Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Senate Democrats Try To Keep Billionaire Tax Amid Resistance Within Ranks; A.G. Garland Stands Firm On DOJ's School Board Protection Memo; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Discusses Jan 6th Select Committee Investigation. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 27, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Time and money, two perpetual motivators on Capitol Hill and both apparently failing to unify Democrats on President Biden's landmark spending plan.

They are racing to establish a framework for this critical legislation before the president leaves for Europe tomorrow.

A handful of issues still standing in the way, including new proposals to pay for the new spending with new taxes on the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House and Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.

Manu, bottom line here, they still have a lot to sort out, and divisions over billionaires' tax is a big one.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and policy and a process. Still, divisions within the House and the Senate within their respect active Democratic caucuses.

Joe Manchin, Krysten Sinema, the two Democratic Senators, had met for about two hours with White House officials earlier today. Manchin left, saying, it's, quote, "really up to the rest of the caucus to get behind something."

Suggesting perhaps they've reached the point where Joe Manchin is not going to go any further. It's up to progressives, liberals.

Everybody else is pressing for a wide array of things to get into the bill to sign off on what he can accept.

Now Manchin and Sinema are in the room behind me talking to a handful of Democratic moderates potentially about what's going on in these talks.

Manchin said to us earlier today that he is not willing to go as far as liberals have been pushing for, mainly, an expansion of Medicare with dental and vision and hearing. He said he's concerned about its impact on the debt and program for the long term.

Also on paid leave. That's been a big push among Democrats and the White House to include some level of paid leave for employees, for workers when they get sick or having a kid. He said he's not there yet.


Now also, on the issue of the billionaires' tax. That's a new proposal they rolled out today to alleviate concerns Sinema had about raising corporate and individual tax rates.

But Manchin is concerned about that billionaires' tax as well.


RAJU: Are you supportive of the billionaires' tax? Are you --

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I'm supporting basically that we do -- everyone should pay their fair share.

I don't like it. I don't like the connotation that we're targeting different people.

There's people that basically have contributed to society. They created a lot of jobs. Invest a lot of money and give a lot to philanthropic pursuits.

But it's time that we all pulled together and row together, if you will.


RAJU: The Democratic Senator saying they're still trying to keep that billionaires' tax in the proposal. That is one of several options to help finance this package that they're saying will be fully paid for.

But also a division, Ana, on the process. Democrats in the House, liberals, say they will not support moving forward on that separate infrastructure bill unless there's passage of the larger proposal that they have not even agreed to a general outline of.

So you're seeing the real challenges here among the Democratic leaders who want to get agreement just on the outline of that larger bill.

And, hopefully, they believe that could pave the way for the final passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to pump money into roads, bridges and broadband.

But because of the policy of the big bill and the process, it's unclear if any of it will pass or if it will happen this week as the White House hopes.

CABRERA: It sounds like this dance of two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, two steps back.

Arlette, how much is the White House pressing so the president doesn't leave for Europe empty-handed?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House is presenting it as a sense of urgency, Ana. And you saw that reflected in the outreach that the president and other members of the senior staff have been making over the course of the last few days.

Particularly when it comes to those two holdout Senators, Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema. The president inviting them here to the White House last night.

And earlier today, his top White House negotiators were up on Capitol Hill trying to hammer out some of those final details with those Senators.

Those negotiators arrived here at the White House in just the past hour. They're likely briefing the president on where those negotiations stand.

Also a short while ago, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden is open to traveling up to Capitol Hill. This is something that she said they are evaluating on an hour-by-hour basis as they are seeing where these negotiations are currently heading.

But this is all running up against that departure date for President Biden, who is traveling abroad tomorrow. He laid out, in private meetings, what it would mean to show up to some of these summits empty-handed.

So the White House is still hoping they can reach some type of agreement before he heads out.

CABRERA: Arlette Saenz, Manu Raju, appreciate you guys. Thanks for the update.

Republicans right now are grilling Attorney General Merrick Garland over a memo he wrote about responding to threats of violence against school officials. This is as parents continue to harass educators over mask mandates. That's next.



CABRERA: Right now, on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Merrick Garland is getting grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He's defending a memo he sent concerning threats against school officials and how federal authorities should coordinate with their local counterparts in responding to such threats.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is watching this closely for us.

Jessica, what is the attorney general saying?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He's actually, Ana, defending it a lot more forcefully than we saw him do when he was grilled last week by the House Judiciary Committee.

Because Republicans have been seizing on this memo ever since it was issued October 4th. And they've been falsely saying it was meant to stifle free speech and falsely portraying it as a directive to arrest parents who speak out at school board meetings.

When, in fact, this is a memo that simply directs the FBI and federal law enforcement to work with school boards to discuss strategies to stop threats.

Merrick Garland, since this hearing began at 10:00 this morning, has been repeating his defends of the memo, saying it doesn't target parents. In fact, parents are fully protected by the First Amendment to have vigorous debates.

In fact, he just told Senator Tom Cotton this: "As long as there are no threats of violence, they are fully protected."

But the attorney general is also noting the rise in threats in recent months, not just against school board members but against many others.

Here's what he said.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's in a rising tide of threats of violence against judges, against prosecutors, against secretaries of state, against election administrators, against doctors, against protesters, against news reporters.

That's the reason that we responded as quickly as we did when we got a letter indicating that there were threats of violence, and violence with respect to school officials and school staff.



SCHNEIDER: So the attorney general vigorously defending this memo.

He also rejected allegations from some Republicans that he was acting under the directive of the White House to issue this memo. Instead, Garland made very clear that he wrote the memo and he's completely independent from the White House.

Ana, he has also faced repeated calls from Republicans to rescind this memo. But he specifically stated he will not rescind it and that it was warranted -- Ana?

CABRERA: Jessica Schneider, thank you.

He tried to convince Mike Pence he could overturn the election. Now the committee investigating the capitol riot wants to subpoena conservative lawyer, John Eastman. We will discuss this and more with a member of the January 6th Select Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


CABRERA: The House Select Committee investigating the January 6th capitol riot will subpoena yet another Trump ally, John Eastman, a conservative lawyer who worked with Trump's legal team.

The committee says Eastman tried and ultimately failed to convince then-Vice President Pence that he could overturn the election results.

Eastman later brushed off his scheme outlined in a two-page memo as not being serious.

But in a recent conversation caught on camera, by a Democratic activist posing as a Trump supporter, she told Eastman she thought his legal arguments were solid.

Listen to how he reacts.


UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: When I read your memo, I thought it was solid in all of its legal arguments.


UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: I was floored that Mike Pence didn't do anything. Why didn't he act on it? You gave him the legal reasoning to do that.

EASTMAN: I know. I know.

And now, he's in "The Atlantic" two days ago. They're already anticipating Trump winning in 2024. And they're using my arguments from that memo that they said had no credibility to argue that Kamala Harris can block Trump's electoral votes.

It's like -- come on, people.

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: Basically, everyone will say you're being proven right.

EASTMAN: Exactly. Exactly. Except they're not saying that, right.


EASTMAN: Exactly. Exactly.

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: All your legal reasoning is totally solid.

EASTMAN: Yes. Yes. There's no question. But --

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRATIC ACTIVIST: Anyway, like, you know, supporter to supporter, why do you think that Mike Pence didn't do it? EASTMAN: Because Mike Pence is an establishment guy at the end of the



CABRERA: Joining us now a member of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack, Congressman Adam Schiff. The California Democrat is also chairman of the House Intel Committee.

Thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Thank you.

CABRERA: What do you want to ask Eastman?

SCHIFF: Well, we'd like to know, I think, about any efforts to overturn the election.

As well as what expectation there was that this mob that was being assembled down on the Mall that would be used to try to either intimidate Congress, try to stop Mike Pence from certifying the results.

And, you know, Mr. Eastman in his public remarks, has been all over the map on whether he stands by the memo or doesn't stand by the memo.

He clearly has information relevant to the committee's inquiry into any efforts to overturn the election. I think he's a pertinent witness.

CABRERA: We've reported at least five former Trump White House staffers have been voluntarily talking with the Select Committee.

First, can you tell us who you've been talking to?

SCHIFF: I can't tell you who. But I can tell you we're conducting interviews and depositions almost every day.

So while the public fights have been very much the center of attention in terms of our efforts to get Steve Bannon or Meadows or these other people, the reality is that a great number of people are cooperating with us.

We're making, I think, swift progress. We're getting documents and relevant information. So we're proceeding with great expedition.

And to those who don't cooperate, we're moving quickly as we did with Steve Bannon, to hold them in criminal content.

CABRERA: When we say at least five former Trump staffers, is it five or more than five then, that you've been talking to voluntarily?

SCHIFF: I don't want to comment on the number or the type of position.

I can tell you that there's a great deal of work that's going on outside the public view, that we will be having more public hearings, we'll be discussing which of those to do next so the public can see demonstrably what we're working on.

We are gathering a lot of information from cooperating witnesses.

CABRERA: We will be anxiously awaiting details about the next public hearing.

Meantime, Trump has been trying to keep your committee from conducting these interviews. He also sued to keep the committee from getting documents from the National Archive, claiming executive privilege.

We're reporting today your committee, the Select Committee, temporarily backed off a request for dozens of records from the Trump White House, even though the documents were determined to be relevant to the investigation.

Can you clarify what's going on here? Why are you backing off this request?

SCHIFF: We're not backing off of it. But we're mindful of the fact when a court does examine these issues in the litigation that former President Trump has initiated, that it will look to see whether the Congress tried to accommodate any of the issues that were raised.

That's part of demonstrating the good faith of our committee. But we're very determined to get answers.

I think the Biden administration has also made it very clear that they're not asserting executive privilege over any of these documents in the tranches that have been requested so far.


And it's the predominant view legally that the current president really has the say here. So we feel on solid ground.

I think Donald Trump understands he's going to lose this litigation. His whole point, as it was for four years, is to delay, to try to keep information about his misconduct secret for as long as he can.

And we're moving with great expedition. And we'll continue to do so.

CABRERA: I talked to a former federal prosecutor who said the fact that Trump is fighting for specific documents not to be released would suggest there's something he's worried about in them.

Do you think that's the case or is it a part of a broader strategy to stonewall at every turn?

SCHIFF: I think Donald Trump is very concerned about what we'll learn and what we've been learning in terms of his own misconduct, his own role in inciting that insurrection.

But there's so much more we don't know. We want to understand, what was the president's role and understanding before the insurrection? What did he know about the propensity for violence, the participation of white nationalist groups? What was his role, if any, in the decision to either send or delay sending reinforcements to the capitol when it was under attack? What were his advisers urging him to do? What did he, in fact, do?

We have a lot of unanswered questions about the president's role in all of this. We're determined to get answers.

And it certainly appears that Donald Trump is equally determined to stop us. I think he fears the public learning the extent of his role and the extent of his misconduct.

CABRERA: My understanding is Jeffrey Clark, a former DOJ lawyer, who was reportedly willing to support Trump's Big Lie about the election, is scheduled for a deposition on Friday.

Has he given you indication on whether he plans to show up?

SCHIFF: I can't comment specifically. We do expect in the near future to talk to Mr. Clark.

And he has very relevant information. And the public reports indicate that he was trying to use the Justice Department as a vehicle to get Georgia not to certify electors or to delay their certification or to send others that he had a strategy for other states as well.

That he was willing to use the Justice Department to advocate claims that didn't exist about massive fraud.

Those are the public allegations that we want to talk with him about.

He did not, as I understand it, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So it will be very important to hear from him. And my expectation is that will happen very soon.

CABRERA: Even though there are two Republican lawmakers on your committee, GOP leaders have tried to frame your investigation as purely partisan. Some have taken it a step further.

Here's Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): January 6th was just a riot at the capitol. And if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.

So there's a clear difference between January 6th and the Marxist, Communist Revolution that Antifa, BLM, Democrat ground troops, waged on the American people in 2020.


CABRERA: Again, this is a sitting member of Congress.

She's not just suggesting the January 6th capitol attack has been overblown, she appears to be justifying it and trying to use the Declaration of Independence as her defense?

What's your response?

SCHIFF: Look, she says what she does to get attention. She's probably the least constructive member of Congress to put it politely. I think it's just nuts what she's saying.

But look, the GOP leadership is not that far from where she is. Kevin McCarthy's complaints about the fact we only have two Republican members on the Select Committee is because of Kevin McCarthy.

He vetoed a commission that would have been equally divided between appointees of the parties. He didn't want that.

And then when we moved forward with a Select Committee, he didn't want that either.

The answer is clear, why? He's doing Donald Trump's bidding. The GOP doesn't want us to get to the truth any more than Donald Trump does.

Look, there are Republican reports now of Republican members who may have been involved in January 6th. And we'll get to the bottom of those allegations, too.

It's no surprise that the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and the Kevin McCarthys and the other QAnon supporters out there don't want us to do that. But we'll press ahead.

CABRERA: Quickly, Congressman, we have about 36 seconds left in the show here, obviously, you're waiting on the DOJ to decide whether or not it will prosecute Steve Bannon for criminal contempt.

Are you surprised they have not made a decision yet?


SCHIFF: No. I mean, they just got the referral from us a matter of days ago. But we do expect them to act with expedition.

It's important to reestablish the rule of law, that that no one is above the law.