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Weekly Jobless Claims Rise, Higher Than Expected But Still Low; FBI Arrests Oath Keepers Leader, Charged with Seditious Conspiracy with 11 Others. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 13, 2022 - 13:30   ET



MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: But the fact that claims did rise is noteworthy. It could be just because the claims tend to be a little bumpy and volatile for this time of the year, or an early sign of the COVID stress.

Economists at Goldman Sachs saying that they believe that the uptick in the jobless claims is related to Omicron layoffs. And so we need to keep a close eye on that.

And on the inflation front, we learned today that producer prices, what suppliers charge businesses, that is rose about 7 percent in December from a year ago. That's the biggest gain since the metric began in 2010.

And the good news is that the prices rose 0.2 percent from November to December. That is a sharp deceleration, and it's the slowest gain in 13 months.

We have to hope that continues, because the businesses are often passing along the higher costs to consumers.

And we learned yesterday that the consumer price inflation rose in December at the fastest pace in 39 years.

We saw record price increases on new cars, fast food, men's apparel. The biggest jump in furniture and bedding since 1951.

Ana, the cost of living is clearly high right now, and the pressure is on Washington to get inflation back down.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: All right. Matt Egan, thank you.

Novak Djokovic is officially the number-one seed in the Australian Open. But will Australia deport him before he can compete? The latest on his drawn-out international COVID saga next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. CABRERA: We have breaking news to report. Just moments ago, CNN has

confirmed the FBI has arrested the leader of the far-right militia group, Oath Keepers.

I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, and our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez. And Elliot Williams, our CNN legal analyst is also back with us.

Jessica, what do we know?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Ana, the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, arrested in Texas. This was confirmed by his attorney who says he believe this is in relation to January 6th.

And this probably is, because the Justice Department has long foreshadowed this arrest.

They have been referring to Stewart Rhodes in court filings for just about the past year. He has been an unindicted co-conspirator referred to in the court filings as Person One.

Because remember there are 17 other Oath Keepers who have already been charged and many of them with conspiracy.

And Stewart Rhodes has been referred to in the court filings as really what the DOJ has referred to as the central presence, effectively someone who was directing the movements of these Oath Keepers.

And he played a pivotal role in instructing them to move in that formation, that stack formation that we've seen pictures of with one in front of the other, these Oath Keepers moved with the hand on one shoulder.

And so Stewart Rhodes is deemed instrumental by the Department of Justice. And now he has been arrested by the federal agents here.

Ana, prosecutors have laid out in detail just how involved Rhodes allegedly was in directing the movements of these other Oath Keepers. They have documented his messages on Signal, that encrypted messaging app.

And so the prosecutors have been building this case somewhat in the public eye for the past year.

And now, about a year later, after he was interviewed by CNN and said that he was not involved in planning this attack at all, he has now been arrested by federal agents -- Ana?

CABRERA: And, Evan, it is interesting that already the DOJ has talked about arresting more than 700 people. But we are now past a year after the January 6th insurrection, and this big name was just arrested.

Why did take it so long?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, part of what the prosecutors have been doing is what Jessica is just describing, which was to try to build the case before they take action against Stewart Rhodes.

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, in the speech just before the anniversary of January 6th made reference to the idea that the prosecutors were building from the bottom up.

And one of the things that they were looking to do was to go after and target people who maybe never actually went into the building.

Now, a lot of people saw this page and heard those words and thought that he was talking about perhaps the former president. Obviously, there's no book -- there's no saying that the Justice Department is not going to find evidence to target people like that.

But what he was referring to more immediately was someone like Stewart Rhodes, who was not there that day.

But as Jessica laid out, and as the prosecutors have been laying out in the court papers for well over a year now, they say that he was an instrumental part in directing this attack.

Helping to organize these members of the Oath Keepers who did go into the building, messaging them and telling them where to essentially gather before the assault on the building.

So, again, we will hear more about these charges, because right now, it is still under seal in federal court, and we will see the charges when they are announced.


But right now, the only thing that we know is that this is a case that they have been building for some time.

CABRERA: I am just getting word that we have confirmed that the charges are tied to January 6th, seditious conspiracy.

Elliot, how significant is this?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There you go. And I was going to say, look, as a lawyer here, I was going to say, whoa, whoa, whoa, let's hold on and wait until we see the charges. That's a big deal.

Now, look, Ana, one of the biggest criticisms of the January 6th investigation from the Justice Department is that they have not been going after the bigger fish or the planners.

And what Rhodes' arrest indicates and his charging is that people who were not going into the buildings, who did not go into buildings at the time are being charged.

Now this is evidence that they are probably building a larger conspiracy case and a broader conspiracy case based on the communications that he would have had with people he was directing to go in.

That is very significant because so many of the charges were for trespass and damaging government property and not seditious activity. That's number one.

Number two, we also have evidence that's been reporting that was a December 12th rally where he was urging President Trump to invoke arcane laws in order to disrupt the certification, and even used language calling for a bloody war. I'm paraphrasing a little bit there.

So in the run-up to January 6th, not just on the day, he was directing people and sort of whipping up support for this kind of the activity. So this is very significant.

And assuming it is the charges that we are talking about here, it is very significant and a departure from what we have seen thus far.

SCHNEIDER: And, Ana --


CABRERA: And my understanding -- yes, Jessica, go ahead and jump in here.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. So, you know, we just found out that these charges have just been unsealed, as Elliot was just referring to. Eleven defendants now charged with seditious conspiracy.

This is important, because it is the first time that the Justice Department have charged defendants, 11 of them now, with seditious conspiracy. Big charges here.

And this press release, announcing this, talks about the fact that this charge carries 20 years of prison.

And I just want to read for you briefly describing exactly what this charge is for. This is for Stewart Rhodes as well as his co- defendants.

And it charges them with "opposing by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power January 20th.

And they talk about in this indictment, in this press release the fact that they communicated for a long time via encrypting messaging app exactly how to go about this, obstructing the proceeding in Congress.

And to Elliott's point, this is the first time the Justice Department has charged this very serious charge of seditious conspiracy. They were under a lot of criticism for not going after the bigger fish, for not making this charge of seditious.

And now they have done it against the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, arrested in Texas, as well as 10 other defendants.

So some of the other defendants had already been charged, Ana, with conspiracy for their role as an Oath Keeper. And now this just adds to that.

So, you know, the Department of Justice here is moving methodically, at least on Stewart Rhodes, that they've been working on for about a year now.

CABRERA: So, Elliot, help me understand the difference between -- you know, she says some have already been charged with conspiracy. So what makes seditious conspiracy so much more hefty?

ELLIOT: Right. Number one, it is a more serious charge, because it is the use of force to disrupt, and essentially taking arms against the government, to put it in plain language, and not just conspiracy to enter Congress or acts of trespass and so on.

So it is a far more significant charge.

I would also say, yes, they're moving methodically. But also considering that, number one, to be going only a year past the events. And if you look at the January 6th committee that is investigating it, only seven months in that.

In investigation terms, this is lightning fast for this many charges of this significant nature and given how rarely that the seditious conspiracy charged.

So for instance, recently, in Michigan, there were -- sedition charges got thrown out by a court a few years ago on the account of the fact that it's just a challenging crime -- charge to bring.

So given the nature and the seriousness and severity of it, it is a very big moment in this investigation.

CABRERA: And I see you shaking your head, Even, and I'm reminded of Merrick Garland's speech last week --

PEREZ: Right.

CABRERA: -- on the anniversary of the January 6th attack, in which I'm quote, he said:

"The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators at any level accountable under law, whether they were present that day or otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy."


And he went on to say, "We will follow the facts wherever they lead. The actions that we have taken thus far will not be our last."

Is this what he is talking about? Was he foreshadowing this announcement today?

PEREZ: Yes, this is exactly what he is talking about.

And, look, this is not a charge that Merrick Garland, the attorney general, that he was -- let's say that he was reluctant to go to this place.

Because it is something that the former acting U.S. attorney, Michael Sherwin, has said that he thought was ready to go. This is in early 2021. He said that he thought that this is quite ready to go.

In the end, Garland and the other leaders of the department thought that it needed more time, more investigation before taking the steps.

So the idea that they have now done this, which is something they had hesitated to do almost a year ago tell us that Garland has been persuaded that this very rarely used charge is something that, Ana, was used decades ago against Puerto Rico nationalists in an attack on U.S. Congress.

It's not something that they bring very often. And there was some hesitation because it is something so rarely used that perhaps it would run into trouble in court.

So the idea now that the department and Garland have signed off on it, is a very meaningful step in this investigation.

And really, one of the criticisms that you hear from Republicans and from sort of Trump loyalists is that clearly this attack was not that bad, because nobody has been charged with something like this.

Well, now it has happened. And so perhaps they'll have to come up with a different excuse to explain why they think January 6th was not that bad.

CABRERA: OK, everybody, please standby


CABRERA: -- because we will squeeze in a quick break.

Elliot, I will come back to you on the other side.

We'll continue our conversation about the breaking news. The leader of the Oath Keepers just arrested by the FBI in connection with January 6th, facing charges of seditious conspiracy.

Stay with us. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CABRERA: We are following breaking news on the January 6th attack on the capitol. Just minutes ago, CNN confirmed the FBI has arrested the leader of the far-right militia group, Oath Keepers.

Now, he is among 11 people to be charged with seditious conspiracy. The first time the Justice Department has brought this specific charge as part of this investigation.

Everyone's back with me, as well as CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Elliot, coming back to you because you wanted to jump in.

Evan was talking about how serious a charge this is and what would have gone into a decision like this.

WILLIAMS: Right. And the point I was going to make a few moments ago was that the reason why the Justice Department took the time they did, prosecutors do not ever want to see charges they bring thrown out by judges.

That sounds like an obvious point. But when charges are serious like this, that risk is quite great.

And I cited the example of, in Detroit, just out of Detroit about a decade ago, they made it to trial, I believe, on a seditious conspiracy charge that the judge tossed out. It is a hard charge to bring.

And I think the Justice Department wanted to ensure that they had the evidence that was airtight.

When we first spoke about this, I didn't have the language of the statute in front of me. It had just broken.

Here's the actual language where "two or more persons" -- and that is key, so you have to have some form of agreement between two individuals -- "conspire by force to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States."

Now, that, again, it may seem obvious, because you had lots of people.

But for making these charges here, the Justice Department has to establish that this individual was communicating with people on the day, directing them to engage in acts of force against the United States.

And that just -- they just needed to make sure they had an airtight case.

Who knows if they do? We'll see what evidence they come forward with.

But as we said earlier in the segment, this has been building for a long time. The evidence is out there. And we know at least of the Signal messages telling people from him to go into the building.

CABRERA: Jeffrey Toobin, welcome to the conversation.

I want to get your initial take, your read on these charges.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in addition to all those excellent points Elliot was making, I think one message of this indictment is how serious the Justice Department is about wanting at least some of these defendants to flip.

In other words, some of these defendants are now facing more time, more prison time than they expected to face. And they -- in the federal system, there's an enormous benefit to

people who agree to plead guilty and testify on behalf of the government.


This raises the stakes for all of these defendants. And it says to me that the Justice Department wants them to tell them who else was involved in this conspiracy, and that includes both Oath Keepers and anyone else.

I mean, one of the great questions about the January 6th riot, insurrection, whatever you want to call it, is who planned it? Who authorized it? Who paid for it?

Who knew it was happening in advance? Why did all these people show up in armor, knowing that there was going to be a confrontation?

All those questions have not been answered.

And what's clear from this indictment is that the Justice Department wants answers to those questions. And I think so do a lot of people.

CABRERA: So, Jeffrey, if you're talking about flipping people to get the big fish, is this leader of Oath Keepers, then, in your mind, the big fish that they were going after?

Or are you seeing him as just another one of those smaller fish with perhaps a bigger fish still out there?

TOOBIN: Ana, let me answer that with the three words you're never allowed to say on cable news, which is, I don't know.

I don't know what their evidence is. I don't know if they have evidence connecting the leader of the Oath Keepers to someone else, to some bigger fish.

But the whole point of conducting an investigation is to take it as far as you can, to see where the evidence takes you.

It may be that the Justice Department believes the Oath Keepers operated as a sort of cell, that they decided on their own to commit this insurrection as they're charged with.

But it may be that they were coordinating with others, perhaps other groups, perhaps higher-ups.

But the Justice Department wants answers to that question and they are applying extra pressure in the form of this indictment to try to find that out.

CABRERA: And, Jessica, to be clear, are these the strongest charges in the January 6th investigation announced so far?

SCHNEIDER: They are. This seditious conspiracy charge, it carries up to 20 years in prison. And what I want to mention here is that our team has actually been kind of following these puzzle pieces throughout the past year.

We have had several of our reporters on these court cases, tracking every hearing, every court document.

Katelyn Polantz has been really digging into this. And we've seen these pieces of the puzzle emerging throughout the past year.

And now that I'm looking at what the Department of Justice has released, you're seeing the puzzle pieces finally come together and the puzzle is now that Stewart Rhodes, the big fish, perhaps, has been arrested.

This document from the Department of Justice really lays out what these Oath Keepers were doing in the days leading up to January 6th and also after January 6th.

You know, there was one piece of reporting several months ago that maybe got overlooked but is now being brought to light again in this indictment. It's the fact that they had this quick reaction force.

People might remember that we reported that some of these members of the Oath Keepers were allegedly stashing ammunition and guns at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Virginia. That's been in court filings.

And now the Department of Justice is using that bit of evidence to make their case of seditious conspiracy.

They're also laying it out in other terms, saying these people were organized into teams, that they transported firearms, that they organized trainings to teach these paramilitary combat tactics.

And then, on January 6th, they were carrying knives, batons, camouflaged uniforms, all of it to the capitol grounds to then breach the capitol.

So, we've been seeing this emerge in court filings.

And now the Justice Department is taking it that step further to charge this much more serious charge of seditious conspiracy against the founder of the Oath Keepers, leader of the Oath Keepers, one other person, and then nine other people who had been previously charged and are now -- have this superseding indictment that includes seditious conspiracy.

So this is all a work in progress. And as Jeffrey said, we don't know if this is the end, if this was the big fish, or if there's more to come here.

CABRERA: And obviously, more details to be learned.

But in about 30 seconds here, I have to hand the reins over to our colleagues.

But, Jessica, can you just tell us who the Oath Keepers are? Who is this group?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, they're this paramilitary group that has seemed to largely organize over Signal, over these encrypted apps.

They -- again, we saw that picture of them in formation, the stack formation, one behind another, with their hand on each other's shoulders.


They organized. They communicated well before January 6th. And they were probably the largest group at the capitol.

About 17 people have already been charged with conspiracy -- Ana?

CABRERA: Thank you so much, Jessica Schneider, Jeffrey Toobin and Elliot Williams. I appreciate all of you.