Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Biden Calls or Gas Tax Holiday; Trump Enlisted Officials to Overturn Election; Lack of Evidence to Back Up Election Fraud Claims; Calls for Arredondo's Removal; Roland Gutierrez is Interviewed about the Uvalde Investigation. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 22, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.

We are following several major stories this morning. First, hoping to give some degree of relief to Americans at the pump this afternoon. President Biden is expected to call on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months. He's also expected to ask states to suspend their own gas taxes and for oil companies to boost refining capacity. The administration estimates the moves could lower gas prices by at least $1 a gallon if they can get it all through Congress. But I should say, this faces steep opposition from some on Capitol Hill, even from some of the president's own party, and members of the administration have even conceded there are significant downsides to do this, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Plus, significant new evidence in the latest hearing from the January 6th committee. Witnesses testified that former President Trump and sitting GOP lawmakers were directly involved in pushing fake slates of electors in multiple states to attempt to overturn the 2020 election while the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, admitted they had no evidence of widespread fraud to back up that plan.


RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN: He turned the call over to Mr. Eastman, who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Did you also receive a call from U.S. Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona on the morning of January 6th?


SCHIFF: And what did Mr. Biggs ask you to do?

BOWERS: He asked if I would sign on both to a letter that had been sent from my state, and/or that I would support the decertification of the electors. And I said I would not.

CASEY LUCIER, INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: A staffer for Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson texted a staffer for Vice President Pence just minutes before the beginning of the joint session. This staffer stated that Senator Johnson wished to hand deliver to the vice president the fake electors votes from Michigan and Wisconsin.


SCIUTTO: Keep in mind, those moves from the former president, Biggs, Johnson, would have overturned the will of voters in those states.

Let's begin though this morning with President Biden's announcement expected this afternoon where he will ask Congress, and he needs Congress, to suspend the federal gas tax.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House. CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans also.

Jeremy, to you first.

The president knows there are enormous political pressures here, including on his approval rating, due to the rising gas prices. Does the White House -- is the White House convinced Congress will do what the president wants here?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is a big, big question, Jim. At best it appears difficult for the White House to actually get this gas tax suspension passed through Congress.

Let me first take you through what exactly the White House is proposing here. They're proposing a three-month suspension of that gas and diesel tax, federal gas and diesel tax, that's 18 cents per gallon on gas, 24 cents per gallon on diesel. They are also calling on individual states to also remove their own gas taxes or suspend their own gas and diesel taxes as well. And they're also calling on oil refiners to boost production capacity.

Now, all of these measures are not in the White House's hands alone. In fact, they appear to be largely outside of the White House's hands. And the White House acknowledges that this is not an all in one solution to relieving gas price -- high gas prices for American consumers. But what they say that it is that they hope that these moves could provide a little bit of breathing room. All together combined, they say that these moves could potentially lower gas prices by nearly a dollar.

But, again, very difficult to see how this gets through Congress. Republicans are largely opposed to suspending the gas tax holiday. And we've even seen some skepticism from key Democrats, including the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who seems to have been cool to this idea. Senator Joe Manchin, a key vote in the Senate, also not apparently on board yet with this proposal.

And part of that is because there's questions about how much this will actually be passed on to consumers. The Biden administration says it will keep a close eye on this and expects and will encourage oil companies to pass along this tax relief to consumers. But, still, a big question mark. One that economists are asking as well.

HARLOW: Jeremy, thanks.

And, Christine, Jeremy made a great point there, will ask the refiners and oil companies to pass this on to consumers.



HARLOW: You can't mandate they do that. And, b, members of the administration, like the - like Jennifer Granholm, this weekend, said, there is a cost to doing this.

ROMANS: There's a really -- this is an important source of revenue for keeping our highways safe, right? And so that's part of this. You -- the White House is saying that they would try - that Biden would try to find other ways to replace that revenue. But this is what you use to fund upkeep of roads and bridges across the country.

Now, the White House also pointing out you have $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending that has been passed and so they would try to make sure that none of that would be jeopardized by losing this revenue from the gas tax.

But this is about giving breathing space to American families. And that's what the White House has been stressing over and over again, that families need some breathing room. That 18.3 cents, 18.4 cents a gallon, 24 cents for diesel, that would be felt by people who are filling up right now. And they want to show, symbolically at least, that they understand that every time you fill up at the gas pump that it is - it is a hardship for American families.

But there is no guarantee that that savings will be passed, all of it, every penny of it on to American consumers and drivers. And there is still the funding shortfall. This is a tax that hasn't been raised, I think, since the mid-1990s, even as cars get more fuel efficient. So, think about that, they need even more money, you know, to keep up with inflation to keep America's roads and infrastructure built up at a time when they're getting less revenue every year because of fuel efficiency and then this pause.

But, look, this is trying to say we're doing something. We know. We feel your pain. And this is something that we can try to encourage Congress to pass. But it's not guaranteed that it will happen at all.

HARLOW: Thank you, Christine Romans, Jeremy Diamond at the White House, as always.

The January 6th committee presenting compelling evidence yesterday that the pressure on state election officials to sign on to a fake elector's scheme to overturn the 2020 election results was intense, it was sustained, and it involved former President Trump himself.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Sara Murray joins us now.

I mean that was the through line they were trying to establish yesterday. And new evidence, new sworn testimony. The president involved. Andy Biggs, sitting member of Congress. Senator Ron Johnson's office as well, sitting member of the Senate.

How do they tie that or attempt to tie that together yesterday?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you know, I think we got a look at sort of the intimate pressure campaign a number of state officials faced and now the committee is sort of giving inklings of where they would like to go next.

And Liz Cheney was very explicit about who she wants to hear from, and that's former White House Council Pat Cipollone.

Take a listen.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Our committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Mr. Cipollone to testify here. Indeed, our evidence shows that Mr. Cipollone and his office tried to do what was right.

We think the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Cipollone personally. He should appear before this committee. And we are working to secure his testimony.


MURRAY: Now, the Biden White House isn't blocking Pat Cipollone from testifying. He essentially feels like he's cooperated enough, he's cooperated behind closed doors, he doesn't want to be sort of out there like John Dean in the Nixon era, although this committee, of course, would argue that, you know, when you have something like January 6th, that is a monumental event.

Now, they also raised new evidence about Ron Johnson, senator from Wisconsin, efforts to sort of further this fake electors plot. You were talking earlier about these text messages. These are texts between an aide to Ron Johnson and an aide to then Vice President Mike Pence, where the Johnson aide is saying the senator needs to deliver something in person to the vice president. Pence's aide says, you know, what is it. Johnson's aide says it's the alternate slate of electors for Michigan and Wisconsin. And Pence's aide is very clear, no, do not do this. Do not give this to the vice president.

After this hearing, Johnson told our Manu Raju that he knew there was a package that needed to be delivered, but essentially he didn't know anything else about what was going on.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why was he even asking for that? SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Because somebody delivered this to our office

and asked to deliver that to the vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you support his efforts it try to get those slates to the vice president?

JOHNSON: No, I had no knowledge of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who - who is the person that delivered it?

JOHNSON: I'd known - you know, I had no involvement in an alternate state of -- slate of electors. I had no idea this was even going to be delivered to us. Got delivered staff to staff. My chief of staff did the right thing, contacted the vice president's staff. They said, didn't want it, so we didn't deliver it. And that's -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's the person -

JOHNSON: And that's the end of the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who was the person that end delivered it to your office?

JOHNSON: I -- I have no idea.


MURRAY: Now, the committee still has not said whether they are going to see the senator's testimony, but obviously his response there raises a number of additional questions.

Back to you guys.

HARLOW: OK, Sara Murray, thanks very much for all that reporting.

Also, new evidence yesterday that the Trump team knew that they had no evidence to back up these election fraud claims.



REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): At some point did one of them make a comment that they didn't have evidence but they had a lot of theories?



SCHIFF: And what exactly did he say and how did that come up?

BOWERS: My recollection, he said, we've got lots of theories, we just don't have the evidence.


SCIUTTO: All right, so what's the law? What does it mean on this?

CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Carrie, first to you.

Does their apparent knowledge that they didn't have the evidence to back the plan, as well as some of the admission or concern that the plan might be illegal, does that amount to or give evidence of intent by those involved to commit a crime?


I think it gives evidence of intent and it speaks to the potential fraud. If there's a theory of this case that there was a fraud that was conducted against the United States, against the American people, to try to steal the election from them through this scheme, the fact that individuals involved in the planning of it, in the coordination of it, knew that what they were doing was not correct, knew that what they were doing had no evidence, I think that is potential evidence of it.

One of the most striking things that Rusty Bowers, I thought, said in his testimony, the Arizona official, is he said, as people -- as people close to the former president kept coming to him in multiple phone calls, he determined that there was, quote, no legal pathway. And I think that quote from him and his testimony just really distills the distinction that people who were involved in this understood that what was being proposed to them was so deeply wrong.

HARLOW: Ron, let's not miss the fact or gloss over the fact that sitting lawmakers, Republican lawmakers, sitting, still, took place -- took part in this fake elector's plan. I mean, that is just so concerning to what this means for the future. I wonder what your take on that is.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Look, I think there are two big points that come out of that. One is that the committee is delivering what it promised at the beginning, it is showing us that the January 6th insurrection and riot was not a spur of the moment event. It was the culmination of a multipronged, broad effort to undermine the election, that included an incredible array of pressure and engagement by other Republican elected officials in some instances.

And the other point, I think, that really comes across from this - you know, I was struck, as I was watching those Republican state officials, Mr. Bowers, the -- Raffensperger and Sterling from Georgia, the women who were election workers from Georgia, and the incredible pressure that they withstood, which included kind of a paramilitary effort to intimidate them through, you know, extremist groups supportive of Trump. They stood up to that, and yet we see elected officials, what, two-thirds of the House Republicans voting to decertify the election. And we continue to see people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who Trump belittled and humiliated in 2016, essentially denouncing these hearings, even before they started, calling them garbage, and a circus and saying there's nothing to listen to. So the contrast between those who did their duty, stood up for the Constitution, stood up for the rule of law, and those who have bent to Trump's effort to undermine all of the above, just could not be more striking as these hearings progress.

SCIUTTO: A headline from this, I think, is that it's not just about January 6th, right?


SCIUTTO: I mean it shows a weeks' long effort to attempt to overturn the election that went far beyond the grounds of Capitol Hill, to the White House, to state houses, to members of Congress.

I do want to ask you, legally, Carrie Cordero, these were fake electors designed to overturn the will of the people who voted in those states. In the simplest terms for me, for folks watching at home, is it illegal, illegal, just on the face of it, to put forth fake electors?

CORDERO: I think it's got to be and I would presume that this is part of what the Justice Department is investigating. So, potential crimes could involve this broader conspiracy to defraud the United States. Depending on what happens with some of the fake electors, there could potentially be false statements, which is under the criminal code. And then I would presume that the Justice Department is evaluating, sort of, the broad scope of election laws.

But just to -- just to hover on one point very quickly, Jim, that Ron was speaking about, the -- this hearing, and you mentioned it, it's not just about January 6th and it's not just about the past. It's also about the future. And these threats that were described by all the witnesses yesterday just represents this bigger picture of political violence and threats that election officials, elected officials at the state and federal levels, judges, justices are all under in the current environment.


HARLOW: You know, Ron, what I found most compelling yesterday watching the hearing is the regular folks. Is people like Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who gave of their time to help preserve democracy and work these elections, right? And then what happened to them from the president on down. Let's play that for people.


RUBY FREEMAN, FORMER FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA, ELECTION WORKER: Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you? The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one.

WANDREA "SHAYE" MOSS, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: I don't want to go anywhere with my mom because she might yell my name out over the grocery aisle or something. I don't go to the grocery store at all. I haven't been anywhere at all. I've gained about 60 pounds. I just don't do nothing anymore. I don't want to go anywhere. I second guess everything that I do. This has affected my life in a major way and every way, all because of lies.



BROWNSTEIN: Yes. It's really clear, I think, Poppy, that this effort to overturn the election had a legal arm, it had -- in the courts and otherwise. It had a political arm, trying to pressure Republican state officials. And it had a paramilitary arm, in terms of trying to use physical threats, physical violence to intimidate those who were standing in the way of this plot against America, as (INAUDIBLE) and I put it. That's not something that's over, and it really underscores the dereliction of those Republican elected officials saying there's nothing to see here. They are normalizing the use of violence to advance political goals.

SCIUTTO: Yes, these people suffered. I mean that was part of the testimony.


SCIUTTO: Carrie Cordero, Ron Brownstein, thanks so much to both of you.

Coming up next, disturbing, alarming, shocking new details emerge about law enforcement failures during the Uvalde school shooting. The door wasn't even locked. Victims' families took their anger to a city school council meeting to demand the firing of the incident commander, Pete Arredondo.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone needs to be held accountable. Pete, for his inaction, every other officer who didn't do a damn thing and all of you for standing idly by while we hurt and beg for justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, please, we're begging, get this man out of our lives.


HARLOW: Also, a major milestone. The Senate reaches a bipartisan deal on gun violence after weeks of negotiation. We will tell you what is in this bill and how many Republicans are backing it, ahead.



SCIUTTO: In the next hour, the Texas State Senate will resume its special hearing on school safety. This in the aftermath of that horrific school shooting that left 19 children, two teachers dead in Uvalde. The state's top public safety official revealed damning, even shocking new evidence during yesterday's public session, calling the law enforcement response a, quote, abject failure that set our profession back a decade. The door to that room, the classroom, wasn't even locked.

HARLOW: And furious parents spoke out also at a city council meeting last night demanding the school police chief be fired.

Angel Garza, father of Amerie Jo Garza, spoke out on CNN just this morning.


ANGEL GARZA, FATHER OF UVALDE SCHOOL SHOOTING VICTIM AMERIE JO GARZA: I just don't get how you can hear these kids, you know, crying and asking for help, but you're scared to enter because your commander doesn't want you to go in. And somebody said -- somebody said at the school board meeting the other day that the kids were probably lying there just thinking where their parents were. And we were right outside. I was trying to get in. I was put into handcuffs. I was, like -- but the ones who told me to trust them didn't save my daughter, or any of the other kids.


HARLOW: Rosa Flores joins us again this morning.

Rosa, did we learn anything about why higher ranking officers, right, we learned there were eight law enforcement agencies represented that day outside that school, and inside, do we know why higher ranking officers from other units did not, at some point, assume command?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, senators asked Colonel -- excuse me. Sorry. We're having technical difficulties, Poppy.

Senators asked Colonel Steven McCraw that very question because, within those eight agencies was the Texas Department of Public Safety, which Colonel McCraw leads. And he was asked, once his troopers arrived on scene, once other high ranking members arrived on scene, why did those members did not -- do no -- did not take control of the scene.


Why, if they saw that this was such a debacle, why these other law enforcement officers didn't take control, rush into this classroom, and save these children.

What Colonel McCraw said was that it is practice and protocol for the highest ranking officer of the jurisdiction, in this case the school district, for that individual to be the commander of the incident, to take command, to take control.

And I checked on this question, Poppy, actually, because I was just curious, as a reporter, looking at all of the law enforcement agencies that had responded. So I've been calling for a while now, actually, sheriffs that I know, other police chiefs within school districts to get at this question, because that - that was, for me, one of the burning questions, why didn't someone just take control of this scene if they knew and saw that it was chaotic and that nothing was being done and that this was a school and, obviously, there was children inside classrooms. And the answer that I keep on getting from individuals within law enforcement is the same, and that is that the highest ranking officer of that particular jurisdiction usually takes control and command. And then they do have the option, Poppy, to transfer the scene and the jurisdiction to someone else. I've asked Arredondo's attorney that specific question and I have not heard back.


SCIUTTO: Rosa Flores, thanks so much.

Joining me now, Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez, he's a Democrat, and Uvalde is in his district.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ (D-TX): Thank you, Jim. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Let me begin with one of the most alarming details revealed yesterday. We know that the classroom door was not locked. It was open. You know, this is relevant because the cops say they had been waiting for a key. Colonel Steve McCraw, he acknowledged there was effectively no lockdown at all in the school.

Do we know how responding law enforcement got this basic fact so wrong? Do we know?

GUTIERREZ: No. Unfortunately, Jim, there's still a whole lot that we don't know. Yesterday's hearing left probably more unanswered questions. You know, we're focusing a lot on these doors. I think that that's what some people in the partisan world would like to have us focus on. The fact is we had an 18-year-old with a gun that shouldn't have had that gun because - but, unfortunately, that's the laws in the state of Texas.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, let me - let me ask you about what a particular Republican state senator, Bob Hall (ph), claimed. He says this is not a gun issue, this attack, it doesn't take a gun, his words. This man had enough time to do it with his hands or a baseball bat. Your response to that description?

GUTIERREZ: You know, 26 kids in China, the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, 26 kids in China were slashed. They all lived. They all survived. It happened about nine hours before Sandy Hook. Twenty-six children died in Sandy Hook the same day. I mean, so that's my response to the whole baseball bat argument. At the end of the day, people -- guns do kill people. We've got a proliferation of guns with 18-year-olds that just shouldn't be. We shouldn't -- they shouldn't have assault rifles.

You know, but we're forgetting -- and we're forgetting these families and what they want. What they want is answers. They want answers as to why law enforcement didn't do their job that day. Indeed, you had Arredondo make his errors, but every law enforcement agency in that space made errors. Steve McCraw suggested himself that the active shooter protocol supersedes incident commander protocol. I asked him that question. He answered affirmatively.

We've got real communication problems in this space.


GUTIERREZ: And it's probably the (INAUDIBLE). Yes.

SCIUTTO: Is it - is it just communication, though? As you were speaking there, we were showing pictures of the weapons, long guns, rifles, that responding officers had, the ballistic shields that they had for nearly an hour before they entered the room. Should the commander on scene lose his job? Should other officers lose their jobs for this?

GUTIERREZ: You had 12 DPS troopers go in and out of that hallway and didn't spend very much more than a few seconds in there. And I'm wondering why the highest superior force in that region didn't spend very much time in the hallway.

I asked Commander McCraw or Colonel McCraw yesterday, did those people listen to the so-called incident commander? He said, no. So, they didn't take orders from Arredondo. His own - his own troopers.

There was 91 DPS troopers from the region in the Operation Lone Star Task Force, including their command and control group.


And so what were those guys doing?