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DOJ Says January 6 Text Messages Were Not Preserved From Key Trump Defense Department and Military Officials; Kremlin: Griner Prisoner Exchange Talks Should Be Discreet; New York, California and Illinois Declare States of Emergency, Boost Monkeypox Vaccine Efforts; Sandy Hook Parents Testify About the "Hell" Alex Jones Inflicted. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 15:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, this is just in to our NEWSROOM. First on CNN, the cell phones of several key Defense Department and U.S. military officials were wiped of important info when those officials left their posts at the end of the Trump administration. Including text messages from January 6th. This is according to government court filings from the Justice Department.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: CNN's Kara Scannell is with us now. This text saga is becoming more and more bizarre. What are you learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT Yes, so this is the new information we just learned that the Department of Defense had wiped the cell phones of a number of these top departing Trump administration officials including these records around January 6th. Now we're learning this because of a lawsuit brought by this watchdog group American Oversight. They had sent in public information requests looking for any communications that a number of these officials had with the former president, Mark Meadows his Chief of Staff and anyone else who is acting on their behalf.

Now we're learning this from this lawsuit and it involves a number of these top officials, including the former acting secretary of defense, Chris Miller, the chief of staff, Kash Patel, General Counsel Paul Ney and a number of officials in the Army. The secretary Ryan McCarthy, General Counsel James McPherson and two current officials who still work there, the chief of staff James McConville in the director of Army staff Lieut. Gen. Walter Piatt.

So, DOJ has said in this court filing that they're policy is not to retain records when people leave.

So, they write specifically: DOD and Army conveyed to plaintiff -- that's American Oversight -- that when an employee separates from DOD or Army he or she turns in the government issued phone and the phone is wiped. For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore cannot be searched.

So, they say that it's possible some of these messages could have been memorialized in email. And for the two officials that the Army who were still there, they saying that they are conducting a search of this. But, you know, certainly we're learning now that the preservation policy for these documents it doesn't appear to be to keep them when these people leave. And we reached out to the Department of Defense for a statement on this. We have not heard back. We reached out to all seven of those officials involved either they did not get back to us, and the former Secretary Miller declined to comment. So, there's really a lot of questions here about why we're seeing these missing text messages.


CAMEROTA: I mean if that's their customary policy it makes it seem less nefarious. If it's been their long-standing, long on the books policy. But how will we get to the bottom of it? What's the next step?

SCANNELL: Well, you know, I think we're going to see what else the Department of Defense says on this. I mean, this is what they're saying in court. This is their statement. You know, obviously there are, you know, inspector general investigations with some of these other instances where we might actually see what the policy is. I mean, that should be something that is something that the public could learn about, it seems that they could put forward.

And you know, there is no suggestion that any of these individuals did anything. They were returning their phones when they left the service. You know, so there's not a suggestion that they were doing anything nefarious. But certainly, a lot of questions, why is there not retention around this?

And interestingly, in this lawsuit they sent this lawyer request in six days after January 6th and some of these officials began leaving just eight days later on the 20th with the inauguration. So not a big timeline there. Anyone FOIA-ed before, you know it could be a very long, painstaking process. So, not a very long time frame for them to perhaps move to preserve these records knowing they were going to be sought.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kara Scannell thank you.

Basketball star Brittney Griner faced another day in a Russian courtroom in her drug smuggle trial. The public campaign for her release could be backfiring though. A Kremlin spokesperson warned today that so-called megaphone diplomacy will not help prisoner exchange negotiations with Moscow. CNN's Natasha Bertrand is following today's developments. So, what's the meaning behind this warning from the Kremlin?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Victor, so essentially, they're responding to the United States deciding to put out publicly that they had presented Russia with this offer to trade Viktor Bout, that notorious international arms smuggler for basketball star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Now Brittney Griner, of course, is accused of bringing in about less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia illegally and Paul Whelan has been accused of spying. So clearly kind of an asymmetrical proposal there. But the Kremlin is still yet to respond meaningfully to the U.S.'s request.

And they say that the publicity surrounding this potential prisoner swap is not helping matters. Because in their minds they believe that all of this diplomacy should be done privately. Now the Biden administration has reacted to that saying that actually the reason why they had to make this prisoner swap proposal public is because the Russians have still not responded substantively to the offer that they put on the table about three weeks ago. So, they are trying to put public pressure here on the Kremlin to respond in a meaningful way.

Now of course CNN did report last week that the Russians did actually come up with a counter offer that the U.S. did not view as serious. They wanted a convicted murderer out of Germany who the U.S. says is not on the table right now. But ultimately, you know, the U.S. still believes that there is progress being made on this potential prisoner swap. And the lawyer actually for Viktor Bout told CNN earlier this week that in his conversations with Russian officials he does believe that there is movement on this. So, they're all waiting to see what happens when Brittney Griner's trial ends potentially as soon as this week -- Victor, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Natasha Bertrand thank you.

BLACKWELL: More states are declaring a state of emergency over the monkeypox outbreak. Prompting the White House to name a new team to tackle the health crisis. But how will the White House address the stigma against communities hit hardest by the virus? We'll get into that next.



BLACKWELL: President Biden has picked FEMA's Robert Fenton to head the administration's response to the growing monkeypox outbreak. The U.S. now has nearly 6,000 confirmed infections. New York, California, Illinois have declared states of emergencies and they aim to bolster their vaccination efforts. But look at this, lines to get vaccinated have been hours long in some areas.

Jason Cianciotto is the vice president of communications and policy at the Gay Men's Health Crisis. He is with us now. Good to have you. Let me start here with members of Congress who say that the country just cannot be caught flat-footed especially after the lessons that should have been learned after the onset of the COVID pandemic. Do you believe that the reaction, the response we're seeing is one of -- an administration of a public health system that's flat-footed?

JASON CIANCIOTTO, VICE PRESIDENT, COMMUNICATIONS AND POLICY, GMHC: Thank you for having me. I think that the response was too slow. You know, the American taxpayers helped to create the vaccine that is readily available to help prevent further spread of this outbreak. And it's simply inexcusable that that vaccine was not made available in time to help prevent this outbreak from spreading further.

BLACKWELL: So, part of the reason I wanted to have you on is to talk about fighting the stigma of this virus. Especially when so many of the cases and the high risk communities, men who have sex with men, and the language we use around precautions and prevention from some public health organizations. Including the World Health Organization that says -- this from the secretary general -- that to mitigate the spread that men who have sex with men, need to consider limiting their sexual partners. Even that framework of just focusing on sexual interaction can be problematic.

CIANCIOTTO: That's correct. You know, we need to focus on compassion and not criticism.


You know, GMHC has over 40 years of experience conducting outreach and prevention activities with the same communities that are affected currently by the monkeypox outbreak. And we've learned that those messages need to reach people where they are at. They need to provide a number of options that may be readily available to them or better for them that they can use to protect themselves and their communities.

You know, I was really happy to hear that the Dr. Demetre Daskalakis at the CDC is part of the team that President Biden announced today. There's a video that he created as part of the CDC, "Five Things Sexually Active People Should Know About Monkeypox." People can access it by going to where we have a lot of other information. And what we see in that video is the kind of information that's needed. Things that equip people with the tools and knowledge they need to keep themselves healthy.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I was -- I went on Saturday and got the first shot. And something I had not considered until I was in that line outside of a school, 150 of us in that line, is that yes, I'm in New York, a community that affirms the dignity of the LBGTQ community in so many communities across the country, to stand in that line can be risky. To go and get the first vaccine. How -- is there a better way to do this? I don't know if we're at the phase of getting an answer to this. But to offer the shot so that people who are not public about their orientation don't have to make a choice between protecting themselves and outing oneself.

CIANCIOTTO: Well, we can learn from the lessons of COVID-19 that there are many options to provide opportunities for people to access a vaccine. Key to it though, is for a vaccine to be readily available. So, for example, pop-up vaccination sites can occur at trusted locations. They may be outside the communities where people live and might not feel comfortable accessing a vaccine there -- such as that GMHC's location In Midtown even if that person might live in Harlem or the Bronx or Queens.

One thing that GMHC has been doing is helping to navigate clients to get vaccine appointments. I can share a brief story of a client who reached out to us, because as they shared, they are legally blind and have mobility issues and simply aren't able to go online to schedule themselves a vaccine. We were able to link them to one of our client navigators who in an hour got them a vaccine appointment at a location that could accommodate them. So, these kinds of partnerships with community-based organizations that are trusted messengers with long histories in the communities that are high risk are critical.

BLACKWELL: Jason Cianciotto, thank you so much for your time.

CIANCIOTTO: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: A living hell. A living hell. That's how one Sandy Hook parent describes life because of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The emotional courtroom testimony, next.



CAMEROTA: Heart wrenching testimony today from the last witnesses in a defamation case against Alex Jones.

BLACKWELL: Jesse Lewis was one of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook School Shooting. His parents described what they call "hell" caused by conspiracy theories promoted by Jones. CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us with the latest. Unbelievably difficult to listen to the stories.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I personally have gone through crying and just being enraged. I mean that's really what you can see evoking from these family members of these two parents of Jessie Lewis. I want to set the stage really quick for you, because these parents are asking a jury in Texas for $150 million from Alex Jones for spreading conspiracy theories about the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. He had not been in the courtroom until this afternoon when the mom of Jesse Lewis, Scarlett Lewis took the stand. And I want you to see this first interaction. She finally gets to talk to him, Alex Jones himself about what the pain he has caused her over this last decade.


SCARLETT LEWIS, MOTHER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM JESSE LEWIS: There's records of Jesse's birth, of me. I mean, I have a history and there's nothing that you could have found, because it does not exist that I am deep state. It's just not true. I know that you know that that is the problem. I know that you know that, and you keep saying it. You keep saying it. Why? Why? For money?


GINGRAS: And you can see that he is still shaking his head as she is addressing him, and she has been constantly been addressing him throughout her entire testimony as they sort of recount the emotions that this has caused them. Not only of losing her son but reliving it and these wounds being reopened in the trauma deaths caused of all these lies that just continue to spread.

So again, this has just been a back and forth of emotions between these two parents. We haven't yet heard from Alex Jones. He is expected to take the stand. He's the only one in his defense to take the stand. So, that certainly is going to be interesting. But again, a jury deciding here how much of that $150 million should these two parents be owed.

And in addition to that we need to mention something quickly. Just Friday before this trial actually got underway, Jones himself and his parent company of InfoWars, they filed for bankruptcy, right. So, that's another little twist to this story. Because there are other families who are also seeking damages as well. It's unclear how that's all going to be impacted on those upcoming trials that are happening very soon. But certainly, this one's going on and I've got to tell you, it's just heart wrenching. Can you imagine being a parent who lost their child and then having to say you're lying, to say you're lying. I mean, you can just feel it coming from her.


CAMEROTA: But also, just very significant that the judge allowed her to directly address him and have that conversation, because everything usually kept is so dispassionate. And that she was able to look him in the eye, and say, why are you doing this.

GINGRAS: I mean, there was one point in there where she was actually said, why are you doing this? And he started to answer, and the judge said, no, no, no you don't get to talk. This is her testimony. So, I mean, is just incredible what's happening in that courtroom and so important. Of course, when we talk about conspiracy theories.

BLACKWELL: Brynn Gingras thank you.

CAMEROTA: Well, China's military says it will launch exercises in a series of targeted military operations around Taiwan in response to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's historic and controversial visit to Taipei. We will have the new details ahead.

BLACKWELL: "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts after a short break.