Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Supreme Court Clerks Asked For Phone Records In Leak Probe; Ukraine: Russia Forces Focused On Controlling Key Eastern City; E.U. Leaders Agree To Ban More Than Two-Thirds Of Russian Oil Import. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 31, 2022 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to a CNN exclusive. The Supreme Court taking unprecedented steps to uncover who leaked the draft opinion of what will be a landmark decision on abortion rights. This is new reporting from CNN's Joan Biskupic, who joins me now with more on this. Joan, tell me what you've learned.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST & SUPREME COURT BIOGRAPHER: Good morning, Kate. Yes, they're really escalating this hunt for who might have leaked draft documents to Politico, now asking law clerks to sign affidavits and to -- they're taking steps also to have law clerks turnover cell phone data. This is a pretty aggressive move, but it does show how seriously they're trying to take this breach. After four weeks since Chief Justice John Roberts launched this investigation, it appears that they have made insufficient progress to do anything but ramp up to this stage.

But it's a pretty forceful move and it's caused concern among some of the law clerks there. Each year, the justices hire four clerks per chamber. And these are folks who are in there, you know, to do research, help writing opinions, and some of them are saying, you know, we didn't really sign up for this and they're thinking, should they hire lawyer, should they go outside and obtain counsel.

And one appellate lawyer who knows about the recent demands on law clerks told me that for any other government investigation, it would be, you know, similarly situated people would go out and try to hire lawyers, and that it would be hypocritical for the Supreme Court to say you can't go outside. Now, you know, nobody's forcing anyone to do something but you know, in the employment situation, just to be asked to do it presents a bit of a dilemma. And I can't tell you, Kate, how tense it already is up at the Supreme Court.

They're resolving obviously this major case having to do with abortion rights that date back a half a century, and personal private -- privacy protections, but also gun controls before them religious liberties, several hot button cases that all will be resolved, likely by the end of June. And then to have this intrusive investigation on top of it is certainly ratcheting things up, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's really remarkable and unbelievable. It's been also amazing reporting, Joan, thank you so much for bringing it to us. I really appreciate it.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So for more on this, I'm going to bring in CNN's Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. So, Jeff, I mean, court officials taking the steps to require clerks to give cell phone records, and sign affidavits. I mean, has there ever been an investigation like this at the court?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Never, never anything like this. You know, the Supreme Court is perhaps the last institution that I can think of that operates more or less only on the honor system. You know, the confidentiality between law clerks among the justices is something that has really been sacrosanct.

I've done reporting about the Supreme Court, but only with former clerks. I -- it never occurred to me to talk to a -- to talk to a sitting clerk and I never knew of a journalist who had talked to a sitting clerk until this extraordinary leak. And, you know, at one level, it makes sense to ask people what's -- you know, what's in their cell phones, but you know, our whole lives are in these things. I mean, you know, medical information, personal information, financial information.

You know, I can understand why even innocent law clerks would say, you know, this -- I did not sign up for it, as Joan said, so I think this is going to present them with a dilemma. And remember, you know, they can be fired if they refuse to turn over their cell phones. You know, this is -- it's at-will employment at the -- at the Supreme Court. And so it's really, you know, going to be an extremely tense issue for a lot of these law clerks about what they want to do with turning over this incredibly personal information.

BOLDUAN: And that's what I was going to ask you. I mean, what happens if a clerk refuses to comply? I mean, that's -- I mean, you seem to have just set it right there. I mean, they could lose their job over it.

TOOBIN: They could. I -- you know, it's -- I'm not saying they necessarily will. And, you know, it's also a tense situation because the individual justices are very zealous in protecting their relationships with their own law clerks.


TOOBIN: So they're not going to want other people asking about, you know, how opinions circulate within the chambers, who has access, and, you know, some justices may take their law clerk side and say this is overly intrusive, I'm not going to agree to have my law clerks investigated in this way. So what is the marshal who was conducting the investigation?

Do then I -- you know, most leak investigations, and without an answer, and I guess as a journalist, I'm happy about that because I -- you know we seek out leaks to cover the news. And this one may fail as well but there may be some collateral damage to some law clerks and other court personnel along the way.


BOLDUAN: But I mean, even like on the most simple, most immediate question getting to Joan's reporting, the law clerks are considering if they need to retain counsel over this, do you think they need to?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think if this were the Department of Agriculture and there was a leak investigation and people started asking Department of Agriculture employees for their cell phone information, I would think they would be crazy not to hire a lawyer. I mean this is incredibly personal information that's in our cell phones.

You would find more personal information about most people in their phones than if you search their apartments or their homes. I mean, that's what our lives are like now. So, you know, the privacy interests here really are considerable. And you know, and I think hiring a lawyer is frankly, the reasonable response to such a request.

BOLDUAN: Truly. An unbelievable situation. It's good to see you, Jeffrey, thank you. Was that -- this just in to CNN right now, President Biden is meeting with New Zealand's prime minister and he just spoke out moments ago about what he saw when President Biden -- when he visited Uvalde over the weekend. Let's listen to this video, is just coming in.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is there's a -- there's an expression by an Irish post is too long of suffering makes a stone of the heart. Well, there's an awful lot of suffering. We've been -- I've gotten to more mass shooting after mass and I think any president American history, unfortunately. And it's just so much of it is -- much of it is preventable, and the devastation is amazing.

Yesterday -- or not, the day before it was up -- down in Texas and people sat in the room about 250 in a large room with me for almost four hours. Not -- nobody left. They wanted air until I spoke to every single person in that room. Every single person, they waited until the very end. And the pain is awful. And you've been one of our closest partners with a long history of friendship 80 years ago, marines landed in New Zealand before embarking into the Pacific Theater, into World War Two.

And I think I told you when I met my -- two of my mother's brothers were in the Pacific, they used to be able to employ at the same time in those days or two. And one was shut down in New Guinea, and they never found the body but it's -- you know, it's a history goes back a long way -- a long way.

And I want to, by the way, recognize New Zealand's significant support for Ukraine, as a lot of Indo Pacific countries are doing now because this is more than just a regional war going on. So I look forward to our conversation today. We have a lot to talk about, and really, really delighted to have you here, really.


BOLDUAN: All right, we're listening right there to President Biden and the Prime Minister of New Zealand during their visit, which is starting right now in the White House. And the president also offering as you heard just his impressions from his visit to Uvalde on Sunday. We're going to continue with all this. Bring you any news from this meeting with the Prime Minister as it comes in.

Coming up for us though, AT THIS HOUR, the EU and a historic agreement to cut off money flowing to Russia, a move that they hope will hit the Kremlin's ability to fund its war machine in Ukraine. What the EU is getting ready to do? That's next.

BOLDUAN: At this hour, Russia and Ukraine are locked in a fight for a key eastern city. Ukraine's military saying that Russian forces are focusing on controlling Severodonetsk which is being hammered with constant shelling at this point. The regional military leader there says that parts of the city are now in Russian control. Let's get over there.

CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Kyiv for us with much more on this. Matthew, what are you seeing there and what is this fighting mean and look like, and the overall battle for Ukraine?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate, it's significant because this city of Severodonetsk is the last really big remaining city in the Luhansk region, which is half of Donbass. The Russians say they want to control the whole of Donbass, the capture of this city, which is looking imminent now by the Russians would give the Kremlin the ability to say we've nearly completed that military objective. They haven't completed it yet.

There has been a video released of Russians in the center of the city, but Ukrainian military officials tell us that they've still got guys in there too, holding out to the last man to make it as difficult as possible for the Russians to declare victory in that part of the country.


CHANCE: But it's one step away from it because, cool, this equipment behind me and that's because I'm right in the center of Ukrainian capital Kyiv right now, and there's been this exhibition staged here, it's of Russian military equipment that has been destroyed. It was destroyed north of the city a couple of months ago when this war began.

And it's been put here so the people of Kyiv can come around, they can take a look to bring their children to see what has made their lives and their city and their country so under threat in the course of the past four months and so, a really interesting sort of close up look at some of the military hardware that's been destroyed by the Ukrainians in the course of this war, Kate. BOLDUAN: Yes. It's really a remarkable. It's like a real-time Museum of what Ukraine is living through right now on display. That's remarkable, Matthew. Thank you for bringing us that. I really appreciate it.

Also, with regard to the war in Ukraine, the European Union is poised to cut off Russia's most critical source of funds. The head of the European Council says that EU leaders have agreed to ban more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports now, which they hope means cutting a huge source of financing for its war machine. CNN's Anna Stewart is live in London with more on this. So, Anna, what is this agreement, and what does it mean for Europe and Russia?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: I mean, it's really significant in terms of cutting off financing to Russia. The EU currently spends around $10 billion on Russian oil every single month. Now, eventually, this will reduce the EU's Russian oil to just 10 percent. It's not a full embargo, which was hoped for, and actually announced by the EU a month ago but there have been huge divisions over recent weeks, with landlocked countries like Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic saying they simply cannot do without Russian oil. So that was a big concession here. There will still be Russian oil flowing through a pipe to those countries but the rest is off.

And you can see some of the other measures included in this sixth round of packages. It has taken a long time for this to get done. And there has been a lot of criticism that in that time, Russia will be able, of course, to find new customers for its oil. And that was something that Joseph Borrell, the chief diplomat in the EU was keen to point out.


JOSEPH BORRELL, EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF: Certainly, we could not prevent Russia to sell their oil to someone else. We're not so powerful. But we are the most important client for Russia. They will have to look for another one, and certainly, they will have to decrease the price. The purpose is for the Russians to get less resources -- less financial resources to feed in their war machine. And this certainly will happen.


STEWART: He makes great points there that the EU is the biggest customer for Russian oil. Russia receives a lot of money from the EU. And shipping it elsewhere, well, already Russian oil is trading at a huge discount to benchmark crude. It's around $34 a barrel cheaper. So it will probably lose quite a lot of revenue from this. Of course, the big move, of course, we're looking forward to will the EU ever cut itself off from Russian gas, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Standby to -- standby to -- standby on that. But who would have thought even through two months ago that this would even be in conversation with what we're talking about now? So this is -- these are the historic times that we are living in this moment. Anna, thank you so much. Coming up for us, funerals are beginning for victims of the massacre at Robb Elementary, the state senator who represents that now- devastated city joins us next.



BOLDUAN: It is now one week since the horrific shooting massacre at Rob Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Today, funerals begin. Amerie Jo Garza and Maite Rodriguez, they will be laid to rest. Both of those sweet little faces, those little girls, they were just 10 years old. And in the coming days, there will be so many more funerals, unfortunately, 21 in all in that traumatized community. At the very same time, investigations are underway and some very serious questions still remain about the law enforcement response on that day.

Joining me now is Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde. Thank you for being here. As I mentioned, the funerals begin. And grieving, just beginning. What does it feel like there today?

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ (D-TX): Well, Kate, thank you for having me. I'm looking at the pictures on the screen here, and every time I see those little girls, those little boys, I just well up and my heart just hurts for these families. I thought I was getting better every day. The pain that I'm feeling is multiplied a million times, and just so much more profound for these families in this community. I can only hope -- there's nothing that's going to bring their children back. I could just say that we're going to be here for them.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And there's also so many questions that I know you have. You are not comfortable with many of the answers that you've received so far in terms of investigation, and what happened on that day. Answers that I'm sure these families want as well. I mean, you're asking Texas public safety for a full ballistics report, and to also know exactly what time, what officer, and from what agency showed up and where they were stationed at the school. Why do you think there is not a full accounting yet of what transpired?

GUTIERREZ: So, ballistics was already coming. I'm not as concerned about ballistics. This piece about where each officer was is something that I specifically asked for. As soon as Friday evening and then in a conversation with Steve McCraw on Saturday morning, I just got off the phone with him after sending our formula or memorializing our letter today. I just got off the phone with him. He is telling me that the full report is going to be ready by Friday. I said that's a little bit late for me, I would like to have it sooner. There's a lot going on. And I understand and they're still unpacking a lot of these things.

These families deserve the answers. One little girl -- one little girl, I won't say who received only one gunshot wound through the -- her lower back. The first responder told the family that she'd likely bled out. That little girl might have lived had law enforcement done their job. To blame the one cop on the scene with the six other cops that worked for him isn't good enough. Certainly, I don't know Mr. Arredondo, I've certainly there was an

error there but I think at every point along the way, you have superior forces coming in that should have said, let's go in now. Just like the CBP cop, at one point says I'm done with this. I'm going in. And so you know, at what point do people not use some common sense here, listen to 911 calls that are coming in, understand that kids are still alive inside, and know that they have to go in there do their jobs under the active shooter protocol.

BOLDUAN: I know that you --

GUTIERREZ: Just because one person makes a mistake doesn't mean that everybody else needs to compound on that.

BOLDUAN: A couple of questions I actually have on that because I really want to get your take. You'd said -- you told my colleague, Danna Bash this weekend that the Customs and Border Protection team that went in, they did so -- they did not do so on a command of the school police chief that we're talking about, Arredondo. But rather, they went in on their own out of frustration. But is it your understanding that no command decision was ever made to breach the classroom?

GUTIERREZ: That is my understanding. What I've been told from law enforcement is that CBP finally took it upon themselves and said we're going in. That is my understanding. Yes, ma'am.

BOLDUAN: There's also this video which appears to include this (INAUDIBLE) -- it appears to be dispatch audio telling officers on the scene that a child's calling 911 from the classroom, advising that they're in the room and they're full of victims. This is going out on police radio. Do you think the police school chief or those with him in this school would have had that information in real-time, or do you think it's possible -- I don't know they didn't have coms while they're standing outside the door?

GUTIERREZ: See, that's the failure in this entire system, in this entire process. We have multiple state agencies, federal agencies, localized agencies, and somewhere along the way, there's a communications problem. We're not hearing 911 disturbance calls. We're not hearing proper radio transmissions. I've asked for the -- I'm going to be asking for radio transmissions next. You know, kids are alive.

Clearly, they're alive. This is not a barricade situation. And the information is flowing in. Why doesn't DPS have that information, the Sheriff's Office, the Federal guys that put -- the local police? This is a failure at every level. And certainly, by the way of failure at the legislative level and that failure has happened session after session so let's not forget that, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. There's so much to be learned, that's for sure. But you are asking those questions. State Senator, thank you for coming on I appreciate your time.

And if you would like to help the families of the victims of Robb Elementary, you can find out more Thank you all so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King picks up after this.