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Uvalde Police Officers Testify Before TX House Committee; Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) Discusses Concerns Over Russia Interference in Midterms, Trump Wants "Equal Time" in 1/6 Hearings, Biden Trip to Saudi Arabia Next Month; History of Movement to Celebrate End of Slavery; Israel's Prime Minister & Foreign Minister Agree to Dissolve Government. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 20, 2022 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: In Uvalde, Texas, members of the police department voluntarily agreed to testify before the State House committee investigating last month's deadly massacre in Robb Elementary School.

Now, the city's police chief is testifying, but not the school district chief, Pete Arrendondo.

The committee expects to complete a preliminary investigative report by mid-July.

CNN's Rosa Flores has been following today's hearing.

So, Rosa, what can you tell us?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, this is the fourth day of testimony. And all of the testimony happens in executive session, which means it's behind closed doors.

So far today, members of the Uvalde Police Department have testified, including the police chief. Also a school resource officer and a Texas DPS trooper.

Clearly missing from the witness list is school police chief, Pete Arrendondo.

I called his attorney and asked him if he was going to be testifying or when he was going to be testifying. His attorney says no comment at this point.

It's unclear if Arrendondo will be testifying or not before this committee today.

However, this committee does have subpoena powers. And so could this committee issue a subpoena, to compel Arrendondo to testify? Absolutely.


As one of the committee members, former Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, was walking into the building today, I asked her if she was expecting to hear from Arrendondo. She said, quote, "I think he's a key part of this investigation."

About the report, this committee's decision is a fact-finding one. They're expected to issue a report that goes through the timeline exactly what happened.

According to a source close to this committee, telling CNN they're expected to wrap up the investigation by the end of the month. And that by writing this report could take about two weeks.

Now, Victor what could delay this, according to the source is if people do not come forward and testify voluntarily, then subpoenas have to be issued, subpoenas have to be served.

So that could delay the issuance of this report -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: Yes, those communities have so many answers. Hopefully, they can get some questions -- hopefully, they can get answers from this committee.

Rosa Flores, thank you very much.

So, there's growing concern that Russia is employing new tactics to thwart the upcoming midterms. We're going talk about that with a member of the House Intel Committee, Congressman Eric Swalwell. That's next.



BLACKWELL: There's growing fear among top national security officials that Russia may interfere in this year's midterm elections, according to new CNN reporting.

One specific concern, the Kremlin will exploit the current divisions in America over election integrity to sow more doubt in the security of our voting system.

Joining me now to discuss it Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, welcome back.

Let's start right here with what the five officials say is a possible scenario. It's a hypothetical. Have you seen any indication, any evidence, that it's more than just hypothetical?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Well, what I see right now, Victor is comparing 2016 where we were a combustible country and Russia used disinformation hacking and dumping, scanning of election systems.

And they were quite effective in trying to help their preferred candidate Donald Trump.

And then I look at the upcoming midterm election where we're even more combustible. We're coming off an insurrection. We're helping Ukraine stay in the fight against Russia.

So, not only have they had the capabilities -- they've always had that -- we've become more combustible. And they have more of a motive knowing what we know what they're doing in Ukraine.

And so, without going into the intelligence that I'm seeing, all of those factors make us very, very vulnerable to Russia trying to change the outcome of this one election.

BLACKWELL: There's one scenario that experts talk about. They lay out again a hypothetical involving the staging of hacks of local intelligence officers designed to be found out, caught, and then use that to feed conspiracy about election fraud.

I know you introduced new legislation about cyber security. How vulnerable are the elections systems, the computer systems of these election offices broadly?

SWALWELL: Very vulnerable. And the Russians know that. And we've seen that.

Now, when you layer on top of that, a Republican Party that refuses to accept the outcome of the last election -- the Texas Republican Party the weekend in their platform are trying to put in place that Joe Biden is not the winner.

So if you can have the Russians go into voting systems -- in New Mexico, you have a board there trying to throw out any Dominion election results in a recent election.

Put on top of that, the Russians going into those systems and you can create chaos in our elections.

Now the response that I hope the Russians are met with is that the Biden administration will call them out immediately.

That was very effective in putting the coalition together in Europe to go after what Russia did in Ukraine by showing the exquisite intelligence we have, outing it before the Russians are able actually act. We call them out on that and stop them in their tracks.

We have to learn from 2016, Victor. We didn't do that. We let the Russians hack and dump and launch an disinformation campaign. And we never called them out. And that time, Donald Trump benefitted from that.

This time, we have to go on offence and put the Russians on their heels.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the 1/6 committee. Former President Trump has said several times, put on his social media, that he wants equal time, equal time to talk about what he says is the other side of the 2020 election story.

You said you'd be open to that if he goes under oath.

But if he continues to at least suggest the belief that he won the 2020 election -- he did not -- would that be valuable for the committee to hear from the former president?

SWALWELL: Well, it would be valuable to show he is a liar and that everything he's said publicly has been repudiated by the facts that they put forward.

Victor, during the second impeachment trial, we made this offer to the former president. We said come on down.

If you are truly innocent, you know, nothing would stop you. You would crawl through glass and walk through fire, to come tell the country that you did not incite or aim this in insurrection at the capitol. He didn't do that.


Here, he's asking for equal time. The commissioners would love, I'm sure, to hear from the president.

But everyone around him, most people, like Mark Meadows and others, keep saying, I'll see you in court. Again, revealing a consciousness of guilt.

Donald Trump doesn't want equal time. He just wants to make a mockery of this process.

But the evidence thus far overwhelmingly has shown that Donald Trump assembled the mob, aimed the mob, and incited the mob as they violently tried to overthrow the capitol.

And had no legal basis for any belief that he spewed to the mob.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about President Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia coming up next month. We heard from the president today. He said his meetings will include the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

His energy secretary said her understanding is they will be meeting one-on-one. But waiting for some clarity on that.

After the killing of the "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in 2016, you wrote an op-ed for "Newsweek," the title, "America Doesn't Need Allies Who Torture and Murder Journalists."

You called for President Trump to pull the treasury secretary from a conference in Riyadh.

You wrote this: "America must not validate the Riyadh regime with our presence while this vile situation remains unresolved."

So should President Biden be meeting having a meeting that includes MbS? SWALWELL: I don't like it. I wouldn't do it if I was president. But I

respect that we're in a global inflation. Energy prices are soaring worldwide.

The Saudis control a lot of oil. And he has to do what's best for the American people and our allies in Europe. I think you can do that without meeting with the crown prince. But I'll leave it to President Biden.

I'll tell you, I don't like it. I think American exceptionalism was on display when Vladimir Putin went into Ukraine and we stitched together an alliance of not just Europe, NATO but Japan, Australia and others to push back on Russia.

I think relying on the good faith alliances and people who are honorable and show moral integrity is more important to take on these crises than an unscrupulous actor like the crown prince.

And if the president is going to meet with him, Victor, I hope we can make progress on accountability for what happened to Jamal Khashoggi.

BLACKWELL: Congressman Eric Swalwell, always good to have you. Thank you.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: A giant political shake-up for one of America's closest allies. Israeli leaders agree to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.

And today marks the celebration of freedom in this country. How the country is commemorating Juneteenth, next.



BLACKWELL: Many government buildings and schools are closed today in observance of Juneteenth. It commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited the National Museum of African- American History and Culture in D.C. this morning. She spoke with children there and told them that Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the principle of freedom.

CNN's Fredricka Whitfield looks at the history of Juneteenth and its long road to national recognition.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Juneteenth is a celebration that marks the end of slavery in the United States, also known as Emancipation Day. Many consider it to be the country's second Independence Day. It was on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers led by this man, General

Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, with orders to tell residents that the Civil War had ended and to tell enslaved African- Americans they were finally free.

The message came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. His order was difficult to enforce, so many slaves didn't see freedom until the end of the war.

Many African-Americans have marked the anniversary for years. But it was a woman from Texas named Opal Lee, who started a movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, the 95-year-old campaigned on the issue for decades.

She even held a two and a half mile march each year to commemorate the two and a half years it took for slaves in Texas to learn they were free.

OPAL LEE, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Please, please continue the kinds of things that you know we need to become one people, hear. It's not a white thing. It's not a black thing. It's an American thing.

WHITFIELD: In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday. By 2019, 47 states and the District of Columbia followed suit.


WHITFIELD: Last year, President Joe Biden signed a law, making Juneteenth a federal holiday, a dream come true for Lee and for so many others.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history.

And celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we've come, at the distance we have to travel to.


WHITFIELD: A historical marker can be seen today in Galveston, Texas, at the site where General Granger and his troops set up their headquarters announcing the end of slavery.


WHITFIELD: Today, Americans recognize Juneteenth with parties and gatherings. And the day is marked as a celebration of African-American freedom and achievement.

LEE: I'm screaming from the house that unity is freedom. People have been taught to hate, and if people have been taught to hate they can be taught to love. WHITFIELD: Fredricka Whitfield, CNN.


BLACKWELL: Can be taught to love. Thank you, Miss Opal Lee.

The Texas Republican Party is reminding all of us just how divided this country is on several issues. In their party platform, they've declared President Biden's election as illegitimate and deemed homosexuality, quote, "an abnormal lifestyle choice." What this means for the GOP. That's next.


BLACKWELL: Israel's prime minister and foreign minister agreed today to dissolve the country's government. If the bill that they submitted is passed, it would trigger a general election later this year.

Hadas Gold is live in Jerusalem for us.

Hadas, why is this happening now?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, this coalition government, the most diverse in Israeli history, have been fragile and teetering for weeks, but few expected it to dissolve the way that it is doing so today.


The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, and the foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said they tried to do everything to try to stabilize the coalition, but they decided to dissolve the coalition government themselves, something done by the opposition parties.

So now, next week, a vote will be brought to the parliament to dissolve it. And when that passes, Yair Lapid, currently the foreign minister, will then become prime minister of Israel.