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At This Hour

Ex-Meadows Aide to Testify; FBI Seizes Phone of Former Trump Election Attorney; Health Secretary Unveils Abortion Action Plan. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Once a former aide to Trump's chief of staff, now a star witness at today's insurrection hearing.

The Biden administration set to unveil its abortion action plan now after Roe was overturned.

And dozens of migrants found dead in an abandoned tractor trailer in Texas. That is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here. We're two hours away from the January 6 committee's next public hearing, a surprise hearing that wasn't on the schedule this time yesterday.

CNN has learned the committee plans to present what it described as recently obtained evidence, with live testimony from someone who was in the West Wing as the Capitol attack unfolded.

Her name is Cassidy Hutchinson. She's not a household name until now. She's a former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. And Hutchinson witnessed many of the key conversations around January 6 and around Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Let's get started. Kristen Holmes is live.

A lot of secrecy, Kristen, around this hearing and this witness and what we could learn today.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, that's right. We're told in part that secrecy is actually about concerns about Hutchinson's safety. She has long been considered one of the most consequential witnesses, given the proximity to Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows.

It also gave her proximity to critical events, conversations and meetings. Sources described Hutchinson as always by Meadows' side. And given the urgency at which the committee brought this hearing, it just goes to show you how explosive they believe that this testimony may be. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES (voice-over): Her testimony has rattled Capitol Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you aware of any other members of Congress seeking pardons?

HOLMES (voice-over): Once a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson is now a key witness in the House January 6 committee's investigation, giving hours of testimony in multiple sessions.

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER AIDE TO MARK MEADOWS: Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Brooks, I know, both advocated for blanket pardons of all members involved in that meeting and a handful of members that weren't at the December 21st meeting as the preemptive pardons. Mr. Biggs did. Mr. Gohmert asked for one as well.

Mr. Perry asked for a pardon too. I'm sorry.

HOLMES (voice-over): Hutchinson worked closely with Meadows in the White House, sitting in on meetings and at times serving as a liaison between the former president's right hand and those seeking to reach him. Representatives Biggs and Perry have denied seeking pardons.

Hutchinson's unique access proved critical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear the White House counsel say that this plan to have alternate electors meet and cast votes for Donald Trump in states that he had lost was not legally sound?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And who was present for that meeting, that you remember?

HUTCHINSON: Mr. -- it was in our offices, Mr. Meadows, Mr. Giuliani and a few of Mr. Giuliani's associates.


HOLMES (voice-over): Meadows, who now refuses to be interviewed by the House committee, once provided thousands of text messages in the early stages of the investigation, showing him at the center of Trump's lies about the 2020 election and playing a lead role in attempting to stop Biden's certification on January 6.

Events and conversations Hutchinson had a front row seat to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who do you remember being involved in those early discussions around the Thanksgiving time, regarding having alternate electors meet?

HUTCHINSON: Mr. Giuliani, several of Mr. Giuliani's associates, Mr. Meadows, members of Congress, although it's difficult to distinguish if the members I'm thinking of were involved during Thanksgiving or if they were involved as it progressed through December.

HOLMES (voice-over): According to the committee, Hutchinson also testified that Meadows had been directly warned that the events of January 6 could turn violent.

Hutchinson has a history in Republican politics. Now in her 20s, she previously worked for other high-profile conservatives, including Ted Cruz and Steve Scalise. Earlier this month, Hutchinson dropping her Trump world attorney for an ally of former attorney general and Trump punching bag, Jeff Sessions.

Fueling speculation Hutchinson would appear live before the committee.


HOLMES: And Hutchinson has been compared to John Dean, Nixon's White House counsel, whose Watergate testimony helped to bring down Nixon. Whether or not that's an accurate comparison, that's something we'll find out later today. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Kristen, stick with me. Joining me is CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.


BOLDUAN: You consider Hutchinson an important witness for the committee.


ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We'll see how she does. But she has all the markers of really a perfect witness. For example, she had access; we know that. She was in the White House, close to Mark Meadows, even in the piece we just saw.

She provided information potentially damaging to Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, several members of Congress, Rudy Giuliani. So she's well situated. She does not appear to have split loyalties or mixed motives. She's not running for election. She doesn't need anyone's endorsement. She's not trying to remain on any sort of speaking circuit.

Her only self-interest now is to tell the truth and get this over with. She's credible. In those clips that we saw, she's very careful to say what she did and did not hear, who was and at times was not present. And she can't be attacked as an anti-Trumper.

The only job she's had has been working for Republican politicians. So she's sort of what prosecutors dream of in a witness on paper. We'll see how she does today.

BOLDUAN: That's a good point. Interesting how you laid that out.

Kristen, as you put together in the piece, she's spoken more than once, three times in closed hearings to the committee. The committee has already played clips of her and testimony as we've seen. Is it clear what, I don't know, the range or the scope of new

information that she could provide, that's pushing this committee to do this at the last minute?

HOLMES: No, really right now, that's incredibly unclear. The committee has not laid out in any way what the focus or what they'll be looking at during this testimony or for this hearing.

But one thing that we did see in the last several hearings through the video testimony was not just that she had almost this unprecedented access to both former chief of staff Mark Meadows and Donald Trump.

That isn't itself is critical to the committee but also that lawmakers and principals were talking to her directly. She talked about lawmakers going to her to discuss pardons. That means she was privy to conversations that were going on, not her being just a fly on the wall but actually having these direct conversations.

The other thing to look at is, again, the switching of attorney. There's a question whether or not this allowed her to say more, that she wanted to say more and that's why she ended up doing that and that's how we got to this today.

BOLDUAN: Elie, what do you make of the emergency nature of this hearing, as an attorney and prosecutor yourself?

HONIG: It was a surprise. She's not an unknown. She's spoken to the committee. We've already seen her clips so she's not somebody who parachuted in here. I've been situations where you have a piece of testimony that you feel is so important as a prosecutor.

You just want to make sure you lock it in. We used to go to a grand jury, sometimes the same day. So there may be an element that the committee feels is super important and they won't risk something happening. Also, I'll tell you, it's really, really scary to testify.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

HONIG: Even in your run-of-the-mill court, yes, let's remember the human element of this. This young adult is about to get in front of millions and millions of people on camera and testify probably against very powerful people. I've seen witnesses in less stressful situations say, can we just get this over with?

I can't sleep, you know, it's stressing me out. I just want this over with. So there may be an element of that, too.

BOLDUAN: And, Kristen, we know that after initially turning over a ton of text messages to the committee, that Mark Meadows, her former boss, that he stopped cooperating altogether with the investigation.

Is there any conversation that this -- that the move to bring Hutchinson in today had something to do to try to get something more from Mark Meadows?

HOLMES: Well, one thing has been made very clear over the last several hearings. And that is through both the text messages that Mark Meadows provided himself, thousands of text messages, as well as video testimony from dozens of witnesses.

Meadows was at the center of all of this. He was at the center of Donald Trump's election lies in 2020 as well as this attempt to stop Biden from being certified. And that means that Cassidy Hutchinson was also at the center of all of that.

Again, we're told that she was always by his side. And the thing to point out here about those relationships is that she might actually prove to be a better witness than Meadows himself, who will have hurdles in terms of loyalty to Donald Trump or legal hurdles that they could throw at the committee.

She clearly does not have that right now. In some ways, having been there, being an observer, having her job to be the person to sit back and take notes and watch these meetings, watch these conversations, she could prove to be a better witness than Meadows himself.

BOLDUAN: Look. I feel for this person, who's never been in the spotlight, going before the committee. But I'm truly interested to hear what she is asked.

There's also development, Elie, regarding another central figure in these hearings, who has become central, John Eastman. This is the attorney who is the architect of Trump's scheme to put together these fake electors. The FBI seizing his phone last week.


BOLDUAN: He's now suing to get it back. The video we've seen has come out.

Do you think this is significant, what is happening here with John Eastman?

What do you think they already know, if they have made this move?

HONIG: I do think it's significant. This is not a move prosecutors take lightly. I can tell you for sure what they already know. They know they have probable cause to believe that some crime was committed.

They know or were able to prove to a judge that it's likely there's evidence of that crime on his phone. And we know that a judge had to sign off to this.

All three of those things are required to get a search warrant. So that's really quite significant.

It tells me, bigger picture, DOJ is investigating at least John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark we heard about last week, as well. And it tells me that their investigation is expanding. They've still not charged anybody beyond the ground level, really, people who stormed the Capitol. But it does tell me they're looking at the higher level players now. BOLDUAN: You're talking about Jeffrey Clark. Now we learned that on

the day that Eastman's phone was seized, Jeffrey Clark's home, the former Trump DOJ official, was searched by federal agents.

What do you make of the timing?

HOLMES: It seems likely that they're connected. It seems unlikely it's a coincidence. Both search warrants are being run by DOJ. And these two guys, Clark and Eastman are really the two, I'll say, brain trusts behind this, although I think some of what they did was disingenuous at best and illegal at worst.

So it shows me they're looking at the legal architects behind the scheme to steal the election before anyone stormed the Capitol. The attempt to steal the election with the law on the books.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Much more to come with regard to the latest insurrection hearing. And the CNN coverage begins at noon Eastern. Much more of that ahead.

Coming up still for us, the Biden administration is unveiling what move it's now making to respond to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. You see right there, the Health Secretary is making the announcement today. Details in a live report, next.





BOLDUAN: Happening right now, Health Secretary Javier Becerra is holding a press conference, announcing the Biden administration's action plan on abortion and reproductive services after the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Becerra is laying out what support the federal government is now offering, what changes they're making, what moves they want to make to offer to help women who may not live in states where abortion services are illegal. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live, listening into the announcement.

Jeremy, what moves are they making?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this announcement is ongoing. What we do know the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Javier Becerra, is making it here that HHS is doing everything they can to make sure women can access abortion services where it's legal.

He says they're going to take steps to increase access to medical abortion, directing the Office of Civil Rights at HHS to ensure patient privacy. We also know that the department is looking to help women travel out of state, because it's now illegal in their state, to access abortion services, to help those women travel to other states, to states where it is legal, to be able to access those services.

But the Secretary of Health and Human Services making it very clear today, quote, "There is no magic bullet to addressing this ruling by the Supreme Court, which overturned 50 years of legal precedent, guaranteeing abortion rights in this country." And so, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, one of several cabinet secretaries in the Biden administration, now working to try and find ways so that women can still access those abortion services, even if it is illegal in the their state, the Department of Justice --

BOLDUAN: Seem to have lost the live shot from Jeremy Diamond. Some technical difficulties there.

Jeremy, thank you very much.

We're continuing to monitor that press conference with the Health Secretary as it's ongoing.

In the meantime, joining me for more on the decision and the fallout from the Supreme Court, Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general of George W. Bush, now the dean of the Belmont University College of Law.

Good to see you. Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: We're listening in to what Javier Becerra is saying the government is doing now. I do want to ask you in response to the Supreme Court's decision.

In general, what was your reaction to the majority opinion in that 6-3 decision?

GONZALES: You know, I think like most Americans, I believe there should be a constitutional right of privacy. Certain decisions could be subject to protection. I think the issue, that the majority of the court had -- and I think for many Americans, myself included -- that right should be based upon the Constitution.

And I think if you read justice Alito's opinion, I think it's pretty evident that he felt this is not a right -- a constitutional right. This should be borne out of vote on the Supreme Court. It should be reflected in the will of the people by a constitutional amendment, either at the federal level or the state level. You know.

So I think most Americans believe in the right of privacy.

The question is how is that right to be borne?

And I think where the court had issues, Alito and the other conservatives on the court, was the fact that the right of privacy, those words don't appear in the Constitution. [11:20:00]

GONZALES: So you know, I think, obviously, a lot of anger toward the court. I think that anger should be directed to energy in terms of getting constitutional language passed at the state level and the federal level.

It's much easier at the state level than the federal level, requires a two-thirds vote, both houses of Congress or state legislatures in terms of proposing an amendment.

Then of course, to get it ratified, you need a three quarters vote by the states. So it's a very difficult process. But I think it's the right process to deal with this controversial explosive kind of issue.

BOLDUAN: Do you think the court went too far in striking down Roe as the chief justice clearly thought?

GONZALES: I happen to -- I'm like the chief justice in terms of changes. In terms of precedent, as Chief Justice Roberts said, it's a jolt to society. When you've got a precedent and society relies on it for a long period of time, there's certain expectations that arise. So you know, it's a jolt to our system.

And that's why precedent, respect for precedent, is so very important because it's at the Supreme Court level. Now there are reasons why precedent should be overruled from time to time because, sometimes, the court gets it wrong.

And so, sometimes, you know, for example, if you have a decision by the court that is simply unworkable, unaccepted by society, then there are reasons to ignore precedent.

But I think, on average, I think, assigned it, the court overrules precedent once a year. So they consider precedent very, very important. And I think that's the jarring part of what happened here last Friday.

BOLDUAN: And we're definitely seeing that in the aftermath. Now you talk about precedent, when you talk about precedent, we have to talk about justice Thomas' concurring opinion.

He stated that the court has a duty now to re-examine other big past precedents in relation to contraception and gay rights. Democrats say that is only a matter of time. They say what Thomas has kind of called the court to do is going to happen. Let me play for you what the vice president told Dana Bash.


KAMALA HARRIS (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I definitely believe this is not over. I do. I think he just said the quiet part out loud. And I think that is why we all must really understand the significance of what just happened. This is profound.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: But there are have been a lot of Republicans saying, attorney general, that the court is not going to go there.

Do you think they will?

GONZALES: I think they very well may go there. Now justice Alito went out of his way to make it clear, this is different, because it involves an unborn human being, a fetus. And that makes it different from, say, contraceptives or getting married.

If in fact these other decisions are based upon this right of privacy, that's why I think it's important to look at constitutional amendments, both at the state and federal level.

BOLDUAN: That's going to come -- you talk about a jolt, saying it could happen, that will come as a jolt to Democrats saying they're afraid that exactly what's going to happen.

GONZALES: Well, I can't say for the court. They may have different views about these other areas. But it's something that I'd be concerned about. Again, just focusing solely on the issues of abortion, if you want to deal with that, probably the best way to protect women's right to choose, would be with respect to a constitutional amendment or at minimum a federal statute.

BOLDUAN: The immediate aftermath of this is beginning to feel like legal chaos. What laws are being triggered in what places, what laws are being blocked by countersuit, if you will; what is legal and who can be held responsible in the places where the trigger laws are put in place now.

For example, Axios has been reporting, attorney general, if law enforcement demands data about people suspected of getting abortions in states where it's illegal, they're reporting that tech companies will likely hand it over. Period tracking apps are a big area of focus.

Do you see this as is a real possibility?

Do you think companies are going to hand this data over to law enforcement?

GONZALES: I think the companies as a general matter are pretty sensitive to maintaining privacy, the privacy information of their clients, their users. So whether or not they'll do that remains to be seen.


GONZALES: I just don't know. But again, this kind of chaos will arise when, in fact, there is precedent that overrides long-standing behavior in our society. And I think it is one of the considerations that the court takes into account when deciding whether or not they want to overrule precedent.

How long has society relied upon this? And the fact that this has been around for 50 years, this protection for 50 years, I think has resulted in this kind of chaos and uncertainty. And it's going to take a while. People are angry right now.

But as I said earlier, I think one way to address this, perhaps the most effective way to address this, is to redirect your energy and try to get the protection that is necessary and important to get that protection enshrined in the state constitution, where it's much easier to do that and/or the federal Constitution.

BOLDUAN: Real quick before you go, I know you've been quite watching it closely. We have the surprise insurrection hearing coming up in just two hours from now. And this witness is Mark Meadows' former assistant, Cassidy Hutchinson. She was in the West Wing on the day when the attack unfolded.

She's considered kind of a star witness for this committee now.

What do you think she could provide?

GONZALES: I have no idea. Obviously, I'm assuming that most, if not all, of everything that she can provide today has already been provided through testimony. But there is a difference, quite frankly, watching someone live, someone live answering questions.

Just get -- there's just -- I think there's more information in terms of providing more information to an audience. And so, you know, but in terms of anything new, we'll have to wait and see.

There may be -- you know, her memory may have been jolted by something else that was said during the hearings. Or she may now have new information. I don't know what that might be.

But this may simply be, -- again I don't want to say a rehash -- but again, her talking about things that she's already communicated to the committee. But perhaps the committee has discovered or decided there are different ways to ask a question.

That might jar a memory or might get different information. So you know, I have no idea what might arise as a result of this hearing today.

BOLDUAN: Well, the good news is, as you and I both know, we won't be guessing much longer. The hearing will begin in two hours and we can see it together. Thank you again, attorney general.

The White House announcing President Biden will be meeting with Turkey's president.

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Details in a live report, next.