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At This Hour

Biden Tests Negative for COVID-19; Attorney General Merrick Garland Vows "Justice without Fear or Favor"; Emails Show Coup Plotters' Fake Elector Scheme. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for being here. Two big stories are unfolding AT THIS HOUR.

The White House announcing that President Biden has just tested negative for COVID-19, which means the president is done with his isolation period. We're standing by this hour to hear from the president himself, set to deliver remarks from the Rose Garden. We'll bring that to you live as soon as he begins.

The other big story at this hour, multiple developments in the Justice Department's criminal probe of the January 6th insurrection. Federal prosecutors are investigating former president Trump's actions as part of this probe on efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

CNN has confirmed former aides to vice president Pence, Marc Short, Greg Jacob, they were both asked during their grand jury testimony about the fake elector scheme and the roles of Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman.

This morning, in addition, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are reporting Justice Department investigators back in April received phone records from key officials and aides in the Trump administration, including chief of staff Mark Meadows.

All of this as the attorney general himself, Merrick Garland, is speaking out in a new interview, responding to criticism that the Justice Department isn't moving fast enough. Let's begin with CNN's Evan Perez. He's been standing by.

What more are you learning about the Justice Department's investigation here, how broad and far they're looking?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, in this interview with NBC yesterday, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, made clear that this is a very broad investigation.

This is -- what he described it as, it's an investigation into everyone who was -- did anything to impede the peaceful transfer of power. And, of course, that includes the people who were behind the effort to stop the certification of the election results, to have Mike Pence not certify the election results.

And, of course, this whole scheme, to set up these fake electors from states that Joe Biden won and to have them declare that Donald Trump was the actual victor.

And so we know that, you know, Marc Short, the vice president's chief of staff at the time, the former vice president's chief of staff, has now testified before this grand jury in Washington.

This is the grand jury that is looking specifically at some of these actions, which have serious implications, obviously, for the former president.

At this point, we can't say that the president is directly under investigation but this is as close as you can get at the Justice Department, without being able to say that, because everyone around him essentially, who was involved in this scheme, is now being looked at. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

So let's focus in on the attorney general. Attorney general Garland is vowing to prosecute anyone that they find criminally responsible if they interfered with the peaceful transfer of power.

In this new interview with NBC, Garland makes clear he's not ruling out the possibility that that could include Donald Trump. Kara Scannell has more now on this interview.

What else does Garland say?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, in this interview with NBC News, Garland gave revealing statements. He told Lester Holt that this is one of the most important investigations that the Department of Justice has ever entered into and one of the most wide ranging.

He also made clear when questioned numerous times that no one in this investigation is off limits. Take a listen.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We pursue justice without fear or favor. We intend to hold everyone, anyone who was criminally responsible for the events surrounding January 6th for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another accountable.

That's what we do. We don't any pay attention to other issues with respect to that.


SCANNELL: And you heard him there talking about just how wide ranging this investigation is. Anyone who was involved in interrupting or attempting to interrupt the lawful transfer of power.

As Evan noted, these former Pence aides were brought before the grand jury. That's very significant. That takes this right into the White House.

We also know that other White House officials have been contacted by the Department of Justice for their cooperation in this investigation.

Now one other thing that Garland was asking was, well, what happens if Donald Trump enters the 2024 race, would that change the calculus?


SCANNELL: He again reiterated that no one is above the law and that anyone who is involved in attempting to disrupt the transfer of power could be held accountable. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Kara, thank you.

Joining me for more on this is former attorney general under George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales, he's now the Dean of the Belmont University College of Law.

Good to see you again, attorney general. I want to ask you about Garland's response that Kara was talking about in two parts really.

First, when the AG says we will hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the legitimate, lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next, is he essentially saying, in an attorney general's way, of saying no comment?

Or do you hear him saying something more?

ALBERTO GONZALES, GEORGE W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I think what the attorney general is saying -- as he should be saying is, you know, we're engaged in a very wide-ranging investigation.

And without collecting all the information, without weighing the evidence, he's not in a position to rule anyone out.

And that's what he's saying. And you know, I take him at his word. I think that's what's going on here.

BOLDUAN: Then there's Lester Holt's question about 2024. It is a good question. Let me play for you a little bit of that.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS HOST: So if Donald Trump were to become a candidate for president again, that would not change your schedule or how you move forward or don't move forward?

GARLAND: I'll say again that we will hold accountable anyone who was criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the transfer -- legitimate, lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next.


BOLDUAN: Reiterating his statement, attorney general.

But does the -- but in practicality, does the attorney general, the Justice Department take into account the political calendar, if he possibly could be indicting a former president or, thus, a current candidate for the White House?

I mean, people quickly, of course, would make -- would make looking to talking about making parallels to the moves by James Comey in the final days of the 2016 election.

GONZALES: Yes. We have the -- the department has guidelines with respect to announcements of indictments, investigations in proximity to elections. Those guidance are intended to ensure that the reputation of the department is not tarnished by a charging decision by U.S. attorneys, say, in a particular state.

I do not view these guidelines as something that's going to prohibit the attorney general, the Department of Justice from moving forward with an indictment, when the investigation is complete and a decision has been made in weighing all the evidence, that a successful prosecution can be made by the Department of Justice, irrespective of the calendar.

The Department of Justice, for example, doesn't care about the midterm elections. Even if Republicans end up with control of the House and disbands the January 6th commission, the department is going to continue to do its job.

It's going to continue its investigation, however long it takes, and it's going to make decisions based upon the evidence in terms of what they believe they can prove in a court of law, understanding that, in our system of government, the burden is on the prosecution.

They will have to -- they will have to provide evidence to 12 open- minded jurors about criminal liability of everyone involved with what happened on January 6th.

BOLDUAN: You said "however long it takes," which is exactly what I wanted to ask you next. The attorney general was also pushing back on the criticism that the justice investigation, it hasn't moved fast enough or aggressively enough.

Do you think that is a fair criticism?

GONZALES: I do not think it is fair. First of all, we don't know exactly what work the department has done. The department, lawyers, prosecutors, investigators are trying to do their work confidentially.

What we don't want to do, what the department doesn't want to do is tarnish the reputation, the image of people that ultimately prove to be innocent. The department may decide there's not enough evidence here. We're not going to make a charging decision.

So investigations are done confident confidently. Grand jury proceedings are in secret, again, to protect the reputation of individuals. We don't know the scope of the investigation in terms of the progress.

I suspect it's going to continue for several more months. And the investigation is going to take as long as it takes. And that's the way that I would view it as the attorney general.

BOLDUAN: As the attorney general, with everything that we've discussed and everything that you have to take into account, of course, do you think that Garland should name a special counsel to investigate Trump?

GONZALES: No. I see no reason to name a special counsel to investigate Donald Trump. Truth of the matter is, I'm not aware of any kind of financial, political relationship that would disqualify the attorney general.

This is -- listen, if, in fact, a decision is made to charge the president of the United States with a crime committed while in office, it would be a historic decision. And I think that the attorney general's made the decision. This is one that I was confirmed by the Senate.


GONZALES: The trust was placed in me by the American people to make this decision. And I think he'll make this decision himself.

BOLDUAN: Can you help me take a look at the broader picture of what's being reported out today?

Evan Perez getting to it in "The Washington Post." To the extent at which prosecutors are interested in Trump's actions now, we're learning more about, asking hours of detailed questions of former top aides, focused directly on Trump's involvement in the fake elector effort.

And that they received phone records from key Trump aides, including Mark Meadows back in April.

What does this tell you, attorney general?

GONZALES: Well, I think one of the things that will -- it will inform the department about is knowledge and intent, based upon that knowledge.

For example, if president Trump is asking questions about whether or not this is something that could be successful and is told no, it cannot be successful and yet he continues to push it, that is evidence of intent here to engage in criminal wrongdoing.

Again, this is supposition. So the attorney general and the Department of Justice is engaged in this investigation to try to understand what was said and what was done in connection with the January 6th riots on Capitol Hill.

BOLDUAN: Garland was asked about not coordination but the impact of the congressional investigation into January 6th, that any criminal referrals -- he had said any criminal referrals coming from the House committee wouldn't necessarily influence the course of their separate Department of Justice criminal probe.

Do you agree with that?

GONZALES: Absolutely. The Department of Justice, in the end, is going to have far more information, far more evidence than the congressional committee, simply because the Department of Justice has greater tools to gather information and to compel -- to compel testimony.

So the attorney general at the Department of Justice can't blindly be committed to what the recommendation of a congressional committee -- so I'll give an example. Suppose a congressional committee concludes that a referral would be appropriate but decides not to make a referral because they are afraid that it may look -- it may make their work look too political.

Well, the attorney general can't be bound by the decisions by the congressional committee. Now that information provided to the department may be helpful. But in the end, the department's going to do what it's going to do.

BOLDUAN: Attorney general, it's always great to have you. Thank you so much.

GONZALES: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, Republican senator Josh Hawley speaking to CNN just now about his actions on January 6th. That image, raised fist, saying he does not regret anything that day including that picture.





BOLDUAN: Senator Josh Hawley is defending his actions from the day of the insurrection. Hawley speaking to CNN moments ago. Let's get to Manu Raju.

What did he tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was defiant. He recalled what happened on the day. He was the first senator to say that he would object to the electoral results of Pennsylvania. And then ultimately Ted Cruz objected to Arizona. That led to a debate

that happened on the Senate floor and on the House floor. People criticized him for giving false hope to the people who came here on January 6th, that somehow the election could be overturned.

And the January 6th committee revealed in their hearing that a Capitol Hill police officer had testified that he -- when he gave a fist pump to the crowd before the violence began, that that riled up the crowd. That was from the words from a police officer to the committee.

Also they showed him running, a video of him running from the rioters, when they breached the Capitol, as the senators were getting into a secure location. So we caught up with him today about all of that. And he made clear that he was not -- he contended that this was trolling and he was defiant in his response.


RAJU: The January 6th committee said that they talked to a Capitol Hill police officer who said, when you made the fist pump, you riled up the crowd.

Do you regret that fist pump?

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): No, I don't regret anything I did on that day. And you know, it's a privilege to be attacked by the January 6th committee. And I want to say thank you for all the help with my fundraising. It's been tremendous.

RAJU: What about the video, the fact that they released the video of you running?

HAWLEY: This is just an attempt to troll. And listen, I don't regret anything I did on that day. And the reason I'm being attacked by the January 6th committee is because I'm in their way. The stand that I took is one that I don't regret and one I won't back down from.


RAJU: So when he's talking about the stand, the fundraising, recall what happened in the immediate aftermath of the picture that showed him with that fist pump. They put that on a -- on a coffee mug. He later fund-raised off of this.

And this is what he's talking about. Apparently it helped his fund- raising. You're seeing one senator who objected, one of the few who did try to overturn the electoral results on the Republican side, making clear he has no regrets for his stand. Guys?

BOLDUAN: Good to see you. Thank you so much for bringing that to us.

So also this, the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the January 6th insurrection is moving closer to former president Trump.

There's this -- "The New York Times" has fresh reporting on previously unknown emails among Trump advisers, admitting that their fake elector scheme was dubious at best. The report includes an email from a Phoenix-based lawyer, who helped organize the pro-Trump electors in Arizona, writing to an adviser with the Trump campaign.


BOLDUAN: It reads this, in part in the email, "We would just be sending in fake electoral votes to Pence so that someone in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes and start arguing that the fake votes should be counted."

That attorney later also writing, quote, "Alternative votes is probably a better term than fake votes."

Joining me CNN political analyst David Gregory. And back with us, CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Let's get to this. But David, I want to get your reaction to Josh Hawley and his brief conversation that he had with -- with Manu on the Hill, saying -- I think no surprise that he says he doesn't regret any of his actions. But just his tone, his approach and his admitting that it's all helping his fund-raising now.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's embarrassing, frankly, that we have members of the Senate like Josh Hawley, who, by the way, is a highly intelligent, highly educated person and who has weaponized his education and his intelligence in furthering demonstrably false claims about a fake election, making himself an ally of a scheme to perpetuate a plan to steal an election.

And is so impressed with himself that that's the path he's following politically in Missouri and is raising money off of it.

So you know, it's just the state of Republican politics, at least in Missouri, that gives him the backing from at least some quarter of the electorate for that. There's no factual basis for it. There's no defense of it. So people like it, despite his willful ignorance of what the facts are.


And Evan, to this new reporting that adds more to all of this, these advisers, these attorneys around the president and the campaign admitting that they knew the electors were fake, didn't have legal standing.

Now that this is out there, what do you think it does?

PEREZ: Well, one of the things it does -- and guaranteed that the Justice Department already has all of these conversations -- we know they subpoenaed every single one of these dozens of electors in the seven battleground states, Kate.

We know that they have all of this. And what it gets to is their state of mind, right, that their intent, if you are doing this when you know that it is legally questionable, that really does raise your legal exposure. And so for all of these people -- and I think this is what the

attorney general was speaking to yesterday when he made sure that the lens is as wide as possible in this investigation, what he's telling them is, hey, if you guys are concerned about your legal exposure, perhaps you want to come in.

And, you know, some of these people will end up cooperating and figure out how to help this Justice Department investigation to go higher. In the end, that is the goal.

The people who are behind all of this, not only John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, who are the ones directly in touch with these fake electors, but the man behind it all, which is Donald Trump.

So that's -- you can see what the goal of the investigation is. We don't know whether they'll get there. Certainly I think what it tells you is there's a body of people, a large number, who are possible targets of this investigation that need to start cooperating.

BOLDUAN: David, there's another piece of troubling evidence that actually came out from the January 6th committee. It's former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller. And he is telling the House committee that Trump never gave him an order to have 10,000 troops at the ready to deploy. Let me play a little bit of what the committee released.


QUESTION: To be crystal clear, there was no direct order from president Trump to put 10,000 troops to be on the ready for January 6th, correct?

CHRISTOPHER MILLER, FORMER ACTING U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: No. Yes, that's correct. There was no direct -- there was no order from the president.


BOLDUAN: Trump put out a statement, of course, saying that he essentially had done that, suggested that.

This gets to something that I think the committee has so far left unanswered somewhat and I think is a big problem, which is why the police were left like sitting ducks, is essentially how some have described it, when so many people knew how real the threat was ahead of time.

What do you think?

GREGORY: Well, I think there's just a -- a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the president, who was being told from multiple people how this was shaping up and how dangerous it could be, would be and became. And he didn't act.

I mean, we heard this from the Chairman of the joint Chiefs, we're hearing it from the acting Defense Secretary as well, that the president didn't act. I mean, look at the sequence of events, of having to be coaxed to finally belatedly say something about standing down. And then still calling the rioters "beautiful people."


GREGORY: So I mean, I think the startling reality of what we're learning about January 6th is what we felt we knew from the start, that the president knew what he was doing, was happy to see it come together that way and then was not going to get in the way of stopping it.

And I think -- I just want to add something to what Evan said, who's covering the ins and outs of the investigation so carefully, is this question of intent is really important as a legal matter and in the investigation.

We can jump to this question of whether the attorney general might bring a case against the president. We don't know. We don't know what the facts are. We don't know where the investigation will go.

But the question of what his intent was, what they can prove and whether he actually entered into a conspiracy, which may be separate from reaction to the riot itself, to a fake electors scheme, you know, kind of different angles in the same investigation.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, David. Thank you so much,

Evan, thank you.

GREGORY: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Biden is now COVID negative and he is also heading to the microphone. He's set to speak in moments from the Rose Garden. We'll bring it to you live next.