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At This Hour

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Assistant Details Groping Allegations, Insists He is Lying; Taliban Seizes Fifth Afghan City in Vacuum Left by U.S. Withdrawal; Ex-DOJ Officials Detail Trump Efforts to Undermine Election. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 11:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it possible that the governor thought that these interactions that he was having with you was something that was normal, something that he thought was not a big deal?

COMMISSO: No. Maybe to him, that he thought this was normal. But to me, and the other women that he did this to, it was not normal. It was not welcomed and it was certainly not consensual.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is certainly a very disturbing allegation. Again, we should say, we continue to reach out to the governor's office to try to get comment regarding this most recent interview, but she really is just one of 11women that are listed in that attorney general report.

Before this weekend, we only knew Commisso as executive assistant number one. What is different compared to some of the other allegations is that many of the allegations coming from Commisso were actually put down in a criminal complaint on Thursday here in Albany County, and that initiated a criminal investigation. And that opens up the real possibility that the governor could possibly face some of those criminal charges relating to this.

So, again, just multiple things that are taking place this week and what is going to be obviously quite eventful for the governor.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Yes, Polo, and six district attorneys in New York have solicited information from the attorney general and from others to see if potential further criminal charges are filed. So, a lot of headaches ahead for Governor Cuomo.

Polo Sandoval from Albany, thank you so much.

Let's discuss the situation further with Joshua Solomon. He's a Capitol Bureau Reporter for the Albany Times Union. Joshua, I appreciate you digging into this with us. What are you anticipating is going to come out of this assembly judiciary committee meeting? What steps are next?

JOSHUA SOLOMON, CAPITOL BUREAU REPORTER, ALBANY TIMES UNION: Sure. You know, the meeting has a lot of hype right now. Obviously, this is the first meeting of the judiciary committee, which is charged with investigating the governor. So, first, since the report has come out, so there is a lot of excitement around it. But, really, what we're going to get is just next steps. We're going to get a timeline on where they could proceed from now.

According to my reporting speaking with members, since the governor has that Friday the 13th deadline of providing responses to the committee's wide, wide investigation, which includes nursing home deaths, it includes political favors to family members, it includes nursing home book deal, the whole gambit, he has until Friday to respond to that.

After that, then they can discuss his response. And then from there, they could start to, if they choose to do so, draft articles of impeachment, which means we could be looking at something like around Labor Day, when they could really vote or move forward with articles of impeachment, talk about impeachment managers, things of that nature. We'll get a better feel for that timeline by the end of the day.

BORIS: Yes, roughly just a month away. Let's talk about Brittany Commisso speaking publicly for the first time not only to CBS News but also to your colleagues at the Albany Times Union. She waited until the attorney general's report was published to speak out. She told your paper that what Governor Cuomo did was, in her words, illegal.

We should point out that Cuomo's attorneys declined to respond to your paper. The governor has denied her allegations. But in your conversations with lawmakers, I wonder how they have processed her putting her name and face out there. Does it change the way that they approach this?

SOLOMON: It is a good question. Obviously, that interview went live today. But what we do know is that back in April when she spoke to us, you know, then under anonymity, to put forward her allegations, mostly what we know today, a lot of similar instances there. That was a big moment in Albany. That was a big moment for lawmakers. That was informing a lot of decisions that led to more aggressive calls for resignation and pushing to see investigations further through. So, the fact that she's now gone on network television, put her name to the -- put her face to executive assistant one, it can only mean that things are going further from here.

But we're in the middle of quite the news cycle right now. And as you mentioned before, we're a month away maybe from impeachment proceedings moving forward. So it is going to be interesting to see how that is going -- this is another moment in this highly charged (INAUDIBLE) but how does that play out.

BORIS: Right, Joshua, very quickly, I want to ask you about Cuomo's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, resigning last night. What does that say to you about the state of things in the governor's office? SOLOMON: They are looking to put fires out however they can and they also are looking maybe some of them are realizing the writings on the wall.


But we'll see what happens. The governor has given no indication he will resign.

BORIS: We have to leave the conversation there. Joshua Solomon, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

BORIS: Still ahead, the Senate is voting tomorrow morning on the massive infrastructure bill. What is in it and what kind of obstacles could it face in the House? We'll take you to Capitol Hill, next.



BORIS: The Senate is preparing for a final vote on the massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. The bipartisan bill clearing a key hurdle late Sunday following a rare weekend session in the Senate.

Let's go to CNN's Lauren Fox. She's live on Capitol Hill with the latest. Lauren, this would be a very big accomplishment for the White House, not only because of the money that this provides for America's infrastructure but also because Joe Biden campaigned on legislating in a bipartisan fashion, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right, Boris. Look, this sends a message that the president is able to do hard things when it comes to passing this massive infrastructure proposal. I think one of his key agenda items on the campaign trail, he's making statement to lawmakers an people back home, look, I said I could work with Republicans, here I am doing it.

And, look, it's been a slog up here on Capitol Hill. There have been Republicans who have been dragging this process out at every single turn, but we do believe that, inevitably, the votes are there. 18 Republicans voted last night on a procedural vote. We expect that that final vote tally will be somewhere between 12 and 18 Republicans.

I think that that is something that Democrats are feeling really good about, the fact that they can point to a bipartisan accomplishment. Once they actually pass the bill, which we expect to happen in the middle of night, unless Republicans actually yield back to some time, once they pass that bill, Democrats will move forward with the budget resolution. That is an important step because that will provide the blueprint necessary for Democrats to write their own legislation known as reconciliation.

For people back home, that simply means that Democrats will have the ability to pass a bigger infrastructure bill that includes paid time off as well as other key provisions for Democrats with just 51 votes. So that is what is coming down the pipe. But, inevitably, we expect this bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass sometime soon. Boris?

BORIS: Not a simple process. We appreciate your walking us through it. Lauren Fox from Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

If and when that bill gets to the House, there are going to be a lot of key voices with influence over what happens. One of them, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is joining Dana Bash and sharing with her what it is like to be adored and reviled. You can catch the all new CNN series, Being, AOC. It airs tonight at 9:00 P.M.

Meantime, coming up for us, Taliban forces capturing one Afghan city after another in quick succession. The takeover raising major concerns as U.S. troops ramp up their withdrawal. A live report after a quick break.



BORIS: Taliban forces are seemingly gaining ground by the hour in Afghanistan, seizing control of a fifth city in just the last few days, the fall of the provincial capital of Kunduz, a devastating blow to the Afghan government. And it comes just 22 days before U.S. troops are set to complete their withdrawal.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us now live with the latest. Nick, we anticipated that the Taliban would surge amid the U.S. withdrawal but this is painful to watch and astonishing.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. I mean, not to say that any of the gains for the Taliban in the last five days are irreversible, but it has probably been one of the worst periods of time I could recall in the last 20 years for the Afghan government so staunchly backed by the U.S. with billions of dollars and lives lost over the past years.

Five provincial capitals seem to have fallen since Friday, the first on Friday, the most significant yesterday, Kunduz, a significant city there, certainly. And two others seem to be under pressure, one in Samangan and another major city to Ghazni seems to have the Taliban pushing towards or into it at the moment.

Kunduz, in the past, has been taken by the Taliban and they'd been kicked in the last six years twice. But that's all because of U.S. airpower. That is still in evidence at the moment but it is reduced in scope. Some might say they are able to deliver less pinpointed strikes than before because there is not a U.S. presence necessarily on the ground.

And so the challenge for Afghan security forces is holding the line, possibly working out precisely what they're able to hold on to, rushing around, as they are, at the moment with multiple fires to put out, and then trying to find a way to endure when that U.S. firepower not massively effective, as been over the past five days, runs out, as they say will do, in the end of the U.S. presence three weeks from now. Dark times ahead, Boris.

BORIS: Yes, dark times. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

Joining us now to dig deeper on Afghanistan is CNN Military Analyst, Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He's the former Army commanding general for Europe and the seventh army. General Hertling, thanks for sharing part of your day with us. We appreciate the time.

I want to get your reaction to the Taliban taking control of five cities since just Friday. Does that prove that Afghan forces simply weren't ready to protect their government?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: To be honest with you, Boris, about a month ago, myself and others suggested that this action would be faster than many in the government expected.


It has been even faster than I expected, to be honest with you. The Taliban offensive line, the Afghan cities has just been contrary to what they agreed on doing at the peace talks in Doha, which many of us knew they would not adhere to. But it's also been very challenging to the Afghan force. Remember when Secretary Austin and General Milley came together with the press talking about this withdrawal, they said that, hopefully, the Afghan government would be able to withdraw some of their forces from the rural area and protect some of the major cities in the provinces. They have not done that.

This taking of Kunduz yesterday is critically, as Nick Paton Walsh just mentioned, twice before the Taliban had taken that city and twice before the U.S. held the Afghan government and Afghan security forces take it back. I don't think they're going to be able to do it again. You'll see from the maps the different provinces that are being overrun by the Taliban very quickly, that this is going much faster than anyone expected.

BORIS: And, General, an Afghan official shared with CNN that they would need close air support immediately, saying, quote, things are getting nasty. So far, the Biden administration's response has been to increase airstrikes against Taliban positions as they continue moving, sweeping through the country. But U.S. Cent Com -- the commander of U.S. Cent Com made clear that U.S. air support is going to go away at the end of the month. Could we potentially see a change in that policy as we watch Afghanistan spiral into Taliban control?

HERTLING: Yes, I don't think we will, Boris, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the air support that's being delivered there is being coordinated between U.S. forces and Afghan forces on the ground in terms of air coordination centers.

At the same time, also, though, this is the first time that you've seen a Taliban that has not been as covert as they have been in the past. They are wantingly going through these areas, threatening the government, conducting their actions, which are both threatening and killing of local citizens. So it would be extremely difficult to get the amount of air power into the area, and even if that was possible, which it would be, who calls in that fire without, you know, causing damage to friendly forces? There's already been Taliban who have suggested that U.S. airpower has destroyed hospitals and government buildings and all the other things that they always say we're doing as part of their messaging campaign. That would only get worse if you had air power without U.S. forces on the ground seeing where that air power was distributed.

BORIS: Yes. After so much investment from the United States in that country and life and treasure, it's devastating to watch what's happening in Afghanistan. General Mark Hertling, thanks for the time.

HERTLING: Thank you, Boris.

BORIS: Of course. Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.



BORIS: There are new details revealing just how far former President Trump and his allies were willing to go to overturn the 2020 election. According to a Senate investigation, former Justice Department officials described having to fend off efforts by a Trump-appointed lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, to oust department leaders and use the department to help the former president stay in power.

Joining us now is CNN's Whitney Wild. And, Whitney, it sounds like Clark wanted to get his bosses fired because they wouldn't go along with the big lie.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Right. That was all part of this effort. He was trying to take this election fraud theory all the way to the bank even if that meant having to get anybody who was standing in his way ousted from the Justice Department. Sorry, my phone is ringing. So the -- sorry, that happens.

So, there's this real important state of play here. We are at an inflection point with these committee investigations. And so what we now know is that there's a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation, this House Select Committee investigation that are really zeroing in on basically the same thing. There's this very important person here, Jeffrey Clark. At the time, he had been the head of this -- of the environmental unit within DOJ, then all of a sudden he's the head of the civil unit, a very important person within this scenario leading up to January 6th.

And the latest reporting we have from my colleagues, Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez, is that he was so fixated on this election fraud claim that he actually requested a briefing by the director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe. He had also told people within DOJ that he had unique information to suggest that the Chinese were somehow able to use special thermometers to manipulate votes. I mean, that's how wild the conspiracy theories we're getting, Boris. When he got this briefing from John Ratcliffe, according to sources familiar with this briefing, he was not swayed by Ratcliffe's argument that there just was no evidence of widespread election fraud.

Boris, what's important to know is that was around December 28th, late in December, five days after Bill Barr left the Justice Department, five days after he had already said there was no widespread election fraud. None of that seemed to matter to this man, Jeffrey Clark, who was fixated on this election fraud claims.

As we move forward, we are going to watch very closely the committee's work trying to talk to people who were in Jeffrey Clark's and Donald Trump's orbit at the time to find out in what way they were trying to make these overt efforts to utilize the powers of the Justice Department to overturn this election, Boris.