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CNN Special Reports
CNN Special Report, "Trumping Democracy: An American Coup.". Aired 12-1a ET
Aired November 09, 2021 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (on camera): That's partly because there were Georgia Senate run-off elections on January 5th that they needed Trump to help them win.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Kelly fights for me. David fights for me. That I can tell you.
TAPPER: And partly because they had giant spending bills, they needed him to sign then.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news, Biden has now received the majority of elector electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
TAPPER: On December 14th, 2020 the Electoral College voted in all 50 states formalizing Trump's loss.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: On January the 20th.
TAPPER: On the 15th, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally publicly embraced the truth.
MCCONNELL: So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.
TAPPER: Republicans who had spent the previous weeks trying to placate Donald Trump now found that the vacuum their silence had left had been filled by Trump's lies.
Trump lashed out at the few Republicans who acknowledged his defeat tweeting, quote, "too soon to give up, Republican Party must finally learn to fight." Privately, the president was entertaining increasingly concerning paths forward.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I got a tip from someone that there had been a really intense, bizarre Oval Office meeting. Sidney Powell had been having a conservation about being made special counsel within the White House to investigate election fraud.
I also found out that Mike Flynn, the former lieutenant general and national security advisor who was fired very early on in the Trump administration was talking about seizing the voting machines and rerunning the election.
It was incredibly jarring that there was a conversation in the Oval Office with a former military leader talking about a seizure of voting machines.
TAPPER: And Flynn publicly spoke about this.
HABERMAN: He said a version of it on Newsmax the night before this meeting.
MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I mean, these people talking about martial law like something that we've never done. We've done -- martial law has been instituted 64 -- 64 times.
HABERMAN: He was told by officials, this isn't legal. We do not have the authority to do this.
TAPPER: Trump was eventually convinced by advisers to pass on that idea but he became fixated on a new one, derailing the certification of electoral votes.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Once Trump realizes that the fraud claims are going nowhere, he now has a new plan, which is for there to be enough doubt that he could maybe persuade some of these states, conservative states to send a separate set of electors.
TAPPER: On December 19th, Trump sent his first tweet encouraging supporters to come to Washington, D.C. on January 6th to protest the election results at a rally organized by a group called Women for America First. With ties to controversial characters such as Roger Stone and Steve Bannon, that organization was the de facto force for the false fraud claims after the election.
Even taking a bus tour across the country trying to sway members of Congress to object to the election results. While Women for America First pushed conspiracy theories around the country.
UNKNOWN: Do you still love America?
TAPPER: The president continued his assault on democracy in the nation's capitol.
BLITZER: The attorney general of the United States Bill Barr is leaving administration.
TAPPER: Thus began a new near-daily pressure campaign on the Department of Justice. According to a sweeping report from the Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, based on interviews with Trump's top officials at the Justice Department, Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, Trump directly asked the DOJ to undermine the outcome of the election. He did so nine times.
And as chief of staff Mark Meadows broke with longstanding policy and pressured the DOJ to look into election fraud claims.
PEREZ: The wildest theory was this thing called Italy gate. Mark Meadows sent an e-mail to the acting attorney general at the time asking him to look into this theory that there was some Italian contractor who was using satellites to change vote tallies on machines, voting machines in the United States.
TAPPER: On a December 27th call with the new acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, Trump pushed him to, quote, "just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressman."
PEREZ: Trump knows that, you know, if the Justice Department goes out and raises questions about corruption or fraud, just saying that they're investigating or looking into it, that allows Republican congressmen to go out there and do the rest of work and put the pressure on the states to start their own audits and again, gives him room to operate between then and January 6th.
BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: The whole notion behind it was Trump and his supporters saying don't worry about it, we're going to make it up. Don't pay attention to the facts. Don't pay attention to the law. We're just going to make it up and forge ahead.
TAPPER: Trump continued to press Rosen on the call saying, quote, "this was an illegal corrupt election." And according to acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue's notes from the conversation, Trump told Rosen the DOJ was failing to respond to reports of crime.
PEREZ: Rosen stood firm on this call saying that there is not much the Justice Department could do.
TAPPER: Trump also plotted with another Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark to oust the acting attorney general after Rosen's repeated refusals to go along with Trump's fraudulent allegations. But that scheme imploded at a dramatic White House showdown on January 3rd.
PEREZ: This was a scene straight out of "Apprentice." Trump has Rosen and Clark vie for the job of attorney general of the United States and the president is told that if he replaces Rosen with Clark, there are going to be huge consequences.
Number of top officials at the Justice Department are going to resign. There were probably going to be hundreds of other resignations of political appointees across the country as a result of this. It was a murder suicide pact is the way this was described during this meeting.
TAPPER: Trump decided that the effort would not be worth the embarrassment of mass resignations and abandoned the plot. He then pinned his hopes to overturn the election on Mike Pence based of a legal memo written by conservative attorney John Eastman.
Let's talk about the Eastman memo. What was your reaction when you first heard about it?
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Just breathtaking that you would have laid out such a clear game plan that so clearly violated the Constitution. TAPPER: The Eastman memo detailed a six-step plan for Pence to throw
the election to Trump during the January 6th certification. It also called for Pence to throw out all electors from seven states and gavel President Trump as reelected.
Eastman has since tried to publicly downplay his memo and his role in attempting a coup but he told a different story in recent undercover video from a progressive activist.
JOHN EASTMAN, ATTORNEY: Trump, Giuliani and me met with 300 legislators on January 2nd via Zoom conference call. And they all spinelessly wouldn't do anything.
TAPPER: And in appearances in past right-wing media.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Are we to assume that this is going to be a climactic battle that is going to take place this week?
EASTMAN: I think a lot of that depends on the spine of the individuals involved.
BANNON: Would you be -- that would be a nice way to say a guy named Mike -- Vice President Mike Pence?
EASTMAN: Yes. This level or corruption just can't be allowed to stand and I think that makes -- I think that makes the exercise of the vice president's power here very compelling.
UNKNOWN: It's quite dangerous. It is a blueprint for how to ignore the vote of the people. That would have cast aside all the legal foundations upon which the country and the democracy is based.
TAPPER: The foundations are laid out in the U.S. Constitution specifically section 1 of article 2 it's very clear about how the U.S. president is chosen. State electors make a list of who they voted for. The list is signed, certified and sealed and sent to the seat of government.
Once there, the president of the Senate who is the vice president opens all the certificates in front of the House and the Senate. The results are counted and the person with the most votes is president. Nowhere does it say that the vice president can reverse the will of the people because of some made up story about widespread election fraud, and yet, that is what President Trump wanted to occur.
UNKNOWN: The vice president --
TAPPER: Publicly Pence raised the hopes of Trump supporters telling one Georgia rally.
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We'll have our day in Congress.
PENCE: We'll hear the objections. We'll hear the evidence.
TAPPER: Pence reached out to others to see if there was some way he could carry out this unconstitutional move including, according to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, former vice president and fellow Hoosier Dan Quail who convinced Pence he had no constitutional power to throw out the election.
Also reported by Woodward and Costa was Steve Bannon's role in pushing the plan on a phone call with the president, Bannon said quote, "You've got to call Pence and get him back here today.
We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, f-ing bury him.
PEREZ: Pence said that he talked to all of the lawyers that he can talk to and he has decided that he can't, he doesn't have the power that the president says he has, and Trump turns on him. He also said to him, he says that essentially, he has betrayed him and the meeting doesn't end very well between the two men.
TAPPER: But that did not stop the president from publicly pressuring the vice president on Twitter ahead of the certification.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): We were on a conference call and I told Kevin McCarthy when people are convinced that the election was stolen and there is a root out, there's going to be violence. His response was simply, operator, next caller.
CROWD: Stop the steal! Stop the steal!
UNKNOWN: We have the power in numbers. We came here to protect our Republic.
CROWD: Fight for Trump.
TAPPER (voice over): January 6th, 2021.
CROWD: Fight for Trump.
TAPPER: Where were you? Do you remember that day?
KINZINGER: I remember that day crystal clear.
UNKNOWN: Trump won in a landslide.
KINZINGER: There are some days that stick out, 9/11, war, and stuff like that, this is among those.
CROWD: Hail Mary, full of grace -- TAPPER: On the day Congress was scheduled to certify the election for President-elect Joe Biden.
UNKNOWN: You will listen to the one.
TAPPER: Thousands of people descended the on our nation's capitol.
UNKNOWN: Biden did not win this election.
UNKNOWN: What do you think happened.
UNKNOWN: It's not made off.
TAPPER: Angry at what they falsely believed had been a stolen election.
UNKNOWN: Unquestionable that our votes were stolen.
UNKNOWN: The Supreme Court isn't helping us. No one is helping us.
UNKNOWN: We're taking this country back.
REP. ANTHONY GONZALEZ (R-OH): I wake up at 4.30. Buses were everywhere. You couldn't get a clear path into the office from where I was.
UNKNOWN: This line wraps around the Washington Monument.
GONZALEZ: And there is all kinds of traffic at 4.30 in the morning, five in the morning and the strobe lights already on the National Mall and couple thousand people milling around at that hour it just felt like something was off.
CROWD: Fight for America! Fight for America!
TAPPER: When did you start becoming worried as January 6th as a day?
KINZINGER: A couple days before January 6th we were on a conference call, all the House Republicans. Kevin McCarthy who at this point we did not know how he is going to go on certification. He says he's going to object. Then I say Kevin, you have to understand there will be violence.
When people are convinced that the election was stolen and there is a root out, there is going to be violence. His response was simply, operator, next caller. So, on January 6th, it was obvious what was going to happen.
CROWD: Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!
UNKNOWN: They thought they could steal this election. TAPPER: The crowd had been told lies about the election not just by
Trump but by his supporters on Capitol Hill and in MAGA media. They were encouraged to take action.
UNKNOWN: I don't know how this is going to end but if they want to fight, they better believe they got one!
TAPPER: And told how to think about those Republicans who acknowledge Joe Biden won. Those who were grounded in reality.
LOU DOBBS, FOX NEWS HOST: This is about as mindless as I've ever seen these Republican rhino establishment hacks behave.
ERIC TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S SON: We're coming for you.
TAPPER: Many of famous faces peddling the big lie were there.
LARA TRUMP, ERIC TRUMP'S WIFE: We are going to take our country back.
TAPPER: But not just to rev up the crowd at the rally, according to the book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, on the days surrounding January 6th, Steve Bannon, John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani and others gathered at a hotel just two blocks from the White House discussing plans to delay the certification.
BANNON: I'll tell you this. It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen.
TAPPER: Just the day before on January 5th, Bannon ominously teased what was to come on his podcast War Room.
BANNON: It's going to be quite extraordinary different. You've made this happen and tomorrow it's game day, so strap in. Let's get ready.
KINZINGER: Everything points to Bannon was very closely associated with anything the campaign was doing.
LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R-GA): I think an overwhelming majority of the crowd was there to try to overturn democracy at that point or the Democratic process.
CROWD: Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!
KINZINGER: I knew that I was kind of the face of so-called the deep state in the Republican Party so I didn't want to be out in public too much. So I never bring my gun into the capitol complex. I brought it that day.
GONZALEZ: I was sort of nervous for the morning. I was curious to see what the rally was. I was hoping not to hear some of the speeches that I ultimately heard. Some of the more inflammatory ones.
EASTMAN: We know there was fraud.
TAPPER: Speakers at the rally included John Eastman, the author of that memo detailing how Pence could violate the Constitution and keep Trump in office. As well as many other Republican officials who saw opportunity in joining in on the big lie.
EASTMAN: Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Start taking down names and kicking ass.
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Let's have trial by combat.
TAPPER: But as he preferred it --
CROWD: Fight for Trump! We like you. We love you.
TAPPER: The marquee speaker was the president himself.
UNKNOWN: Donald J. Trump.
TAPPER: Meanwhile, inside the chambers of Congress, the certification of the votes paused.
UNKNOWN: I would object to further reading.
TAPPER: With objections from Republican senators and some Republican House members.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): I rise today to object --
UNKNOWN: I rise to support the objection.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I rise to support the objection.
TAPPER: Earlier that day Vice President Pence put out a statement saying he would not follow Trump's instructions.
CROWD: USA! USA!
TAPPER: Which upset the president as he conveyed to the massive crowd.
TRUMP: Mike Pence, I hope you're going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you're not, I'm going to be very disappointed in you.
TAPPER: Trump continued to rile up the crowd demanding they take action.
TRUMP: You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.
TAPPER: Many at the rally took his words literally. And we all watched as the effort to overturn the election.
UNKNOWN: It's over!
TAPPER: Came to a violent, bloody crescendo.
CHENEY: It was so unimaginable. That you would have a mob having broken into the capitol and attacked police officers.
CROWD: Treason! Treason! Treason!
CHENEY: Attempting to break into the floor of the chamber of the House of Representatives. You just couldn't compute that was happening because it so fundamentally un-American.
TAPPER: Un-American --
UNKNOWN: Objection to count an electoral votes.
TAPPER: -- yet very close to happening in America. This video shows Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, someone the angry mob considered an enemy unknowingly walking towards the rioters. Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman tells Romney to get out of harm's way and then runs to confront the insurrectionists.
UNKNOWN: Second floor.
TAPPER: Leading them from the Senate chamber. Vice President Pence.
PENCE: President and vice president --
TAPPER: The man many rioters called to be hanged that day.
CROWD: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
TAPPER: Was inside the chamber and had to be rushed to safety with his family to the senate floor. Minutes after rioters breached the capitol. According to reporting from the Washington Post, one of the vice president's aides Greg Jacob who was with Pence during the insurrection sent an e-mail to John Eastman after they were escorted off the Senate floor.
JOSH DAWSEY, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: He said in the e-mail thanks to your bullshit we're now under siege.
TAPPER: Eastman fired back blaming the riots on the vice president and his staff.
UNKNOWN: They broke through. It's on.
DAWSEY: John Eastman responded by saying that it was actually the vice president's fault and Mr. Jacob's fault for the, quote, unquote, "siege." He said if you would have done what needed to be done, if you had been transparent, if you had a debate, if you have gone forward like we asked you to go, it wouldn't be happening to you right now.
TAPPER: The conversation you had with your wife, you've been off to war before having conversations with loved ones. Was it like that? KINZINGER: This was different, you know. I never really had a sense I
might not survive this. There was a real sense that if they're in the capitol complex and they've already overrun two or three lines of police barricades, there is nothing to stop them from the rest of the complex.
Yes, it was an emotional conversation. It was nothing I ever had before. I hope to never have to have that conversation again.
GONZALEZ: We have two young kids and I didn't want to alarm my wife. At the time, it felt like anything was possible. Because you're seeing the bomb threats. You're tracking it on Twitter. I'm seeing messages on telegram and some of these other platforms come through about organized militia groups that are going to storm the capitol and some folks saying they're going to kill whoever they find and all these sorts of these things. And so, at that time you don't know how it's going to end.
TAPPER: On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House Trump remained isolated watching the events unfold on television.
When he found out about what was going on, the violence, his supporters attacking policemen, beating policemen --
UNKNOWN: Everybody, stay down.
TAPPER: -- members of Congress hiding, running for their lives, what was his response?
HABERMAN: Kevin McCarthy had a conversation with him telling him how bad it was, people breaking into my office, they're doing this, and Trump's response was, well, Kevin, I guess they're more upset about the election than you are.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: These chaos --
TAPPER: There was roughly an hour that day when some on the Biden team were genuinely worried that there would be no transition, sources tell CNN, that Trump and his mob had successfully disrupted the counting of electors and might find a way to cling to power.
CROWD: Stop the steal! Stop the steal!
GONZALEZ: Thank God that there weren't more people killed.
UNKNOWN: What the fuck. Let's go.
GONZALEZ: At the time you don't know that. At the time you know there is an angry violent mob who believes the election was stolen in the United of America. You're seeing even members of Congress saying this is our 1776 moment, which as a reminder, that's a bloody violent revolution.
UNKNOWN: This is our country and this is our House. GONZALEZ: Well, of course you're going to have violence and of course you're going to have a riot at the capitol.
AL SCHMIDT (R-), CITY COMMISSIONER OF PHILADELPHIA: And that's what all this was about, not just an attack on our symbols of democracy.
UNKNOWN: This is our capitol.
SCHMIDT: It was an actual attack on the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another.
TAPPER: After the insurrection was over --
UNKNOWN: This is our capitol.
UNKNOWN: This is our capitol.
TAPPER: -- hundreds had been injured. Five dead. And the Capitol had been breached for the first time in more than 200 years.
UNKNOWN: The mother (muted), you haven't lost. Let's take this (muted). This is ours.
TAPPER: Coming up, will Trump try to steal the election again?
You think that he will try to impose some form of autocracy?
UNKNOWN: I think that he absolutely would.
TAPPER (voice over): Hours after the last rioters had been pushed out of the capitol while there was still glass on the floors and blood on the stairs, Congress tried to get back to the business of democracy.
PENCE: Let's get back to work.
TAPPER: They had a presidential election to certify.
CHENEY: When we reconvened that night there was an opportunity for leadership from Kevin McCarthy, an opportunity for him to stand up and say it's time for us to recognize that the election is over. It's over. And we need to come together and heal.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), U.S. HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I rise to address what happened in this chamber today.
CHENEY: As I sat on the floor and listened to his remarks, they began like that but then it became clear he was urging continued objection to the electoral votes, which I can't understand.
MCCARTHY: We're hearing valid concerns about election integrity.
TAPPER: By the end of the night, two-thirds of Republicans in the House of Representatives including the current Republican leadership voted not to certify the state of Arizona.
UNKNOWN: I object to the electoral votes.
TAPPER: And not to certify the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Do you think Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise and Elise Stefanik all of whom voted to not count electors after blood had been shed, after this attack, do you think they actually believe this cause that they've taken up?
KINZINGER: Not a word of it. I don't think they believe any of it. But I think you can convince yourself that if you're determined to that I'll just play the game a little longer so that I'll be here to lead to a new direction. Or I'll play the game because I don't have the power and influence to change the ship.
You know, when you think about the heroics on flight 93 on 9/11, you know, all those passengers standing up rushing the cockpit and saving the capitol, had Todd Beamer or any of those others alone charged the cockpit, we would have probably a rebuilt capitol today and a lot of casualties, but they all decided to do it together. And when you only have a few people speaking out, it's no doubt that that's not going to turn the ship. Everybody has to particularly the leaders of the party.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Hatred for Donald Trump and the American --
TAPPER: The lie continued on MAGA media were justifying the rioters anger became a common refrain.
PETE HEGSETH, FOX NEWS CO-HOST: These are not conspiracy theories motivated just by lies. That's a bunch of nonsense that people want to tell us. These are people that understand first principles. They love freedom and they love free markets.
TAPPER: One week later, the House voted to impeach President Trump for willful incitement of the January 6th insurrection.
UNKNOWN: My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear- based decision.
UNKNOWN: There is no excuse for President Trump's actions.
TAPPER: While some Republicans spoke in favor, once again, the majority of House Republicans sided with Trump refusing to vote for impeachment.
NANCY PELOSI (D), U.S. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The ayes are 232. The nays are 197.
BLITZER: Ten Republicans breaking ranks.
TAPPER: But 10 Republicans did vote to impeach him. Three of them you've heard from tonight.
CHENEY: I voted to impeach him because I think it's very clear as has been public that he provoked the violence that day. GONZALEZ: I felt like I had no choice in the matter. As conservative
Republicans, we are constitutionalists and we believe in the rule of law.
TAPPER: Were you surprised only 10 Republicans voted to impeach?
KINZINGER: It was a point probably a couple days before the vote maybe a day before the vote on impeachment where I thought we'd hit 25. Because I talk to 25 people. I looked at those people that were going to vote for impeachment and I recognized every one of them that ended up not voting that way. They always mentioned a concern for what it meant for the reelection.
CHENEY: Hi, everyone. Thanks --
TAPPER: Congresswoman Liz Cheney was the third ranking Republican in the House when she voted for impeachment. Because she was so concerned about where Trump's big lie was leading the nation.
CHENEY: You had local officials who were getting death threats. You had members of Congress who said to me that they believed that the president should be impeached after the 6th but that they were afraid to cast a vote that way because of their security, the security of their families.
You know, that -- that is a place that we haven't been certainly since the Civil War and never when that threat of violence comes from a sitting president.
TRUMP: And we're going to have to fight much harder.
CHENEY: This will remain a cancer on our constitutional republic.
TAPPER: Cheney has become a leading critic of those who engaged in the big lie and attempted to subvert democracy including House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy who said this two days after the election.
MCCARTHY: President Trump won this election so everyone who's listening, do not be quiet.
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): Thanks, Mike.
TAPPER: In May, Republican New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik challenged Cheney for her leadership post. Cheney is more conservative than Stefanik. Cheney had voted to support Trump policies more often than Stefanik but Stefanik supports Trump's election lies and Stefanik defeated Cheney for the leadership position.
CHENEY: It just became increasingly clear that to stay in House Republican leadership, I would have to be willing to perpetuate the big lie and I just simply wasn't comfortable with that.
TAPPER: How many of your Republican colleagues that perpetuate the big lie either with comments or their votes, how many of them do you think actually believe it?
CHENEY: Very few. Very few. Too many people are putting their own political future and their political fortunes ahead of doing their duty and so I think that, you know, in some instances, there is fear, physical fear about what Trump would do or the threats that might come, but in other cases, I think it's a political calculation which is pretty craven if you think about it.
TAPPER: What is the danger do you think of elected officials who might know better acquiescing to these demands, to this request, or winking and nodding about the big lie?
BILL GATES (R), VICE CHAIR, MARICOPA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: The danger is that once you do it on this issue what's to stop -- why wouldn't you do it on any other issue? This is not about right and left at all. It's about right and wrong.
GONZALEZ: The institutions don't hold themselves in the moments of truth you need the right people to pass the most difficult tests. We had just enough people on January 6th pass the test. We have to make sure we have equal number of people to continue to pass the test going forward.
TAPPER: One of your colleagues said the guard rails held but barely and only because there were specific individuals at great risk to themselves professionally and personally who stood by those guardrails, people like the Maricopa County board of supervisors. People like Secretary of State Raffensperger in Georgia. People like Commissioner Al Schmidt in Philadelphia.
Do you think that ultimately a dozen of these people replaced by other people, Trump people and the guardrails don't hold and democracy falls under?
KINZINGER: I certainly think that's a real threat and, you know, any time you're driving on the highway and see a guardrail that's been hit, dismantled, right, and held, it wouldn't with stand a second impact.
TAPPER: Coming up next, that second impact lead by former President Trump may be coming.
GONZALEZ: He either wins legitimately, which he may do or if he loses again, they'll just try to steal it.
TAPPER: We are now about a year away from the midterm elections, which typically tests the strength of an incumbent president.
TRUMP: Liz Cheney, how about that?
TAPPER: There is now growing evidence the midterms will also test the strength of former President Trump.
TRUMP: Her poll numbers have dropped faster than any human being I've ever seen.
TAPPER: Who has been working to turn elected officials into loyalists or get them voted from office.
TRUMP: Get rid of them all.
TAPPER: Trump attorney John Eastman made that clear while talking about state legislators in an undercover investigation done by a progressive activist.
EASTMAN: These guys are spineless. And now, if we take a bunch out of them in primaries in 2022 the pre precondition for getting elected is we're going to fight this stuff, then maybe we got an opportunity, but right now I don't see it.
TAPPER: Donald Trump's behavior has Congressman Anthony Gonzalez worried.
GONZALEZ: It looks to me that he evaluated what went wrong on January 6th. Why is it that he wasn't able to steal the election? Who stood in his way and he's going methodically state by state? It races from, you know, state Senate races all the way down to county commissioner races trying to get the people who the Republicans, the rhinos, in his words, who stopped him from stealing the election, he's trying to get them removed.
ALYSSA FARAH, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR TRUMP: What scares me is that the secretary of state roles because those are extremely powerful in terms of, you know, dealing with elections.
BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, SECRETARY OF STATE OF GEORGIA: The focus for our office.
TAPPER: In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state who refused to, quote, "find the votes Trump needed to win Georgia" is facing a challenge from Republican Congressman Jody Hice. Hice has been all in on Trump's election lie and is endorsed by Donald Trump. In Arizona, a state representative named Mark Finchem wants the job which is being vacated by a Democrat.
TRUMP: Arizona State Representative Mark Fincehm is with us tonight and what a job he's done. Mark.
GATES: He's already received the endorsement of Donald Trump. He has said over and over again that this was a fraudulent election. He's called for decertification. He's got a decent chance to win this primary. If we have people like that in these key positions moving forward, I think we are -- we are in danger.
TAPPER: Eight of the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment are now facing primary challenges from Republicans endorsed by Trump or energized by him including Liz Cheney.
Donald Trump is very vocally supporting your defeat. Are you worried?
CHENEY: No. I intend to win.
TAPPER: You could lose. I mean, you're saying you won't but anything is possible. If you lose your career because of this position you're taking, will it have been worth it?
CHENEY: Well, I will no matter what happens never stop fighting for the Constitution, never stop fighting for the rule of law. To me, there is not even really a choice or a calculation, it's just what is the right thing here and what has to be done?
TAPPER: Two of the 10 have decided not to run for reelection. One of them is Congressman Gonzalez. He's retiring after two terms.
GONZALEZ: This lifestyle, the constant travel, the constant fund raising, it wasn't working prior to impeachment. It was pretty clear that now is the time to get out of this.
TAPPER: The other one is Adam Kinzinger, who, without saying Trump's name announced he wanted to fight against the politics of division instead of for reelection. The exits are happening at the state level, too. Jeff Duncan, the lieutenant governor in Georgia is not running for election.
DUNCAN: I don't want to have to do and say the things I have to do and say it right now to win a primary with Donald Trump trying to play the games he's playing.
TAPPER: Duncan has begun speaking about the Republican Party after Trump and recently wrote a book called "GOP 2.0." And it's not just elected officials who are stepping out of or being pushed from public view.
Remember Chris Stirewalt, the Fox political editor who correctly called the state of Arizona for Biden? He was fired in January. Fox blamed restructuring. Stirewalt's boss retired.
CHRIS STIREWALT, FORMER POLITICAL EDITOR, FOX NEWS: A source at Fox News told the Washington Post that I was fired because my ratings weren't as good as Dan Bongino's and that my num -- that audiences were not responding to me as favorably as they were to Dan Bongino, which made me really laugh because I -- that's not my job. Right? My job is not to tell you what you want to hear.
TAPPER: Bongino is a conservative pundit, not a reporter. On top of all this, a number of states are ushering sweeping so-called election integrity laws that tighten access to the ballot to prevent widespread voter fraud, you know, the kind that did not happen. Nineteen states have new laws.
SCHMIDT: Trying to solve a problem that doesn't actually exist. Some people say voter fraud never occurs. It does occur. It occurs infrequently. TAPPER: But beyond efforts making it more difficult to vote, our
efforts making it easier to undo the results of an election. Eight states have enacted 11 laws that strengthen the role partisan politicians have in determining election outcomes.
For instance, in Georgia some of the power that used to belong to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, someone who was committed to upholding the rule of law now lies with the Republican controlled state legislature.
GINSBERG: A number of states have tried to take running of elections away from professionals in giving it to politicians. So, in state legislatures like Georgia give power to the state legislature to potentially overturn results, that's very worrisome.
TAPPER: This past year there has been no better example of a politicized counting process than the so-called audit of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona. This past spring and summer by a group calling themselves the Cyber Ninjas.
GATES: They have no experience at all in election audits. They're headed by Doug Logan who has been in that Trump orbit ever since the election.
TAPPER: People saw images of these Cyber Ninjas looking at ballots through ultraviolet lights. What were they looking for with the ultraviolet light in the ballot box?
GATES: They were actually looking for bamboo on the ballots because there was one of these conspiracy theories that thousands of ballots had been sent in nefariously far somewhere in Asia and if there was bamboo that would indicate that these were in fact those ballots.
TAPPER: If you buy into conspiracy theories or falsehood that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, the so-called audit made you more suspicious of the ballot counting process. In the end the Ninjas concluded Biden did win Maricopa County, Arizona which is what the county had certified.
Still, now Pennsylvania may be on the verge of conducting a similarly partisan audit, as well.
Do you think that these Republicans actually believe that there was fraud or is this just look how pro-Trump I am?
SCHMIDT: I think the primaries are right around the corner, I think that's a big motivator for what they're doing.
TAPPER: All of this has been happening in the aftermath of the 2020 election, a planned attempt to undo the will of the American people with dozens of events maneuvering, pressure campaigns, threats of violence, actual violence, carried out over months, and continuing to this day.
Do you think that what President Trump and his minions were attempting was a coup?
SCHMIDT: Well, when you're trying to not count voters' votes, when you're trying to overturn the will of the people, I wouldn't know how else to describe that.
DUNCAN: You know, it's hard for me to even attach the words coup in America. Right? That sounds like such a third-world notion. I don't know what you could call it other than a coup.
CHENEY: I think there are a number of different things you could call it. But no president in history has ever done it before, and we have to make sure no president ever does it again.
TAPPER: But if Donald Trump managers to replace enough opponents with loyalists, and enough laws are changed, it could happen again. But this time it might work.
GONZALEZ: If we re-run the scenario with people holding the most powerful positions in key institutions being more beholden to him than their oath, I think it's all pushing towards one of the two outcomes. He either wins legitimately, which he may do. Or if he loses again, they'll just try to steal it.
Should he be the nominee or should he run again, I'll do everything I can to stop him. I believe as a citizen of this country who loves this country and respects the Constitution, that's my responsibility.
FARAH: The nightmare scenario is this and it's not too far out of the realm of possibility, which is Donald Trump is running for president again. He will likely be the nominee of the Republican Party, assuming nobody attempts to challenge him credibly.
Joe Biden is going to be 82 years old by 2024. Many around him don't think he is going to run again. There's very much a scenario where Donald Trump could be president again. And this is a man has challenged our institutions near to the breaking point.
TAPPER: And for those who have worked with Trump the fear is not just his undermining his American democracy, but once back in the White House, also undoing the American experiment.
You think that he will try to impose some form of autocracy.
FARAH: I think that he absolutely would. There were things he wanted to do when he was in power the first time that were well beyond the scope of what the U.S. president should be able to do. But oftentimes it was simply like the motivation of hoping to win reelection that kept him from doing things. It's very different in the second term, and I think that's what -- that's what scares me the most.
TAPPER: Can you give me an example?
FARAH: You know, whether it's weaponizing the Justice Department against political opponents, whether it's, you know, going after the free press. He would certainly be open to using the military for political reasons as well. TAPPER: That's terrifying.
It is a warning we are bringing you from conservative Republicans. You might have noticed that other than a few journalists, the voices you've heard tonight have been exclusively GOP. Because there's nothing partisan, nothing liberal about supporting democracy.
The American experiment is an experiment. It's not guaranteed. I mean, when Ben Franklin said a republic, if you can keep, he wasn't being cheeky, he meant that this democracy has to be fought for. How worried are you?
GATES: I have real concerns about the future of this democracy. And I never thought that I would. I didn't think we had this sort of pull towards authoritarianism in our democracy.
CHENEY: I'm deeply afraid for our country. Yes, I'm afraid that the kind of political violence, the kind of abandonment of the rule of law, the kind of abandonment of the Constitution, that we watched, does threaten the foundations of democracy. The foundations of our system.
And the fact that so many in my party are willing to be silent or complicit, are enabling it, adds very much to the peril, because it's a very dangerous place for the country to be in.
TAPPER: I was discussing with an older friend of mine the subject of our documentary tonight, the erosion of American democracy, the continued undermining of basic rule of law and respect for facts. Stay sane, he said to me. And then alluding to that famous quote that shamed demagogue Republican Senator Joe McCarthy in 1954, my friend said, somebody has to sit up and say, at long last, have you no decency.
On the other hand, my friend said, somebody has to be listening when he says it. The thing is, a bunch of folks have been saying this. Journalists, politicians, conservative Republicans that you heard from tonight. Terrified about the end of the American experiment. They have been shouting, have you no decency at Trump.
And the problem is, Trump has answered, and the answer is no. He does not. And his supporters do not seem to care. And if the vast majority of Republican elected officials do care, as they should, well, they're not acting that way.