Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Hearing Raises Questions About Legal Exposure for Trump, Allies; January 6 Committee Says, Trump Repeatedly Told Plot to Overturn Votes Was Illegal; Putin Gives Speech at International Economic Forum After Cyberattack Delay. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 17, 2022 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

The growing question, what will the Justice Department's next moves be. Will Attorney General Merrick Garland bring criminal charges against former president and his allies? The committee detailing evidence that former President Trump and his attorney, John Eastman, knew that that plan to overturn the 2020 election was not legal, knew that, but still pressed forward to pressure Vice President Pence anyways.

The panel outlining just how close to imminent mortal danger the vice president was on January 6th, President Trump sending out a tweet at 2:24 P.M. that day about Mike Pence, that served to whip up the crowd. One of the rioters read it aloud. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just heard that Mike Pence is not going to reject any fraudulent elector votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a traitor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. You heard it here first. Mike Pence has betrayed the United States of America.

(BLEEP) you, Mike Pence.

SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY (voice over): It was clear that it was escalating and escalating quickly.

So then when that tweet, the Mike Pence tweet, was sent out, I remember us saying that that was the last thing that needed to be tweeted at that moment. The situation was already bad. And so it felt like he was pouring gasoline on the fire by tweeting that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: The danger to Pence was very real and very close, as we have now learned, that angry mob got about 40 feet away from the vice president.


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Mr. Jacob, you were there, seeing that for the first time. Does it surprise you to see how close the mob was to the evacuation route that you took? The 40 feet is a distance from me to you, roughly.

GREG JACOB, FORMER COUNSEL TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I could hear the din of the rioters in the building while we moved, but I don't think I was aware that they were as close as that.

AGUILAR: Make no mistake about the fact that the vice president's life was in danger. A recent court filing by the Department of Justice explains that a confidential informant from the Proud Boys told the FBI the Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance.


HARLOW: The committee put forth evidence that Eastman, that attorney, knew that his scheme was illegal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did John Eastman ever admit as far as you know in front of the president that his proposal would violate the electoral count act?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe he did on the 4th.


HARLOW: Despite that, the panel laid out that Eastman still wouldn't take no for an answer.


JACOB: I think it was probably his first words after introductions and as we sat down were I'm here to request that you reject the electors in the disputed states.

No vice president in 230 years of history had ever claimed to have that kind of authority.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know if Mr. Clark or Mr. Morgan viewed about that, thought about that, Mr. Eastman's advice?

JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO TRUMP: Yes, they thought he was crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know if they ever expressed an opinion on whether they thought the vice president had the power that John Eastman said he did? MILLER: I know for a fact that both say that his theory was crazy, that there was no validity to it, in any way, shape or form.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And did they express that before January 6th?



MILLER: I think anyone who would listen.


HARLOW: As the committee prepares for its next hearing, it is now also requesting to speak with Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, about her role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. She is among those who were in frequent email contact. It turns out, with John Eastman in the lead-up to January 6th.

And we just learned one of those emails was an invitation, she sent to Eastman in December, 2020, for him to speak to a group about election litigation. Ginni Thomas says, for her part, she, quote, can't wait to clear up any misconceptions.

So, let's go to our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez on all of this. So, Eastman is also responding to these new details that we have learned, a lot of details yesterday. What is he saying?

EVAN PEREZ, SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. The -- Eastman, I think, you saw these hearings the last couple of days, you get the sense of the real criminal exposure that he has and knows he has, which is why he pled the fifth when the committee was interviewing him.


And now the committee, as a result of learning about these new communications between the wife of the Supreme Court justice, Ginni Thomas, and Eastman is asking her to come in for an interview, which apparently she is willing to do.

I'll read you a part of what The New York Times, which obtained a copy of the letter that they sent to her, the letter says, that we've obtained evidence that John Eastman worked to develop alternate slates of electors to stop the electoral count on January 6th. And it says in addition evidence that you had -- essentially has evidence that you have had certain communications with John Eastman during this time period. We believe that you may have information concerning John Eastman's plans and activities relevant to our investigation.

Obviously, Ginni Thomas is a conservative activist and John Eastman and her apparently were in regular communication. And according to them, this was not an unusual thing, so she says she is willing to come in and clear up any misconceptions that the committee has.

HARLOW: Right. And the dates, they ask for, pretty soon, like the first week of July.

PEREZ: Right. Right, exactly. And Eastman, by the way, immediately went on his Substack online to respond to some of this, including some of the reporting from The Washington Post, and others, that described some of these communications.

And, you know, I'll read you part of what he says. He says, I can categorically confirm that at no time did I discuss with Mrs. Thomas or to Justice Thomas any matters pending or likely to come before the court. We have never engaged in such discussions and would not engage in such discussions and did not do so in December 2020 or anytime.

Look, for Eastman and for Ginni Thomas, they believe that this is just innocuous stuff. And so they believe the committee was misconstruing some of what they were talking about at that time.

HARLOW: Okay. Well, she's invited to speak to them now. So, we'll see what comes of that. Evan Perez, thanks very much for your reporting.

Let's talk about all these huge developments yesterday with our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobi, also Errol Louis, Political Anchor for Spectrum News. Gentlemen, great to have you.

I just, Jeffrey, would love your take, sort of a 30,000-foot take on what we learned yesterday, how damning that was for the former president, and juxtapose that to what we learned about Mike Pence's actions.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I've always thought that it is a remote that Donald Trump would ever be prosecuted for anything. But the only thing he's exposed for, I think, realistically, is if there was proof that he actually incited violence. I think that's the only possibility.

And there was evidence yesterday for the first time that we saw the possibility of inciting violence and it really was very concentrated in the period after 2:00, when the Capitol was breached, when the rioters stormed the Capitol.

And some midlevel White House aides went to the president and said, we need to calm things down, we need you to tell people to stop doing this, and what happens? He sends that tweet, you showed it earlier, at 2:24, which does precisely the opposite thing, which puts Mike Pence and all the -- there is -- it is up on the screen there -- enrages the crowd, puts the police in tremendous danger, puts Pence in danger, and that is part of an investigation of Trump inciting violence.

Does that mean he's going to be prosecuted? I don't know. But it is the first real evidence of him inciting the crowd when he knew he was inciting the crowd.

Now, you ask about Pence.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: I never really associated Mike Pence with Harrison Ford, but that was like a Harrison Ford movie there, what we heard. At this incredibly tense moment, when the rioters are coming after him, and the Secret Service puts all of his staff into the limos and says, we're getting the hell out of here because it is too dangerous, Pence says, I'm not going anywhere, I'm staying here, I'm doing my constitutional duty, despite what my boss, the president, said. It was an act of real courage on the part of Mike Pence, and there was real danger there.

And I just think that is worth taking note of because, you know, as bad as this situation was, it would have been worse but for Mike Pence's courage.

HARLOW: Errol, to that point, and I think it is such an important juxtaposition that Jeffrey just made, how do you think the committee did in presenting that, Harrison Ford-esque movie that Jeffrey points to, to talk to conservatives, particularly?


ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know if conservatives are hearing any of this, but for anybody who is willing to look at this with fresh eyes and an open mind, I think it was a real eye-opener. I mean, to have Judge Luttig there, a loaded conservative, to have all kinds of people whose conservative credentials are unquestioned, including Mike Pence, and to see what they did, and that they held firm and that they were insulted and they were ignored and they were castigated. I think it shows you what a conservative can do even in the face of pressure from Donald Trump.

The problem, of course, is that there have been no consequences for the people who did these things. And until that shoe falls, it is still going to be, I think, up in the air and sort of a jump fall as far as where ideological conservatives end up.

Certainly, we know that elected Republicans have all scattered for the four -- scattered to the four winds and are to the extent that they opened their mouths at all continuing to support the president, even in light of all of this damning testimony.

HARLOW: So, Jeffrey, there was testimony yesterday too from John Eastman -- from Herschmann, rather, one of the former president's lawyers, about John Eastman, reaching out to Rudy Giuliani, after knowing what he was about to do or trying to do was not legal, asking for a presidential pardon. I think we have some of that sound, is that right? Okay, listen to this.


ERIC HERSCHMANN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: The morning of January 6th, I think he called me out of the blue. And we had an intellectual discussion about Eastman's -- I don't know if it is Eastman's theory per se, but the V.P.'s role. And when we finished, he said, look, I believe that you're probably right.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Every single thing that has been outlined as the plan for today is perfectly legal. (END VIDEO CLIP)


TOOBIN: Well, he's in trouble. I mean, he's at considerable risk. And, by the way, it is so outrageous, you know, in Evan's story, he put this statement out on Substack. He's willing to put out statements about this, but he's not willing to answer questions about it.

HARLOW: Right. How many times did he plead the fifth?

TOOBIN: He took the fifth a hundred times.

HARLOW: 40 times or something?

TOOBIN: But he wants to protect his friend, the Thomases, on Substack. I mean, if you want to talk, answer questions. Don't just put out statements.

But, you know, if a lawyer -- lawyers are allowed to make difficult arguments and they're allowed to make losing arguments. If you put out, make arguments that you know are against the law in an effort to deceive and overturn -- serve Congress and overturn an election, that's legally perilous. And I think --

HARLOW: How legally perilous? Obviously, beyond being disbarred?

TOOBIN: Well, it is potentially obstruction of Congress. It is potentially a criminal offense. That's why Eric Herschmann is saying to him, you need a criminal defense lawyer. That's why he's asking for a pardon. You don't ask for a pardon unless you think you're at risk of criminal prosecution.

You know, will he be prosecuted? I don't know. But there was evidence that came out yesterday that certainly suggests he should be under investigation at a minimum.

HARLOW: Errol, to you finally, the reporting we just got from Evan Perez on this letter The New York Times got from the committee to Ginni Thomas saying we want to talk to you and here's why because of your email correspondence in this time period with John Eastman, she seems like she's going to talk to them. People often say that, right, as one of our guests noted, let's wait and see. How significant is it, do you think, for the committee to hear from her?

LOUIS: I think it is very significant. The reality is that she was married to a mailman and not a Supreme Court justice. It is very possible, indeed likely this email exchange she had with John Eastman would be relevant. And so they have every reason to chase after it. So, the information itself is important regardless of who she is.

On the other hand, this has been accurately described overall as a coup in search of a legal theory. Now, to the extent that the wife of a Supreme Court justice is now brought into that circle and is perhaps either aware of or helping to develop that legal theory to support the potential coup, it starts to really look like political dynamite. It is really at the heart of what this committee is looking for, and they have every reason to try and get to the bottom of it.

If it really is just a misunderstanding, she says she wants to come and clear it up, she should do so forthwith and preferably under oath to make clear whatever her role was in all of this.

TOOBIN: but, to me, the real issue with Ginni Thomas is about her husband. It's not about her. She has First Amendment rights. She can advocate for all the political issues she wants, but she was exchanging emails with Mark Meadows, with Eastman.


The Supreme Court decided a case about emails and texts involving those people precisely at the time she was exchanging emails with them. That's an issue of recusal. He should not have sat on that case. And that, to me, is why Ginni Thomas is significant. She can do what she wants. The issue is her husband's ethical obligations as a judge.

HARLOW: Two election-related cases, two that he did not recuse himself of. Jeffrey Toobin, Errol Louis, thank you, have a great weekend, both of you.


HARLOW: Developing this hour, Russian President Vladimir Putin is speaking out on Ukraine and the European Union. His speech at the International Economic Conference that was pushed back due to, quote, massive cyberattacks, we'll take you live to St. Petersburg for the latest.

Also turning regular trucks into war-ready vehicles, this is a fascinating story. These two Ukrainians volunteering on their own time, in their own way to help their countries fight against Russia.

And, the committee investigating the tragedy, the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, visiting the site where 21 lives were taken. We take a look at who is expected to testify ahead of today's hearing.



HARLOW: This morning, Russian President Putin delivering a speech in St. Petersburg at the International Economic Forum, it is happening after a nearly two-hour delay from what is being described as a, quote, massive cyberattack.

Our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen joins me now. What more can you tell us?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Poppy. Well, it certainly was a landmark speech, I almost think, by Vladimir Putin, because anybody who thought that Vladimir Putin was going to back down in the invasion that Russia is currently conducting in Ukraine, certainly, that was not the case. In fact, what we saw was a very combative speech by Vladimir Putin and certainly one where he tried to lay all of the blame for the things that are happening in Ukraine on the doorstep of the United States and of the west.

The Russian president said that the operation, the special military operation, as the Russians call it, obviously, meaning the invasion of Ukraine, would not end until all of their military objectives are achieved. He kept calling it the war in Donbas, which, of course, means the eastern regions of that country, large parts of which are already under the control of the Russian military and, of course, its proxies in Luhansk and in Donetsk.

He also essentially challenged the United States on the world stage, saying the U.S. and its allies have tried to cripple Russia with sanctions, he said that was not working, that the Russian economy was still afloat. And he said that, essentially, they would re-jig that economy to then become stronger than ever before and compete against the United States and the world. Poppy?

HARLOW: Fred, before you go, really significant development obviously this morning with the European Commission recommending -- formally recommending E.U., quote, candidate status for Ukraine. And I was talking to Richard Haass last hour about how that would be very much a different process than most candidates given Ukraine's situation in the war, much more accelerated. Can you explain what it would mean and the timeline?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes, I think that's an absolutely correct assessment, because I've seen a lot of candidates of the E.U. and covered their attempted ascension into membership of the European Union. You're absolutely right, this is something that certainly is hugely accelerated and also brought on by the fact that the Ukrainians essentially are stand up to the Russians in Ukraine, that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy does not flee Ukraine, as many would have thought, and that obviously many European countries are supporting the Ukrainians.

So, this process is still one that could be very long. I just want to read you real quick what Volodymry Zelenskyy said after this decision. He said, I commend the positive E.U. Commission conclusion on Ukraine's candidate status, it is the first step on the E.U. membership path that will certainly bring our victory closer. He then went on to thank the members of the European Commission.

And so, obviously, it is a huge step for the European -- for the Ukrainians, and if they do manage to get into the European Union, obviously, all sorts of economic perspectives would then open up as well.

HARLOW: Absolutely, for more prolonged aid to the country. Fred Pleitgen, thank you, in St. Petersburg, Russia, for us, we appreciate it very much.

Inside of Ukraine right now, a team of volunteers are transforming civilian trucks, like Toyotas and Nissans, into battle-ready vehicles for the Ukrainian army. Since launching car4ukraine back in March, the team says they have fully refitted 60 vehicles and has over a dozen more in progress to send to combat units in the frontlines. We're going to talk about how they did this, where the idea came from. I'm happy to bring in Roman Hapachylo, who started this effort, along with Ivan Oleksii, who is helping to coordinate what is just a huge team of volunteers, they're both joining us from the Lviv region. Thank you, gentlemen, very much for being here this morning.



HARLOW: Roman, you are the one who started this. This was your idea. Where did it come from and how did you get from idea to execution?

HAPACHYLO: So, mostly, like, I see that Russia, one of the guy who was working in the military section, said that Ukrainians start those type of vehicles to like support the army and target the Russian military guys, and I only watch that movie and say, okay, we should do these cars. He called these cars (INAUDIBLE) mobile, yes, and we started sourcing the cars in U.K., in Sweden, in Germany, in Poland, buy these cars to Ukrainian communities, because we have quite huge communities outside Ukraine, so sending money through PayPal, let's say, yes, and buy the cars, deliver them to Ukraine, prepare them, with metal, we put gun turret there, for different type of guns, and delivered this to east to our guys.


And as for now, we already delivered 66. So, today, we delivered 66 cars from Lviv to east of Ukraine.

HARLOW: Ivan you are medically -- as I understand it, medically exempt from fighting in the Armed Forces in Ukraine. And so you've joined this effort instead as a way to help those on the battlefield. Can you explain what you need to actually turn these trucks into combat vehicles and how they're being used on the frontline? We're looking at some images of you doing the work right now.

OLESKSII: Yes. So, yes, first thing, I have never fought, I never held any rifle in my hand, so I cannot fight. So, I wanted to find a way how I could be useful and how I could help Roman with his initiative, and we found that we can kind of find additional motivation for international community to join our project.

The vehicles, like, in order to have this vehicle, what we need, first of all, is a vehicle, so we need to buy it somewhere. After that, we need to bring it to Ukraine, we have to check engine, transmission, we have to make sure the frame is good, it is not too old and it is reliable.

And on top of that, what Roman mentioned is that, like, we put guns on the back of it, so you have to put up the turret, you have make them, build them, and there you go, from just regular civilian vehicle, you get a battle vehicle that can beat someone's asses.

HARLOW: As I understand it, Ivan, you're originally from the Kherson region, which is now, of course, currently occupied by the Russians. And I just wonder for you what it is like to see that, and for -- do you still have family there, friends, are they okay?

OLEKSII: Yes, like 95 percent of my family in Ukraine in Kherson, most of them are farmers, so they are very tied to that region. It is hard for them to leave because they have a lot of basic infrastructure there. They are relatively fine, all of them have their arms and legs, all safe, all alive, relatively safe, I would say. And, yes, that's actually one of the reasons why I'm doing this project, because maybe that sounds too good, but I want to help to liberate my region. And if there is a way, how I can help with that, I'm going to do it.

HARLOW: Roman, I wonder what you make of especially recent conversations by some E.U. leaders that the only end to this war will come with some sort of compromise, negotiation, you know, potential, you know, handing over of territory, if you will. And I just wonder what it is like for you to hear that as you are doing everything the two of you can to help those on the frontlines.

HAPACHYLO: I'm not sure that can be accepted by Ukrainians, to be honest. Already, after all the deaths, what happens in Bucha, and we see all died, which happened in Mariupol, I'm sure that it will not be accepted by the Ukrainians at all.

So, at the same time, we see a lot of my friends, they are soldiers right now, they were civilians before, and delivered cars for them as well, and they listened what we want, to be honest. We want victory. We want to fight back our territory. We want to make sure it will never happen again. Because any agreement with Russia, it means -- I have two boys, I have two sons. They're twins, yes. And if I will not stop this right now, in ten years, these guys should go to the army and fight back the Russians.

I'm sure of this, if we sign this type of agreement. And I will do what I can that my sons will never pick up guns in their arms. So, we should finish this.

HARLOW: It is for your children, clearly, as well. Thank you very much, Roman and Ivan, for what you're doing and for being with us today.

HAPACHYLO: Thank you. Thank you for your invitation. Thank you. Glory to Ukraine.

HARLOW: A fourth grade teacher and at least three members of the Uvalde School District Police Department are expected to share their firsthand accounts of what happened during the deadly day at Robb Elementary School. The latest in the search for answers is next.