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The Search For Brian Laundrie; House Set to Vote on Bannon Criminal Contempt Charges. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 21, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: We wish you all the very best and hopefully a little bit of sleep in the coming days.



CABRERA: And that does it for us today. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you back here tomorrow at 1:00 Eastern.

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The news continues right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: And I'm Victor Blackwell.

This hour, the House of Representatives is expected to begin a historic debate on whether to recommend criminal charges against Trump ally Steve Bannon. The vote will happen later this afternoon. You will remember that Bannon has refused to comply with a congressional subpoena from the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.

Consider this. The last time Congress has referred a criminal charge was in 1983.

CAMEROTA: So the decision whether to charge Bannon will ultimately be up to the Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Garland was on Capitol Hill today promising lawmakers that he would make that decision based solely on the law.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill.

So, Ryan, explain what we will see this afternoon.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're going to see, Victor and Alisyn is a pretty standard legislative process here. This particular resolution offering up a criminal contempt referral of Steve Bannon has already made it through two different House committees and today it will come to the floor of the House of Representatives.

They will have about 20 minutes of debate around this -- I'm sorry -- an hour's worth of debate around this particular issue. And then the members will vote. And we expect that vote to really fall along partisan lines, all the Democrats expected to vote for it, and maybe just a couple of Republicans voting for it, while the vast majority of Republicans will vote against it.

From there, the criminal contempt peripheral will then head to the U.S. attorney's office here in Washington, D.C., and ultimately be overseen by the attorney general, Merrick Garland. And the committee has gone to great pains to separate their work from any interaction with the Justice Department. They hope to hand him this referral, and then let him make the decision as to whether or not the case should be prosecuted.

And it just so happened that Garland was on Capitol Hill today answering questions on a wide range of topics in front of the House Judiciary Committee, and he was asked about this criminal contempt referral. This is what he had to say:


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There will be people who -- from the Democratic Party who disagree with my determinations, and you have already heard some of those, and there will be people from the Republican Party who will disagree with my determinations about our filings in civil cases.

That comes with the territory. That's what happens to the attorney general. I'm doing my best to ensure that we make decisions on the facts and the law. And when I said I would protect our people from partisan influence with respect to investigations and prosecutions, I meant that.


NOBLES: And so there is going to be enormous pressure on Garland and the DOJ to move swiftly with the prosecution of Steve Bannon, refer it to a grand jury, take it to court, and then ultimately find him guilty so that he -- they can begin the process of trying to get this information from Bannon.

And along this process, there's always the possibility that Bannon and the committee could begin negotiations to get him to come to the table to provide the information that they're looking for, although Bannon has made it clear that he is not going to do anything until a court instructs him to do so, that he is going to work with the former president to defend executive privilege.

That's the debate that's going to play out here on Capitol Hill over the next couple of hours, Victor and Alisyn. And it shows that this select committee is not going to take it -- they're not going to take it lightly if people defy their subpoenas. This is the step that they are willing to go, not just with Steve Bannon, but anyone that they're trying to get information from. BLACKWELL: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill for us, thank you.

Let's turn now to attorney Harry Litman, former deputy assistant attorney general who now hosts the "Talking Feds" podcast, and Olivia Troye. She served as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Pence.

Welcome back to you both.

Olivia, let me start with you. And I just want to set the big picture here. It's been fewer than 10 months since these members were hiding behind chairs and crouching in the Gallery and running to safe rooms from people who wanted to hurt them, who wanted to attack them physically and the democracy. And now there's nearly unanimity to undermine the committee to find out who sent them.


Well, it's their whole effort to obscure the truth about what happened that day, because they don't want it out in public. And they know that a Bannon testimony would be pretty damning to the entire situation, I would say. And I have no doubt that Bannon will continue to unwaveringly be loyal to Trump, and he is going to force this hand until the end.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, just to remind people why the committee thinks that Steve Bannon knows something, this is what he said the day before January 6. Just listen to his language here.



STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this. All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen, OK? It's going to be quite extraordinarily different.

And all I can say is, strap in. The "War Room" posse, you have made this happen. And, tomorrow, it's game day. So, strap in.


CAMEROTA: I mean, Harry, he has this smirk, this sort of knowing smirk as he delivers this kind of tease of what's going to happen the next day, when violence unfolded.

And yet, today, we heard from Kevin McCarthy, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, about what he thinks about the committee trying to get Steve Bannon to explain what he knows.

So listen to this issue.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): No, they're issuing an invalid subpoena. Issuing an invalid subpoena weakens our power, not if somebody votes

against it. He has the right to go to the court to see if he has executive privilege or not. I don't know if he does or not, but neither does the committee.

So they're weakening the power of Congress itself by issuing an invalid subpoena.


CAMEROTA: Just because you said the word invalid subpoena three times, does that make it invalid?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Why, yes, it's a little known legal rule.

No, of course not, Alisyn. And the validity of it could not be more in question. The focus on Bannon, by the way, and also next Scavino shows that the committee is really interested in knowing just what Trump knew and when he knew it, because Bannon famously is not only predicting or knowing what's happening the next day. He's in continual conversation with the then-president in the United States.

So it's an obvious topic for the committee to pursue. And, by the way, Bannon's executive privilege claim is all wet. He wasn't even in the executive branch at the time. And Biden has already said that it won't be asserted. So it really is a flagrant disavow of his legal duty. And he deserves a criminal conviction.

However, Garland said today facts and law, that's prosecutors speak for nothing at all. And what people need to understand -- and I don't think they have yet -- is there are policies at the department that not only say they get to decide, but actually say they will not bring these cases.

Victor mentioned 1983. It didn't even happen then. It hasn't happened since 1960. Usually, it's because they accommodate the others and they talk about it. That's the hope here, because Garland would really be bucking tradition and policy to charge a former member of the executive branch with criminal contempt of Congress.

He's got a way to do it, because the opinions say we won't do it if there's a valid claim. And he can say this claim is spurious. But it's got -- he's got a lot more hurdles and obstacles to run than people generally understand, including to OLC memos.

BLACKWELL: So, Harry, let me stay with you.


BLACKWELL: And I want your take on an option that we haven't really discussed much, but Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post" co-wrote this new book "Peril" that we have been talking about for some time.

He suggests that there's another route. Let's watch.


BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We have a very clear-cut case. I would suspect it's quite possible that the attorney general Merrick Garland will appoint a special counsel to look at this, because the evidence is so clear for a massive Watergate-style attempt to destroy the process of electing the president.


BLACKWELL: So what do you think about that possibility?

LITMAN: Yes, we talked about it last week on talking books with him and Costa. All respect to Woodward, who has done so much to ferret out presidential misconduct, I can't see it.

For one, it just delays things, getting a special counsel appointed. But, more importantly, there's no real allegation of conflict here between, say, Bannon and the current administration. That's when you need a special counsel, if Trump were still in office.

But simply to determine whether there's a good case to bring against a former executive branch official, no real conflict there, no real need for special counsel, no real reason why Garland and his troops can't do it themselves.

However, when they do, do it themselves, we have DOJ policies, which, as we learned under Mueller, would apply anyway. That was the OLC memo about not indicted a sitting president. Here we have an OLC memo about not generally bringing contempt charges against -- for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas by former executive branch officials.


CAMEROTA: So, Olivia, while all of this is going on, while we're watching this committee try to work through these traditional channels, there's former President Trump, who just issues statements that are in an upside-down world where he says the opposite of what actually happened.

And one of his most recent ones was: "The real insurrection happened on November 3, the presidential election, not on November 6, which was a day of protesting the fake election results."

Everything there is false. I mean, it's all upside -- it's truly the opposite of what happened in bizarro world. But, as you know, so many Republicans hang on his every word, believe everything that he said.

And I was so fascinated to read this new Grinnell College poll that was out yesterday, which is, how many Americans think that democracy is in peril? But it's only a third of Democrats. It's two-thirds of Republicans, because they think what he's saying is true.

I know you have been focused on this. I know this worries you about the upcoming next couple of elections. What's the answer?

TROYE: It certainly does.

And, look, Trump is the king of spreading disinformation. And he has decided that that is actually the platform that works. And, unfortunately, the Republican Party, most of the Republican Party has followed suit, and they continue to spread lies in these echo chambers.

And they continue to, I would say, radicalize, in many ways, Americans to believe these lies, and it's creating division across our country. So I'm not surprised to see that Republicans, voters, Americans out there are saying, yes, our democracy is in peril, but they're looking at it from the complete opposite lens of what the rest of us are seeing.

Here is a wannabe autocrat. This guy wanted to be a dictator. We have seen the way he behaved and he was going to hang on to power at whatever cost. And it's also the man who sat there while an angry mob attacked the U.S. Capitol and put the lives of leaders at risk, caused many hurt on the U.S. Capitol Police, and also charged at the sitting vice president at the time of our country.

And so that is the picture of the scenario of January 6 and why accountability matters. And so I think that the January 6 committee holding these people accountable outside of -- the only ones that have been held accountable so far are the insurrectionists themselves, some of the members of that ugly mob that are actually facing trial.

But there's no accountability for what got us there, for the people that led the charge, such as Bannon, calling to action the day before. And what did he know? And who was he talking to? And why did he know such details? What was the true plan? And we need to get to the bottom of that.


Well, we will bring everyone that debate as soon as it begins, which will happen very shortly.

Harry Litman, Olivia Troye, thank you. We really appreciate the insight.

BLACKWELL: Thank you both.

LITMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, so police in Florida are describing the treacherous conditions that they are working in, in this area where they found human remains and items of Brian Laundrie. So we will discuss what's happening at this hour in this investigation.

BLACKWELL: And President Biden will face questions from Americans in a CNN town hall tonight, as the White House says they're inching closer to a deal on that spending package.



BLACKWELL: Florida investigators are back on the scene inside the Carlton Reserve right now, where a bag and a notebook belonging to Brian Laundrie were found yesterday. It was alongside with authorities say our human remains.

Now, officials say it will take several days to process the area. And it's too soon to know if those remains are in fact Laundrie's.

CAMEROTA: The county sheriff talked about the harsh conditions the search teams are facing.


CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF: I got to see firsthand the treacherous conditions that they were working on. We're talking about water levels up above almost a chest area, rattlesnakes, moccasins, alligators.

And these heroes go out there. While we can't change the outcome, we can bring justice.


CAMEROTA: Let's bring in Steve Moore. He's a retired supervisory special agent with the FBI. And Maureen O'Connell is a former FBI special agent.

Great to see both of you.

Let me just pull up a map so we can get our heads around what's happening in terms of the -- where everything is in connection to each other. So, you see the big Carlton Reserve. That is an area of hundreds of acres that they had been looking for a month Steve, as you know.

Then that in the red area of interest, and that's close, we understand, two to three miles from this parking lot. You have to walk in 45 minutes. And that's where these items were found yesterday. And, of course, the timing of all this does raise some questions about the parents.

Brian Laundrie's parents told the FBI they wanted to go yesterday morning. They wanted to re-search that area. And then Brian Laundrie's father found something himself. He found something that belonged to Brian Laundrie. So after a month of nobody finding anything, yesterday morning, and he -- the attorney for the Laundrie family explained what Chris was doing, the father, when he found this item.

So let me just play that for you.


STEVEN BERTOLINO, ATTORNEY FOR LAUNDRIE FAMILY: Chris couldn't find the law enforcement, because they were then out of sight because Chris had been in the woods. So he didn't want to leave the bag there with a news reporter standing nearby.

So he picked it up.


CAMEROTA: OK, so, Steve, that is the lawyer saying that Brian Laundrie's dad, Chris, found a bag and he himself picked it up and handed it over to law enforcement.

It -- does that strike you as strange?


STEVE MOORE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, the defense attorney, I mean, I guess you get what you pay for, but he has done nothing but incense the public, incense the police the whole time with saying things that are just patently offensive, hard to believe, to say the least.

And so I wouldn't put much import on what he does say. As far as the timing of the discovery, it's really kind of discouraging that, for weeks and weeks and weeks, they have been looking, and when the Laundries decide to, they come out, and they just surprisingly find it.

So I think that speaks for itself.

BLACKWELL: Maureen, you were shaking your head there. What's your take on that?

MAUREEN O'CONNELL, FORMER FBI AGENT: I'm of the opinion that the Laundrie parents were in contact with Brian throughout this process via a burner phone, possibly with a solar charger, and when they couldn't get in touch with him for several days, they realized something was really wrong, and then they went out there to try to find them.

The fact that he picked up that bag and walked out with it, I mean, I'm shaking my head, because has he never seen a crime show? But as long as the authorities are well aware that he did not have that bag when he came in, that's one thing.

There's going to be a treasure trove of information within that backpack and definitely within that journal.

CAMEROTA: I mean, all of that said, obviously, Steve, this is a very sad story on every level, and it's really sensitive.

And a source did tell CNN that they do believe that the remains found are likely Brian Laundrie's. And so I just don't know what to make of any of this. I mean, and the other thing that sort of said to Randi Kaye was that it seemed like they had been there for some time. And so the timing and the finding of all of this, it's just so curious.

I mean, with your investigator hat on, what do you think happened? MOORE: Well, as an investigator, you always go for the thing that is

statistically most probable, what is most likely. Aliens were not involved, statistically.

So, what you do is you go to what you have seen in the past so many times. A person does something horrible. He comes home, he confesses it. He goes off by himself. He writes down everything he can, so that he -- at least his family understands his actions. And then he takes his life.

This looks very much like one of those situations. And it looks like he's been out there for several weeks, at least, deceased. So the FBI is going to find this. The FBI is going to understand how long he's been dead. And the FBI is also going to understand -- and I think, by the way, what they are telling, it's the tip of the iceberg.

What they know is 10 times as much. They're going to be able to make a good prosecution on the remaining family members, at least the mother and father, for accessory after the fact.

BLACKWELL: Accessory after the fact based on what?

MOORE: Well, the fact -- you need three things for accessory after the fact.

A person committed a crime. The people who are being charged with accessory after the fact knew that the person committed a crime, and, three, they assisted in preventing that person from being arrested or punished.

I think those are all obvious right at this point. And justice really demands that -- I mean, it offends the public consciousness. At this point, you need to go after them.

BLACKWELL: I don't know if we have the hard evidence to prove those. But that's what the legal system is for.

Maureen, let me wrap up with you here.

You said that this journal, this book would offer so many answers. If it's just a sketchbook, because we know that Brian Laundrie did sketch designs for T-shirts, and these are his remains, if there is no confession, there are no details in the book, will investigators be at some point able to definitively say that Brian Laundrie was involved with the killing of Gabby Petito?

O'CONNELL: I believe so, because he's been getting backed into a corner more and more as the evidence has evolved.

And the sign of any true -- of any good investigation and any great investigator is to follow the facts. And if, as you say, there's nothing in this notebook other than drawings, let's see what those drawings have to say. The Bureau has all kinds of unbelievably talented behavioral scientists and we also have forensic linguistics that can look at whatever words are in there and help determine what, in fact, he might have been thinking while he was etching those diagrams.

BLACKWELL: All right, Maureen O'Connell, Steve Moore, thank you.

O'CONNELL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Now, in just a few hours, President Biden will face questions in a CNN town hall as he tries to finally seal the deal on his sweeping domestic agenda.


CAMEROTA: And happening right now, a critical CDC meeting on boosters. Millions more may be eligible to get one soon.

We will tell you who's next in line.


CAMEROTA: Another wrench in the works for Democrats in negotiating the deal on President Biden's social spending plan.