, there is major breaking news here in Surfside, Florida, as well as the site of the deadly condo collapse. And this is heartbreaking for so many of the families.

Rescue efforts, search and rescue efforts have been at least temporarily halted over deep concerns right now that the remaining parts of this building potentially could top and endanger the hundreds of men and women involved in this search and rescue operation.

President Biden and the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, they are now here. They are here in south Florida. They're being briefed right now on the disaster. They'll be meeting with family members, search and rescue teams, but this is a very serious and very depressing moment that temporarily they've had to halt the search and rescue operations.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, this is a very painful time. We know people want to be hopeful.

But we'll get back to Wolf in a moment from south Florida.

Now to that breaking news off of Capitol Hill.

Let's begin with CNN's Manu Raju with the breaking news on the Capitol Insurrection Select Committee -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, eight members the House speaker just named. One Republican, Liz Cheney, and she could face consequences potentially from her -- from her own party for taking this position. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has not said publicly what he would do but privately he's warned if you serve on the select committee, they could lose their committee assignments. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee.

But Cheney is undeterred. She's moving forward. And she just put out a statement saying: Those responsible for the attack need to be held accountable and this select committee will fulfill that responsibility in a professional, expeditious and nonpartisan manner.

Now, the person who's been chairing this committee is House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson. He's already begun some investigation in his committee, but now, this select committee will take over this big investigation that could go on for sometime.

Unlike the outside commission bill which Republicans blocked, this one does not have an end date. That one had an end date to the end of this year and this could stretch into next year in which control of the Congress is at stake.

I asked Bennie Thompson about the timeframe. He doesn't know how long it will go. It will go as long as it takes.

And what will they investigate? The root causes of this including Donald Trump's role, including the role of some Republican members of Congress and conversations that they had with Donald Trump in the run up to January 6 and January 6 themselves.

When I asked Bennie Thompson last night where this committee should investigate Kevin McCarthy's phone call on January 6, he said that is part of the evidence that needs to be put out as part of the report. Last week, McCarthy told me he's open to speaking to the select committee. We'll see if he follows through with that. He's speaking to reporters in a matter of minutes.

But this is moving, Fred. This is moving -- could move pretty fast. The question now is what will Kevin McCarthy do? Will he name members? What kind of members will he name and will they be some who voted to over turn the January 6 electoral results? All questions for Republican leader as this investigation begins to take shape -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Kevin McCarthy has five to select. We see Pelosi has made the selection of her eight and we'll see what McCarthy does next.

Manu Raju, thank you so much.

All right. And now to the direction from the U.S. Supreme Court, coming on the final day of its term. The justices just ruled 6-3 to uphold two voting rules in Arizona. Arguing that they do not violate the federal voting rights act.

CNN's Jessica Schneider live from Washington with the breaking details -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And, Fredricka, the takeaway is that this will make it much harder for people to challenge voting laws that are being furiously enacted all over the country by Republican-led states and that is because the 6-3 decision written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito coming down along ideological lines.


It not only upholds two Arizona provisions the challenger said unfairly impacted minorities, but this decision also now constricted how Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act can be used. This is a section that is become one of the only ways that challengers could fight these laws sin the Supreme Court in 2013, it struck down the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, mandated states with a history of discrimination get preapproved for any voting laws.

Now that is gone and it is just Section 2 and the Supreme Court is saying that section two just requires equal openness to the opportunity to vote whereas progressive groups wanted the court so say if minorities were impacted by a law they could challenge it.

So this is a fight over how Congress wrote Section 2. And in we're seeing in the 6-3 split is the liberals coming out against this.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan let her opinion and frustration with the conservative court be known here. She wrote: This court has no right to remake Section 2. Maybe some think that vote suppression is a relic of history and so the need for a potent Section 2 has come and gone. But Congress gets to make that call.

Because it has not done so, this court's duty is to apply the law as written. The law that confronted one of these country's most enduring wrongs, pledged to give every American of equal race an equal chance to participate in our democracy and now stands as the crucial tool to achieve that goal. That law of all laws deserves the sweep and power Congress gave it that law of all laws should be not diminished by this court. So, some anger there from Justice Elena Kagan.

And there was another 6-3 decision coming down along ideological lines. The last decision of the term, in addition to the voting rights decision, this case eliminated a requirement in California that charities report who their donors are and that of course has left concerns that even more dark money could really creep into the system, Fredricka.

So two big wins on the last day of the term for conservatives here and led by this conservative court that is now 6-3 with the additional three justices, from President Donald Trump -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Let's zero in on the voting issue on Arizona coming from the Supreme Court in Arizona. CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin with me now.

So the bottom line, Jeffrey, is this ruling said Arizona is not discriminating against anyone nor is it violating the Voting Rights Act. So how does the U.S. Supreme Court come to this conclusion?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the Supreme Court -- the Voting Rights Act, which is the most important civil rights law in American history, said there are various ways you can challenge laws that discriminate in how people get to vote. And some of the ways that you get to prove that are the affects discriminatory? Is the intent discriminatory?

This case was about the effects. And basically what the Supreme Court said is these two Arizona laws were not proven to be discriminatory in their effects.

But in terms of the big picture, when you combine this decision with the Shelby County decision in 2013, which said that the federal oversight provisions of the Voting Rights Act are essentially defunct. The Voting Rights Act today appears to be closer to a dead letter. It is close to be irrelevant.

So when the states pass all of the laws as they have been after the 2020 election, you know the claim has been, well, Democrats, African- Americans, people of color, effected by these decisions could just go to court and challenge them. As a result of what the Supreme Court has done, it is going to be next to impossible for the federal courts to rule to overturn these laws.

So the only way the Voting Rights Act is going to become a real serious force in American life again is if Congress amends the law. And as long as the filibuster remains in place, even 50 Democrats plus Vice President Harris will not be able to amend the law.

So the action really now belongs to Congress. Because the only way that the voting rights act is going to become relevant again is if Congress amends the law which at the moment it looks like they're not going to do.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, and so that could take a lot of time and we already know that at least 14 states have passed laws that critics say do tighten voting rules.


So when you talk about this Arizona decision, really zeros in on effect. Do you believe that if there are going to be court challenges against any number of those new laws in those 14 states, that they will have to pursue it from an intent point of view in order to be successful? TOOBIN: Well, Fredricka, that is a very highly relevant question, because just last week the Department of Justice challenged the new law in Georgia, the new vote restrictions in Georgia. And I think they knew this was coming from the Supreme Court. So they did not use the part of the law about discriminatory effects. They used the part of the law that says laws cannot be passed with discriminatory intent.

But again, it is important to point out, the Supreme Court has narrowed the definition of intent as well. Made it harder to prove discriminatory intent. And if the message, the broader message of the Shelby County case eight years ago, this case today, is that the Supreme Court is going to make it hard to use the Voting Rights Act.

So the chances of success of the Department of Justice case that was filed against Georgia last week, it's not directly effected by the result today, but atmospherically it sure is and I would say the attempt to use the courts to stop voting restrictions is gotten harder today and that is going to effect Georgia as well.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jeffrey, hold tight. We have other breaking news. I want to get your reaction to this hour as well.

And that is this -- breaking news -- the Trump organization's chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg has surrendered to face criminal tax charges after he and the Trump Organization was indicted. Weisselberg is expected to appear in court in hours when the indictment is unsealed. Weisselberg's attorneys say he plans to plead not guilty and fight the charges in court.

CNN's Paula Reid joining me now with more breaking details on this -- Paula.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Truly an extraordinary development. The namesake company of the former president of the United States has been indicted along with one of the top executives. Now long time Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg turned himself in this morning and both he and the company are expected to be arraigned this afternoon.

Now they are expected to face charges related to alleged tax crimes. The allegations is there were certain perks or a warded to employees like free cars, free apartments, even school tuition but many of the parks were not properly disclosed for tax purposes.

Now, it is unusual to charge a company for this kind of thing. And Trump Organization lawyers have met at least twice with prosecutors in the past ten days, they were unsuccessful in trying to convince prosecutors not to bring this case.

Now an attorney for Weisselberg says he intends to plead not guilty today and he will fight these charges.

Now, former President Trump has suggested that Weisselberg is being used as a pawn in this case. But these charges, these will increase the pressure on Weisselberg to cooperate. A pressure that he has so far resisted during this investigation. But once he and his attorneys have a chance to assess the evidence, assess the charges, he could potentially change his mind.

But at this point, there is no indication that the former president or any member of his family will face charges any time soon, especially if prosecutors cannot not secure additional cooperating witnesses or evidence that has so far alluded them in the past few years -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Paula Reid, thank you so much.

All right. Back with me now, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

OK. So, Jeffrey, this investigation into the Trump Organization lasted more than two years and these are first charges but does that mean more could be coming or is this the only case prosecutors are able to make?

TOOBIN: Well, Fredricka, let me give you a ringing "I don't know" to answer that question. We really don't know --

WHITFIELD: I like the honesty.

TOOBIN: -- where this investigation is going at this point.

But what we also don't know and this is very important and we will actually know this today, is what precisely are the charges. Because there have been suggestions that the case is limited to improper tax treatment of fringe benefits, you know, paying school tuition for people, paying for company cars, paying for rental apartments.

If that is all the case is, you know, the defense might have a pretty good argument that this is -- should be a civil case. Because the fact is it is rare that fringe benefit disputes wind up in criminal courts. Yes, it often comes up that people have to pay back taxes or they have to pay penalties as a result of improperly categorized fringe benefits.


But it is rare that that kind of case winds up in criminal courts.

So, one thing I'm looking for when the indictment is released, I think sometime in the next few hours, is what specifically are the charges because that might give us a hint of how much the district attorneys office here in Manhattan actually has on the Trump organization.

WHITFIELD: And whatever those charges are, hopefully we'll find out in an hour and a half or so, the organization is facing charges and if found guilty, if convicted, it would face fines. Weisselberg facing charges and if convicted faces jail time. The former president heads the organization.

How can the organization be scrutinized and potentially penalized and not the head of the organization?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, that is a great question and it is a reason why a lot of prosecutors don't like to bring criminal cases against corporations.

Corporations can do anything. They are pieces of paper. Only human beings can do things.

It is -- it is legally possible to file criminal charges against a corporation. But it is rarely done because a lot of the purposes of criminal law, deterrence, punishment, retribution, they can't really be effective against a corporation which has no human existence.

Also, you know, what does it mean that a corporation commits a crime if an individual is not charged? Yes, it is legally possible. But it is rarely done. It is almost never tried. There are almost never trialed of corporations when they are criminally charged.

They almost always end in some sort of plea arrangements where a fine is paid. But the reason why these cases are rare is because it just doesn't seem to fit within the criminal context, although the law does allow criminal charges to be brought against corporations. And sometimes there are consequences that are beyond fines.

Sometimes banks will not deal with a company that has a criminal charge or other entities won't. So there could be those implications. But it is unusual.

WHITFIELD: Well, both fascinating and complex. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

All right. And this quick programming note, former Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, will join Alisyn Camerota this afternoon to discuss this indictment. And you can watch her interview with Michael Cohen live at 3:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

All right. Let's go back to Wolf in south Florida -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, Fred. There have been some major breaking news here in surfside, Florida. Very depressing information, especially for the families praying for the miracle that their loved ones will be found alive.

The search efforts here in Surfside have halted temporarily due to major concerns that the remaining part of this condo tower may actually collapse. It comes as President Biden is here to meet with first responders and families. He's on the ground. The first lady is on the ground.

Much more on the breaking news when we come back.



BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Surfside, Florida, we're at the site of the deadly condo building collapse.

And there is very, very sad breaking news we have to report. Rescue efforts at least temporarily have now halted over deep concerns that the remaining parts of this building could topple and endanger the hundreds men and women part of the search and rescue operation.

President Biden and the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, they are here. They're here in south Florida. They're getting briefed on this disaster.

Eighteen people are confirmed dead, 145 others are unaccounted for. One week after part of this condo building, a huge part came crashing down. Two children are among those killed, a 4-year-old and a 10-year- old.

President Biden is about to thank first responders. He will also meet with families of the victims very, very soon.

CNN's Rosa Flores is with me here. She has more information on this breaking news.

They were working so feverishly, searching, hoping, families were praying for miracles that loved ones were alive and in the last hour or two, they announced it has to stop because they're afraid the remaining part of this tower endangering, perhaps even injuring or killing some of those rescue workers.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you are right. Very intense overnight when the monitors went off. According to the fire chief, they say there was a column dangling from the still-standing structure on the south side of the building and it was swaying six to 12 inches.

Now the concern was two-fold. First of all, like you mentioned, the brave men and women sifting through this rubble. The second concern was the fact that this column could fall and also damage some of the support spell of the stranding structure, bringing it completely down. That was one of the big concerns.

Then they saw movements of a concrete slab on the south side of the structure and movements of pile. I asked the fire chief what triggered this, what was it exactly that they -- that happened because he and I have been talking about how dangerous this work is, every inch of debris they move.


They've got to calculate it. They've got engineers that are monitoring the stability. He said there was no particular event per se, but that the monitors did go off at that point, the brave men and women that are sifting through this rubble looking for signs of life had to run for their own lives, Wolf.

Now, it is important to note that the first who were notified about this happening were families, which is important here. Now the fire chief also mentioned some very intense moment very early on during this search. He said that they could hear the voice of a woman coming from this building and that they've been doing everything that they could to get to her. But they haven't.

Take a listen.


ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY FIRE CHIEF: Unfortunately, during our initial search and rescue efforts while we were working under the structure, the same structure that significantly compromised right now. We did hear audible sounds and they were searching for a female voice is what we heard for several hours and eventually we didn't hear her voice any more. We continued searching.

And again that is exercising the magnitude of what we're going through. You know, the efforts, that all of our fire rescue personnel and everyone that is here on scene trying to do the best we can in these heroic efforts. An unfortunately we didn't have success.


FLORES: And, Wolf, no word yet as to when this search and rescue effort will resume.

BLITZER: Yeah, these hours are precious right now as we all know. It has been a week already. And these families obviously are so worried, they're praying for miracles. Unfortunately that search and rescue operation at least for now has halted.

All right. Rosa, thank you very much.

Let's discuss the late breaking developments with Thomas Von Essen. He's the former New York Fire Department Commissioner who has deeply involved in the 9/11 search and rescue efforts underway after 9/11 as well.

Tom, thank you very much for joining us.

Correct me if I'm wrong. But I seem to remember on several occasions you after 9/11, had you to halt temporarily search and rescue operations fearing that other parts of the buildings around there could would also crumble endangering the men and women involved, is that right?

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FDNY COMMISSIONER DURING 9/11 ATTACKS: Absolutely, Wolf. The similarities to the small scale but all of the same problems that we had, and it is just heartbreaking listening to the chief. As you could see how personal it has become for him. The idea of hearing a voice and then to have to stop trying to find that voice or unsuccessfully finding that voice, those guys, those folks there underneath (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: The search and rescue efforts that are now temporarily halted because of the concerns of the stability of the remaining part of the tower, how precarious is that portion of the building based on what you're hearing, Tom, based on your own personal experience. They wouldn't -- a week into this, they wouldn't cut off the search and rescue operation unless they were deeply concerned about the safety of the hundreds of men and women involved in this search and rescue operation.

VON ESSEN: They've been monitoring any kind of movement in that building from probably the first day or the second day when so many more experts and engineers and people from management team, the teams came in to help them and in addition to the laborious and dangerous work of the rescue, there is a lot of people using all of the technology available to make sure that they know if there is any movement in that building, and they noticed it yesterday or late last night and that is why they had to pull these folks off.

It happened to us a lot trade center site. Remember, we had 14 acres, so you were able to keep search going in some spots and have to stop it at other spots. But here, this is a much smaller area. So they're afraid of any movement, hurting the folks that are underneath and already the brief falling on top of the guys and folks on top of the pile.

BLITZER: They've been searching for survivors for a week now. And these are critical days. If their going to find any of the individuals who are God willing are still alive, they have to -- they have to really pursue right now, day eight, day nine, day ten, if they're going to find people alive, 145 people are still unaccounted for. And these family members are distraught which is totally understandable.

What needs to happen, tom, before officials could actually resume the search and rescue operation?

VON ESSEN: Well, the incident commander I'm sure is trying to make a hard decision now. What to do with that column that moved quite a bit from the reports I heard.