Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Jan. 6 Cmte: Trump Repeatedly Told Plot To Overturn Votes Was Illegal; Biden: Recession "Not Inevitable," Blaming COVID Relief Is "Bizarre"; Three American Volunteer Fighters Missing In Ukraine. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 17, 2022 - 11:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: The January 6th Committee building its case against former President Donald Trump and his plot to overturn the 2020 election but could the former president face charges.

Plus, inflation and the fight against it making the American Dream unaffordable for some, I'll ask one of the President's top economic advisors, what can be done to help those who need it most.

And more than three weeks after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, a community is still waiting for answers. That's what we're watching at this hour.

We begin with the January 6th Committee laying out even more evidence that Donald Trump knew his plan to overturn the 2020 election was illegal. But he tried to do it anyway. That finding leading to a critical question, will the Justice Department criminally prosecute the former president. A former federal judge and conservative legal expert testified Thursday that Trump's plan promoted relentlessly by Attorney John Eastman and others presented a clear and dangerous threat to American democracy. Listen to this.


J. MICHAEL LUTTIG, RETIRED FEDERAL JUDGE AND INFORMAL ADVISER TO MIKE PENCE: Had Vice President Pence obey the orders from his president and the president of the United States of America. That declaration of Donald Trump as the next president would have plunged America and to what I believe would have been tantamount to a revolution within a constitutional crisis.


SANCHEZ: A revolution within a constitutional crisis. The Committee also revealing just how close to serious danger Mike Pence was on during the day of the insurrection, rioters coming within 40 feet of the former Vice President. As the Committee prepares to hold more hearings next week, it's also trying to speak to Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas about her role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Let's take you now live to Capitol Hill in CNN's Lauren Fox, who's there for us. Lauren, what were the main takeaways from Thursday's hearings?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Committee walking viewers through in excruciating and vivid detail, the lengths that former President Donald Trump and lawyer John Eastman went to, to try to convince then Vice President Mike Pence and his team to unilaterally overturn the results of the election on Capitol Hill on January 6th, in what is supposed to be a ceremonial procedure to count the votes and announce the next president of the United States.

What they found and what they presented in that hearing yesterday, was that they did this despite the fact that both Trump and Eastman knew these actions they were taking, and what they were asking Pence to do, was actually illegal and unconstitutional. Now, one of the results of this that the Committee walked through in detail was the fact that this put Pence's life in danger. Here's what Representative Pete Aguilar said about that.


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Make no mistake about the fact that the Vice President's life was in danger. The Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence, if given the chance.


FOX: And the Committee used the rioters' own words, videos of that day of rioters calling to hang Mike Pence. Rioters blaming him for the fact that this election was not going to be overturned on Capitol Hill that day, but obviously the Committee thrusting toward next week, getting ready for more hearings, both on Tuesday and Thursday at 1 o'clock, who is going to be a witness at those hearings and the exact topics still to be disclosed by the Committee. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Lauren Fox from Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Let's dig deeper now with CNN Global Affairs analyst Susan Glasser. She's a staff writer for The New Yorker. And we also have with us CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers. She's a former federal prosecutor.

Jennifer, let's start with you. One thing we heard over and over again yesterday is that people around the former president told him that this plan to use the 12th Amendment to overturn the 2020 election was illegal and was likely not going to be looked at by the Supreme Court, they would likely vote against it. Yet, he went forward anyway. Does that present any kind of criminal liability? What are the chances that DOJ might prosecute?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It might, Boris. I mean, we need a little bit more development of the facts and DOJ as it looked into this, we'll certainly do that. They'll dig deeper in terms of exactly what the President was told and the conversations he had around this issue. But it certainly could, I mean if he, knowing that it was unlawful to pressure Mike Pence to do this was pressing for that anyway that certainly could be a conspiracy charge.


SANCHEZ: One of the architects of this plan to you, Susan, was John Eastman, one of Donald Trump's attorneys. He actually told Trump two days before the insurrection this plan is illegal. I want you to listen to what he had to say to the Committee about this.


JOHN EASTMAN, ATTORNEY WHO WROTE MEMO ENCOURAGING OVERTURN OF ELECTION: I assert my Fifth Amendment right against being compelled to be a witness against myself. Fifth, fifth, fifth, fifth, fifth.


SANCHEZ: Fifth, fifth, fifth. Committee member Pete Aguilar says that he took the fifth about 100 times. We also learned yesterday that he told Rudy Giuliani, quote, I've decided I should be pardoned put on the list of pardons. You make the point, though, in a new piece in "The New Yorker," that Americans don't really care about John Eastman, nor should they. Help us understand why.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, look, to your point, and your question about is Donald Trump going to face charges and accountability? One thing that Committee has started to do, and I say started, because we haven't heard a lot of the evidence that they've gathered, but they've started to document publicly extensive evidence that Trump himself was personally orchestrating.

And at the heart of these, if there are conspiracies, it really was as a federal judge recently put it, a coup, in search of a legal theory. So John Eastman provided the bogus legal theory. And it is remarkable that we heard sworn testimony yesterday to the effect that he knew that it was a bogus legal theory but peddled it to Donald Trump anyways, but it's Donald Trump, who furthered that, who used the legal theory, who didn't really care, as long as he had one, right?

So I think that the question again and again and again, is that this wouldn't have happened without Donald Trump determined to stay in power after he lost an election. That is almost the definition of a coup, a power grab. The fact that it was then blown up in this violent attack on the Capitol is remarkable. But remember, it would have been a legal attempt at a coup, even without the violence at the Capitol.

SANCHEZ: Jennifer, let's pivot to someone that John Eastman was exchanging e-mails with and that's Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. We don't know the content of those e- mails. But we do know that John Eastman was bragging to people trying to get them to move forward with more claims of electoral fraud by telling them that there was heated debate among the Justices of the Supreme Court on this issue, insinuating that he may have had some knowledge of their conversations. What do you think the Committee is looking for when it requests information from her?

RODGERS: So that's all very interesting. Now, John Eastman has come out since and said he had no inside knowledge, didn't talk to Ginni Thomas about Supreme Court issues. So, you know, who knows about that. But the Committee is actually not going to be looking to ask her about what she and her husband discussed about the Supreme Court. I think they wouldn't touch that with a 10-foot pole, may want to know what her role was, you know, she popped up first in messages with Mark Meadows.

So she clearly is supportive of what what's going on. She's talking about the state legislatures and what they can do. She was at minimum, a cheerleader, for this coup attempt. And the question is what she more than that? Was she actually involved in the planning? You know, the organization of the rally, perhaps, you know, where was her involvement, if it was more than just kind of urging them on if she was really substantively involved? That's what the Committee wants to know.

SANCHEZ: Yes, she was exchanging messages with Meadows about watermark ballots and dominion voting systems, all stuff that's been debunked. Susan, I do want to ask you about the former Vice President Mike Pence. Yesterday, the hearing focused on the pressure campaign that he was facing. It was a story that was told without seemingly the main character there. We didn't hear anything from Pence directly. Is it simply because he wants to run for president and doesn't want to upset the base that he's not more vocal during these hearings?

GLASSER: Yes, it really is striking, isn't it? That he, on the one hand, you know, when forced to the brink by Donald Trump, you know, does his duty to the Constitution and, you know, rejects it? But remember that for much of the time since Trump left office, Pence has been silent. He has let, you know, this notion, this big lie take hold among Republicans, fueled by Donald Trump. But he has given really only one strong speech. It was shown yesterday in the hearings, in which he said it was basically un-American, the legal theory that Trump and Eastman were putting, the idea that one man, Mike Pence, could decide single handedly the outcome of the American election.

So he's not wavered in his view of his own action, but he has not challenged Trump politically. He does appear to be getting ready for some kind of a presidential campaign is not clear. He's very -- his standing in the polls among Republican primary voters, it should be noted, is really nowhere even comparable to that of Trump himself or Trump to run again. Trump has rejected him. He said very clearly that he would not have Pence back as his own running mate. So there is a rift there.


But Pence, you know, he hasn't owned it, right? He hasn't -- he made this decision, but he's not testifying. And so you have sort of the weird specter of what to make of it. He enabled Donald Trump for four years and maybe Donald Trump thought that he was going to cave in, because that's what Mike Pence was doing for the previous four years, caving in.

SANCHEZ: Susan Glasser, Jennifer Rodgers, appreciate the conversation. Thanks so much for sharing part of your day with us. Coming up, the cost of buying a home, the cost of filling up at the pump, the cost of seemingly everything is going up. When it comes to fighting inflation, is the cure as bad as the disease? A conversation with a top economist at the White House when we come back from a quick break. Stay with us.



SANCHEZ: President Biden is trying to reassure Americans that despite economic turmoil, they do not need to worry about a recession. In a new interview, he told the Associated Press quote, first of all, it is not inevitable. Secondly, we're in a stronger position than any nation in the world to overcome this inflation. Let's get straight to the White House in the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse. Cecilia, we appreciate you being with us this morning. The President says a recession is, quote, not inevitable. But even if you avoid a recession, the outlook for consumers isn't rosy, it's not good. What should Americans be prepared for?

CECILIA ROUSE, CHAIR, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Well, look, we've come out of a period last year where we saw the fastest growth that we've seen in 40 years. We've had the fastest improvements in employment coming out of a recovery, out of a recession, fastest drop in unemployment. So we come out of a very strong economy. But we are now dealing with inflation.

And so the Federal Reserve has the mandate of stabilizing prices and maximum employment. So the Federal Reserve is starting to act that's generating some of the turmoil. Russia's war against Ukraine is also part of our challenge. But we need to get this inflation under control in order to emerge to where the President would like to see us get to in this economy, which is a period where we have steady, solid growth that is sustainable, where every day Americans are working if they want to work, and they're seeing good productive increases in their pay, and they can support their families.

But to get there, the Federal Reserve does need to act. And it doesn't mean that a recession is inevitable. Again, we came out of this last year with good solid growth, which is why we're better positioned than most countries for these challenges between the war and the central bank, taking the actions that his making, which means that it's not inevitable. But, you know, we understand the anxiety, the President understands anxiety, is focused on what he can do to lower costs for families to address the price of gasoline, although that is set on the world market. But, you know, we need to get to the other side of this because that is where we need, that is where we should be.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I do want to ask you about oil prices. I'll get to that in a moment. But you've made clear the Fed takes the lead on tackling inflation. The Fed chair is saying that another hike could happen within the next month. You're talking about the economic anxiety that a lot of Americans are feeling, part of that anxiety is that when there were trends toward inflation going back to last year, this administration said that it was transitory inflation, that it was purely temporary. It's concerning for a lot of people that it appears it's not transitory. So translate what you just alluded to, in terms of the administration trying to help Americans into what can actually help folks immediately right away.

ROUSE: So the inflationary period that we're facing right now has its roots in the pandemic, it has its roots in the fact that the pandemic affected supply chains, whether that was in people getting to work here or abroad, whether it was in the ability to transport goods. So fundamentally that inflation had its roots in the supply chain. And then governments such as ours supported households and families so we could continue to buy food and pay rent and continue with our normal economic activity. And the supply demand mismatch, generated some of the inflation which was substantially exacerbated by Russians, Russia's unprovoked war in Ukraine.

So the Federal Reserve has begun to take the steps it needs to do in order to address this inflation. Meanwhile, the President has been putting forward the kinds of policies that we know are important for improving our economic capacity, which is another way of saying improving our economic growth. It is that kind of growth, those kinds of investments which actually make inflationary periods less likely, and which generate the kinds of wage gains for Americans. So what the President is -- go ahead.

SANCHEZ: I was just going to say, let's talk specifics on gas prices. CNN is hearing from sources in the administration that are shooting down this idea that came forward of sending millions of Americans rebate cards to alleviate the high cost of fuel. I'm wondering if you support any direct payment to Americans to help them pay for gas.

ROUSE: So as the President has said, he's -- all options are on the table. We want it -- we do want to address the price of gas and oil so that people can fill up their cars and heat their homes or cool their homes now in the summer, and affordably, so completely recognize that. This is why he led a coordinated release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, why he using it as administrative powers approved using ethanol, E15 over the summer, why he's working for other looking at other options for getting more gas and oil onto the market, so all options are on the table because he understands the pain that this is causing for families.


SANCHEZ: One of those options, according to "The Washington Post," is asking governors to lower or waive state gas taxes. I'm wondering what kind of feedback you've gotten from state officials on that idea.

ROUSE: So we know some states have already done so. Again, the President is open to working with members of Congress and others to bring them to the table to address the impact of the, you know, gas prices for the American people. You know, when the President, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and the President stood with our allies, to support Ukraine, to stop the Russian aggression, he pointed out that there would be cost for the American people.

This is an important war in the sense that it is important that we defend our ally, Ukraine, against being invaded. You know, it is an independent country against Russia's incursion, and so part of that cause is the increase in gas and oil. So the President is open to all ideas. He's been coordinating with our allies. He welcomed the OPEC's increase in their production goals over the summer and because he very much understands the impact that this has on families.

SANCHEZ: Cecilia Rouse, thanks so much for taking time to join us. We look forward to continuing this conversation into the future.

ROUSE: You're very welcome. Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Coming up, a third American missing in Ukraine, and new questions about what should be done to bring them home, details straight ahead.



SANCHEZ: At this hour, a third American confirmed missing in Ukraine has been identified as former Marine Corps Officer Grady Kurpasi. The State Department also working to verify the authenticity of this photo which appears to show two other missing Americans, Alexander John Robert Drueke and Andrew Tai Ngoc Huynh, all three are military veterans. CNN's Barbara Starr has the details from the Pentagon.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Boris earlier today, the Kremlin spokesman told CNN, they know nothing about the two men shown in the photograph. This is of course Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh. Mr. Drueke a former member of the U.S. Army, Mr. Huynh a former U.S. Marine, shown in this photograph apparently with their hands behind their back, and also some food cans with Russian lettering on them. These men had not been seen or heard from by their families in several days, reportedly disappearing north of Kharkiv in the eastern Ukraine, where there had been heavy fighting. Alexander Drueke's mother spoke to CNN about her son.


BUNNY DRUEKE, MOTHER OF ALEXANDER JOHN-ROBERT DRUEKE: He was excellent at training soldiers. He had done a lot of that not only on the tours, but also later in the Army Reserve. And he says and I also know how to operate the equipment that we're sending over there and I can teach them how to do it because he knew that this was the Ukrainians fight. He just wanted to be there in a support role.


STARR: The third missing American is Grady Kurpasi, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps 20-year service, he has not been heard from since perhaps April, when he also was in Ukraine, not clear if he was directly involved in fighting but those who were near him said they came under small arms attack. No word on his fate. So this is very difficult for the families obviously. The State Department says it's working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, talking to Ukrainian authorities, not clear yet if they are talking directly to the Russians, because the Russians have made no claim that they have these men or know anything about them.

Many Americans have traveled to Ukraine to fight eager to help feeling it very deeply that they want to assist this country. But it should be said that the U.S. government again reminding Americans it is a war zone. It is a very dangerous place to be. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Barbara Starr, thanks for that report. Let's bring in CNN military analyst retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. General always great to get your perspective on these matters. We've reported extensively on some of the brutal tactics used by the Russian military. If these Americans were captured, what could they be facing right now?


MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Boris, the key thing is all three of these former service members, when in uniform, you know, in the United States military, were exposed to sensitive items. They have access, had access to different types of programs.