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COVID Misinformation; Supreme Court Blocks Vaccine Mandate For Large Businesses; Sedition Charges Brought in January 6 Investigation. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 13, 2022 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: It is the top of a very busy hour. I'm Alisyn Camerota.


It is a major breaking news day.

First, this new indictment in the January 6 investigation reveals how one far right group prepared for potential violence. The Justice Department has charged 11 defendants with seditious conspiracy.

Meantime, the Supreme Court has blocked President Biden's nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses, but it allows a vaccine mandate for health care workers to take effect.

CAMEROTA: And this ruling came moments after Biden's agenda took another blow on Capitol Hill. Senator Kyrsten Sinema is opposing the end to the filibuster. And that means the Democrats likely cannot push their voting rights legislation across the finish line.

But let's begin with the big breaking news in the January 6 investigation.

And we're joined by CNN's Evan Perez, former assistant U.S. attorney Kim Wehle, CNN's Josh Campbell and CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

Evan, first, tell us about these new charges.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn and Victor, this is a major step that the Justice Department has taken.

We have seen this investigation sort of start from the ground up. And what we have now is charges against Stewart Rhodes, who's the founder of the Oath Keepers, a far right anti-government organization, and 10 others who are now charged with seditious conspiracy.

And part of what the government is alleging here is that, essentially, they carried out a paramilitary plan, essentially, that was in -- that was an effort to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the Electoral College vote on January 6.

And how did they do that, according to prosecutors? Well, they organized paramilitary training and tactics for some of the members who were there on that day. There are a total of 19 people so far affiliated with this group that have been -- that have faced charges so far in federal court.

They brought paramilitary gear, knives, camouflage uniforms, tactical weapons that they were ready to deploy that day. They even organized what, according to prosecutors, was a quick-reaction force just across the river in Virginia, which was -- the goal was to try to reinforce the group that first attack the Capitol.

And according to prosecutors, this is not just -- what this tells us is that this was not just a spontaneous riot, which is what some of the people have been trying to minimize what happened on January 6 as.

I will read you just a couple parts of this indictment, where, on December 11, according to prosecutors, there was a Signal encrypted app message that was being communicated by these groups. And Stewart Rhodes says -- quote -- "It will be a bloody fight. Will have a fight. That cannot be avoided."

That is a quote from the indictment. And according -- this was a reaction to the idea that President Biden may actually assume the presidency.

On another one, on December 22, in a conversation with another Oath Keeper leader, Rhodes says -- quote -- "We will have to do a bloody, massive -- massively bloody revolution against them. That's what's going to have to happen."

That is again a reference to the idea that, on January 20, President Biden is going to assume office, something that they said they would never accept -- Alisyn and Victor.

BLACKWELL: Elie, let's go to you next.

More than 700 people have been arrested as part of this investigation, but these charges of seditious conspiracy are a first. So, explain, what is this charge of seditious conspiracy?


ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Victor, this is really a powerful statement by the Justice Department.

The term sedition, obviously, it's a powerful sort of loaded term. But it's important that people understand what is and is not charged here. There are various sort of subdefinitions of this term sedition in the federal law.

One of them is to try to overthrow the government by force. That is not what is charged in this indictment. Another definition of sedition, which is charged here, is an effort to obstruct a governmental function, as Evan just said. Here, that refers to the counting of the electoral votes.

Also important to note, this is a conspiracy charge. There's 11 people charged with conspiracy here. There could be more involved. Conspiracy means an agreement by one or more people to break the law. And the last thing that really jumps out at me about this indictment is the root of all of this. The motivating factor behind all of this, according to the indictment, is the big lie, the big lie of election fraud.

That is what spurred the Oath Keepers, according to DOJ, to attack the Capitol. And I think that's really important to keep in mind when you hear some of the revisionist history that started to crop up around January 6.


And, Kim, another big thing that jumped out at me is how far in advance before January 6 this planning was. And so, as Evan just read, that text to the group chat, this invitation-only Signal group, that said, if president-elect Biden were to assume the presidency, it will be a bloody and desperate fight, that was on December 11.

And so, again, as we all know, the idea that this was a spontaneous riot, they just -- if you read through this indictment, there is just so much evidence, between the training of the paramilitary exercises, the tactical gear that the group wore, and then all of these planning texts that were before it.

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Right, and that's the concept of conspiracy, right? It's the meeting of the minds of one or more people to agree to commit a crime, even if the crime isn't actually carried out.

We heard a lot of discussion of this around the first Trump impeachment, if you recall. Is it conspiracy or collusion? This is the real deal. And I think it also underscores the violence, right, where we're being gaslighted as a nation around what actually happened on January 6 by apologists for Donald Trump.

Even people like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, who immediately afterwards denounced the president, are now backing the president, refusing, Kevin McCarthy today, to participate in the understandable and lawful legislative exercise of getting to the bottom of that.

And I think, honestly, Alisyn, the big question is, were others on the Signal texts besides just these rogue Oath Keepers that have been criminally charged today. And the fact that the attorney general signaled recently that he's willing to go all the way to the top -- and I'm paraphrasing -- I think does not bode well for those inside government who to date so far have evaded any accountability for their participation or at least encouragement or refusal to stop the carnage that happened on January 6.

BLACKWELL: Well, let's take that to Josh Campbell, who covers law enforcement for us, former supervisory special agent with the FBI. The details that are in these documents, Josh, what they tell us about how much they toward this case, and the likelihood that there's someone on the inside here who is helping them in this investigation?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, these cases are very complex. We're talking about a conspiracy.

And, of course, we have seen over 700 people charged in the Capitol riot, many of them the so-called low-hanging fruit, people who were there taking selfies and boasting about what they were doing.

This is different. This is now the FBI and the Justice Department saying that this was a seditious conspiracy, a group who wasn't -- they were just weren't there as tourists, as we have heard some politicians say, but they were there to engage in an unlawful act to try to stop the counting of those votes.

And because these investigations are so complex, that requires time. People have been impatient, saying, where's the Justice Department? Now we're starting to see the results of some of their work.

And as Alisyn was just mentioning, the level of planning and preparation that went into this is so key. And you see that as you read through these core documents, where these people didn't just show up on that day and wander into the Capitol, but there was that level of combat training in advance, that they were willing to use force, preparing to bring firearms into the District of Columbia.

And even as striking as the moment that the breach happened at the Capitol, what these court records show is that, while some of the rioters went into the building, this group of Oath Keepers were forming what's called a stack. That's a line of one in front of the other, similar to law enforcement or the military, preparing to make dynamic entry into the building.

That's what these Oath Keepers were allegedly doing as they made their way to the Capitol, breached the building. The allegations here say that they had weapons such as knives and batons and the like and engaged in assault on law enforcement.

And then, finally, the one thing that's obviously so striking, among many different striking things, is that they allegedly had this cache of weapons waiting outside the District of Columbia that they could then draw upon to come in to help them should they needed it.


All those are allegations of planning. That's the type of premeditation that you don't see when people describe this as just people who got out of control who were they are simply as tourists.

Finally, the last thing. I think, if you are a member of the Oath Keepers, you probably should be worried, because, as you just mentioned, Victor, about possible inside help, when you start talking about encrypted messages now making their way into the hands of law enforcement officers, we can assume that means law enforcement had either gotten members to flip and provide information, or they have confidential human sources that they are now running themselves into these groups, which, again, just adds to that level of complexity.

But, again, very serious charges today by the Justice Department.

CAMEROTA: Let's bring in Juliette Kayyem now. She's our CNN national security analyst.

Juliette, your response to these charges.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, some of it, a lot of it has to do with January 6 of last year, but I want to talk about the January 6's to come.

There could be no better news from the perspective of counterradicalization, counterextremism, counterviolence than to have a charges like this against a group. So we will talk about the past and what these legal -- what this legal complaint says about the planning.

But organizations like this, violent organizations, because we really have to focus on the violence -- there's radicalization in our country, obviously, but we need to be really focused on those who would turn to violence for political gain.

It breeds off of the sense of success. And they got that a lot in the previous administration, with Donald Trump sort of nurturing these kinds of groups. Their dismantling over the last year culminating in these charges does a lot for stopping the kind of recruitment that they found easier during the previous administration, and that was -- had threatened to nourish if it wasn't dismantled.

So from the sort of counterterrorism, counterradicalization perspective, this also has a lot to do with 2022, 2023 and 2024. It doesn't mean that it's all kumbaya now. But if you really focus on recruitment and the concerns many of us had about these groups getting bigger after 2021, this is going to do a lot to end the aura of success or that they're part of a winning team.

They will act like victims. That's fine. But it's going to be hard to get new people to be interested, to be curious even about groups like this.

BLACKWELL: Kim, how does what we have learned from this indictment and the evidence that they say they have stack up against the challenge of proving these charges in court?

WEHLE: Well, that's a great question for my colleague Elie on the panel.

But, of course, if the Justice Department has made a decision to bring this indictment, particularly given how Merrick Garland has taken quite a bit of heat for delays, what some people perceive as delays, in bringing these larger charges, I imagine they have all of their ducks in the row and they're not -- they're pretty confident that they can win a verdict in favor of the government beyond a reasonable doubt.

And I think it's important also to put a pin in the fact that these investigations take time. This is the largest investigation in the history of the FBI, over 1,000 search warrants, et cetera. And it's -- we're just at the beginning, is my guess. It will continue to unfold as the months leading up to the midterms really, frankly, determine the fate of American democracy going forward.

And I agree with the prior comments 100 percent, that it's the future that matters in this moment, as much as the past.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kim, Evan, Juliette, Josh, thank you all.

Elie, we want you to stay with us.

Let's turn now to the split decision at the Supreme Court over the vaccine mandates. The court blocked President Biden's vaccine or testing requirement aimed at large businesses, but allowed a vaccine mandate for certain health care workers to go into effect nationwide.

CAMEROTA: So, joining us now with this is CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider, and our CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic. Elie Honig has stuck around.

So, Jessica, let's start with you.

Give us an update on the details of this major decision.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, Alisyn and Victor, the Supreme Court handing the Biden administration a loss and a win, but arguably a much bigger loss than win.

That's because the first of these mandates was supposed to go into effect in February for 80 million workers who were employed at employers of 100 workers or more. That mandate is now blocked. This came down in a 6-3 decision, with the three liberals dissenting.

And the justices here basically explaining that while OSHA can regulate occupational hazards and work and things at the workplace, they really can't institute these rules that go to a much bigger, broader public policy aspect.

So that is why this is blocked. Of course, the liberal justices in their dissent on this basically saying they can't believe that the court hasn't allowed this to go into effect, given the unparalleled COVID-19 crisis that this entire country continues to face.


Then, on the other side, there's another mandate that will be allowed to go into effect. This only affects about 10 million health care workers. This is being allowed by the Supreme Court. This is a 6-3 decision, with Justice Kavanaugh, as well as the chief justice, John Roberts, joining with the liberals, to allow this health care mandate to go into effect. I will read you the line from the majority. It says: "Of course, the

vaccine mandate goes further than what the secretary" -- that's Health and human services secretary -- "has done in the past to implement infection control. But he has never had to address an infection problem of this scale and scope before. In any event, there can be no doubt that addressing infection problems in Medicare and Medicaid facilities is what he does."

That's why they're giving him the green light here to implement this vaccine mandate. This is a mandate that goes into effect for health care workers who work at facilities that receive federal funding through Medicaid or Medicare.

And that is why the Supreme Court is giving this a green light, saying it's different than that other mandate, saying that the other mandate, OSHA just doesn't have the broad power as an agency to put this into effect.

So, guys, a little bit of a split verdict here, if you will, for the Biden administration, but definitely a much bigger loss because they wanted this mandate with larger employers to go into effect for these 80 million workers. But they're only getting the mandate that affects 10 million workers -- guys.

BLACKWELL: Joan Biskupic, 6-3 on both of these.

What do you see in where the justices landed on these questions?


And, actually, one was 6-3. One was 5-4. But the first one, the one that really matters to you, is this the 6-3 one involving the OSHA rules. And the only three dissenters were indeed the three liberals. So there's some predictability there.

But there was a division among the conservatives in the majority. The unsigned opinion that stood for the court looked fairly narrowly at this rule, saying that -- looking at what OSHA was trying to do here in the workplace, and specifically addressing the requirement for vaccine or testing, as I said, narrowly looking at that.

But there was a very muscular concurrence written by Justices Gorsuch, Thomas and Alito that would have gone further to curtail the federal government's powers, agency powers. So I wanted to point that out. I think that the chief justice likely tried to control at least for the conservative side how far they were going to go on the vaccine requirement there.

But the other one that you mentioned, the one that involves health care workers at Medicare and Medicaid-funded facilities, that one had four conservatives split off in the dissent. And that was Justices Thomas, Alito, Barrett and Gorsuch.

And the thing I want to point out is that the chief justice and Brett Kavanaugh went with the three liberals to form a five-justice majority. So I think what we saw on that one, which is tied, as you all know, to the spending power of the health and human services secretary and an ability to set conditions for Medicare and Medicaid facilities, that that one had, again, a little bit more of a consensus tone, bringing together the liberals and the conservatives, but four of them splitting off and being more aggressive in trying to curtail the powers of the federal government.

CAMEROTA: So, Elie, help us understand if there was anything surprising here that we should take note of that.

And also, in practical terms, for big employers, does this mean that they can institute vaccine mandates if they so choose, but they do not have to follow a mandate from the Biden administration?

HONIG: So, on your second question, Alisyn, that's exactly right.

Private employers can choose to have a vaccine mandate. They can choose to have a vaccine or test mandate. But what the Supreme Court said today is the federal government cannot force them to do that. I think this tells us something really important about the overall orientation of the new Supreme Court as it regards federal power, right?

So the key distinction here, first of all, is that the Supreme Court was uneasy with the bigger mandate, the vaccine or test mandate that apply to all employers of 100 or more employees across the whole country. They said that's too broad and Congress has not authorized you, executive branch, to do this.

The mandate that they allowed stand, the Medicare Medicaid medical workers mandate, they said that is more narrow, that is more targeted. It's done under the spending power, as Joan just said.

Bigger picture, though, conservatives traditionally have been skeptical of executive branch power, of federal power coming out of the agencies and have been more in favor of pushing power and decision-making towards the states. Liberals have been the opposite.


We have a 6-3 Supreme Court. So this could be the norm for the foreseeable future. We will see if it holds when it comes time for conservative policies that perhaps the conservative justices may like more, but that's the general orientation we're seeing here.

BLACKWELL: All right, Elie Honig, Joan Biskupic, Jessica Schneider, thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, President Biden vows to keep fighting on voting rights, but admits he does not know if they can get this done.

BLACKWELL: And now that the Supreme Court has blocked the vaccine mandate for large companies, what will the president do? We will have a live update next.



BLACKWELL: More than 250 scientists, doctors, nurses, and researchers wrote a letter to Spotify about the misinformation on COVID vaccines and the pandemic spread on Joe Rogan's podcast.

It airs exclusively on Spotify. Now, the group wants Spotify to take action against Rogan's wrong information by developing a misinformation policy.

The letter to Spotify in part says this: "By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals."

Joining me now is epidemiologist Jessica Rivera, who is a senior adviser at the Pandemic Prevention Institute. She helped coordinate and signed that letter.

Thank you so much for being with me.

I want to start here with the requests that you receive to debunk misinformation from podcasts and social media and the rest. How significant is Joe Rogan's podcast a source of some of that misinformation?


The request for debunking misinformation has been a common ask throughout the pandemic, as there's just been a ton of misinformation and disinformation surrounding COVID-19 as the virus, COVID-19 vaccines and everything in between, including the data.

And SO I wasn't too surprised that I was getting a deluge of D.M.s and inquiries about this particular episode, which, unfortunately, has gone viral and is filled with pretty readily available debunked misinformation.

What was most concerning to me, though, and what made me respond was the fact that I was noticing a trend among people who I find to be quite discerning and able to kind of distinguish what's true and what's not you falling victim to the misinformation shared on that particular episode.


What's interesting, I think, about the request from your group is that you're not asking Spotify to take down the episode or to cancel Joe Rogan.

RIVERA: Right. Correct.

BLACKWELL: You're asking them to create a policy. So what are you looking for here?

RIVERA: Correct.

And I think that has somehow gotten completely misconstrued by a lot of Joe Rogan fans and by a lot of people who are very sensitive to anything that maybe looks like censorship. But this is not that. This is not censorship. It's not canceling. It's not silencing.

We're asking for policies and reinforcement of that policy, because it is an enormous platform. That particular show has an enormous following. And I think there's a responsibility for media companies to at least provide warnings when things are very easily refuted through data and evidence, not opinion, that their patrons and their listeners are warned about what the content they're about to listen to is.

BLACKWELL: So what, specifically, if you were to craft this policy, what would you need to see?

RIVERA: You know, I think, at the very minimum, it would be warning signs and banners that would be issued on particular episodes or on shows in particular that were kind of repeated offenders of that infringement on that policy.

It would be directing people to credible sources, like the CDC or WHO, on vaccine-related information, or other sources of evidence, since there seems to be just a ton of speculation that ends up happening on these shows. And people take it as infallible. People take it as somehow the other side of science, when, really, there's a ton of consensus here to prove that what that information is actually incorrect.

So, at the minimum, it would be banners and warnings.


And Joe Rogan so significant here, because it's the most listened to podcast in the world. Millions of people listen to each episode. Have you heard anything, quickly, from Spotify?

RIVERA: No, we have not. I have not personally.


So we reached out to Spotify. We reached out to Joe Rogan. We have not heard anything. But I want to read to you what Spotify said, the statement they released back in April, after Joe Rogan said that he would advise a 21-year-old against getting vaccinated.

This is what Spotify said: "Spotify prohibits content on the platform which promotes dangerous, false, deceptive, or misleading content about COVID-19 that may cause offline harm and/or pose a direct threat to public health. When content that violates this standard is identified, it is removed from the platform."

Is that not good enough? Or what do you think about that?

RIVERA: Well, it's just not being enforced, right?

I mean, if we talk about the word prohibit, that would mean it would not be allowed to air. I know that YouTube removed the video version of the podcast, but that podcast is still available on Spotify. And that is a problem, because it is clearly a policy that exists, but is not being enforced. And we're asking for more. We're asking for actual ownership and enforcement of policies that do cause public health harm and that do spread misinformation.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jessica Malaty Rivera, thank you so much for your time.

RIVERA: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Well, President Biden went to Capitol Hill this afternoon for a last-ditch effort to get two voting rights bills through Congress, but, after the meeting, he was not optimistic.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope we can get this done. The honest to God answer is, I don't know that we can get this done.