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Soon: AG Garland Testifies Before GOP Critics On Capitol Hill; Reports: Trump Told Aide To Play Dumb About Boxes; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Is Interviewed About The Deadline To Fund The Government. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Standing by for confrontation on Capitol Hill. Very shortly, Attorney General Merrick Garland faces some of his fiercest Republican critics, many of whom want him impeached, criminal probes and a Donald Trump, Hunter Biden, impeachment, all on the table and on camera.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Congress, so it's always messy. But it's officially turning ugly as hardline Republicans just blocked the Republican effort to move forward, a House defense spending bill barreling toward a government shutdown and a House Republicans Civil War threatening to erupt.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: You don't know anything about the boxes, a new reporting that those words are from a close aide to Donald Trump, who told investigators that's what former President Donald Trump told her to say to investigators. We have the latest on the explosive new report. I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman and Kate Bolduan. CNN News Central starts right now.

BERMAN: In just a few minutes a moment on Capitol Hill that has been months in the making. Attorney General Merrick Garland will testify before some of his toughest critics in Congress. His first testimony since the indictments against former President Trump, his first testimony since the indictment against Hunter Biden not to mention the plea deal implosion.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have signaled this could be tense and confrontational. Some have even called for Garland's impeachment. CNN obtained excerpts of Garland's prepared testimony and the Attorney General's message is clear quote, I am not the President's lawyer, and I am not Congress's prosecutor. We are going to bring you this hearing live. CNN's Melanie Zanona and Evan Perez are standing by. Melanie, I want to begin with you. What are the plans from the Judiciary Committee today?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, this is going to be a very crucial moment for the DOJ and Merrick Garland. This is the first time that Garland is appearing before the Committee since the DOJ Special Counsel brought two indictments against former President Donald Trump and since the plea deal involving Hunter Biden fell apart. And it also comes as Republicans have made Hunter Biden a central part of their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

So he is going to be facing a lot of his Republican critics on this judiciary panel where impeachment articles would originate. Some of them have also called to impeach Merrick Garland himself. They've also threatened to defund the agency, and they really want to grill Garland over the Hunter Biden criminal case. There has been testimony from IRS whistleblowers that claims the DOJ has mishandled and politicized that case, something that Garland and Special Counsel David Weiss have all denied.

But I do expect they're going to focus a lot materially on this meeting that occurred in October 2022, involving David Weiss, where these IRS whistleblowers claim that David Weiss said he did not have ultimate charging authority in that case, so expect a lot of questioning there. But they also want to know about the plea deal and why it fell apart. They also want to know about the Special Counsel appointment of David Weiss to that case.

And they're also going to ask about those criminal indictments of the former president and whether there was coordination with the District Attorney's Office in other areas, including in Georgia. So a lot of questions, a lot of fireworks and the stakes couldn't be higher. John?

BERMAN: Melanie, thank you.

Evan Perez, I want to bring you into this discussion. Melanie reports, there will be a lot of questions to Merrick Garland, about Hunter Biden, will there be a lot of answers?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's going to probably, John, as you know, Merrick Garland, he's probably not going to have a lot of specifics, which will probably lead to a lot of the bruising that you're going to see in that hearing today. But look, you can tell from that excerpt that you read just a little while ago, that this is -- the Attorney General wants to be certainly a little more fiery in response to some of these accusations, which he believes are completely unfair.

And you know, one of the things that you'll hear from him is defending some of the people at the Justice Department who've been getting attacks from Republicans. I'll read you just a part of the excerpt of his comments where he says singling out individual career public servants, who are just doing their jobs is dangerous, particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families.

We will not be intimidated. We will do our jobs free from outside interference and we will not back down from defending democracy. And one of the things that as Melanie just highlighted, that Republicans are going to hone in on is testimony from an IRS whistleblower who is essentially calling Garland of lying or certainly being misleading when he said that there was no political role in the Hunter Biden investigation. [09:05:30]

Here is a testimony from back in March, where Senator Chuck Grassley is asking Grassley, I'm sorry, asking Garland about this very question.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The U.S. Attorney in Delaware has been advised that he has full authority to make those kinds of referrals that you're talking about, or to bring cases in other jurisdictions if he feels it's necessary. And I will assure that if he does, he will be able to do that.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Does Delaware, U.S. Attorney lack independent charging authority over certain criminal allegations against the President's son outside of the district of Delaware?

GARLAND: He would have to bring if it's in another district, he would have to bring the case in another district. But as I said, I have promised to ensure that he's able to carry out his investigation and that he be able to run it. And if he needs to bring it in another jurisdiction, he will have full authority to do that.


PEREZ: And, John, what you're going to hear from Merrick Garland today certainly is that he stands by that testimony. And so Republicans, you're going to hear a lot more accusations about the political interference that they believe occurred as part of the investigation, of course, also the investigation of the former president. John?

BERMAN: All right, Evan Perez, Melanie Zanona, part of the all-star team that will help guide us through these hearings, which begin very shortly. Thank you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Exactly right. There's also this this morning, a new key witness in Donald Trump's classified documents case and a new name to get familiar with Molly Michael. She was Trump's personal assistant at the White House and also continued to do so after he left. She followed him to Mar-a-Lago. Well, now, according to "ABC News" and "The New York Times," she spoke to federal investigators telling them that Trump directed her on what to say to federal officials investigating his handling of classified documents.

When Trump learned, federal officials wanted to speak with her, he told her quote, you don't know anything about the boxes, essentially suggesting she lies what you can hear there. Michael also reportedly told investigators that on more than one occasion, this. And here's the reporting, Trump would write notes to himself on documents that he gave to -- gave her listing tasks he wanted done only for her to later realize that those to do lists were written on documents that had classified markings, according to "The New York Times."

In response to "The Times" and "ABC's" reporting, Trump's spokesperson has said this, these illegal leaks are coming from sources which totally lack proper context and relevant information. But here's the take from Sarah Matthews, who was Deputy Press Secretary for Donald Trump and also worked alongside Molly Michael.


SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: So this is someone he knew very well, who would have had a lot of FaceTime with the President. And they can't simply dismiss her, you know, as someone that he would not be aware of, or who wouldn't be in the know, because she was quite literally sitting right outside the most important office in the world, someone who the President knew by name. And I think that makes her a very credible witness.


BOLDUAN: And joining us now for more on this is Caroline Polisi, federal and white collar criminal defense attorney and also a lecturer in law at Columbia. It's great to see you, Caroline. So jumping off of what you hear from Sarah Matthews and her perspective, how -- and what we're learning in this new reporting, how useful and credible could you see Molly Michael being here?

CAROLINE POLISI, LECTURER, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Huge, Kate. So Molly Michael really is sort of the Cassidy Hutchinson of the Mar-a-Lago investigation. Remember, Hutchinson was so important to the January 6th inquiry, because really, Michael is unassailable, unimpeachable. She has no ax to grind. In this case, she's not facing potential criminal charges. As we heard there, she was extremely close to the president, his sort of right hand woman.

And, you know, she's credible. So it really is Donald Trump's worst nightmare. That quote from the reporting, you know, you know nothing about the boxes. That's textbook obstruction, textbook witness intimidation. Jack Smith's case in the Mar-a-Lago documents matter has always been about obstruction. It's different from say, you know, the Mike Pence inquiry, the Biden inquiry about documents because of the obstruction Jack Smith made it abundantly clear this case really wouldn't probably have been charged were it not for all of this obstructive conduct on the part of Trump.


BOLDUAN: And you hear at least the response so far, you know, this is in public not necessarily in the court of law from a Trump spokesperson. How do you suspect the Trump legal team would respond in court to what Molly Michael told investigators?

POLISI: Right. Well, their line so far, their rebuttal is that these statements are being taken out of context. There really is no rebuttal to the, you know nothing about these boxes. I also would note that she's an important witness, because she bolster some of this other testimony we've been hearing about from say, Evan Corcoran, for example, Walt Nauta moving the boxes. So she sort of rounds out this picture in an evidentiary way for any potential jurors. BOLDUAN: For Walt Nauta, like, could Michael's testimony be significant with regard to Walt Nauta as well, reminding everyone, he's charged with several obstruction and concealment related charges connected with this exact conversation.

POLISI: Yes. I mean, he's on that video footage taken from Mar-a-Lago actually moving the boxes. Michael, of course, also has text messages, photos, really of those boxes, it's really hard to refute a video evidence and, you know, photographic evidence of that nature. She likely had a lot of conversations with Nauta, again, bolstering that narrative.

BOLDUAN: Her account about Donald Trump writing notes on these classified materials, it doesn't, I guess the way I would describe it is, it doesn't seem to directly relate to any of the specific charges that Trump is facing in the documents case. So what does that mean to the case? Does that mean that she, potentially if I'm parsing it this way that she could mean less or Donald Trump's legal team could say that she should mean less to a Jack Smith prosecution?

POLISI: No, I don't think so. I do think it's less important than the obstruction issue. I think it paints a picture of just how sort of less a fair Trump was with these documents. I mean, he's essentially writing like a grocery list on the back of classified information. Again, it sort of gives that air of just how fast and loose Trump was playing, you know, with national security secrets.

BOLDUAN: Right. But it doesn't speak to what we keep talking about, which is, it's different. And I like the way you say it, different from the Biden inquiry that was put to bed and the Pence one as well, is it's all -- it's not just the handling of, it's everything that was allegedly done to keep federal officials from getting those documents back.

POLISI: Absolutely. He asked his lawyers, you know, to essentially say there was nothing in there. Again, the Corcoran testimony, along with Michael's hugely significant.

BOLDUAN: Interesting. Well, it's good to see you, Caroline, thank you so much. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. We've got 11 days left until a government shutdown if Congress can't pass a spending bill.

At this point, House Republicans can't even agree with each other on a procedural vote. What is going to happen next? We're live on Capitol Hill.

This morning, President Biden will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines at the U.N. notably not at the White House, the tension surrounding the first meeting, since Prime Minister Netanyahu's return to office.


And two defendants now facing federal charges after four children overdosed and one child died. Prosecutors say the suspects were running a fentanyl distribution business out of a daycare in the Bronx. That's all ahead.


BERMAN: This morning, no signs of control, no signs of a plan. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy seems to be running out of ideas for how to avoid a government shutdown in just days and maybe ideas for how to hold on to his speakership. McCarthy has not been able to rally his caucus to agree on a short term spending bill. And today, some Republicans are reaching across the aisle turning to Democrats for help. CNN's Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill this morning. Nothing McCarthy has tried seems to have worked and time is running out.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It was a dramatic day on Capitol Hill yesterday, John. And expect more of the same this morning. Already, Republican whip Tom Emmer is gathered with members of his conference in his office trying to work out if there's a path forward for Republicans to unite around a short term spending bill in order to try and send something to the Senate and get some leverage in these negotiations.

But so far, those talks are ongoing. Meanwhile, you have some Democrats -- you have some Republicans, excuse me, who are starting to believe that there is nothing that those conservatives are going to be able to get behind. Here's one of them, David Valadao.


REP. DAVID VALADAO (R-CA): The reality is I think there's some members that probably will never ever get to a yes. And I think we went into that, knowing that, but we have to go through the motions. We have to try to pass the bills.


FOX: And today, members of the problem solvers caucus, which includes both Republicans and Democrats are going to have a private meeting on Capitol Hill and we expect the Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries is going to stop by that meeting. They are also trying to find a way forward, trying to see if there's anything that they could coalesce between that could go further in trying to get a government shutdown averted.

Those talks are still ongoing, and it's going to be key to see whether or not Jeffries could bless any potential deal that they come up with. But again, getting it to the House floor is another question entirely. That could be up to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Although there is a rarely used procedural tool they could deploy if they get into a desperate situation. John?

BERMAN: Look, it is possible McCarthy could get a spending bill with Democrats help. But it's also true that he may not be able to maintain his speakership if he gets a spending bill with Democratic help. Lauren Fox complicated watching it tick by, thank you very much. Sara? SIDNER: All right, now, I want to bring in Deputy Whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Chair for the Heart Land Caucus Representative Debbie Dingell. Thank you so much for being with here with us. I want to start with this. The Republicans clearly battling each other. And it's become kind of a nasty battle. Let me let you listen to what one Republican said about the negotiations over this bill yesterday.



REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): This is not conservative republicanism. This is stupidity. These people can't define a win. They don't know how to take yes for an answer. It's a clown show.


SIDNER: So the Republicans failed to pass even a procedural vote for the spending bill yesterday, there's 11 days left to the deadline. At this point, do you see any path to passing this bill? Or is the shutdown imminent?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI), MEMBER, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: So hope needs to spring eternal, but it does look like total chaos on the other side. And when the Republican leader in the Senate comes and does a press conference and tells the House Republican members, what they think of how they are acting and how something needs to happen, you know, they're in trouble.\

It would be irresponsible to shut this government down. If it does shut down, it's going to be squarely on the shoulders of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and the Republican members that are keeping this from happening. It's -- I hope it doesn't happen for so many different reasons and the chaos that it will cause. And I would say that it looks like we could be spiraling in that direction. But I'll never give up hope.

SIDNER: All right, Representative Dingell, you know, to the public, it does seem outrageous, no matter whose fault it is that Congress cannot get it together to pass a very short bill that's only to fund the government for a month, the White House has said members of the military, federal law enforcement, air traffic controllers, TSA officers, all of these people will be forced to work without pay. And a number of other agencies like FEMA and the FDA will all have their budgets cut, the Republicans clearly at odds. But is there a scenario where Democrats are able to join McCarthy to get this passed? Are there compromises that you would be willing to make?

DINGELL: I think there absolutely compromises. But it needs to be not something that's going to decimate the government and by the way, have some the same implications that you just talked about. I've said from the beginning, it's your responsibility to shut the government down. And I would work with anybody if it was a responsible proposal.

I do think a lot of things around the table, it's still being talked about right now. And we'll have to see what ultimately is agreed to. And you even talked about a rarely used procedural method called -- it's called the discharged petition. So I think everything's going to be on the table. I think we all look terrible, though. I really want to make clear, it's a very small group members called the Freedom Caucus in the House that are causing this dysfunction. And I hope that when elections come a year from now, people will remember this and hold their elected representatives accountable for what they're watching happened here.

SIDNER: All right, let me ask you now about Mr. Garland. He's about to be on Capitol Hill. He is going to face a serious grilling, mostly, of course, from Republicans. He released some of his opening statements saying the DOJ works for the American people. What do you want to hear from Mr. Garland?

DINGELL: Look, I have a great respect for our attorney general who the Republicans, but not all Republicans. You know, we got to be very careful. We all take paint brushes. But people have decided that let's play political games and talk about impeachment and try these impeachment games when there's very clearly been no cause and Republicans have also said that.

So yes, this is political theatrics right now. And that's what we're seeing in too many places. Quite frankly, I want to govern. I think this country is got a lot of issues. We're coming out of a COVID pandemic. Our economy has been doing better. I don't want to see it go backwards, you know, forwards. And this is what Republicans are doing, given the Attorney General and several other Cabinet Secretaries a hard time threatening to impeach him, telling him they're not following the rule of the law. It's not true. It's political gamesmanship, and I don't like it.

SIDNER: All right, you have said, what has been published an article that Donald Trump is not welcome in Michigan, but he is going to inject himself into the UAW strike. But Biden has decided not to intervene. Why shouldn't President Biden intervene in a strike that is going to have a major hit to the economy if it goes on for a very long time, nevermind the economies of the workers themselves and the businesses?

DINGELL: This is between, I've been very strong as you know that I do not believe that the President should intervene at the table. This is between the companies and the workers. I do think that understanding what the issues are helping the sides talk to each other. What policies do we need to ensure we are now not an either or point protect the environment or protect the worker, we need to do both. We need to make that we a smooth transition to help these companies stay competitive in this country and make sure the workers are being protected being paid a fair wage.


So I think there are roles to be played, but intervening at the table would not be one of them. And I don't believe it's where he belongs.

SIDNER: All right, Representative Debbie Dingell, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I know there was plenty of work that needs to be done there in Congress to try to get this spending bill passed. Appreciate your time. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Always good to hear from Congresswoman Dingell.

Coming up, gas prices related to exactly what you're talking about, Sara. Gas prices are hitting $6 a gallon in some states. The national average now reaching the highest levels so far this year, so what is going on with this and also what it could mean for the Federal Reserve ahead of today's important meeting?

And bail is revoked for a now former Philadelphia police officer charged with murder. Why his legal team is hoping they can reverse that. We'll be back.