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At This Hour

GOP Expected to Block Vote on Infrastructure Debate; CNN: GOP to Turn Focus From Trump In Insurrection Probe; Soon: Joint Chiefs Chairman & Defense Secy. To Hold Briefing; Jill Biden Heads to Tokyo Amid Surge in Coronavirus Cases; U.S. Women's Soccer Suffers Stunning Defeat in Olympics Opener; Tokyo Sees Highest Daily COVID Increase Since January; U.S. Volleyball Player Tests Positive for COVID at Olympics; More Athletes Force Out of Olympics After Testing Positive; Trump Ally Jailed on Charges of Illegal Lobbying. Aired 11:30a-12p ET.

Aired July 21, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Developing at this hour the Senate getting ready for a showdown. Democrats are pressing ahead with a vote at 3 o'clock today to begin debate, if you will, on the bipartisan infrastructure deal thought the bill is still is not yet written. It's a bill that they still have not seen.

It's essentially a bill and vote to move forward. It's a deadline to kind of test the waters, if this thing, if this deal is going anywhere. Republicans are expected to block the vote, insisting that the group effort needs more time to work out the details. So, is this vote helping or hurting those efforts.

Joining me now is CNN Congressional Correspondent and Lauren Fox and Seung Min Kim CNN Political Analyst and White Reporter for "The Washington Post."

Guys help me please. Lauren, what is really happening here with this vote today and this infrastructure deal?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Kate, is it helping or hurting? It really depends on you ask up here on Capitol Hill. Democrats are arguing, look, this is just a procedural vote.

Just something to get people talking about the issue of infrastructure and if this bipartisan group needs more time Schumer's willing to give them that. This is just to get on to that discussion.

Republicans meanwhile are arguing, this is tough. Because essentially what Schumer is asking them to do is take a vote to begin debate on something that does not exist yet.

Meanwhile, that bipartisan group worked late into the night yesterday evening trying to find consensus on some of the remaining sticking points, including how much money to spend on highway funding versus public transportation. They're also discussing how to finance their proposal.

Aides tell they are very close, Kate, to getting that agreement but they're not going to be ready today before the vote. So Republicans are vowing they are going to block this procedural vote today.

Meanwhile the Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said just a few minutes ago he is likely to bring this back up again and again given the fact that he knows Republicans may block it. He's willing to give the bipartisan group a little more time to try. But, it's a mess. I think that that is a fair thing and fair way to characterize this, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Seung Min, I mean the -- how to pay for this deal has been the problem throughout or at least then that's been the outwardly described problem --


BOLDUAN: -- throughout, right? And the White House said today that it supports this move, in moving ahead with the vote that Schumer's moving ahead with. But, I'm wondering here, what is the role that the White House is playing behind the scenes to really get this done, since the say they care so much about it?

KIM: Well this is President Biden's top legislative priority. There's no question about it. His top aides, legislative aides, economic affairs aides have been basically living on Capitol Hill for the last several days to negotiate into the night with a bipartisan group of senators on this infrastructure agreement. It is that important to President Biden on legislative strategy.

You're right, Kate Bedingfield said on CNN early this morning that they are completely supportive of Chuck Schumer's strategy in terms of going forward and advancing this legislation, holding that key vote today. But pay-fors have serious -- have clearly been the problem for some time.

And the White House has said over and over that they are receptive as long as it doesn't cross that red line of raising taxes for Americans who make $400,000 or less per year. They're open to ideas from Democrats and Republicans, but the problem fundamentally have been when one side rules out increasing taxes and another side rules out increasing user fees, for example for electric vehicles, you're not left with a lot of options.

So you have senators and White House officials flipping over the preverbal congressional couch cushions, if you will, to try to find this money and that's been this problem for a very long time.

BOLDUAN: Those are some messy couch cushions. You do not want to see under there. Lauren, you also have some new reporting on how Republicans are planning to approach the select committee set up to investigate the January 6 Insurrection. What are you learning about this?

FOX: Well remember, these Republicans were just named a couple of days ago. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still hasn't said if she will give the final approval. She has veto power over them. But essentially they're already beginning their preparations.

We expect that over the weekend of early next week they're going to hold a strategy session to try to get a sense of what their line of questioning should be to those police officers next week.

They have this difficult task of trying to balance between making sure and standing up for the former president, but also not being dismissive to those officers who are coming to testify. So that's one of their challenges.

We also know they're trying to muddy the water surrounding how and why the Capitol wasn't secure, trying to blame the House Speaker. Democrats are arguing that is not all the speaker's job and they're saying that that's really just not a strategy that's going to work. But, I think that's what Republicans are eyeing right now, Kate.


BOLDUAN: You know, kind of bringing it all together, Seung Min, I -- this kind of all gets to this incredibly tight window that Biden and most presidents have to kind of push their agenda at the beginning of their presidency. Jeff Zeleny was getting to it at the top of the show.

Because he's close to hitting a point, Biden, when Congress isn't going to be able -- they can -- yes (ph), they can (ph) look (ph) -- you know -- pulling back the curtain they always have time to get something done if they want to, but they have -- there's this sense that they hit this imaginary deadline really where they can't get anything big done because now they've got to focus on reelection.

KIM: Right. The first year of almost any presidency is really focused on his legislative agenda and trying to get that through a Congress, because that is the window that typically presidents have, because they year after you're dealing with the first midterms of a president year.

And at that point Congress and the White House are pretty much going to be legislating by crisis. So the stuff that has to get done. Raising the debt limit, funding the government, that will get done or hopefully it will get done. But in terms of ambitious --

BOLDUAN: I don't know about the debt limit Seung Min.

KIM: -- I know. Yes. Well let's -- that's another headache today. But on this ambitious pieces of legislation that can really mark a presidency the first year really is that window. And the White House and Democrats in Congress really recognize that, particularly with their narrow majorities in Congress and that's why they're moving. Try to move forward as fast as they can, get as much done particularly before the August recess and beyond.

BOLDUAN: Let us see. It's good to see you both. Thank you very much.

This just in to CNN. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, he is set to take questions from reporters today for the first time since that new book revealed the extent of Milley's fears that former President Trump might actually attempt a coup after losing the election.

General Milley going to be joined by the defense secretary in holding this press briefing in just a short amount of time. Let's go to the Pentagon right now. CNN's Barbara Starr is standing by.

I mean, Barbara, there are an endless list of questions that Mark Milley is likely to face here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well an endless list of questions for both leaders, Kate.


STARR: The two have not come in a joint press conference since May and it is very traditional for the defense secretary as the top civilian leader to be joined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in these occasional press conferences.

They will both likely face plenty of questions. General Milley will walk into the Pentagon Briefing Room with the sectary at 1:30 East Coast Time today knowing he will face questions about all these reports and all of these recent books about his views about the last days and weeks of the Trump administration.

What we don't know is if General Milley will answer any of those questions. He has been very reluctant to publicly speak about President Trump. He will be in complete control, of course, of his message and what he wants to say and how far he wants to go. But at this hour we simply don't know.

And plenty of genuine questions from both of them. COVID, Afghanistan withdrawal and any number of other questions they're likely to face. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. I'm very thankful they're going to be facing great reporters like you Barbara, coming up at 1:30 Eastern. Thank you so much. Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

STARR: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Much more on that coming up.

Also ahead, a stunning defeat for Team USA as the Olympic Games are now starting. The latest in a live report ahead.



BOLDUAN: Right now First Lady Jill Biden is on her way to Japan on her first solo trip abroad. She is leading the U.S. delegation to Tokyo for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games that are on Friday.

The competition though is already underway and the U.S. Women's Soccer team suffered a stunning defeat in their opening match.

Let's get over to CNN's Selina Wang. She's live in Tokyo, has been following all of this for us. Selina first, what happened with U.S. Women's Soccer?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, just a devastating start to the Tokyo Olympics for the U.S. Women's Soccer Team. I mean, they waited five years after Rio to find another chance to win gold and now they are just reeling from another stunning defeat, losing 3 to 0. Sweden beating them majorly.

And now it's just not the Olympics that anybody had been expecting. And for these players they are not facing the normal roaring crowds, fans from all around the world, as you would expect for an opening match for the Olympic games. Instead they were met with empty stadiums, silence, no fans and that certainly does have some of an impact.

But in better news, Kate, softball also kicked off and Fukushima Prefecture. The U.S. Women's Softball Team beat Italy. Japan, the host nation, also winning in the softball match.

And this as the mood here on the ground, Kate, is not what you would expect in the days leading up to the opening ceremony. People here are anxious about the growing number of COVID-19 cases linked to these Olympic Games. Tokyo is under a state of emergency. Alcohol is banned from being served in restaurants and the country, Tokyo, the host city just reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases in six months.

So the mood here when I'm talking to people on the ground, it's not that Olympic spirit of excitement.

BOLDUAN: Understandable. And there's also news in of another American athlete testing positive for COVID. What are you learning about that?


WANG: Yes Kate. This is just incredibly heartbreaking. Taylor Crabb the men's beach volleyball Olympic player adds to this growing list of athletes who are testing positive for COVID-19. These athletes, they spent their lifetime preparing for this moment for the majority of athletes competing at the Olympics this is their one shot.

And for Taylor Crabb and others, they are testing positive after they already get to Tokyo. So, they had to go through all of these hoops, all of these protocols only to have all of their dreams derailed because of that positive COVID-19 test.

Now another person who is now out of these games is Dutch skateboarder and she had a really heartbreaking post on social media saying that she needs time to let her broken heart heal after learning about this positive COVID-19 test. And that she has done everything, followed all the protocols. This was the last thing she hoped for. And unfortunately, Kate, as we head in these games we're only likely to see more and more instances like this.

BOLDUAN: Yes, sure thing. Selina thank you very much. Coming up for us, another ally and former advisor to Donald Trump arrested and charged. What he's accused of doing and what it could mean for the former president now.




BOLDUAN: This morning growing legal trouble for another member of former President Trump's inner circle. A former advisor and the man who was the chairman of the Trump Inaugural Committee Tom Barrack has been arrested and charge for illegal foreign lobbying.

According to the indictment Barrack and two other men charge capitalized on Barrack's status with Trump to, quote, "Advance the interests of and provide intelligence to the UAE while simultaneously failing to notify the Attorney General that their actions were taken at the direction of senior UAE officials."

Barrack is now one of the many people in Donald Trump's obit who are facing charges or have -- and have -- or have been convicted or are under investigation.

Joining me now is Elliot Williams. He's a CNN Legal Analyst, former federal prosecutor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

Elliot, prosecutors say Barrack was acting secretly as a foreign agent, obstructed justice and also lied to the FBI. What do you think in this indictment? What kind of trouble is he facing?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, he's pretty -- facing some pretty serious trouble. So first, Kate, let's look at what's legal and what's not legal here, right. Look, it's not illegal to lobby on behalf of a foreign entity.

Think about companies like Toyota, Samsung, they have a presence in the United States. Acting as an agent on behalf of a foreign government, that's a big problem if you don't disclose that to the Justice Department.

And you can think of obvious reasons why that's the case. When people are acting at the behest of foreign leaders the question is you start bumping up against the definition of espionage.

And so, what might be dismissed by some as quote, unquote, a process crime for failing to notify the government of these contacts is a quite serious offense. And the he compounds it by lying to the FBI or at least allegedly in the indictment on -- and through series of interviews with the FBI. So, this is very serious conduct striking at foreign policy or national security interests.

BOLDUAN: This investigation, it seemed to have been going on for years. I mean, it's about kind of what he did around the 2016 election campaign and kind of in that area.

WILLIAMS: That's right (ph).

BOLDUAN: One of the guys involved was interviewed in April of 2018, he subsequently fled the country days after that. And Barrack was interviews I believe it was June of 2019. Does it seem like from your -- does it seem like this has kind of, I don't know, took a long time?

WILLIAMS: No. That's how long cases take to percolate. Look, you know, these interviews that went back to 2016, they were establishing a pattern of conduct that went back that far.

If you read the indictment it is a master class in laying out, number one, the carelessness of some defendants in engaging in unlawful activity. But number two, laying out a pretty clear case.

And through text messages and e-mails going back to, number one, the Trump campaign. Number two, the Trump Inaugural Committee and events around that. And number three, the Trump administration, Barrack and these associates attempted to influence these things all at the direction of the UAE government.

And these text messages, Kate, when you read them are mind boggling. They had a special phone with encrypted software on it purely for the purpose of engaging in this kind of conversation.

So no, that's just how long investigations take to make it up through the system.

BOLDUAN: So, a representative for Tom Barrack told CNN the following, "Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty." What questions would you have about all this now?

WILLIAMS: Well, what I would think and this is what I think the FBI did when interviewing him.

Go through every single one of those e-mails and text messages that's identified in the -- in the indictment and say, so for instance when you said to UAE officials, I'm hitting one for the home team here, after you had given a press interview at the direction of the UAE government were you -- you know -- were you acting at their direction or did you not send that?

And go through, you know, the dozens and dozens and dozens of messages there. They can -- they clearly confronted him on these -- on a number of interviews I think in 2019 and that's why they have -- they seem to have evidence that he's lying.


So, there are many, many questions. And again, it just speaks to this broader question of when people are acting at the direction of a foreign government they ought to notify our government as to what they're doing.

BOLDUAN: Look, and it's just like when you put -- when we had that graphic up on the screen, Elliot thank you so much, of how many people are under investigation, have faced charges, have been charged, have been convicted --


BOLDUAN: -- all in the Trump inner circle, it's really astounding and continues to grow. And the question is kind of where does this go from here. There's a lot more to be learned. Elliot Williams thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: Thanks Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for joining us at this hour. Inside Politics with Abby Phillip starts after a quick break.