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Debt Ceiling Deal; President Biden In Illinois; Pfizer Seeks Vaccine Authorization For Kids 5-11; Constitutional Crisis Averted? Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 07, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Thank you for joining me. Alisyn is off.

We are starting this hour with a clearer sense of how close this country came to a constitutional crisis in the last weeks of the Trump administration. Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee just released a sweeping report detailing how the former president and a top lawyer in the Justice Department tried to overturn the 2020 election.

The report says that Trump directly asked the DOJ nine times to undermine the election result.

Also today, four Trump allies are facing a deadline to answer subpoenas from the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. So far, no one has complied, as far as we know.

And CNN's Evan Perez has been combing through the Senate Judiciary report.

Evan, hello to you. What have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, we know that, by the time this -- the period that this report covers -- excuse me -- we know that by the time, by the end of December, the Justice Department had already looked into these claims of voter fraud, had found nothing. We know that the president's -- the former president's legal team had struck out with the states and with the courts.

And this report covers a period of a week-and-a-half or so, which was just extraordinary, where you have top Justice Department officials, including Jeffrey Rosen, who was the acting attorney general, essentially under a barrage of pressure from the president, from Mark Meadows to try to weigh in and have the Justice Department side on this -- on the side of the president with regard to this -- these claims of vote fraud.

A couple of things that stood out to us, nine times that the president himself reached out to Rosen, to his deputy, Richard Donoghue to try to try to pressure them to try to do something to help his cause. Trump also was essentially trying to figure out how to install Jeffrey Clark, a lower-level official, who he believed was going to try to do some of these things. And we know that this led to an extraordinary meeting at the end of

December, where a number of officials were threatening to resign, including Pat Cipollone, who was the president's -- the top lawyer inside the White House counsel, who told the president that this idea of putting Clark in to try to carry out his wishes was a murder- suicide pact, essentially telling the president, don't do this because everybody is going to resign and this is all going to collapse around you -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: It's just jaw-dropping, what we learned from this report.

Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Let's talk about these subpoenas now, and it's deadline day for the four Trump loyalists. Last month, the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection issued the subpoenas for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, longtime Trump aide Dan Scavino, former adviser Steve Bannon and former Defense Department official Kash Patel.

Now, they're supposed to comply by the end of the day and provide specific documents and records. It seems that they are not cooperating so far.

CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles joins us live from Capitol Hill.

So, the four are also supposed to appear before this committee for closed-door depositions next week. Where does all of this stand?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, all of it is very much in doubt, Victor.

As you point out, the committee is anticipating, even preparing for this group of four men not to comply with the subpoena requests, not only the document request that is due at midnight tonight, but also that in person deposition that is scheduled for next week.

So, the big question right now is, if they don't get that cooperation, what steps will they take to attempt to encourage it? And the committee has been very forthright that they have a number of tools at their disposal, including criminal contempt, and they won't hesitate to use it if they think it is necessary.

Listen to what Congressman Jason Crow, who's not a member of the committee, but is tuned into this conversation, had to say about it.


REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): If they continue to disregard the subpoenas, I'm going to highly encourage the authorities to pursue criminal contempt.

If you refuse a subpoena, there are consequences for you. So they're darn well should be consequences for the president and his top enablers and the cronies. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: Now, a criminal contempt referral would not be easy, Victor. It would take time. It would require a vote of the entire House of Representatives and then a referral to the Department of Justice to execute.

So that may not be the route they want to take immediately. The point being, though, is that the committee says that they are willing to do whatever it takes. We will have to see over the next 24 to 48 hours exactly what that means.

BLACKWELL: All right, Ryan, there's also a source that tells CNN that this committee interviewed Richard Donoghue, who served as the acting deputy attorney general during the Capitol attacks.

What do we know about that and who else might be interested in speaking with him?

NOBLES: Well, obviously, as you heard from Evan's report right before me, Richard Donoghue was a key player in everything that happened in the post-election period of the Trump Department of Justice.

And, in particular, he was listening to a call between the former president and the then-acting attorney general at the time, where Trump was putting pressure on the acting attorney general to take steps to overturn the 2020 election. He was also in that office on the day of January 6.


So, Donoghue voluntarily was a part of an interview process, we're told, last week. We don't exactly know what came out of it. But, obviously, there was a lot of interest in what he had to say. The committee's interviewed a lot of people behind closed doors. We don't know the full extent of all of it, but we do know that they are interested in talking to the Facebook whistle-blower, Frances Haugen.

That could have happened as soon as today, but we're told there's some working of the schedule that we don't know exactly when that is going to take place. But she, of course, could perhaps shed some light on how Facebook was used by some of the rioters on that day to either coordinate or even amplify some of the rhetoric that was centered around that Stop the Steal rally and the big lie having to do with the election as well.

So, the committee's work is busy. They continue to do a lot, even if they don't get those compliance with the subpoenas that they're hoping for -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, a lot to get.

Ryan Nobles for us there on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

We have got a lot to talk about.

So let's start with CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig and former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle.

Elie, first to you.

Republicans have released a rebuttal of sorts to the committee's report about the final days of the Trump administration, Senator Grassley from his office, and he wrote this: "Based on the available evidence and witness testimony, President Trump's actions were consistent with his responsibilities as president to faithfully execute the law and oversee the executive branch."

I struggle to see how you get that out of what we have read, but also talk to me about accountability and the immediate next steps.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't know what world Senator Grassley is living in or what facts he's looking at.

But accountability is really the key term here, Victor. And I think the key person we have to be looking at is the attorney general, Merrick Garland, because now the Senate has done its thing. They have issued a report. It's damning, for sure. But does it really deter Donald Trump, Jeffrey Clark, Mark Meadows, people around them? No.

They're going to brush it off and move on. The only person who's in real position here to enact accountability in a meaningful way is the attorney general, Merrick Garland.

BLACKWELL: So, Kim, talk to me about that. What are the options if they do not comply with these subpoenas? What can Congress do?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Well, Congress can issue -- use its own inherent power to have a sergeant at arms actually arrest these folks. It's rarely been used, but I think, recently, Jamie Raskin mentioned it.

They could file a civil action, and follow that through and have a judge order compliance and then get contempt of court if they don't go along with that, or, was mentioned, they could ask the Department of Justice to criminally hold them in contempt.

That was not an option the table during the Trump administration, of course, because Trump was -- basically had chosen his own people in the Justice Department. That's how the tables have turned a bit.

But I must say, the Democrats in part, have themselves to blame for not moving on some subpoenas that were ignored during the Trump administration, John Bolton in the first impeachment proceedings, for example, then many in the second impeachment proceedings.

So the contempt power has been vastly diluted. But the issue in this moment is, we just have to think, Victor, if Donald Trump gets in office again, there will not be any Mike Pences or Pat Cipollones or Jeffrey Rosens that are going to push back.

It will be a full-on lockdown. And the Department of Justice power, authority does not extend to ignoring election results. And that's where Chuck Grassley is flat-out wrong. BLACKWELL: Yes. We heard from Stephanie Grisham earlier this week

that, if President -- former President Trump is elected again, she expects that the January 6 crowd will be making up the staffing at the White House.

Elie, we have talked before about the degree of what you have described as timidity from the attorney general. And, historically, these processes of getting these people in takes a very long time. Is there any -- really any hope of Congress getting the answers they want, if out -- without the strong action from the A.G.?

HONIG: I think the short answer, Victor, is no.

The calendar is very much a factor here. Kim's right. These things take forever in courts. Don McGahn, that subpoena dispute took nearly two years. This committee does not have anything near that amount of time. We're nine months out now from January 6. This committee is really just getting started.

And I think there's a couple different actors here. The committee itself needs to be ready to take quick and decisive action. Judges, if these disputes come before them, civil or criminal, they can't take two years. They can't take six months. They need to move these cases to the top of the docket.

And, ultimately, Merrick Garland, will he issue criminal charges if there's a referral? Will he investigate election interference in a meaningful way? Those are the only actors that can speed this thing up.

BLACKWELL: Kim, we heard from Ryan Nobles there the January 6 commission wants to speak with the Facebook whistle-blower, Frances Haugen.

Tell us what you expect they can get from her.

WEHLE: Well, I think they're broadly looking at the extent to which private actors we saw on this report, also members of the Pennsylvania Republican state delegation, how much there was concerted effort around the January 6 insurrection.


But I want to put a pin in another option for Congress in this moment. So, the report mentions that the president, former president, might have actually violated criminal obstruction laws, as well as the Hatch Act. So there's accountability that way through the Department of Justice.

But there's nothing preventing this Congress, except, I should say, the filibuster, infrastructure, other priorities, from passing legislation to cabin or narrow the ability of future presidents to do this kind of damage to the Constitution. That's what happened post- Nixon, and this particular Congress basically has a year until the midterms to get democracy back in order for the American people.

BLACKWELL: But, Kim, when's the last time that anybody's faced consequences under the Hatch Act?

WEHLE: I don't know. That's probably a question for the history books, I would agree.

But we have -- we are in unchartered waters, Victor, on so many levels.


WEHLE: As a constitutional law professor, I don't need to make up hypotheticals anymore out of the air, because life is outliving the imagination under this past president and what we're living through right now when it comes to the degradation of democracy itself in America.

BLACKWELL: Yes, real-life examples of constitutional crises that this country is facing.

Elie, one more to you. We're getting through the thousands of documents that CNN's great folks have been looking through about some of the president's allies, after the election, the claims about Dominion Voting. And they really had no idea what they were talking about, because they didn't spend time even to review the facts.


First of all, let it be known they knew. They knew this was nonsense, and they got out there and they spouted it anyway. We are seeing some meaningful accountability now towards Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell. They have had -- Rudy's had his law license suspended. Sidney Powell has faced sanctions. There are lawsuits for defamation, right?

Defamation means to knowingly make a false statement and damage somebody. It's now clear that these weren't just mistakes or sort of negligence. They lied, and they did it on purpose.

BLACKWELL: All right, Elie Honig, Kim Wehle, thank you both.

HONIG: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: So, a potential pandemic game-changer.

Pfizer today officially asked the government to approve its COVID vaccine -- correction -- authorize its COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. A potential timeline on shots and arms for kids.

Plus, President Biden is arriving in Chicago. He's speaking next hour on the importance of vaccine requirements. We have much more on the president's trip next.



BLACKWELL: Pfizer has asked the FDA to authorize emergency use of its vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. This is a big step in the fight against the pandemic, as the nation

appears to be turning into a positive direction. The White House says it's ready to get those shots into kids' arms.


JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: If there is approval or authorization and a CDC recommendation, we are ready. We have the supply. We're working with states to set up convenient locations for parents and kids to get vaccinated, including pediatricians' offices and community sites.


BLACKWELL: All right, joining us now, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, first, good to see you in person here in New York.


BLACKWELL: Every conversation probably for the last seven months, I have been asking doctors across the country, when do you think we're going to get some advancement for younger kids? This is a big move.

GUPTA: It is a big move. And it means that Pfizer feels like they got the goods in terms of the data now.

We have been hearing about these trials for some time. They started in March in kids this young. So several months, this has sort of been going on. And they feel like they have shown that the vaccine is safe. The side effects seem very similar to what they see in people who are older, even adolescents who are older and adults, but also that it's effective, that they're making enough of these antibodies in response to the vaccine.

That's been the crucial question. What is interesting here, Victor, is that they're using a much smaller dose. They're using a third the dose. So 30 micrograms is a dose of both shots for adults, anyone older than this age group. This is going to be 10 micrograms. And they think that that's going to still give them plenty of antibodies, but also have fewer side effects.

BLACKWELL: Yes, which is interesting, because I think about who I was physically at 11 years old.


BLACKWELL: I have always been let's call it brawny.


BLACKWELL: At 11 years old, I had more in common with a 16-year-old than I did a 5-year-old.

GUPTA: Yes. It is interesting.

And these cutoffs do get somewhat arbitrary.


GUPTA: It's difficult to dose these types of vaccines by weight, which is what you do for a lot of medications. You say so -- such a dose per kilogram or something like that.

With a flu shot, for example, it's basically the same dose for everybody, child or adult. So it is a bit arbitrary. But I think it's good actually that they reduced the dose here, because the side effects of sore arm and just feeling miserable for a couple of days I think will be reduced as a result of this. They were still able to get the same level of protection.

So you're not sacrificing one for the other.

BLACKWELL: So, I know that there are a lot of parents who have been waiting for this. But there's still a significant amount of parents who are not immediately going to rush out and get their kids vaccinated and are going to, some, avoid it altogether.


BLACKWELL: There's a P.R. campaign that has to happen for some of these parents.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, that's interesting.

There's a lot of people who are very excited, but about -- only about a third of parents roughly say that they're going to rush out and get this. It's a little bit better than I think what we saw on July. When they look at that polling data now in September, significant percentage still say -- you can see it there -- who say definitely not, about a quarter of people.

Those numbers may change a little bit, Victor, if the FDA authorizes this. That's an affirmation.


But I think the case has to be made that, while kids are less likely to get sick, and that's absolutely true, they're less likely to get sick or severely sick, that it can still happen. If they do, they can still develop long-lasting symptoms, which is really -- it's concerning to have people who just have not terrible symptoms, but symptoms that linger for months.

But also, Victor, this larger issue of the collective. I think we're getting close to where we might be able to look at this thing in the rearview mirror. It won't be gone, but we will have it under control. And a really important way to get there is to get more people immunity.

So these kids end up playing a role, not only for themselves, but for the larger collective.


We have certainly seen some promising declines in hospitalization, deaths, new cases.


BLACKWELL: Hopefully, this trend continues.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta...

GUPTA: Good to see you in person.

BLACKWELL: ... good to see you.

All right, President Biden is set to speak next hour in Illinois to boost support for vaccine mandates. There's a new report from the White House that shows that vaccine requirements work, cutting the number of unvaccinated Americans by a third since the end of July.

CNN's chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is traveling with the president.

First, he's got some meetings. Who's he meeting with, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, President Biden landed, as you said just, a few moments ago, and he will be meeting with the Illinois governor, J.B. Pritzker, as well as he had a pretty extended conversation the tarmac at O'Hare International Airport with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

But he also will be meeting, though, when he's here for a brief visit to Illinois this afternoon with the United Airlines CEO, Scott Kirby. And that, of course, is to talk about the vaccination mandates. This is something that the White House got behind a couple months ago to urge businesses to require their employers -- employees to be vaccinated.

And United Airlines has been one of those big companies leading the way on this. Virtually all United Airlines employees now are vaccinated because of that mandate. So, the president is going to be talking with the United CEO about that, as well as other business leaders here.

And you mentioned that White House report. The analysis of the number of vaccinated Americans is actually quite interesting, Victor. Let's take a look at those numbers. There were 95 million unvaccinated Americans who were eligible in July. Now that number is down to 67.

It is because of mandates at places of business, starting with the federal government, going into the private sector. So the White House really believes that this has been one of the things that is helping to turn the corner of getting more Americans vaccinated.

We have seen lotteries and contests and giveaways throughout the year. But it has been these business mandates that really has sort of changed the course of this. But one also question hanging over all of this is, what if the White House had done this earlier? They were so opposed to mandates from the very beginning of the year, thinking they were politically unpopular.

But now, of course, it's been one of the things that's worked. So that will be part of the legacy of all of this here. But the president will be visiting a construction company here, which also is requiring its employees to be mandated to have the COVID-19 vaccine, so simply trying to shine a light on that.

And, of course, all of this, Victor, is, as the president's traveling here at the White House, keeping a close eye on those debt ceiling negotiations on Capitol Hill. Our Jeremy Diamond traveling on Air Force One asked the president if he's hopeful for a deal, and, Victor, he crossed his fingers like this, so seemed pretty hopeful.

But we will keep our eye on that, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Jeff Zeleny there in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

Jeff, thank you very much.

Let's talk about this debt deal. It is done for now. What it could mean for the Biden agenda and why we will likely be doing this whole thing again too son.

Plus, Brian Laundrie's father is helping police today in the search for his son. We have got details on that.



BLACKWELL: So there's a deal on the debt ceiling.

Senators Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell have agreed to kick the can down the road into December. Remember, Republicans said for months that they would not help to raise the debt ceiling, and both sides claimed victory this morning.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We have reached agreement to extend the debt ceiling through early December. And it's our hope that we can get this done as soon as today.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Republican and Democratic members and staff negotiated through the night in good faith. The Senate is moving toward the plan I laid out yesterday to spare the American people a manufactured crisis.


BLACKWELL: CNN's congressional correspondent, Jessica Dean, is with us now. So, Jessica, there's a deal. When's the vote?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know yet, Victor. We're waiting to see.

We have the deal, as you mentioned. You laid it out there. But what's happening right now behind the scenes is that Republicans, some Republicans, are objecting to Mitch McConnell's plan to move this forward. Now, we still expect this deal to go through.

It's -- right now, it's about, how are they going to get to that point? Republican leadership had hoped to avoid a procedural vote that would require 60 votes to move forward. But there are some members of the Senate -- some Senate Republicans who are objecting to that. That's slowing down the process.

So, if they have to do 60 votes, that means Mitch McConnell is going to have to find 10 Republicans to let this go forward, again, allow this procedure to move forward.

And that is proving tricky as well, Victor, because, remember, we have heard from across the Republican Party. I have heard again and again from various Republicans, Senate Republicans, a lot of moderates, even, who were saying: I'm not going to vote for a debt ceiling increase.