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Committee Says, GOP Lawmakers Complicit in Push to Overturn Election; Biden to Call on Congress to Approve Three-Month Gas Tax Holiday; Senate Advances Newly Released Bipartisan Gun Safety Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 22, 2022 - 10:00   ET




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


Just stunning new evidence in those January 6th committee hearings, this on the lengths that former President Trump as well as sitting GOP lawmakers went to push what were fake slates of electors in multiple states to attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Republican state officials took the lead in testifying against the former president in yesterday's hearing, including the speaker of Arizona's House, who says he Told Trump in late December 2020 that he would not go along with the scheme to steal Joe Biden's win in his state.


STATE REP. RUSTY BOWERS (R-AZ): You're asking me to do something that's never been done in history, the history of the United States, and I'm going to put my state through that without sufficient proof, and that's going to be good enough with me?

I do not want to be a winner by cheating.


HARLOW: Incredibly powerful testimony.

Also new this morning, President Biden aiming to help Americans out, at least a little bit, at the pump during the summer travel season. The White House is expected today to call on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax three months. We have details on how much that would help reduce prices at the pump and downsides to it, as even acknowledged by some members of the administration. More on that in just a minute.

SCIUTTO: Let's begin this morning with CNN's Manu Raju on the Hill. Manu, one of the takeaways from yesterday's hearing was new evidence in how sitting Republican members of Congress helped Trump's efforts to overturn the election, Andy Biggs, Ron Johnson. So, tell us more of what we're learning.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And actually that pressure campaign extended beyond Donald Trump. As you were saying, Andy Biggs, the conservative Republican congressman from Arizona, reached out to Rusty Bowers, who is the Arizona House speaker, and asked him to decertify the election, something Bowers stood up against, rejected both Biggs' pressure campaign, Donald Trump's pressure campaign, said he wouldn't simply try to overturn the will of the electorate that voted for Joe Biden in his state. We tried to reach Andy Biggs about this, talked to him yesterday, he would not comment.

Now, Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican senator, there was a different situation involving him. His top aide on the morning of January 6th, 2021, urged, asked how Johnson could deliver a package to Pence that would have essentially fake electors from the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, two states that Joe Biden won, to essentially overturn the electoral results that day if this scheme somehow went into effect.

Now, when I caught up with Johnson yesterday, he downplayed any involvement in this, said it was a non-story, contended he didn't even know who actually pushed them and asked them to deliver this information to Mike Pence. Listen.


REPORTER: Why did you even offer without vetting it?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): We got handed (INAUDIBLE) the vice president, I didn't know. So, we called out to vice president. He didn't want it. We didn't deliver it. I set it straight, guys. This is such a non-story.

RAJU: Are you going to ask your aides about who this person was if you asked --

JOHNSON: We didn't know, literally don't -- it was a staff-to-staff, somebody from the House, some staff intern said we've got to -- the vice president needs this or whatever. I wasn't involved. I don't know what they said.


RAJU: So, he claims that a House staff intern got this information over to his chief of staff, and they just simply did what he said was the right thing and suggested they could offer this to Mike Pence. Mike Pence's office said they did not want this information and he's told me there's really no interest in getting to the bottom of this issue.

Now, the hearings, of course, will continue, guys, tomorrow, Thursday, focusing on the pressure campaign against the Justice Department, the Trump Justice Department, to overturn the election results. We'll see how broad that campaign was and how much it extended also beyond Donald Trump and his close associates. Guys? HARLOW: Manu Raju, thanks very much for the reporting this morning on Capitol Hill.

The House select committee also revealed new details about Republican Senator Ron Johnson and that push for fake electors for then-President Trump on the day of the deadly insurrection.


SCIUTTO: CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joining us now with more. So, Evan, the evidence here, text messages between staffer for Johnson, staffer for then-Vice President Mike Pence. Tell us exactly what those text messages show.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, look, one of the interesting things from the hearing yesterday is the fact that the committee was focusing on how this effort to push this so-called alternate slate of electors was being orchestrated not only by the former president, people around him, his lawyers and his campaign people, but also, apparently, Ron Johnson, one of his top supporters in Congress.

And despite the fact that Johnson says he doesn't seem to know where this came from, you know, what it shows us is how the committee is trying to make the case that it was orchestrated from above.

What we've seen from the Justice Department side, which is investigating this very matter, we've seen them working from the bottom up. They've issued subpoenas to a number of witnesses who had communications with some of those people that the committee has been discussing the last few days.

And so you know how the Justice Department does its work, right? They work from the bottom up and, eventually, they get to the top. So, that's something that has worked very well for prosecutors in the past. We'll see whether they eventually get to where this committee already is in that hearing from yesterday.

HARLOW: What about the calls from the committee? I mean, Liz Cheney was adamant in saying, we need to and should be able to hear from ex- Trump White House Counsel Lawyer Pat Cipollone. Do you have a sense of what exactly they want from him, because his response is basically, we've given him enough?

PEREZ: Yes. Look, he is a key person to tell the story of what was going on inside the White House and his name keeps coming up, guys, in the testimony. You heard Jared Kushner say that, essentially, Cipollone and other lawyers at the White House were threatening to quit. He called -- Jared Kushner called Cipollone whining, essentially, about this. We heard another staffer who was in the room when Cipollone said to some of these folks who were pushing the electors scheme, telling them that this was not legal.

And so that's one of the things that you heard from Liz Cheney yesterday. She was calling them out, saying, Cipollone, we need you to come forward. He believes, obviously, this would set a precedent. This is something that goes back to the Nixon era. And that's one reason why there's been so much resistance for him to come in.

SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Another moment from that testimony yesterday was powerful testimony from local election workers in Georgia who described how their lives were destroyed by threats from people who believed Donald Trump's lies about them. Georgia secretary of state testified the threats went beyond him to members of his family.


SECRETARY OF STATE BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R-GA): I was getting texts all over the country and the, eventually, my wife started to getting texts and hers typically came in, a sexualized text, which were disgusting.

And then some people broke into my daughter-in-law's home, and my son has passed and she's a widow, and has two kids. And so we're very concerned about her safety also.


SCIUTTO: Joining me now is someone else who has experienced threats, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold. Thanks so much for joining us.

JENA GRISWOLD (D-CO), SECRETARY OF STATE: Thanks for having me on, Jim.

SCIUTTO: These threats don't happen by accident, right? I mean, they become the public targets of the president, former president on down, often, their information is shared. The president was tweeting out some cell phone numbers of people involved. You've experienced this, thousands of threats over your insistence of the fact that the 2020 election was safe and secure. Just describe to folks right now what it's like to be the target of those kinds of threats and attacks.

GRISWOLD: Well, you know, when people are telling you over and over how they're going to hang you or cause you harm, you have to take it seriously, and I've taken it very seriously. We have been targets of attacks as secretary of state but also election workers. And the hearing yesterday showed that election workers in red, blue and purple states had our lives threatened.

But I think it's important, Jim, like you're alluding to, to be very clear that misinformation that was used to spur the insurrection and now destabilize American elections is the basis of these threats. It's part of a threat to democracy to try to get us to stop. But I'll tell you, we won't stop. I will not be intimidated. And I am so resolved as secretary of state to make sure that Colorado continues to have the safest and most accessible elections in the nation.

SCIUTTO: Accountability has been an open question throughout this, because while many of the people who attacked the capitol have been charged and many are in prison, the folks who go to them on, right, as well as sitting politicians who attempted to overturn the election have yet to face legal consequences. What does that mean in your view as secretary of state for our system if the leaders of this do not pay a price?


GRISWOLD: I think people who try to steal the presidency of the United States should be accountable, including people who have threatened election workers. Just last week, the DOJ's election threat task force announced its first plea deal for threats made against me.

But you're making a very good point and the bigger picture, I think, is that Donald Trump tried to steal the presidency in 2020. He failed. But now the actions are focused on 2022 and 2024. And we have to have folks held accountable. But more than just that, you know, we are seeing the destabilization of American elections, and now big lie candidates run for secretary of state, folks who are election deniers, who will suppress the vote, who will spread misinformation are now running to oversee our elections across the nation.

So, it's also important that your viewers are paying attention to these races, and that Americans show up to elect folks who will uphold the will of the people and the law.

SCIUTTO: You may be facing one of them. Tina Peters, running to face you in November, was indicted by a grand jury on a mix of charges related to election security. Colorado GOP leaders, by the way, from her own party have called for her to drop out. She has not. Explain the dangers of if election deniers, like Peters, get into positions of power. Would they have the ability then to do what they weren't able to do or what many refuse to do in 2020 in upcoming elections?

GRISWOLD: We are seeing election deniers tell us that they would refuse to certify a win, the actual will of the people, including Jim Marchant, now the Republican nominee in Nevada, has said that. And then in the case of Colorado, can you imagine having a secretary of state who is already indicted for compromising her own voting equipment. What we can expect from these extreme candidates is to further suppress the vote and destabilize American elections. So, they have to be stopped.

That's why we're working so hard at the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State to have candidates to uphold the will of the people, who will secure our elections and protect the right to vote. Americans could lose the right to vote in 2022. That's why these races are so important. And your viewers can join us in defeating big lie candidates and ensuring that the American people get to choose their president at

SCIUTTO: Final question before we go. Some things have worked, some haven't. The election was not overturned in 2020. Some of these candidates who are election deniers, many endorsed by Trump are losing, right? Not clear that they all will, but some are losing. There has been some legal accountability for some involved. Should folks at home have some hope, confidence, about 2022 and 2024, about steps being taken to protect those elections?

GRISWOLD: Absolutely. And I'll tell you, I'm in the thick of it, and I am so optimistic about the future of our country. We are seeing accountability. It has to be broader. That's absolutely right. But we are seeing accountability. We are also seeing such enthusiasm from American voters, Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated, who do not want our country to lose democracy.

You know, just on Saturday, I was at the Juneteenth march in Denver, and three people came up to me with tears in their eyes, so concerned about the right to vote. That's what we're seeing across this nation.

So, I'm optimistic that Americans are going to get our country back on track and they do that at the ballot box. In 2022, democracy is literally on the ballot, and I'm so confident Americans are going to save it.

SCIUTTO: Nice to hear hope. Jena Griswold, we know you've been through a lot, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

GRISWOLD: Absolutely. Thank you.

HARLOW: Really nice to hear some hope.

A tragic story though ahead. More than a thousand people are dead this morning, and that number is expected to rise after an earthquake has devastated communities in Afghanistan's eastern province. We will have the latest on the search efforts for you.

And growing frustrations in a community dealing with unimaginable heartbreak. Now, the Uvalde City Council wants embattled School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo to face the victim's families.

SCIUTTO: First, President Biden pushing Congress to give Americans a break from the federal gas tax to bring down gas prices. Why some are questioning whether the temporary relief might leave with long-term consequences.



HARLOW: New this morning, attempting to dampen surging fuel prices and growing discontent across the country. This afternoon, President Biden is expected to call on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months.

SCIUTTO: Yes. White House thinks this could cut the price of a gallon by as much as a dollar. Biden also expected to ask states to suspend their own taxes and for oil companies to boost refining capacity.

CNN's John Harwood at the White House and CNN's Matt Egan joining as well.

First, John, to you, folks have been asking the president to act on gas prices. Here is an attempt here. I just wonder, does he have support from Republicans and his own party to do so?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is very unclear, and I think you have to look at this call by the president in the context of politics. Economists, Democrats and Republicans alike, hate this idea for the obvious reasons.


If you lay off the gas tax for a while, you encourage demand at a time when demand is part of the problem. You cost government revenue that the government needs for infrastructure and other things. And some of the money would go to oil companies at a time when Biden is complaining about profiteering by oil companies.

On the other hand, they are getting pressure every single day. What are you going to do about gas prices? This is a political response to that pressure. And I think they see potential political benefits, whether it happens or whether it doesn't. If it does happen, it's not likely to cut a dollar off the price of a gallon of gas but it may take a few cents off.

And that is politically crucial in the eyes of the White House because they see a $5 gas is psychologically important, if they can get it down and keep it down below $5, they think that is significant. And if it gets blocked in Congress, I think they would plan on blaming Republicans and saying, look, we're trying to cut gas prices but Republicans won't let us, and that would be a theme for the midterm elections.

HARLOW: There are, Matt, admitted by members of the administration, real downsides to this, right? If only money grew on trees, my children would like, and, yes, we do print a lot in this country. But you're taking money away from something key and that is funding infrastructure and the bill that just passed. That's just one of the downsides.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Right. Now, there are trade-offs here, no doubt. I mean, this tax does fund the repair and building of roads, which has been a key focus of the administration, and also hasn't been raised since 1993, even though the cost of building those roads and the labor has gone up, especially lately.

And this is one of the reasons why Gary Cohn, the former Trump adviser and Goldman Sachs executive, he told me that there are some unintended consequences here. Listen to what Gary Cohn said.


GARY COHN, FORMER TRUMP ECONOMIC ADVISER: The gas tax concerns me. I understand why you do it. I understand completely why you do it because, short-term, you're trying to lower the price of gas to consumers. It's the unintended consequences of getting rid of the gas tax. So, if we stop collecting that gas tax, we're openly going to see our roads diminish, deteriorate, they were going to somehow have to fund that in the future.


EGAN: So, this would obviously feel good, right? No one likes to pay taxes. No one likes the high price of gasoline. I mean, even though prices have come down a little bit, we're still looking at 16 states and Washington, D.C., with a $5 or higher average, including some battleground states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan.

HARLOW: Sure. There's also, just to be clear here, no guarantee. This is really up to big oil and gas companies, to pass that on to consumers.

EGAN: Right. There is some debate over whether or not consumers are actually going to benefit from that entire reduction in taxes. Mark Zandi, the Moody's economist, he told me he's a little skeptical that that would happen. We have seen states put a gas tax holiday and that has helped. But to John's point earlier, there are other concerns here. I mean, this does nothing to fix supply, and, actually, it supports, if not, boost demand at a time when supply can't keep up with demand.

HARLOW: Yes. Thank you, Matt. Great interview, people can see more of it online.

EGAN: Online.

HARLOW: Okay. Thanks so much. And John at the White House, thank you, as always.

After weeks of tense negotiations, the Senate is poised to pass the first major gun legislation in decades. It is not totally a done deal yet but the prospects are looking good, next.



HARLOW: A major step forward overnight, the Senate voting to advance the first bipartisan gun safety bill in decades. This includes several significant new measures, but it does face some hurdles ahead.

SCIUTTO: Listen, progress on Capitol Hill sometimes happens in small steps. This is one that not a lot of folks thought could happen. It appears to be happening.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Lauren Fox knows better than anyone how things work up there. So, Lauren, first, walk us through what's in this bill and then what happens next.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, some significant changes to the country's gun policy, millions of dollars for school security and mental health programs. There's also the closing of the so-called boyfriend loophole so that, now, anyone in a serious ongoing relationship, if they are committing domestic violence, are convicted of that violence, then they cannot own or purchase a gun. That is a significant step forward.

There's also $750 million to go to states for crisis intervention programs. That money can be used for things like red flag law implementation in states that have those. Another key concession for Republicans is that some of that money can also go to be used for other crisis intervention programs, like veteran courts, drug courts, et cetera. This bill is including so many new policies, including an enhanced review period for people 18 to 21 who go to buy a gun.

But, look, this bill still has another important vote coming down the pipe in just a couple of days. One of those is going to be a 60-vote threshold.


That vote is expected to pass.