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January 6th Hearing Focuses on DOJ Pressure; DOJ Intensifies Probe; Trump's Actin AG to Testify; Biden Calls for Gas Tax Holiday; Filibuster on Gun Legislation. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 23, 2022 - 09:00   ET



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


Big news overnight. The Department of Justice stepped up its January 6th criminal investigation, widening its net with fresh subpoenas to people from several states who acted as fake electors and other Trump allies connected to the scheme to overturn the 2020 presidential election. In just a few hours, the Justice Department will become the key focus of today's fifth public hearing for the January 6th committee. Three top officials who led the Justice Department in the final days of the Trump administration, including the former acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, will make clear the DOJ saw no evidence of widespread fraud sufficient to overturn the election and will detail how he and others resisted Trump's pressure to back his baseless claims.

HARLOW: Also today, a preview of newly obtained footage from the documentary film crew that followed former President Trump and his team for six months before and after January 6th. It was just released by Discovery Plus, which, of course, is CNN's parent company.




IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My father, he's very honest and he is who he is.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He believes everything that he's doing is right.

DONALD TRUMP: I think I treat people well, unless they don't treat me well, in which case you go to war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we talk for a minute about January 6th?



HARLOW: Obviously, people want to hear what he had to say there.


HARLOW: So that documentary filmmaker, Alex Holder, has said that he will be deposed today after receiving a subpoena from the January 6th committee.

So, there's a lot to unpack. Let's begin with our Sara Murray.

So the focus today, Sara, from the committee is Department of Justice and all of the efforts to make significant changes there to try to overturn the election. What are we going to see?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, this is really a hearing about the pressure campaign that Donald Trump put on the Justice Department and how they withstood it. So we are going to hear today from the former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, his former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, as well as Steve Engel, the former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

And, remember, these guys were at the heart, Donald Trump had this plan, he was going to oust Jeffrey Rosen, he was going to install Jeffrey Clark, another DOJ official who was more amenable to Trump's claims of election fraud. And there was, you know, a big outcry within the Justice Department. A number of officials said they were going to resign en masse if Trump pulled this off.

And so in some of the prepared testimony we have from Jeffrey Rosen, he makes clear the Justice Department did not find any evidence of widespread voter fraud. And he writes, we thus held firm to the position that the department would not participate in any campaigns or political party's legal challenges to the certification of the Electoral College counts. We also insisted that there must be an orderly and peaceful transfer of power under the Constitution.

So, this is really how these officials withstood, held up to Donald Trump's attempts to try to get the Justice Department to go along with his efforts to try to overturn the election result.

Now, as you pointed out, this committee is dealing with a lot of new evidence. Maybe we'll see some new evidence today. But, you know, a big piece of that new evidence is this footage from this documentary, never before seen interviews with Donald Trump, with members of his family The British filmmaker Alex Holder has said he was subpoenaed. He's handing over that footage. Then he's also sitting for a deposition today. The committee has said that they are going to be postponing some of the future hearings they had planned, probably into July, so that they can go over this footage, as well as other evidence that's come out.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, new evidence every day, thanks so much.

Separately, the Justice Department is issuing those critical subpoenas overnight in their investigation of state electors.

Let's bring in CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz, with more on who exactly these officials are.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: All right, so, Jim and Poppy, this week we're learning about this new round of subpoenas that the Justice Department sent out into their probe on fake electors that were used by Donald Trump after the election, trying to supplant Biden electors who would have won the battleground states.

So these Trump electors that are receiving subpoenas now, we have learned that they are getting subpoenas in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, that's where Trump electors did convene, where they were not needed.


And we do know as well in our reporting that the Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer, he was a crucial person in touch with the Trump campaign in Georgia. He too received a subpoena.

So, this is a significant escalation of what we knew about this probe so far. Previously our understanding was that there were lower level Republicans in some of these states that were getting subpoenas as the Justice Department was beginning to look into this fake elector issue.

But one of the things that's really interesting about this, that is going to be some the Justice Department pulls in as they're gathering communication and information with these officials is that when these electors convened, they ultimately were -- seemed to be quite proud that they were convening for Donald Trump. We've seen video in various states, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, of the electors signing the documents and saying, we are convening to vote for Donald Trump.

And yet one of the pieces of information that our reporting -- that my reporting has learned, and that also the House Select Committee brought forth this week in one of their public hearings, was that there was an urge for these people to convene. At least to get together inside the state house, in complete secrecy. Now, we don't know why that was, but they certainly were encouraged to hide overnight in Michigan. That's what we learned from some of them. In Georgia, that they wanted to have their complete discretion and not tip off people why they were at the capitol.

And so as this moves forward, that was a piece that was highlighted in the House Select Committee earlier this week. And the Justice Department will also be gathering information about it with the potential possibility of criminal charges at the end.

Jim and Poppy.


HARLOW: Katelyn Polantz with the reporting. Thanks very much. So, let's talk about all the headlines ahead in the hearing today. Our

legal analyst Elliot Williams is with us, former federal prosecutor and former deputy assistant attorney general.

Good morning, Elliot.

One thing I think is interesting is that you say today's hearing could be, in your words, perhaps the least sexy, but the most consequential. Why?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It really is, Poppy. And thanks for that.

It's not - well, these are government officials. At the end of the day, they're very, very senior. But, you know, but these are just rank and file lawyers in the government, pretty senior.

The issue is that the president sought to replace the leadership at the Justice Department for I believe the third time in his presidency. One of the people testifying today is Jeffrey Rosen, acting attorney general. He's acting because the guy before him quit because he couldn't tolerate the president's untruths. He -- that's William Barr.

William Barr was attorney general because Jeff Sessions had been fired a year or so before, for not carrying out the president's bidding. All this is demonstrating that, look, it's kind of easy to prove to establish or set up a coup if you can get people around you who are going to go along with your way. And the fact that these were senior Justice Department officials is very, very important and it's going to be very powerful firsthand testimony.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because you and I have talked a lot about intent, right?


SCIUTTO: Establishing intent to commit a crime here. And some of that is based on what the president knew about his claims the election was stolen.


SCIUTTO: And part of the testimony today will be senior, again, not the first time, right, senior Justice Department officials saying, we saw no proof that the evidence was not free and fair.


SCIUTTO: And they told him that. How many folks have to tell him that, right?


SCIUTTO: And at what levels before he should know that's the truth?

WILLIAMS: Yes, it's - and that's - and it's a completely subjective question, Jim. But just as you've touched on, a lot of people told him that. Sixty-one courts told him that. And in his own words, frankly going back to 2016 when he was saying the only way I could lose an election would be if there was fraud, seemed to indicate that he knew this was a plan all along and probably would have done it in 2016 if he had lost.

And so, you're right, there isn't likely to be a statement that says we're - you know, out of the president's mouth where he says, I know I lost, and, therefore I'm going to proceed. But at a certain point this case for willful blindness becomes very clear that the mountain of evidence was put in front of him, yet he still chose to push on, extended over a period of years.

HARLOW: How would that all factor in to the Department of Justice potentially pursuing charges against the former president?


HARLOW: Sort of the difference between knowledge and willful blindness?

WILLIAMS: Right. You - I mean you just need -- the Justice Department needs to know or feel that they can win. To some extent it's not just a question of being cautious, it's a question of, you know, can a prosecutor responsibly or ethically proceed with charges that they think they might lose, right?

Now, there's a growing body of evidence here that makes it harder to not charge if not the president, a number of the people around him, where there's a clear body suggesting.

But, needless to say, Poppy, what you have to establish, you know, again, there's no one thing and it's somewhat suggestive -- somewhat subjective, but there's a lot of evidence there and at a certain point it's just getting hard to say no.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And just quickly for those of us who are not lawyers and for folks at home, neither you nor I nor the sitting president can legally be willfully blind to the facts.



SCIUTTO: Is that correct?

WILLIAMS: Can -- right. Neither -- no one can.


WILLIAMS: At a certain point you need to establish that you knew something. But if 61 courts and all of your lawyers and all of your staff and private citizens are conveying the same thing to you at a certain point, you can't say that you were unaware that something was unlawful.

SCIUTTO: Got you. All right, well, Elliot Williams, always good to have you clear things up. I think We'll probably have you back.

WILLIAMS: All right. Thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Thanks, Elliot.

Still to come, a critical vote today to break a Senate filibuster on the bipartisan gun legislation making its way through Congress. What to expect next.

SCIUTTO: Plus, new reporting this hour on Russia's improving progress on the battlefield. I'm going to speak to the former president of Ukraine, just ahead.

Also ahead, chaos at airports. Thousands of cancellations, delays in the last 24 hours. That is no fun. Details on what's causing it all coming up.



HARLOW: You're looking at images from just moments ago at the White House. A poignant moment of honor on the South Lawn. President Joe Biden welcoming and thanking wounded warriors, their caregivers, their families, alongside of the vice president, Kamala Harris. This event is part of the annual multiday veteran bike ride event Soldier Ride.

SCIUTTO: Right now, President Biden urging Congress to support a three-month suspension of the federal gas tax. The temporary move would save drivers about 18 cents per gallon on gasoline, 24 cents per gallon on diesel, through September.

HARLOW: Congress is unlikely to support the federal tax holiday as lawmakers have real questions about the potential impact and the cost. JPMorgan, this morning, estimating the move would save the average driver just $20 over the course of the summer.

Jeremy Diamond is at the White House now.

The pushback is not just coming from Republicans. It's coming from some notable Democrats. We just heard it from Elizabeth Warren this morning.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Poppy. And, listen, the White House is clear-eyed by the challenges that this proposal faces in Congress. Not only have zero Republican senators expressed any kind of support for this gas tax holiday, but some key Democrats have already expressed serious reservations about the proposal, including the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who said that he and the House speaker do have reservations about this proposal.

But this is ultimately the latest attempt by President Biden to try and show an American public that is weary about those gas prices, about high inflation around the country, that they are doing everything they can, that the president himself is doing everything he can to try and bring those prices down.

The president, yesterday, making the case that this is ultimately not going to solve the problem, but about trying to bring - give a little breathing room to Americans.

What he's also doing is he's ramping up the pressure on oil companies to pass on the savings to consumers and to also make sure that the price of the barrel per oil does indeed -- is reflected at the gas pump as well.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message is simple, to the companies running gas stations and setting those prices at the pump, this is a time of war. Global peril. Ukraine. These are not normal times. Bring down the price you are charging at the pump to reflect the cost you are paying for the product. Do it now. Do it today.


DIAMOND: And to that end, the energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, she will be meeting today with oil executives, along with other top Biden administration officials. And she will be delivering that very same message to those oil executives, urging them as well to ramp up production of oil to try and bring the price of a barrel of oil down across the globe. And she'll also push them to ensure that if indeed a gas tax is passed, that those savings are indeed passed on to consumers.

Jim. Poppy.

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks so much for that reporting.

Today's a critical day for gun legislation. Today the Senate is set to vote on advancing a major bipartisan gun safety bill toward final passage. To get there, Democrats will need to break a GOP filibuster. That requires at least ten Republicans to vote in favor.

SCIUTTO: CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox joins us now with more.

It seems that they have more than enough to break the filibuster. Do we still think that's solid?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, everyone that I'm talking to says that they are still on track to get at least ten Republicans. If you remember for that procedural vote on Monday, they got 14 Republicans moving forward.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No small thing in the current environment.

FOX: That's exactly right. SCIUTTO: Yes.

FOX: And I think that one of the things that they're sort of fighting against, of course, is that these outside gun groups are opposed to this legislation. There's increasing pressure on Republican members to either back off their support or at least not add any more Republican support to this legislation.

But the vote today very critical. We don't know when a final vote will actually happen. It's possible all 100 senators agree because they are about to go on a two-week recess and jet fumes are very possible on Capitol Hill, but it's -- you have to have that agreement to move very quickly to a final vote. That final vote, just a simple majority vote, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Lauren Fox, been covering it for long. It's something.

FOX: It is.

SCIUTTO: Thanks so much.


HARLOW: Well, still ahead, as several states take their own action installing red flag laws to try to increase gun safety, we're going to take you to New Mexico, where communities are debating if the protective measure could actually encourage a violent act. You'll meet a sheriff who's refusing to enforce the law in his state, and what he thinks is more effective.

SCIUTTO: And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. stock futures, they're all green arrows, up today. Markets closed slightly lower Wednesday as investors continue to weigh the likelihood of a recession coming.


Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell again on Capitol Hill in the next hour. His testimony yesterday, he acknowledged a recession is a possibility.



SCIUTTO: The bipartisan gun safety bill on Capitol Hill would include $750 million for crisis intervention programs. Some of that money could be used, though it doesn't have to be, to implement so-called red flag programs, which are aimed at keeping guns away from those who pose a threat to themselves or others.

HARLOW: Our Randi Kaye spoke with a sheriff in New Mexico who is actually pushing back against his own state's version of a red flag law.

Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just let me get it on the record, would you implement the red flag law in your county?


KAYE (voice over): In Sierra County, New Mexico, Sheriff Glenn Hamilton is refusing to use the red flag law in his state. He calls it ineffective and unworkable.

HAMILTON: I can tell you right now, a temporary restraining order issued to an individual that says you can voluntarily turn your firearms in, in 48 hours, is not going to be adhered to at all.

KAYE: And that's where this sheriff takes issue with the law. Adopted in 2020, New Mexico's red flag law, known as the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order Act, does not allow law enforcement to seize someone's weapons outright. Instead, it gives an individual 48 hours to voluntarily relinquish their firearms to law enforcement after being served.

HAMILTON: How is allowing an individual's self-compliance with an order, who is not thinking correctly, how is that saving the community? How is that in any way, shape or form solving the problem?

KAYE (on camera): In some cases that individual will turn in their weapon, right?

HAMILTON: I doubt it. Not if the individual had in his mind that they were going to go perpetrate a mass shooting somewhere.

KAYE: But why not at least try?

HAMILTON: I'm going to go after an inanimate object, but I'm going to leave the individual who is allegedly in crisis, I'm going to leave him alone and let him cool down on his own? Makes no sense whatsoever.

KAYE (voice over): Sheriff Hamilton argues that giving someone 48 hours to turn in their weapons will only cause them to move up the timeline for whatever crime they may be planning.

KAYE (on camera): But you don't know that for sure. So why not serve the order?

HAMILTON: Well, I do know that for sure. I have had 28 years of dealing with the criminal mind out there. And I'm going to tell you, no red flag law in any way, shape or form is going to change a criminal's mind that is dead set on committing such an atrocity as a mass shooting.

KAYE (voice over): But Sheila Lewis, with New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, says the sheriff has it all wrong.

SHEILA LEWIS, LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINER, NEW MEXICANS TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: There has not been a reported case of somebody running out to commit a violent crime in that 48 hour period because they were served with an order.

KAYE (on camera): What does tend to happen in that 48 hour period?

LEWIS: They bring their guns in to law enforcement, and they go to court.

KAYE: With New Mexico's red flag law, after a person is ordered to turn over their guns, there's a ten-day cooling off period and then a court hearing. A judge will determine if those guns should be returned to the individual or removed and for how long. After the red flag law took effect here in 2020, it's only been used nine times. In five of those cases, the guns were removed from the individual for one year. In the other four cases, they were returned to the owner.

STATE REP. JOY GARRATT (D), NEW MEXICO: This is a stopgap measure that can remove the firearm from a challenging situation.

KAYE (voice over): Representative Joy Garrett co-sponsored the bill that became New Mexico's red flag law.

KAYE (on camera): What do you think is the danger in the case of Sierra County, where the sheriff is not going to implement this law?

GARRETT: I think the danger is that there may be a life that can be saved, or many lives that can be saved.

KAYE (voice over): Like the life of Alexa Riel (ph). The 16-year-old was gunned down with her cousin in a different county last month, in a murder/suicide by her mother's former boyfriend, who had allegedly been sexually assaulting her. The red flag law was in place, and this restraining order shows he possessed two guns. But the red flag law wasn't used to have those guns removed.

The Bernalio (ph) County Sheriff's Office told us they didn't red flag the suspect since they had no information he posed an immediate danger of causing personal injury to himself or others with a firearm.

GARRETT: The red flag law would have taken the firearm out of the hands of an extremely upset individual, would have taken the gun out of the equation, and prevented a murder and a suicide.

KAYE (on camera): And you believe that girl would be alive today?

GARRETT: I do believe that girl would be alive.

KAYE (voice over): But Sheriff Hamilton still prefers to lean on the state's emergency mental health law, which he says allows authorities to immediately take a person into custody for mental health treatment.

LEWIS: That is not what we want to do. We don't want to seize people, we want to seize the firearm.

KAYE: Sheriff Hamilton says the red flag law has no provision to treat the individual who is dealing with a mental crisis.

[09:30:04] HAMILTON: I would much rather that individual be receiving mental treatment at a -- one of the local mental facilities