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Oath Keepers Founder, 10 Others Charged with Seditious Conspiracy; Supreme Court Blocks Workplace Vaccine Mandate, Upholds Requirement for Certain Health Care Workers; Novak Djokovic's Visa Revoked Again Days Before Australian Open; Ukraine Confirms Cyber Attack on Multiple Government Websites; McCarthy Says Trump Admitted Some Responsibility For Capitol Riot. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 14, 2022 - 09:00   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. For the first time sedition charges for those involved in the January 6 insurrection. In a significant legal step forward in it's investigation into the attack on the Capitol, the Department of Justice has now charged 11 member of the right-wing extremist group the "Oath Keepers" including its founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, with what's known as seditious conspiracy.

The new indictment alleges Rhodes and his co-conspirators were part of a wide ranging plot to seize the Capitol on January sixth.

GOLODRYGA: Plus yet another blow to the Biden administration, the Supreme Court blocking a nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses. But the vaccine mandate for certain healthcare workers will take effect.

Also this morning breaking news that we are following this hour, tennis star, Novak Djokovic's has his visa revoked and faces deportation once again over this COVID-19 vaccination status. This just days before the start of the Australian Open. So could a last minute appeal put him back into the tournament?

SCIUTTO: Here now from Australia, CNN's Paula Hancocks as well as CNN Tennis Contributor, Reem Abulleil. Paula, if I could begin with you, Djokovic he had an exemption both from the Tennis Federation and an individual state there but here the national government revoking his visa and for a second time. What was the rationale they gave?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Bianna, what we've heard from the Immigration Administer Alex Hawke, and he didn't give too many details but he said that he was revoking the visa on health and good order grounds and that it was in the public interest to do so. Now what we know right now, we've had a hearing just three hours after

that issue of statement, there was a hearing in court where the judge decided to refer it to a higher court. So we are going to have a busy weekend ahead of us. What we know is Djokovic has not been detained, he has not been deported tonight. It is now 1:00 a.m. Saturday morning. But in seven hours time he will go to be interviewed by immigration officials once again and then we know that he will be escorted by Australia Border Force Officials to go and see his lawyers.

So he will effectively be in detention at that point. Now we also know 10:15 a.m. local time there will be a hearing in this new higher court. So this could all happen very quickly. He heard in the hearing this evening from Djokovic's lawyers that they believe that the Immigration Minister is talking about Djokovic staying in the country would quote "excited anti-vax sentiment in the community".

They rejected that as you might expect them too. But that gives us an idea maybe of the way that the Immigration Minister is going to try and push this deportation forward. So he has been cancelled his visa once again, he's fighting it once again. His lawyers have said can we please have a decision by Sunday. So potentially he could be on the court by Monday.

But clearly the court understands the urgency of getting this done quickly. But they are working to their own timetable.

GOLODRYGA: And, Paula, I have read that this appeal will likely go before the same judge who reversed the visa cancellation to begin with. If it is the same judge is there a sense that that will help his case? I mean a lot has transpired and a lot of information - new information has come out subsequently since that initial ruling.

HANCOCKS: Well the hearing that we had this Friday evening, Bianna, was in - as you're right, in front of that same judge. But he has now referred it, so that this can be done quickly, to the Federal Court of Australia. That's a higher court so it's out of his hands now. So certainly they will be listening from a different justice's point-of- view. So I don't think that will have any bearing on it.

But they will be obviously listening to the same arguments and making their decision.

SCIUTTO: Reem, a key point here is that Djokovic is really an outlier here. The vast majority of the players that they're vaccinated, that they followed the rules here. There is not much time for Djokovic to appeal before the start of the tournament on Monday. Do you believe that's part of the plan here from the Australian authorities?

REEM ABULLEIL, CNN TENNIS CONTRIBUTOR: It's difficult to say but also given what happened with the first hearing I'm sure they needed to take some time, the government needed time to build their case and figure out on what grounds are they going to try and cancel the visa again. So it's - it - it's potentially on purpose. But also it doesn't help at all is that the Australian Open decided today that Novak side of the draw is actually going to play on Monday and not Tuesday, so that's one last day.


So that doesn't help the situation either.

GOLODRYGA: And we know he'll be playing - he's scheduled to play another player from Serbia as well. Reem, if he - if Djokovic doesn't end up playing in the Open after all how big of a blow would that be for a tournament? How much of a cloud will that cast over the even itself?


ABULLEIL: I think the cloud has already been cast. I think at this point given what happened over the last week or so the Australian Open has not been - there hasn't been a good light shined (ph) on the Australian Open at the moment. I think a Grand Slam that has 128 players should always be bigger than any one player. And I think when the - the reason we're in this position right now is because Tennis Australia decided to put Novak above everybody else and went the extra mile to try and get him that exemption.

So I actually think at this point given everything that's happened it might not be a bad thing if Novak doesn't play.

GOLODRYGA: Look he certainly hasn't exhibited good sportsmanship, right, throughout all of this as we know more and more details that have come out. Paula Hancocks, Reem Abulleil, thank you so much.

Well also happening right now a cyber attacked has taken down several Ukrainian government websites. Officials say it's too early to say who is behind it. The Foreign Ministry says specialists have already started restoring I.T. systems and the Cyber Police have now opened investigation.

SCIUTTO: Of course this happens as Russia has amassed tens of thousands of forces along the Ukrainian border. And we also know that cyber attack is part often times of Russian war plans. CNN Senior International Correspondent, Sam Kiley, he's following all of this from Kiev. What more do we know about the attack? And who do Ukrainian officials suspect is behind it?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Bianna and Jim, I think the first thing to say is that naturally it will be Russia or Russia's proxies inside Eastern Ukraine or somewhere in Ukraine or Europe who will be top of the suspect list for Ukrainian officials as they investigate this relatively low-level cyber attack.

A lot of different websites were taken down but this is quite close to sort of DDoS, a denial of service attack. Not the sort of very sophisticated attack that the Russians state it's capable of prosecuting. And we've sent that of course prosecuted inside the United States and Europe in the past. But perhaps part of a psychological warfare operation. This was an attack that brought down websites. Not the Ministry or Defense or the Ministry of Interior, not the strategically important ones so much. But, for example, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and then claimed responsibility on behalf of an obscured group of separatist supporters. Also an obscured reference to a Polish pro-Russian elements there. So really part - perhaps of the psychological pressure being brought to bear on Ukraine which is already of course in a high state of tension given that since 2014 it's had Russia backed rebels on its territory that have carved out a large chunk of the mainland, what's known of Donbas and also of course the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninisula.

Jim and Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: You can't say this was a surprise.


SCIUTTO: Sam Kiley, there - well, no and we've seen it before. The question is do they ratchet it up. Sam Kiley there in Kiev where they're watching this very closely.

Also new this morning, we are now learning that House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, has said both publically and privately that Former President Trump admitted, admitted to personally bearing some responsibility for the insurrection in the days following the deadly attack. That, Bianna, remarkable.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it is. And this is just one of several reasons that the House Select Committee wants to hear from McCarthy. CNN Capitol Hill Report, Melanie Zanona, joins us now. So, Melanie, what more can you tell us about this?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well we have a crystal clear window into McCarthy's thinking in the week after the insurrection. And this is when his feelings were really fresh and raw so it really does provide some critical insights about how he really felt about the riots and who are responsible.

He said he blames Trump for inciting the riots. He said Trump, himself, acknowledged some responsibility for the riots. He voiced support for a bipartisan commission to investigate the attacks. He even said that he thought the riots were planned out and preplanned. Of course this is a dramatically different Kevin McCarthy than what we've heard recently.

Just yesterday he was at a press conference and he was trying to play revisionist history or saying he doesn't recall or remember some of these conversations. But was have the receipts, not only did I report on a private conference that he had with his members days after the insurrection where he told everyone that Trump personally admitted he had some responsibility.

But he also went on a local radio interview that went unnoticed at the time but we have uncovered it since. And I believe we have some audio of that. I just want to play that for you right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I say he has responsibility. He told me personally that he does have some responsibility. I think a lot of people do.


But what I proposed which I think history will say I'm right because it's the right thing to do, I believe, have a bipartisan commission and get all your facts. Actually work through the grand jury to find out at the end instead of predetermining whether someone's guilty or not.


ZANONA: Here is why this matters. So the Select Committee wants to know did Trump ever admit culpability? That is of keen interest to the committee and would be a big deal. And here is something else they want to get to the bottom of. Why did Kevin McCarthy change his tune so dramatically? Did someone from Trump world get in his ear? Did they tell him to change his story? Did they tell him to stop speaking out about their private interactions? Those are the type of questions that the committee wants to ask Kevin McCarthy but he is refusing to cooperate with the investigation.

He says it's just political and that he has nothing relevant to offer. So we'll see whether the committee actual does subpoena for that information.

SCIUTTO: Boy, Bianna, that sound there. Kevin McCarthy saying in so many words; one, that Trump admitted some responsibility and two that he wanted a bipartisan commission. Two things he has since gone back on.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. A completely different story from him yesterday saying that he was more focused on security, right --



GOLODRYGA: -- and how that insurrection could happen. Incredible reporting there, Melanie Zanona, thank you so much.

Well still to come, more on the seditious conspiracy charges for the "Oath Keepers" role in the January sixth attack. Will this lead to even bigger targets in the DOJ's investigation.

SCIUTTO: Yes, how high up are they willing to go. And later, Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer with a late-night change, now saying the Senate will delay its recess to vote next week on voting rights. As of right now, as we've said, he doesn't have the votes. So what's the end game.

Plus, President Biden's frankly rough week as he faces challenges from the left, right and center of his own party. How he plans to salvage his key agenda items or some of these coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SCIUTTO: Notable legal news. For the first time in the investigation into the attack on the Capitol the Department of Justice has now unveiled seditious conspiracy charges, 11 defendants charged including the leader of the "Oath Keepers", Stewart Rhodes.

GOLODRYGA: Prosecutors say Rhodes and others used encrypted communications to coordinate their actions leading up to January sixth. Let's bring in CNN Law Enforcement Correspondent, Whitney Wild, live from Washington. And CNN National Correspondent Sara

Whitney, let's begin with you, what more do we know about this indictment and these lengthy charges?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well there's a lot of detail in this indictment and specifically it basically points out that there was this preplanned to have a list of elements that were going to help these people try to basically stop the transfer of presidential power by force. And that's really critical. And what this is in effect is an answer to all of the people who have said this was not an insurrection this was just a protest that got out of hand.

Instead the Department of Justice says, no, this was an active of sedition and here are 11 people we think are culpable for that. So, again, this is a major, major indictment. This is a really a water shed moment as we cover these more than 700 Capitol riot cases.

Here are just a couple of details that came out of this lengthy indictment. One of the - one of the key details is this, while certain Oath Keeper members and affiliates breached the Capitol grounds and buildings others remained stationed just outside of the city in QRF teams. Further, the indictment says the QRF teams, that's quick reaction forces, the QRF teams were prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington D.C. in support of the operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.

The QRF teams were coordinated in part by two people whose last names are Caldwell and Vallejo further and this is - these are the accusations against Stewart Rhodes. He's an important figure because he's the head of the "Oath Keepers". Sara is the expert on that. So I'll let her go into more detail there.

But the indictment accuses Rhodes of this, sending messages encouraging use-of-force to oppose the lawful transfer of power, allegedly spending thousands of dollars on firearms equipment, on- route to Washington and he and other co-conspirators alleged met in Virginia to celebrate the attack and discuss next steps.

The key detail there is that this wasn't supposed to end on January sixth. This was going to be an effort that was supposed to continue to stop the inauguration. Again, a huge moment here as we cover these lists of cases. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: The details are alarming. And the "Oath Keepers" are a remarkable group, Sara Sidner as you know well, because they deliberately recruit among the ranks former military and law enforcement for the kinds of skills they might have used in an organized insurrection like this. Walk us through who the "Oath Keepers" are.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Stewart Rhodes started this organization in 2009. And I spoke to him after what happened on January sixth, the attack on the Capitol, because there were people who were a part of his organization who had been arrested. In fact they were the first people who were charged with conspiracy charges in the January sixth insurrection.

And he said, yes, a couple of those people are definitely members of the "Oath Keepers" and he said, you know I don't necessarily agree with them going into the Capitol but, you know, we really do have a problem here. And those were kind of his words after these charges had come forward. After what we all saw happen on January 6 at the Capitol.


And he's talked a lot about a lot of different things. But 24 days after the insurrection Stewart Rhodes goes on InfoWars, the, you know, the right-wing conspiracy ladled online show and he talks about exactly what he thinks should be done. He talks about the Biden administration as being illegitimate. He continues the "big lie" and it's like he is making a call to arms to the folks that are members of his organization and to others who believe in the "big lie".

I want to let you listen to that because it's striking now that we see this indictment it's striking to hear him continue all of this rhetoric after we have all just seen what went down at the Capitol.


STEWART RHODES, LEADER, OATH KEEPERS: You got to declare this regime to be illegitimate, you got to declare everything comes out of King Biden's mouth as illegitimate and null and void from inception because he's not a legitimate President. They have plans for us that they know we'll rebel against and they're afraid because there's 365 million of us, we outnumber them vastly and we're armed, we're well armed. So they have a problem and so they're afraid.


SIDNER: So you hear him talking about, you know, a call to arms. Talking about an illegitimate administration. We know that he was there on January sixth. He was at - on the Capitol grounds, he was standing around. You can see pictures of him. We went back and looked at video as well of him standing out sort of around with other members of the "Oath Keepers". And we also never see him actually breach, actually go into the Capitol. But now authorities have some help in figuring our whether he was part of the plan or planning to do this. They were very organized, if you look at the video you can see them in stacks, very sort of military esque. They often recruit members of the military and law enforcement or former members of the military and law enforcement.

So these charges are really, really, really serious and Stewart Rhodes has new been caught up in them.

SCIUTTO: The charges are and the details behind them are. Sara Sidner and Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

So let's talk about the broader implication of this former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers and former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem. Good to have both of you here. Jennifer, I wondered if we could begin with you and I'm quoting from the charging document for Rhodes specifically.

It says, that on December 22, 2020 he messaged another member of his group quote, "We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them, that is the Biden administration, that's what's going to have to happen." You've had this talk, Jennifer, and still from his lawyers this was just a protest. We were there to keep the peace, et cetera.

There were multiple communications as well as evidence of planning, stashing weapons for a QRF, quick reaction force. That this planned and it had a goal of overtaking the government. What's the legal significance of that?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jim, they need to prove seditious conspiracy so that requires proof that not only was there force contemplated. That the over throw the government and the stop of the transfer of power was going to be by force. That's basically what they have to prove.

And so the notion of this evidence is that they're proving not just that there was organization, that there was planning, that they went on January sixth. But it was a broader effort form November all the way through January and that it involved the use-of-force. That's really the key here and that's the piece that hasn't been charged before in the cases where they have charged conspiracy to stop a government proceeding.

That's what makes this more serious. Makes the penalties more serious. And that's why it's such a big deal that DOJ took this step yesterday.

GOLODRYGA: And, Juliette, A, do you agree with Jennifer? And B, what does this say about preventing any future domestic terrorism attacks? What message does this send?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DHS, HARVARD PROFESSOR: It sends a very good message. It's something we have been waiting for, those of us who look at sort of radicalization or counter terrorism efforts. Terrorist - domestic terrorist organizations like the "Oath Keepers" survive because they have leadership, they have money and they have bodies, right.

In other words people who will be willing to be violent. And those were all undercut by the indictment yesterday. They got a leadership now indicted but they also have leadership turning on each other. It's clear many of the "Oath Keepers" have now begin to sort of - are providing information.

It is hard to recruit or get people to pay dues, because remember the "Oath Keepers" survives on dues, there might outside money we don't know, when you're a losing team. This is - if you just treat it like a terrorist organization, terrorist organizations recruit because they have an aura of victory. And I think that's just an appropriate analogy for what's going on.


And helpful not to bridge the divide of this country, there's a lot if divisions, but at least to make violence and violent terrorism - to stop it from growing. And I think that's really significant.

SCIUTTO: And the parallels to terrorist groups recruitments, organization, radicalization are remarkable here. Jennifer Rodgers, from a legal perspective, the question - they've already gone higher, right. The criticism of the DOJ to this point have been that you get the sort of foot soldiers but not the ring leaders. So they go higher to the "Oath Keepers" and the head of the "Oath Keepers" here. If you find communication even planning between them and potentially or theoretically members of the administration I mean could - the former administration, can they go higher?

RODGERS: They can potentially yes. Now they're going to still have to prove the elements particularly that the overthrow and the stop of the transfer of power was going to happen by force or was contemplated to happen by force. That's really the key that we don't know. We know there was communication, coordination, planning for the rally on January sixth. But did people in the White House, in the campaign understand that these groups were armed, that they planned to actually stop Congress by force, stop the administration from turning over by force.

If they can prove that then yes they will have the basis to charge others higher up with seditious conspiracy.

GOLODRYGA: It is just stunning, Juliette, and we were taking off- camera about the amount of ammunition.



GOLODRYGA: Just the arsenal that this group was able to amass. And the thousands of dollars that they spent across multiple states in planning all of this. And subsequently, you know, after the insurrection as well what they had planned. Jennifer Rodgers, Juliette Kayyem, thank you. As always, Jim, I don't know if you heard his ex-wife, Rhodes' ex-wife

speaking earlier this morning. It was chilling when she said that she feels not only safer for herself and her children now but obviously for the country as well.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's remarkable from someone so close to him.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. Yes. Well up ahead a major setback for President Biden. The administration hit by confusion over COVID testing. The Supreme Court blocking part of the vaccine mandate, rising inflation and no movement on voting rights. So is there a way out for the President?