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At This Hour

January 6 Hearings; Gas Tax Holiday; Senate Advances Gun Legislation. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 22, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Erica Hill in for Kate Bolduan. The personal price courageous Americans are still paying, defending democracy against a conspiracy to overturn the election.

President Biden pushing for a gas tax holiday but will it lower the price at the pump?

And the Senate close to passing the first gun safety bill in years as frustration grows in Uvalde. That's what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.

We begin with the House insurrection committee revealing new evidence of Donald Trump's personal involvement in a coordinated effort to target and intimidate state election officials.

The committee also highlighting the courage of the people who refused to be intimidated, who continued to do their jobs and to stand up to those efforts. The committee used its fourth public hearing to highlight just how severe the threat to our democracy is.

That threat that was faced in the days and weeks after the 2020 election, as the former president and his aides promoted the Big Lie and put forward slates of fake electors in key battleground states.

We also learned in the hearings that Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, admitted he had no evidence of fraud to back up these dangerous claims and the plan. Four election officials provided emotional testimony about the dangers they faced for standing up to those attacks.

All, though, were determined to do their duty, despite the unrelenting pressure campaign.


RUSTY BOWERS (R-AZ), STATE HOUSE SPEAKER: It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired, one of my most basic foundational beliefs. And so for me to do that, because somebody just asked me to, is foreign to my very being. I will not do it.


HILL: Let's begin this hour with CNN's Manu Raju, who is live on Capitol Hill.

Among the new details we learned yesterday, allegations that senator Ron Johnson's chief of staff actually tried to pass these fake electors on directly to vice president Mike Pence. You tracked down the senator yesterday.

What did he say?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He acknowledged he actually knew about this. This ask came on January 6th, the morning before Mike Pence came to Capitol Hill to oversee the joint session of Congress, to certify Joe Biden's victory before the violence that occurred that day.

And according to the text messages that were revealed by this committee, Pence said that Johnson's chief of staff offered fake electors from Michigan and Wisconsin to Mike Pence's -- one of Mike Pence's aides.

And in that text message said, Johnson wanted to hand deliver this to Pence on that day.

Pence responded, "Do not deliver it to him."

So when I caught up with Johnson yesterday, I asked him all about this. He downplayed his role, even though he said he knew about it and even though his chief of staff passed it along.

And he said it was information passed along to him by someone whose identity he said he simply did not know.


QUESTION: Didn't even offer it without vetting it.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): We got handed an envelope that was supposed to go to the vice president. I didn't know. So we called up the vice president. He didn't want it, we didn't deliver it. So this story has -- it's such a non-story.

RAJU: Are you going to ask your aides about who this person was?

Have you asked --

JOHNSON: We literally don't know it was the staff to staff, kind of somebody from the House, some staff intern, you know, said we got to -- you know, the vice president needs this or whatever. And I can't -- I wasn't involved. I don't know what they said.


RAJU: So he says some staff intern on the House side of the Capitol provided that information to his chief of staff, who then reached out to the vice president's office at the time, he said he didn't know which House office was behind this and he also didn't indicate any interest of finding out exactly who was involved with it. Downplaying this whole matter as much ado about nothing. Now one

Republican Congress man who also came out in the hearing was Andy Biggs, the congress man from Arizona, who did urge the speaker of the state house, Rusty Bowers, to overturn Joe Biden's victory in that state.


RAJU: Bowers testified that he resisted that request.

HILL: A lot coming out there and we're not done. The next hearing scheduled for Thursday.

What's the focus tomorrow, Manu?

RAJU: Yes, this will be about Justice Department officials and the pressure campaign that Trump era Justice Department officials faced from Donald Trump. His allies to use the power of the federal government and that department to try to lean on states to overturn the electoral results.

We're going to hear testimony from some key witnesses, including Jeffrey Rosen, who was the former acting attorney general at the time. We've seen some testimony from him come out already, pushing back on Donald Trump.

Richard Donoghue, the former acting deputy attorney general and Steven Engel, the former assistant attorney general from the Office of Legal Counsel.

This all plays to a theme that Trump pushed what he knew to be illegal and still leaning on the government to somehow overturn the election and then the real-life consequences of threats faced to these individuals.

So we'll hear from them in person and the committee promising even more information as they may, after this hearing, have a bit of some downtime as they process new evidence and look into future hearings likely in July. Erica.

RAJU: Looking for all that, Manu, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining me now CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, also with us CNN political analyst, Jackie Kucinich.

As we go through all the new from yesterday, part of that was the call that Donald Trump made to the head of the RNC. I want to play a portion of that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did the president say what he called you?

RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, RNC: Essentially he turned the call over to Mr. Eastman, who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC holding the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of them legal challenges that were ongoing, change the result of (INAUDIBLE).

I think more just helping them reach out and assemble them that my understanding is the campaign did take the lead and we just were helping them in that -- in that role.


HILL: What's interesting to note in that is that Trump passed the phone, as she said, to Eastman ,who then sort of laid out the plan and did all of the asking.

It wasn't the former president who did the asking.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's significant because, you know, a lot of what's gone on here is the question of, did the president or did Eastman commit a crime?

You know, these contingent electors is an interesting phrase. They weren't contingent. They were invented. They were fake.

I mean, being an elector is a government position. You can't just say a group of people are the presidential electors.

However, the fact that the president was relying on the advice of John Eastman, who was a law professor, a former Supreme Court law clerk, may well insulate him from any sort of criminal liability, because he could always say, look, this was a legal strategy that my lawyer, John Eastman, devised. If it wasn't valid, blame him, don't blame me.

I think that's actually likely to be an effective defense if this were ever to be considered as a criminal matter.

HILL: The fact, you bring up this really important point, too, a sheet of paper with so-called fake electors on it.

Electors are not just some random people, right?

These are, as you point out, official government roles, which made it even more interesting, I thought, Jackie, when Manu did track down senator Johnson yesterday.

And as he asked all these questions, the senator didn't seem interested, really, to get to the bottom of it, to understand where this request had come from, how this had really gotten to the point where someone passed this information on to the former vice president.

Can you put this into perspective for us, Jackie?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It just shows another sitting member of Congress that was potentially involved in all of this. As Manu asked the questions, we should point out it went from, oh, it was a House office, it was an intern.

I mean, this was a high-ranking person in Johnson's office, who he didn't know what he was doing? That just seems unusual as to how things work on the Hill. But Johnson is not alone. Let's not forget, Scott Perry, congress man out of Pennsylvania, asked Trump for a pardon in a different hearing.

You had Andy Biggs, who Manu mentioned, give the top Republican in the state a call and ask him to accept, to sign away the election in Arizona.

So it really, I mean, as these hearings go on, more and more names are added to this list of people that are lawmakers, that are actually elected to uphold the Constitution, involved in this scheme.

TOOBIN: And remember, too, that the text from the chief of staff doesn't just say any old envelope that needs to be passed to the vice president.


TOOBIN: He says what's in the envelope. He says they are the fake electors. So it's not like we were just acting as, like a messenger service. The chief of staff knew the magnitude and importance of what the envelope contained.

HILL: Some of the other moments, I have to say, that really stood out to me is just how far-reaching this campaign of intimidation went. It went far beyond the election officials, who were targeted, the people doing their jobs. I want to play a little bit of what we heard.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R-GA), GEORGIA STATE SECRETARY: Some people broke into my daughter-in-law's home. And my son has passed and she's a widow and she has two kids. And so we're very concerned about her safety also.

WANDREA MOSS, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: I received a call from my grandmother, saying that there were people at her home. And they knocked on the door and of course she opened it and seeing who was there, who it was.

And they just started pushing their way through, claiming that they were coming in to make a citizen's arrest.


HILL: A daughter-in-law, somebody's grandmother. I know that Shaye Moss and her mother have actually filed some civil suits.

But beyond that, what kind of recourse is there here?

Their lives were literally upended and they're still dealing with the consequences.

TOOBIN: Well, the people who did this, the people who threatened them, the people who harassed them, could be criminally prosecuted. It was true in Arizona as well. Speaker Barrow's family was harassed. And I think it's worth pausing to recognize the pervasiveness of right-wing violence that we've seen in this country. And January 6th was not just the hundreds of people trying to get into the Capitol. It was the harassment in Arizona, in North Carolina.

Earlier, it was the attempt to kidnap the governor of Michigan. Before that, it was the mass shootings in Pittsburgh and El Paso and lately in Buffalo. I mean, there is a lot of right-wing terrorism in this country and it is all connected.

HILL: Yes, it sadly --

KUCINICH: We -- there's this moment that, really quick, that I keep going back to in my head, when you hear the descriptions of what these women and these election officials went through.

Dave Sterling, who also was there, standing behind the podium in December, telling people to stop, warning that people could be killed, warning that this misinformation was putting people's lives in jeopardy.

And yet, it continues. And obviously, it culminated on the 6th and it continues to this day. I can't imagine that those women and those officials didn't go home to a bunch of text messages because they said it hasn't stopped.

HILL: Yes, no, you're absolutely right.

Appreciate you both.

Coming up, the president unveils a plan for a federal gas tax holiday.

But what's the real impact?

Is it going to lower the price the next time you go to the pump?

Or is this really more about politics?





HILL: This afternoon, President Biden will call on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months. The White House really feeling the heat from recent record prices at the pump.

Biden will also urge states and oil companies to take action. Now the White House claims the combination of these moves could lower gas prices by as much a dollar a gallon. Economists, however, not so sure about that math. Joining me now, CNN's John Harwood and CNN's Matt Egan. Good to see you both.

John, as we look at this, there's this announcement coming today, as much as a dollar a gallon. A lot of people are saying, interesting math there. President Obama called this a gimmick when he was asked about it in the campaign in 2008, this gas tax freeze.

Can you give us a reality check?

What's actually going to happen here for the American consumer?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, President Obama called it a gimmick because, as almost any economist, Democrat or Republican, can tell you, it is a gimmick. It doesn't solve the underlying problem, which is driving up gas prices.

To the extent in succeeds at lowering them a bit, it's likely to encourage people to drive more and that will create an offsetting boost in demand and push the price up and obviate that benefit.

And it also takes money away from the government that the government needs to build infrastructure and that sort of thing. However, it is a politically useful gimmick, which is why you so often see presidents and presidential candidates reaching for it.

High gas prices are toxic. They need to have an answer and this is one of the things they can offer an answer and at least plausibly say it's possible that it will do something for the consumer.

HILL: Possible that it will do something if they actually make it happen, which it doesn't sound like there's a lot of support.

Matt, also concerns this could add to inflation.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: No one likes taxes or high gas prices, so this is a way for them to sort of show that they're taking a big swing or at least trying to. But to John's point, there are some serious problems here. And just because things poll well doesn't mean it's necessarily smart policy.

HILL: Wait, what?


EGAN: Not always the same thing.

HILL: Noted.

EGAN: Like John said, this does nothing to fix supply. It actually supports demand at a time when demand can't keep up with supply. Moody's economist Mark Zandi told me he's concerned this could be inflationary. And there's no guarantee that energy companies are going to pass along the entire savings here.

And then there's the fact that this money funds the building of highways at a time when the construction of the building of highways has gone up because of rising costs for building materials and labor.


EGAN: So there's a lot of issues here and I think it does show why Obama in 2008 called it a gimmick.

HILL: You pointed out all the issues, the bottom line financial issues, John. There are also the political issues. So while this may poll well, maybe it sounds good politically.

But if you're proposing something that doesn't have the support of even all the members of your party in Congress, I mean, how is this seen as a win by the White House?

HARWOOD: Well, I think there's a couple of ways they can try to make the argument to themselves that it's a win. One, if they get it and it drops gas prices by a few cents, assume that the oil companies keep some of the fruits of the gas tax holiday and consumers get a little bit of it.

Gas prices are right on the edge of $5 a gallon. I think the White House considers it psychologically important to have that under $5 a gallon. So a small lowering of the price would have a benefit.

If it doesn't pass, I think what the White House would do is blame Republicans and Congress for not passing the tax cut. And then the president could say, in this midterm election year, I tried to cut gas taxes to give you relief at the pump. Republicans blocked me. Look at the contrast between my party and their party.

HILL: Yes, we'll see how it plays out. I do want to touch on, we just heard from Jerome Powell, concerns about interest rates and the recession. Let's play that moment.


SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Interest rates go too high, too fast, it could drive us into a recession?

JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: Certainly a possibility. It's not our intended outcome at all but it's certainly a possibility and, frankly, the events of the last few months around the world have made it more difficult for us to achieve what we want, which is 2 percent inflation and still a strong labor market.


HILL: "Certainly a possibility." That says a lot.

EGAN: It does. And that's what we're hearing from investors, marketing, down from CEOs. Consumers are getting worried about this. The Fed is raising rates at the fastest pace in decades.

That means spiking borrowing costs in a credit sensitive economy. We're seeing that play out in the housing market big time. But the last part of what Jerome Powell said there is key, because he's basically saying that the chances of getting a soft landing, where they tame inflation without causing a recession, have gone down.

Because of the war in Ukraine, because of the China COVID lockdowns, all of these issues made it harder to get a soft landing, increasing the chances of a hard landing where there's a recession.

HILL: So uplifting.


HILL: Not your fault, you're the messenger, Matt.

Both of you, we appreciate you being the messenger as always, Matt Egan and John Harwood, thank you both.

A small change to U.S. currency will mark a historic moment. President Biden appointing Marilynn Malerba, the first Native American woman as U.S. Treasurer. As chief of the Mohegan Tribe, she will oversee the U.S. Mint and a new Office of Tribal Affairs.

Her appointment also marks the first time two women will have their signatures on U.S. currency.

That's some good news.

Coming up, the first bipartisan gun reform bill in decades moving full speed ahead in the Senate after clearing a major hurdle. A closer look at what is in the bill, almost as interesting as what's not in it. Live details from Capitol Hill are next.





HILL: Major movement in the effort to stop gun violence in America. The Senate voting to advance a bipartisan bill that would toughen federal gun laws. If it passes, it would be the most significant gun legislation in nearly 30 years. Of course, the bill, not there yet. Still has more hurdles to clear.

CNN's Lauren Fox live on Capitol Hill this morning with more of the details for us.

Lauren, good morning.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. One of the things that happened last night that is a sign of progress here, Erica, the fact they were able to get 14 Republicans to move this bill forward.

Now the big vote is coming up tomorrow. We expect that we will see another group of Republicans helping to overcome the filibuster. That's going to be something to watch. After that, they'll have to do final passage. So still a few more steps in the process but this legislation, very significant. And I talked earlier today to senator Chris Coons, who told me there were many times over the weekend as the negotiators tried to hash out the final pieces, where it could have fallen apart.

But they rode it out and it includes millions of dollars in investments for school security, mental health, incentives to get states to both pass red flag laws and continue the process of trying to stop violence before it happens with these criminal intervention programs.

There is also additional screening for people between the ages of 18 and 21, who go and buy a gun at a gun store.