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At This Hour

Book: U.S. Generals Feared Trump Coup Attempt after Election; Millions of Families Receive First Child Tax Credit Payments; Justice Stephen Breyer Contemplating Retirement Decision. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 11:00   ET



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

And here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Threat to democracy. A new book reveals how America's top military generals feared Donald Trump would attempt a coup after losing the election. And despite that, a new sign that Donald Trump remains the head of the Republican Party.

Game-changer. Millions of American families getting direct deposits today as the White House targets childhood poverty. President Biden will speak this hour.

And a botched investigation. A new report laying out in brutal detail the FBI's failure to investigate a man many called a monster.

Thanks so much for being here. We begin this hour with an incredible series of accounts from America's top military leader, detailing how unhinged the final weeks of the Trump presidency really were and how close to the brink democracy came.

CNN has obtained excerpts of an upcoming book "I Alone Can Fix" written by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of "The Washington Post." In it, General Mark Milley is quoted as saying that he feared Donald Trump and his allies might attempt a coup after Trump's election defeat. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is still in his position as the president's top military adviser saying according to the book that he warned other top generals to be on guard.

Here is one part. Quote: They may try, but they're not going to f'ing succeed, he told them. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We are the guys with the guns.

The book details how General Milley and other top military leaders even discussed a plan to resign one by one rather than carry out any eventual orders from Trump that they considered illegal, violating the Constitution or dangerous. The book authors write that Milley even likened the Trump's rhetoric to Hitler's during the rise of Nazi Germany. Here's another quote: This is Reichstag -- this is a Reichstag moment, Milley told aides. The gospel of the fuhrer.

The White House and President Biden have yet to comment on this extraordinary reporting, but President Biden will be speaking in a few minutes and he'll bring that to you live when it happens.

And developing at this hour, a reminder that this isn't a report about history. This is currently quite relevant because CNN has learned that Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy is going to meet with Donald Trump this afternoon. Further evidence that Donald Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party even as these revelations come to light.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Manu Raju. He's on Capitol Hill for us this hour.

Manu, what are you learning about this meeting?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to a source familiar with the meeting that this is supposed to be a discussion about the 2022 midterms, about the Republican fundraising efforts and other issues that will undoubtedly come up.

One of the issues that could come up is about the select committee to investigate what happened on January 6.

At this moment, Kevin McCarthy has not made a decision on which five Republican members le select to be part of this investigation about what happened on January 6 including an investigation that could look into Donald Trump's role in promoting the rally and as well as could look into Kevin McCarthy's interactions on that day of January 6. Will they discuss that? Will they discuss who McCarthy should pick?

That still remains to be seen. We'll get a sense after the Republican leader after they do meet.

McCarthy has not decided the kind of members or if he will select members to this committee. There is an expectation that he will be but there could be people that defended Donald Trump, voted to overturn the election, people questioning the legitimacy of the election or folks could be people who voted to establish an outside commission to investigate what happened on that day on January 6th.

Of course, McCarthy opposing creating that outside commission so there is pressure on him what to do and a question so to see what Donald Trump says to McCarthy about that going forward.

And it's also notable here that McCarthy has made it clear for months that he's in line with Donald Trump going forward. He wants to focus on the Biden agenda. He does not want to focus on the controversies and what happened on January 6, that is much different than the Republican Senate strategy which is to ignore Donald Trump.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, wants to make this a discussion about the Biden agenda, not about the past. But what McCarthy is doing going back up to New Jersey here, Kate, is very clear indication where he sees the Republican future, which is in line with Trump will they believe will help them take back the majority next year -- Kate.


BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Manu, thank you so much for that reporting.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel who broke this story detailing excerpts in the book about General Milley.

So, Jamie, first of all, as Manu is laying out there, it is worth reminding folks as we dig into these excerpts that Mark Milley is still the chairman of the joints chiefs and Kevin McCarthy, as Manu has laid out, is going to meet with Donald Trump today. This isn't a report about history and looking back. This is about the potential future.

I mean, what do you think of this?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. You're seeing in real-time the stark contrast between someone like General Milley who is, as you say, still the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who knows that he is speaking out, he is quoted extensively in the book and he is speaking out saying Donald Trump was a clear and present danger, that the top officials were shaken, that they were afraid he would attempt a coup, try to hold on to power. What we call a self coup or auto coup.

And then you have Kevin McCarthy, who, as we remember, first said called out Trump after January 6th in the protest and now is going running back to Donald Trump again because that's where he thinks his chance of becoming speaker of the House is.

I will tell you one thing that I think is important context with Kevin McCarthy. Kevin McCarthy has been a moderate Republican in the past. This is about winning. He thinks this is the way for Republicans to take back the House, hold on to Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: And one thing that I'm sure folks are left with in reading your reporting about these excerpts from this book, is kind of wondering of any sense of how real General Milley believed the threat was that Donald Trump was potentially presenting and there is new reporting from our colleague Barbara Starr on that and she's now reporting that the chiefs of staff of the joint chiefs, they met both on January 8th and January 7th, the two days following the Capitol insurrection to talk about what happened there but to play out what-if scenarios.

And her reporting is, according to a defense official, this -- here is a quote. What they were doing is what happens, quote, what happens if the crazies take over. What do we do?

GANGEL: Right. It is very clear both I think Barbara Starr's reporting is extraordinary because General Milley is not denying what he said in the book. Or what he was concerned about. This would be the moment in time. And it is also quite clear, when you read the book, this is in great

detail. There are extensive quotes. General Milley cooperated with this book.

And to the point of Barbara's reporting about this meeting, in the book, Rucker and Leonnig write that General Milley got a call from an old friend. That person is anonymous in the book, but it's clearly someone very important who calls him right after the election and says, he's going to try to overturn the government to keep power.

And in the book, they detail how there were meetings that Milley had, not just with the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, but also with White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, then White House chief of staff, and then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

BOLDUAN: And that gets to another aspect of your reporting which I think is fascinating and important, is that General Milley eventually got to a place of doing daily conference calls with the chief of staff, with the secretary of state --

GANGEL: Right.

BOLDUAN: -- about President Trump. What was that about?

GANGEL: So, it is interesting because they're having regular daily check-ins. Milley, Meadows, Pompeo in the book.

And it is very interesting that Milley sees these conversations as also a way to keep tabs on Trump. To see what is going on. To hear from Meadows what is happening at the White House.


There is also a scene described in the book between General Milley and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both men lived on Fort Myers and they are houses were very close and they would get together at each other's house and one day, they get together and have what is described as a heart to heart conversation at the kitchen table. And then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is quoted as saying that the crazies are taking over.

Now, we should say that in the book, someone close to Pompeo denies that he ever said that and says it doesn't reflect his feelings. But it is clear there were two people in that conversation and one of them was General Milley. So that was, I would guess, his take of the conversation.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, it is a great reporting as always. Thank you, so much, Jamie. Really appreciate it.

Joining me now for more perspective on this is retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. He's a CNN military analyst, of course.

Spider, what is your reaction to this. How extraordinary it is as we're learning from these excerpts? MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, it

is quite extraordinary. A couple of things, Kate. And, first of all, thanks for having me on your show.

I mean, this is about moral courage, right. If, as reported, if that reporting and if the books attributions are accurate, this is all about moral courage and all senior leaders, all level of leadership, break down that senior barrier, all levels of leaders must be prepared to resign and walk at a moment if there is a moral or ethical or legal challenge.

And so, what we see General Mark Milley doing is being confronted with the possibility as described of a coup that the president of the United States might not depart after the fair election and that he also, and also bear in mind these joint chiefs, the chiefs of the various services incredibly close, very tight. They build, if not -- if they didn't have a previous pre-existing relationship on a personal, professional level, they create one when they become team, absolutely critical.

So, routinely, they get together and they share their inner thoughts. So it's not surprising that General Milley got together with his brother chiefs and said, look, we may have a problem here. Here's a potential path that we need to walk down which would have included the resignation.

So everybody is prepared to resign and everybody has to be prepared to walk. What we heard from day one, it is not about me. It is about the institution called the military. It is your respective service. And you cannot in any way try to demean in any way risk that professional culture that has been in place for hundreds of years.

So I'm not surprised by Mark doing that. What is a tad surprising is Mark Milley is very taciturn guy, he's a very private guy. He's not a self promoter.

I would find it odd that he would in these descriptive terms as a Reichstag moment, I saved democracy, we saved democracy, kind of a high-five moment, because moral courage is what takes place behind closed doors. Personal courage is in the open and you get medals for personal courage and moral courage, you don't get recognized.

And that's what it's all about. Being able to do the right thing and to be able to walk with your head held high, we did the right thing and move on from here and have this ten-second memory, right?

BOLDUAN: So, that's really -- yeah, and, Spider, that's really an interesting point, because I've been thinking about this, because General Milley is known as a man who works hard to keep the military apart from politics, to keep the military out of politics, to do so himself out of politics. And it is clear from the reporting that he did not seek -- he doesn't seem to seek out these situations but he found himself in these situations.

And Barbara Starr is reporting something very similar and she said that -- according to a close source to Milley, he's not going to sit silent while people try to use the military against Americans. So while he's trying his hardest to actively stay out of politics, if the events that occurred brought him into that arena temporarily, quote, so be it.

What do you think of that?

MARKS: Well, it's true. I mean, look, there is a very, very thin line, Kate, between political and military. In fact, we often conflate those two. This is a political military issue. I mean, that's not unusual.

Let's go back to Lafayette Square in the summer when the president and the chairman of joint chiefs are walking in step across Lafayette Square and all of a sudden, it's apparent that both Secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley seem like they're ambushed. I don't know that. But it seems like they're intellectually ambushed.


Oh, goodness, we should not be here. And it was an opportunity for both of those gentlemen to stop, do an about-face and leave. Could have done that. But that didn't take place.

But what Mark Milley did close on the heels of that is he very publicly did a mea culpa. He came forward and said, I take ownership of this. That was a bad decision on my part. Nobody put a gun to my head. I did this and I should not have been there because I crossed a line.

So let's consider that, I'm wrong for having done that and I'm going to take ownership. He did that days, if not a week before the secretary of defense did. So good on him for saying I've got to make right with this.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, there's a lot -- there is a lot to work there. I look forward to continuing this discussion with you.

Spider, thank you so much.

MARKS: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Biden, he will be addressing the nation minutes from now about billions of dollars in direct payments going to millions of American families today. A top economic adviser to the president joins me next.

Also ahead, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer talking exclusively to CNN. Is he planning to retire? The answer, coming up.



BOLDUAN: Minutes from now, President Biden and Vice President Harris will be speaking and then will be marking the first round of child tax credit payments hitting the bank accounts of millions of families today. The expanded child tax credit was one of the centerpieces of the president's pandemic relief package passed by Congress.

According to the Treasury, roughly $15 billion were paid to families that include nearly 60 million eligible children in the first monthly payment. It's aimed at cutting child poverty in half. That is at least the goal.

And eligible families get up to $300 a month for each child under the age of six and up to $250 a month for children between the ages of six and 18.

Let's get to this right now. Let's go to the White House. Jared Bernstein is standing by, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Jared, thanks for coming back.

I mean, this is a big day for millions of American families. But when are we kind of as a collective whole, do you think, going to see the impact of this?

JARED BERNSTEIN, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Starting about today. I mean families could go on to their bank accounts and see this electronic transfer for many families.

As you mentioned, tens of millions of families coverage almost 60 million kids getting this check either through direct deposits or in the next few days in the mail. So, this is implementing as we speak.

And, by the way, that is a real value of president Biden. He recognized that the legislative lift is, of course, essential, and that is why this rescue plan he manages to pass less than two month news his term. But he's always been about implementation, about helping American people who need the help, folks who are raising kids see the results and they could click on their bank accounts and literally see those results as we speak.

BOLDUAN: There are months of these payments ahead. But they do eventually stop. I believe at the end of the year. And right now, keeping this essential priority as you've laid out going further is part of the $3.5 trillion budget deal that Democrats have just announced. But it is clearly no guarantee that that is going to pass.

Do you worry this credits future is in peril.

BERNSTEIN: There are no guarantees in politics as you said. But I think that when members of Congress start to see how much these payments mean to families -- you mentioned cutting child poverty in half, obviously that is so important for low income families. There are about 25 million kids who through the old, unreformed child tax credit, actually got less than higher earning families.

President Biden's plan fixes that that imbalance. So I think when members of Congress start to hear from constituents about the importance of this, nothing is assured, but this is one of the top priorities in expanding this child tax credit in legislations come beyond 2021. O'DONNELL: So do you support then if this goes nowhere, pulling this

out and moving this alone or in something that is more palatable. I mean, $3.5 trillion budget deal, Congress can't get much done these days. So, let's speak in reality.

If this is a top priority, why not ask Democrats to single this out and move on this?

BERNSTEIN: Well, first of all, just underscoring what you said, this really is a top priority. It is a top priority of the president, it is a top priority of many members of Congress to whom I've spoken about it and I believe that they will find a legislative path forward.

Now I'm not going to negotiate this way versus that way, but, yes, I'm confident that when politicians understand just how important this is to people and the delivery, the kind of delivery that we're talking about, a monthly check to people or direct deposit to people who are trying to raise families, I believe it will continue.

BOLDUAN: Something that is also facing Americans coast to coast is inflation right now. You have the consumer price index saw the largest one-month jump in 13 years in June, sparking more fears of how long -- more fears of inflation.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said this about -- I want to read -- I'm sure you've seen it, but for everybody.


The inflation could be worse than people think. I think it will be a bit worse than what the fed thinks. I don't think it's only temporary.

I quote him because I know that you've said that you think it is going to be temporary. What are you seeing that Jamie Dimon is not?

BERNSTEIN: I guess the best way to answer that question is to point out the following -- you mentioned the .9 percent increase in the CPI in June, yes, a very strong pop and something that we're watching very carefully. As Americans, you know, definitely are dealing with higher prices. Something we're very sympathetic to.

But if you take out the pandemic effected sectors, autos, hotels, airfares, that 0.9 falls to 0.2 which is a tick down from what it was in April and May. So, clearly, as Fed Chair Jay Powell said yesterday, this is being driven by supply chain mismatches caused by strong economic demand, again flowing from the rescue plan, and a supply chain that is recovering from the pandemic shutdown.

You know, that doesn't happen with the snap of a finger and that is why we think these mismatches will be worked out. But --

BOLDUAN: But do you have a measure, Jared, when you would start being worried that this is -- this is more than temporary? Like what -- how high the consumer prices could have to go?

BERNSTEIN: I think the answer to that has to do with people's inflationary expectations. So, one of the things that we watch very closely is the extent to which people think inflation is going to continue to be very high. Not just next year but in the year after that, because that turns out to be a really important determining factor.

When we look out at short-term measures, we see that the expectations have gone up. And I think that is appropriate because I don't think that the supply chain mismatches get settled in a matter of weeks or even months. It is going to take some time.

But if you look beyond one year and you look into the longer term expectations, then you see precisely what the Federal Reserve is talking about, continued expectations that inflation is going to settle down after the supply chains come back.

By the way, we've seen some easing. We've seen some seeing in autos and semiconductors and lumber in particular. And that's a very important sign that perhaps some of these constraints are loosening already.

BOLDUAN: Jared Bernstein, thank you for coming on.

BERNSTEIN: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Now to an exclusive: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the high court's most senior liberal, just sitting down with CNN for a rare and candid interview. All the more important because of the not so silent pressure campaign from many progressives who want Breyer to retire so they don't lose the chance for a Democratic president to fill Breyer's seat.

CNN's legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer Joan Biskupic has this great reporting. She's joining us now.

Joan, thank you for being here.

You sat down with Breyer in rural New Hampshire. What did he tell you about retirement?


Yes, you know, there has been so much speculation about his plans because he is about to leave the bench and give President Joe Biden his first opportunity to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. That question has been out there for a long time now and I went up to New Hampshire and talked to him and I said, have you decided what you're going to do and he said no. He had not yet decided.

I asked him what factors might be on his mind, as he considered whether to retire. And the first one was his health. He said my health is a priority.

He's about to turn 83. He's a pretty youthful 82 right now. Hasn't had any serious health conditions that we know of as had occurred with Justice Ginsburg who passed away last year. So he's a pretty vigorous 82, but he's -- you know, he's still 82

going on 83. But the other concern he said was the court. So he's already thinking about what is best for the institution of the court at this time and, you know, how to perhaps account for politics and not get caught up in politics, because one of the major themes of speeches he's given and a book he's writing is that he wants to protect the court from the perils of politics, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. And it is a great read. I recommend -- everyone, go to to read what John has put out. It is a complete with a khaki shorts clad Stephen Breyer.

BISKUPIC: No black robe.

BOLDUAN: No black robe in this interview, which would be strange in rural New Hampshire for the record.

Thank you, Joan, great reporting. Thank you.

BISKUPIC: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, American surgeon general is asking for you to help fight misinformation as vaccination rates continue to decline in this country. Why he says it is a serious threat to public health now.