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Several Trump-Backed Election Deniers Win in Primary Races; Former Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone Subpoenaed by Federal Grand Jury; China Conducts Military Exercises in Response to Pelosi's Taiwan Visit. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 03, 2022 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy is off this week.
We are three months away from the midterms, and this morning we are getting primary results from five key states, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, and Kansas. We saw resounding victories for candidates who continue to deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election and in one red state a major rebuke of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
In Michigan, Republican voters chose former Trump administration official over Republican Congressman Peter Meijer. You'll remember Meijer, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach the former president after January 6th. Gibbs has been known to peddle false election claims like the former president.
Arizona voters have picked David Farnsworth over State House Speaker Rusty Bowers in the GOP primary for Senate there. Bowers, you may remember, delivered emotional testimony to the January 6th Committee in June. Farnsworth has said of the 2020 election this is a real conspiracy headed up by the devil himself. That's a quote from the GOP candidate there now.
But it was the vote to protect abortion rights in Kansas that could be a major precursor, a sign at least for November. Voters there rejected an amendment that could have led to an abortion ban in that state.
Let's begin in Michigan, though. CNN political correspondent Sara Murray. She's in Grand Rapids.
Sara, looking broadly at last night's results, potentially a major impact on what we see in November. You've got election deniers winning the Republican nomination in a lot of these states. But in Kansas another sign.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, when you look at Michigan, it was a great night for election deniers. There we saw John Gibbs defeating Peter Meijer. Peter Meijer is someone who was a Republican who voted to impeach Donald Trump. You know, I think that that tells us two things. One, the Trump grip on the party is still a very real thing. But two, we've seen the lengths that Democrats are willing to go to, to try to keep control of the House in November. You know, they played a significant part in boosting John Gibbs, an election denier, and making it achievable for him to oust Peter Meijer.
The other thing, the other race we're watching in Michigan, of course, is the governor's race. You know, we saw Tudor Dixon who was seen as the establishment candidate in the race, sail to victory after she picked up Donald Trump's endorsement. You know, another good indication of how he still has this sway with the base. And she has kind of been a little bit cagey on the election denial issue. You know, she said previously that she believes that the 2020 election in Michigan was stolen from Donald Trump, which of course as we know is not true.
And she's kind of backed away from those claims in recent days. She's already started to pivot to I think this general election message. But I think it's no doubt, Jim, that we are going to see a number of these election deniers on this ballot in the fall.
SCIUTTO: OK. Let's look at Kansas now. This was, you know, major question as to how this was going to go, and it resoundingly in a deeply red state went against an amendment which would have overturned a constitutional provision there protecting abortion rights. How big a surprise was this?
MURRAY: I mean, it is a big surprise to look at the margins. You know, Kansas as we know is a pretty conservative state, and voters really turned out and made it very clear that they were interested in protecting abortion rights. I think that that is a big signal ahead of the midterms. I think Democrats are clearly paying close attention to the notion that this could be something that they are running on.
This can be something that they can use to energize the base. And you know, we have already seen this coming up in other races. That Michigan governor's race I was just talking to you about. The first statement that Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer made after Tudor Dixon won was calling her extreme on abortion -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Sara Murray in Michigan, thanks so much.
Joining me now to discuss the politics of all this, Amber Phillips, she's politics reporter for "The Washington Post" and Tara Palmeri, she's senior political correspondent for "Puck."
Good morning to both of you. Good to have you. Let's begin with you, if I can, Amber. Listen, Kansas, deepest of red states here. This was not close, right? What's remarkable about those numbers, about, what, 58 against, you know, this amendment, is it almost matches national polling on Americans who generally support some abortion rights here.
Does this help improve Democratic chances in the fall? Does it show that this is a turnout issue potentially for Democrats?
AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, yes. Today and these results in Kansas, they're surprising as they sound, as you've illustrated, Jim. And that should give Democrats a lot of reason to hope. They have been feeling like the midterms are going to come down to either abortion and whether that's the top issue to get voters out, or as Republicans would rather have the conversation be around inflation and the economy which has the potential to tamp down Democratic support.
Again, these results are surprising as it sounds. Observers felt like that if the abortion right side even got close to winning this, it would be a victory for them. This was astounding. That being said, this issue was only about abortion.
PHILLIPS: Gretchen Whitmer, the governor in Michigan, or I think of a number of Senate candidates in states like Nevada or Arizona, need to make sure that the conversation centers just around abortion and that they can kind of filter out these economic concerns that many voters, even Democrats have.
SCIUTTO: Tara, we just had the figures on the screen that the turnout for this exceeded by a good shot the total turnout in the governor's race there. There's been a lot of concern among Democrats about excitement, right, enthusiasm about the midterms here, and Republicans outpacing Democrats. And by the way, it's one state, it's one vote. But is this an indicator of how Democrats could conceivably boost turnout in the fall?
TARA PALMERI, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: Absolutely. I think that a lot of Democrats were trying to gauge whether abortion was really something that was going to get voters out. And this is a really strong indicator. This is August, OK. People are on vacation, this is Kansas, a red state which has a history of anti-abortion movement. The Summer of Mercy in 1991 when anti-abortion activists took the streets.
And yet they were able to get people out in general election-like numbers in Kansas. I think that a lot of Democrats were extremely worried about the midterms. They still should be. But this is a good indicator. And I've also heard Republicans privately say that actually the Dobbs decision, this is Trump included, were worried about how it would impact them when moderate voters go out and perhaps wouldn't normally participate in the midterm election but would vote on a singular issue.
SCIUTTO: Yes. I've heard that from Republicans, as well. OK. Big picture, if you look at the results of election deniers in GOP primaries, they did pretty well. You know, beyond Trump's endorsement, folks are just flat out lie, still to this day about the 2020 race.
Does that show, Amber, the power of that message, right, you know, the enduring power of a stolen election, you know, brings out Republican votes still?
PHILLIPS: Absolutely. It's time to say that -- that denying the election is the price of admission in many Republican races. I mean, last night results are still being counted in Arizona. We've talked about Michigan, but in Arizona it is possible, Jim, that all four GOP nominees for the top open statewide seats, governor on down to attorney general, could be election deniers. And unapologetic ones at that.
People like Kari Lake, the potential GOP nominee for governor of Arizona, wants to take away voting machines, take away vote by mail, says she wouldn't certify the 2020 or perhaps future elections. This is where the Republican Party is at. I can name several other states where they have nominated statewide candidates like that. I think it's --
SCIUTTO: And power over election -- sorry, Tara. They will have influence, right, over counting votes in future elections.
PALMERI: Exactly. It will have national implications. But it's not so much a price to entry or admission, it's a price to getting the Trump endorsement. He will not give you the endorsement unless you tout his election lie. And that really matters in a primary, right? But let's see where you're really trying to get out the party faithful in a primary. Not a lot of voters, moderates, swing voters decide primaries.
But let's see how that plays in the general and if they start to see that these candidates that are Trump-backed and endorsed are too radical to win in a general election.
SCIUTTO: And that's an open question. We know that even someone like Mitch McConnell concerned, right, that in the Senate races that he wants to win that those deniers will not be the best candidates.
Amber Phillips, Tara Palmeri, good to have both of you.
CNN has learned that a federal grand jury has now subpoenaed former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone. This is not for the January 6th Committee. This is for a DOJ criminal investigation. The grand jury investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joins me now.
So, listen, it's a criminal investigation. They want to talk to the White House counsel, Trump's White House counsel. That is not insignificant.
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No. He is the highest ranking person that we know of from the Trump White House that has been pursued by this Justice Department investigation into January 6th. And if you look, there's a whole pile of things that the Justice Department has done in recent weeks that put this right at the feet of Donald Trump, trying to find out what was going on in the West Wing around January 6th or even on that day.
There's been subpoenas of fake electors asking about the Trump campaign, asking about interactions with people in the legislative branch, in the executive branch. There's also been searches of people who were directly in touch with Trump, John Eastman, his elections attorney. There was also a search of Jeffrey Clark at the Justice Department.
He was trying to do Trump's bidding and was almost going to become the attorney general, and now there's also grand jury activity, testimony coming from top officials in the office of the vice president. And now to the subpoena to Pat Cipollone.
So here's how Representative Adam Kinzinger was framing it this morning on "NEW DAY," what it meant to him seeing that this happened now from the Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I'll say this is probably bad for former President Trump. I mean, this is -- if he goes in front of the grand jury, it shows that this is more than, you know, what did John Eastman do, the attorney that came up with that crazy scheme to overturn the election. And it probably has a very deep interest in what the president did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POLANTZ: So right now we don't know who the target in this investigation is. But we do know that the Justice Department already knows what Cipollone has to say about a lot of things because he spoke to the House Select Committee, and he said essentially Trump was the only person in the White House who did not want to tell rioters to back off the Capitol during that, to make a public statement.
And the one thing that Cipollone hasn't said and hasn't shared yet at least to the House, we don't know if he'll be able to share it or if he will share it to the Justice Department, is whether or not -- what his conversations with Trump himself were.
SCIUTTO: It is funny how fake electors has come into the conversation. I mean, they were fake electors, they were not real, often even described that way, and electors represent people's votes. And this is what happened in 2020.
Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.
So let's discuss the law of all this. Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general.
First on Cipollone, Elliot. Are there differences on what Cipollone will be compelled to discuss to a federal grand jury that he refused to discuss with the January 6th Committee?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes and no. Look, he's still, Jim, going to have both attorney-client privilege and executive privilege. Attorney-client privilege being the privilege that exists between a lawyer and his client, right, and executive privilege between senior White House staffs and the president.
The difference is as Katelyn's reporting just last week noted, the Justice Department is preparing to sue over these privilege questions. So they're actually -- they might actually go to the mat on this and compel him to testify in some of these areas.
SCIUTTO: Renato Mariotti made the point that this has come up before in the Clinton investigation in which his lawyer tried not to answer questions, was compelled by D.C. Circuit Court.
SCIUTTO: Is that -- has it not already been decided then, or do you have to go through it again?
WILLIAMS: To some extent, now again, that was a civil investigation here. We're talking about a criminal one here. At the end of the day, courts generally look very favorably on the power of grand juries and the criminal investigative process. So we'll see. This is all novel, Jim. The whole idea of, frankly, an insurrection in the first place.
WILLIAMS: But even trying to get the White House counsel to testify is novel, and it's got to go to court.
SCIUTTO: OK. So Pentagon texts wiped. This is the third agency following Secret Service and DHS that wiped, they say, in a phone migration. But wiped texts around this key date of January 6th, leading up to it and following it. What does the law say here?
WILLIAMS: Fool me once, shame on me. You know?
SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.
WILLIAMS: And look, at a certain point this has become a trend. Now what the law says is it's a crime if someone knows of an investigation and then deletes information to get around being a part of that.
WILLIAMS: The problem is that on January 6th, there weren't actually investigations of January 6th. They hadn't started yet. What it says, though, is that there's a pattern of trying to cover your tracks and thinking that law enforcement, frankly, is above the law and that Congress or lawyers shouldn't be poking around. What it says to me is heads need to roll.
WILLIAMS: And Congress needs to take a look and start looking at people.
SCIUTTO: So Zoe Lofgren, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, of course on the January 6th Committee, she says Secret Service at least wiped their texts after being notified. Let me play her comment on this. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Obviously this does not look good. The department, the agency was directed to retain everything in a letter sent by the chairman of the four committees with jurisdictions before the January 6th Committee told to retain everything. And 11 days later, they erased everything. So that is a problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Does that count as the notice? As regards criminal intent?
WILLIAMS: She's right. It's a problem. And it's bad government behavior. But, you know, there's an open question as to whether a request from Congress would rise to the same level as a subpoena from the Justice Department or from a court. So, you know, that's one that's got to go to court. But at the end of the day, Jim, it's really bad, and something that a government agency should not be doing under any circumstance.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And it's a pattern, as you say. OK. Finally here, "New York Times" reporting that two Arizona Republican officials who were involved in an attempt to decertify results there, they said that a plan to put forth fake electors, there's that phrase again, could look treasonous. Seems to acknowledge that they knew something wasn't right about this.
SCIUTTO: Does that factor in to a criminal investigation when you're trying to get at the question of intent?
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. And frankly, we should probably stop saying the term fake electors and start saying could be treasonous electors, because it's their own words. Now look, it factors in a criminal intent because they're using the name of a crime, treason, to apply to it. Now the next line, they say, you know, it could be treasonous if there's no pending court proceedings.
WILLIAMS: So they hedge it, saying that if we're just doing this cold, this could be treason. But there might be litigation, so it might -- needless to say, Jim, look, and I know you're as suspicious as I am. It's bad. And it's knowledge of criminal intent. And the one thing we seem to know the Justice Department is investigating is this fake elector scheme, and this is evidence of it, plain and simple.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Elliot Williams, thanks so much.
The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed that the U.S. will not abandon Taiwan as she wrapped up her historic visit there this morning. Was her trip incendiary? Was it worth the cost?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF BOY KILLED IN SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SHOOTING: I can't even describe the last 9 1/2 years of a living hell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Parents who lost their children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack take the stand, telling Alex Jones directly to his face in court the pain and trauma he has inflicted by lying, claiming it never happened. We're going to have some of those emotional moments ahead.
SCIUTTO: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now wrapped up her visit to Taiwan, and she did so with a firm message of support for the self- ruled island and in defiance of China's warnings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Today our delegation which I'm very proud came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan, and we are proud of our enduring friendship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: The Chinese military launched live fire military drills around the island as Pelosi arrived. Taiwan's Defense Ministry just announced that 27 Chinese warplanes entered its air defense identification zone.
Joining me now, Jessica Drun from the Atlantic Council's Global China hub. Good to have you on, Jessica.
JESSICA DRUN, NONRESIDENT FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL'S GLOBAL CHINA HUB: Thanks for having me, Jim.
SCIUTTO: So there's a lot of incendiary rhetoric that's been coming from China, not just from officials but also from communist party newspapers, banging the drum really here. Should folks at home take that seriously, as a genuine threat of military action or genuine damage to U.S.-China relations, or should they look at this as something hyperbolic with domestic politics involved?
DRUN: I think you're seeing the full extent of the toolkit that China uses, that it's deploying these tactics against Taiwan. We're seeing the range of it, the scope of what they have in terms of, you know, military actions. We saw the DDOs attack, the product bans in terms of agricultural products. And I think it's only going to worsen. I think what we need to do here and what's important to focus on is to back the words that Pelosi said with action.
SCIUTTO: Now when I look at the pictures there, and by the way, we're playing them right now. That looks a lot like an official visit. Right? And that seems to be what has gotten China's attention here. Speaker Pelosi is -- though there have been several congressional delegations, Republican and Democrat, Pelosi is by the Constitution the third highest ranking person in government here. Was it different, was it fundamentally a different trip than Taiwan has seen from other Americans to date?
DRUN: No. And I think it's important to stress that there's precedent for this.
DRUN: Newt Gingrich went in I think I believe '97, and this is in line with long-standing U.S. policy, long-standing bipartisan support for Taiwan that has endured for five decades.
SCIUTTO: There is open discussion from U.S. officials, right, that China will perhaps in the next several years take military action against Taiwan. I mean, it's in the public record here. You have Chinese President Xi Jinping about to become something close to president for life there, and he looks at it kind of the way Putin looks at Ukraine, right, as a historic achievement, you know, in his time. Is that the accepted viewpoint, that it's not a question of if but when China might take military action?
DRUN: I think it's too soon to tell. I think China will use all -- you know, like I said, the toolkit before, use all possible means short of military action if it can. And I think it's important that you brought up the point about Ukraine and Russia because one thing that we're seeing right now is how China's trying to get ahead of the global narrative.
DRUN: On this issue by placing the onus of the blame on the United States by saying that, you know, the U.S. broke a purported agreement that we never agreed to. And that its actions are justified, much like what Russia is doing with the United States, Ukraine, and NATO.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And each both Russia and China with an imperfect record of sticking to agreements, as well, we should note.
Jessica Drun, thanks so much for joining.
DRUN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Well, just a shocking story here. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is going to be back on the stand today. Of course, he's denied Sandy Hook ever happened. So he's face to face with Sandy Hook parents. He even got a warning from the judge about lying on the stand. We're going to have the latest in that case coming up.
SCIUTTO: Alex Jones' attorney said the only person who will take the stand to defend him and his actions today in a Texas court will be Alex Jones himself. There he is. He is set to be cross examined in front of a jury tasked with awarding damages for his lies about the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis. Little boy was murdered along with 19 other children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Jones was gone for much of the testimony yesterday. When he did arrive, the judge made the courtroom rules clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE MAYA GUERRA GAMBLE, TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT CHARGE: It seems absurd to instruct you again that you must tell the truth while you testify, yet here I am. You must tell the truth while you testify. This is not your show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)