Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Lawmakers Raise Questions About Capitol Security And Domestic Terror; DOJ Forms New Domestic Terrorism Unit To Fight Growing Threat; Judge Questions Trump Claim Of "Absolute Immunity" In J6 Lawsuits; Georgia D.A. Says Decision On Trump Election Interference Case Will Come Soon; Australia Investigating Djokovic's Visa Application; McCarthy Vows To Remove Democrats From Committees If GOP Wins House. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 11, 2022 - 13:30   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: We're following two hearings on Capitol Hill over the January 6th attacks.

A hearing in the House is focusing on capitol security one year after the insurrection.

A separate hearing in the Senate, which just wrapped up, examined the domestic terrorism threat.

I want to spring in CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, I understand that you have some news from that Senate hearing.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. The Justice Department just announcing the formation of a new Domestic Terrorism Unit.

They are citing the rising threat of domestic violent extremists as a reason for the new unit. They say the number of investigations by the FBI on that front has doubled since March of 2020.

What is this new unit? It will complement the work of the National Security Unit already does, investigating domestic terrorism and foreign terrorism cases.

But designating a specific unit now means more attorneys will be investigating and prosecuting domestic violent extremists.

The top official of the National Security Division testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and he outlined exactly how that group is defined.

Here he is.


MATTHEW OLSON, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Based on the assessment of the Intelligence Community, we face an elevated threat from domestic violent extremists.

That is individuals in the United States who seek to commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of domestic social or political goals.

Domestic violent extremists are also motivated by a mix of ideology and personal grievances.

We've seen a growing threat from those motivated by racial animus as well as those described as anti-government and anti-authority ideologies.


SCHNEIDER: Olson did point out, what happened on January 6th, it is being investigated as acts of domestic terrorism.

Ana, when he was testifying, he once again stressed that massive effort that's being put forth by the DOJ, by FBI to prosecute the more than 700 people they have already charged.

And the fact is that the FBI is still trying to find more people. They say more than 350 people involved in that capitol attack, including, Ana, about 250 who assaulted police officers that day.

So a lot more to do on the January 6th investigation front but also the development of this new unit that will go after other cases as well -- Ana?

CABRERA: Yes, specifically a unit on domestic terrorism.

Thank you so much, Jessica Schneider.

At any moment, we expect a federal judge to deliver a ruling that could impact three civil lawsuits filed against former President Trump in relation to this January 6th insurrection.

During a five-hour hearing, Trump's lawyers argued that the former president was entitled to absolute immunity from liability related to his supporters' attack on the capitol, claiming his words that day were political speech and protected by the First Amendment.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, the judge asked, is there anything the president could say while president of the United States that could subject him to civil suits?


And the president's lawyer, the former president's lawyer, I should say, answered that had he could not think of a hypothetical example that would fall outside of that immunity that Trump is claiming.

What do you make of that argument? JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Erin (sic), that's a

problem with taking such an extreme position. I mean, everyone can recognize, and I assure you the judge can recognize that those a ridiculous position to take that.

There's literally nothing a president can do while sitting to invoke civil liabilities. That's not going to carry the day.

The question remains whether what former President Trump said that day can be construed as in his role as president? That's a different question.

But this notion of absolute immunity is certainly never going to fly.

CABRERA: And there's still the question about whether Trump is culpable for what happened on January 6th.

The judge also made this observation, and I quote here:

"What do I do about the fact the president didn't denounce the conduct immediately and sent a tweet that arguably exacerbated things? Isn't that, from a plausibility standpoint, that the president plausibly agreed with the conduct of the people inside the capitol that day?"

Jennifer, does this comment or others give you any indication on how this judge will rule?

RODGERS: You know, it's funny, Ana. It's hard to tell from a judge's comments because sometimes they are playing devil's advocate and sometimes they are just trying to probe what might be the weaknesses and the position that they might come down on the side of.

But this judge is a reasonable judge. And it seems to me that he's going to be looking very carefully at these issues of, what capacity was the president, former president acting in?

Was he acting as a candidate? Was he acting in his own best personal interest, political interests versus the interests of the country?

And the notion of him sitting there on his hands doing nothing while cheering on the insurrection suggests that the judge recognizes that he's not acting in the country's best interest at that point. He's acting in his own best interest.

So I think that that is the line that the judge is trying to draw.

And if I had to guess, I would say the judge is leaning towards finding that he wasn't acting in the country's interests and, therefore, should not have any sort of immunity because he was a sitting president.

CABRERA: I also want to ask you about the ongoing investigation in Georgia.

The Fulton County district attorney just told the Associated Press that she plans to make a decision in the first half of this year, so sometime in the next few months, on whether she will pursue charges against former President Trump for his efforts to overturn the election results there in Georgia.

And she also said she's considering a special grand jury to hear evidence and testimony.

Jennifer, the fact that she's making this info public, setting procedures and setting timelines and expectations for the public here, does that surprise you?

RODGERS: Not real, Ana, because this information was already public. The investigation was public. She announced that she was doing it some time ago.

So very often prosecutors keep their investigations quiet and covert. But when they announce them, when they get out into the public, then it's incumbent upon a prosecutor to end it as well.

If they are not going to charge, particularly to tell the public that they are not going to charge.

So I think the fact that she's informing us of the timeline is in keeping with the notion that it was a public investigation from the beginning.

It doesn't really tip it one way or the other as to what she's going to do.

But you're certainly right that she's raising expectations. So we'll have to see which way this goes.

CABRERA: And based on what she does, should they pursue charges on a more local level against a former president, would that, do you think apply more or less pressure on investigators, for the DOJ, Merrick Garland, to also pursue charges?

RODGERS: That's a real interesting question. I think it doesn't weigh in either way because there would be very different charges because there's no concern of overlap like the fact that a Georgia case is proceeding doesn't have any impact on the DOJ's ability to proceed.

But nor do I think DOJ will take comfort from this notion oh, someone else has charged him. Now we don't have to worry about it so much.

I think DOJ will make its own decision based on its investigation.

If it start one -- there's still some question marks about that.

But if it does engage in a full investigation of the former president for his actions in -- in trying to overturn the election and the events leading up to January 6th, I think it will really be without with regard to what's happening in Georgia.

CABRERA: Jennifer Rodgers, as always, it's good to have you here. Thanks so much for being with us.

RODGERS: Thanks, Ana.


Coming up, just when it seemed like Novak Djokovic will be playing in the Australian Open, it looks like his legal troubles aren't over yet. Why pictures of the tennis star have raised red flags for border officials.


CABRERA: Legal trouble in Australia might not be over for the world's top-ranked tennis player, Novak Djokovic.

CNN has learned that Australian immigration officials are now investigating whether the tennis star submitted a false travel declaration ahead of his arrival in Australia.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has been tracking the developments in this crazy story for us. She's in Melbourne.

So, Paula, what exactly are officials questioning now?


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, this is to do with the travel declaration, a form that everybody has to fill in before they enter into Australia.

It asks about your personal details. It asks about your COVID vaccination, if you have had it. And it also asks what your travel plans have been, the 14 days before you went to Australia.

So this was asking, where have you been in the last 14 days, where do you plan to be in the 14 days before arrival, and do you plan to travel?

And Djokovic had ticked "no" for that particular box. But the fact was that we now have photos that have started to emerge of him in Spain and in Serbia for the two weeks before his arrival here.

Now according to a source close to the investigation, this is an investigation by Australia border force, ongoing at this point, to find out if he did in fact give false information.

Now, according to the Home Affairs Ministry, the maximum penalty for doing this is 12 months in prison.

Now certainly, no one expects anything like that. But it is a very serious offense to have falsified a document.

Now, of course, it could be the case that it was an error. There could have been a wrong box ticked.

But it comes at a time when the Australian government is smarting from the legal loss of the visa being reinstated to Novak Djokovic. We know that the immigration ministry and the minister is currently

deciding whether or not he's going to personally intervene to strip Djokovic of his visa once again.

So certainly, this is not going to be welcome news for the Djokovic camp. And it's certainly something that the government and the Australian border force are looking at more closely -- Ana?

CABRERA: One more twist in the saga.

Paula Hancocks, thank you for that reporting.

It is the opposite of a call for unity or an olive branch. What Kevin McCarthy is vowing to do if Republicans win control of the House, next.



CABRERA: Mark his words. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has vowed to remove three Democratic lawmakers from three key committee assignments if Republicans win back the chamber.

Former Republican congressman and CNN political commentator, Charlie Dent, joins us now to discuss this.

Congressman, McCarthy has singled out representatives Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Ilhan Omar. He says, if Republicans take back the House, they're gone from committees.

Your reaction?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the reason why we're in this predicament to begin with is because I think really -- I believe Kevin McCarthy should have given Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar the Steve King treatment.

That is, when Steve King made repeated racially incendiary comments, Kevin McCarthy moved quickly and removed him from his committees.

He marginalized Steve King. They ran a mainstream challenger against him in the GOP primary in Iowa and defeated him. That's how he should have dealt with Greene and Gosar.

But because he failed to do so, this matter came to the floor of the House where the full House voted to remove those members.

And I think that's the problem. And I think his failure to maintain and enforce standards of conduct have brought us to this point.

You know, it's regrettable that, I think, he made that comment that he's going to -- you know, he's going to retaliate against Democrats. I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

But McCarthy is also looking at this from the perspective of becoming the next House speaker. And he needs every vote.

You remember, in 2015, it was that far-right fringe element that took Kevin McCarthy down when he tried to ascend to the speaker's role after John Boehner had resigned, announced his resignation.

So I think he's worried about that same fringe leveraging or squeezing him again, just -- in 2023, just like they did in 2015.

CABRERA: Just to be clear, McCarthy's reasoning for ousting these Democrats, he said, has to do with sort of this false equivalency he's trying to make.

I mean, he says it's because when Democrats kicked off Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from their committees that they created a, quote, "new standard."

But I do think it's important to point out that Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene were removed for either social media posts depicting or in support of killing fellow members of Congress.

And that is not what McCarthy is alleging with these Democrats, so it just doesn't add up.

DENT: Yes, that's right, Ana. Let me tell you what. Look, I worked with Speakers Boehner, Pelosi, and Ryan, and I saw how they dealt with members who became distractions or embarrassments.

I mean, we used to do these things internally. I was involved with conversations to get members of Congress to resign in order to protect the institution from further damage.

And these, again, were for issues of conduct or misconduct.

In the cases of Gosar and Greene, those were bad acts. I mean, these were really embarrassing and offensive to the institution.

And that's where it gets back to this issue of maintaining a standard of conduct. That is the role of the leaders.

If they don't do it, then that conduct becomes acceptable and normalized.

And look how they've been able to monetize that. Marjorie Taylor Greene is raising boat loads of money. She's able to monetize that notoriety.

There was a time when you had that type of reputational damage that you became a nonentity and you could barely manage to hold on to your seat. But now, we're in a different world.

CABRERA: I only have 30 seconds, but I do wonder if the January 6th investigation has anything to do with his positioning here, given he could be called to testify.


And one of these members is on that January 6th committee, Representative Schiff.

DENT: Well, I don't know that that's a factor. Clearly, you know, he has some bad blood. There's bad blood between Kevin McCarthy and Swalwell and Schiff.

I think that's part of it. There might be some local dynamics.

But again, I think Kevin McCarthy's disagreement with those two is really largely over policy disagreements, not over necessarily bad conduct.

CABRERA: Well, I appreciate your time, as always, Congressman Dent. Good to see you.

DENT: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: And thank you for joining me. I'll be back tomorrow at 1:00 Eastern. In the meantime, join me on Twitter, @AnaCabrera.

The news continues next with Alisyn and Victor.

Have a great one.