Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

House Votes to Hold Attorney General in Contempt; Parts of South Florida Under Severe Flooding. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 13, 2024 - 06:00   ET


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: It's Thursday, June 13. Right now on CNN THIS MORNING, House Republicans taking on the DOJ, voting to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress.


And South Florida battered again by heavy rain. And now facing life- threatening flash flooding.

Donald Trump back in Washington to meet with allies, former enemies, and some of the richest CEOs in America.

Plus, chaos at the Congressional Baseball Game after protestors stormed the field.

All right, 6 a.m. here in Washington. A live look at the Capitol on this Thursday morning, or at the height, really, heading into summer since sun's already up here.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's wonderful to have you with us. The most powerful law enforcement officer in America, waking up this morning in contempt of Congress.

All right. Apparently, we don't have the gavel falling, but we should have been seeing the House of Representatives voting to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for refusing to hand over subpoenaed audio recordings of President Biden's interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur.

In that interview, Biden is questioned about his handling of classified documents.

Hur, of course, famously -- infamously described the president as a well-meaning "elderly man with a poor memory."

We should note Republicans do already have a full transcript of the interview. They just want the audio, too.

Garland responded to the contempt vote this way, quote: "It's deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon. Today's vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers and the Justice Department's need to protect its investigations."

Here was House Speaker Mike Johnson, after the vote. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): Look, we did our job on the contempt. And I think it sends an important message. We're defending Article I and our authority for oversight. And we have to do that. We'll see what happens next, but I mean, the House has to do its work, and I'm pleased with the outcome.


HUNT: All right. Our panel's here. Let's bring in Jeff Mason. He's White House correspondent for Reuters, in his CNN THIS MORNING debut. Former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams, is also here. Kate Bedingfield, former Biden White House communications director; and Mike Dubke, former Trump White House communications director.

Welcome to all of you.

Elliot, let me start with you on kind of the legal situation here, because I mean, first of all, reality: Biden Justice Department's not going to prosecute Merrick Garland.


HUNT: This is also not the first time that this has happened. This has become -- I don't want to say commonplace, but there are now three attorneys general who've been held in contempt. Eric Holder back in 2012, because he refused to turn over documents in the Fast and Furious gun scandal, which was a big Republican political focus at that time.

Then there was Bill Barr, who defied a House Oversight Committee subpoena for documents related to changes to the U.S. Census. That might not sound political, but actually, the census is one of the most political areas that Congress often deals with.

And then now we have Merrick Garland.

Now, Garland has been a very aggressive in saying it's this House that is undermining the rule of law in the system. But look, there's a track record here.

WILLIAMS: Yes, sure. Going back to 2012. Now, Congress has the right to put someone in Congress -- in contempt that doesn't comply with the things they do, right?

And they can request any documents that are related to -- and the language of the law is very clear -- legitimate legislative purpose. That's sort of the background here.

The problem is that they have the thing that they're claiming that they want in the form of a transcript. All those other instances -- certainly, Eric Holder and William Barr -- involved documents that were not turned over.

Here, Congress has the transcript of the Robert Hur interview. And there's no place in the law that they can point to, anyone can point to, that says that a transcript isn't sufficient for Congress to do its job.


And so the idea that somehow, they need an audio recording of this thing that happened just isn't the case. It's never been something that Congress has requested. And law enforcement ought to fight this to the death, because they should not. It gets in the way of law enforcement purposes to have every audio recording possibly turned over to Congress.

HUNT: So Jeff Mason, let's dig into why it is that they might want the audio recording. I mean, if you read the Hur report, basically, they seem to think, well, this is going to really make President Biden look like an old man, which is one of their most potent arguments in the presidential election.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: For sure. And it's the primary reason the White House doesn't want it out there, or the Biden campaign for that matter. Not that they have a voice in this.

But the -- the Republican side has said that they want the audio recordings in order to compare them to the transcript, because they accused the White House of doctoring transcripts of the president.

But I think you can neutrally and objectively say that this is about politics. This is about getting out an interview that did not generally go well for the president in terms of the political ramifications of it.

They would like to have his voice. They would like to have him looking old. They would like to have him looking like an elderly man with a poor memory and being able to play that in a commercial, or play it on TV, or play it for their supporters.

HUNT: Mike Dubke, do you want to make an argument this isn't just pure politics?

MIKE DUBKE, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Sure, for the same reason that -- that most of the news organizations have requested this audio recording. I believe CNN has requested --

HUNT: We should note, CNN has made a request.

DUBKE: -- this audio recording. Reuters?


DUBKE: No? You sure?

HUNT: Well, they don't --

DUBKE: Did you like it? I mean, this is --

HUNT: Maybe you're -- MASON: Not -- not aware of it.

DUBKE: Here's the point of this. You can make the political argument.

However, to Elliot's point earlier, this is Congress exercising its right to make a request of the executive branch.

This is kind of U.S. Political 101. So there's nothing wrong with making the request, and there's something frankly wrong with holding the attorney general in contempt for not acquiescing to that request, but for the same reason that the news media wants the transcript.

There are things that get lost. Or I'm sorry, the audio recording. There are things that get lost in transcripts that you do pull out of audio recordings.

You can write one line of script, and an actor can -- can make that sound 10 -- you know, 10 different ways.

HUNT: I work in television, and I understood the power of the visual medium and sound that way, for sure.

DUBKE: So I mean, you can make the argument that it's political, but I think you can also make the argument for all the same reasons that news organizations are requesting the audio recording, that there is some import.

WILIAMS: Well, there's one big caveat. News organizations aren't Congress, and they have a very different function and a very different job.

If Congress is investigating something with the goal toward either congressional oversight or passing legislation, they do not need a video. That has been the practice of both parties of Congress, both presidential administrations, going back to time immemorial.

HUNT: You mean a norm is being broken? How? How?

DUBKE: We should be glad that -- that the news media is different than Congress or the news maybe wouldn't hold -- or the attorney general would hold Congress in contempt almost every day for things.

WILLIAMS: Well, sure. Well, sure.

HUNT: No, no, no. But that's part of what makes this so blatantly political, right? It's outside the traditional scope of the way Congress, he uses these -- these authorities.

And so I think for -- you know, as we're talking about the politics of this, I think for the average voter who's watching this, this is an extension of, you know, the Republican Congress being incredibly focused on, you know, these -- these incredibly political issues that -- you know, using their time to kind of try to hammer Biden and the Biden administration rather than, you know, trying to actually get things done that impact the American people.

So for the Democrats, that's an argument that they can make about all of this, as well.

HUNT: Well, let me ask you this as we, right before we head back to break. "Punchbowl" put it this way this morning: "House Republicans have impeached the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas. They voted to hold Garland in contempt. They've threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in count [SIC] -- in contempt. GOP committee chairs have handed out subpoenas like Halloween candy, but just about the only person the House GOP's oversight hasn't really touched is President Joe Biden, much to the chagrin of former President Donald Trump."

But they've tried, by the way.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, they've spent months and months and months.

Jim Comer has spent months and months and months trying to make a case. They have -- they -- you know, it's like they wound up and were like ready to hit the pitch. And then, you know, there was nothing, because they haven't been able to make this key connection that they want to be able to make.

And so this is, in some ways, I think, them doing this is also a little bit of face-saving, right? It's like, well, we couldn't get, like, the big fish, so we're -- you know, we're over here trying to grab all the medium fish.

I mean, it just -- it seems like they didn't quite get -- they didn't quite get what they were going for.

Want a very quick one?

DUBKE: No, I mean, look, you've just -- you've just pointed out --

HUNT: I didn't know.

DUBKE: -- all of the ways they've gone after the Democrats, they've also gone after themselves. We're on the second speaker. So --

HUNT: There is that.

DUBKE: There's a lot of internal -- there's a lot of internal.

HUNT: Because that -- I knew you were going to pile on, but yes, all right.

BEDINGFIELD: Fair point.

HUNT: And then of course, there's this. Donald Trump is going to be back in Washington today. We're going to tell you the officials he'll be meeting with and the ones who simply are too busy to make it.


Plus, President Biden vowing not to pardon his own son. Might he be considering an alternative? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)



HUNT: A fight in Italy's parliament? It's one of five things you have to see this morning.



KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not spoken to the president about this, and what I'm saying is: He was asked about a pardon. He was asked about the trial specifically, and he answered it very clearly, very forthright.



HUNT: The White House, they're not ruling out the possibility that the president could commute the sentence of his son, Hunter, who was found guilty on three federal gun charges earlier this week.

Prior to Hunter's conviction, the president vowed he would not pardon his son. On the commutation question, the White House response yesterday was a little bit different from what we had heard last September. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the president pardon or commute his son if he's convicted?

JEAN-PIERRE: So I've answered this question before. It was asked of me not too long ago, a couple of weeks ago. And I was very clear, and I said no.


HUNT: So again, that was the old answer, but Kate Bedingfield, we actually were talking about this yesterday on the show, that for the president, a commutation, it's a little bit hard to see him, the president, the father, not trying to do something to help his son, but obviously the political ramifications are intense.

What do you make of how Karine Jean-Pierre answered this question yesterday?

BEDINGFIELD: Yes. Well, she definitely left space. I mean, they're clearly leaving themselves space. I think there's no question about that. They obviously know how they answered the question in September. She gave a vaguer answer yesterday, certainly intentionally, I would imagine, to give them -- to give themselves space. I think politically, look, he -- he was very clear about the issue of

the pardon. He understands the signal that it sends. He obviously is trying to draw a really stark contrast with Donald Trump in terms of, you know, presidential behavior and keeping your thumb off the scale and not inappropriately interfering with the justice system.

I think, you know, he certainly wants to maintain that contrast.

You know, in terms of whether he ultimately commutes the sentence of his son, I think there would be an understanding for most people who have children that, you know, you're looking to protect your child from the very worst of, you know, the ramifications of a potential prison sentence.

Commutation wouldn't be a pardon; wouldn't erase the conviction; would not, you know, clean the slate. But you could --

HUNT: So you think potentially --

BEDINGFIELD: -- defend it. Based on what I see from -- from their answer there, I think -- I think they're considering it. And yes, I do think they could -- I do think they could defend it, you know, on the grounds that he's looking out for his son.

WILLIAMS: The problem is the public doesn't know the difference between pardon and commute. Like, if I were to ask what happened to Scooter Libby, people would say, wait, was he pardoned? Was he can be commuted? Like what? And, you know, Bush commuted him, but it's just confusing, right?

Now, you're exactly right. A pardon would -- would wipe the slate clean. Commutation means he's still a felon but doesn't have a sentence on his -- on his record. So I mean, you know, if the state doesn't allow him to vote or run for office or get an insurance license or whatever, that would still apply.

BEDINGFIELD: There's no question. There's a question. It would be cleaner for them to just say no.


BEDINGFIELD: But I think the reality of family here is what it is.

MASON: Kate knows better than I do about how preparation goes into briefings and gaggles, but I have a slightly different take on that answer.

I would not have taken that answer to mean they're not ruling it out. I take that answer to mean Karine didn't have another talking point prepared.

And -- and I don't mean that pejoratively. I think that she was -- her job was to stick to what the president said. The president said, I'm not going to pardon him. She wasn't really prepared to talk about the difference --

HUNT: She was preferred in September. In September, she said --

MASON: I mean, I heard the question. That was my colleague, Ammer (ph), from the A.P. He included both of those words in that question. I don't know. Kate, you know better than I do.

BEDINGFIELD: Yes. It certainly -- it certainly happens. The press secretary has to deal with incoming on every topic, and sometimes they aren't prepared on a particular topic.

I sort of have a hard time believing, given that this is so front-and- center, that they hadn't prepped for this. I mean, typically, the biggest piece of the briefing each day. of the prep for the briefing each day is going through.

You know, what are the five things that are top of mind for every reporter and what are the questions that I'm going to get? So I don't know. I obviously was not part of this prep.

And you -- you're absolutely right. Sometimes that is the case. I have a hard time believing they didn't prep for this question.

MASON: For commutation. Fair enough. I just, like -- I didn't walk away from that. I listened to that gaggle yesterday, and I didn't walk away writing a story that they're not ruling this out.

She didn't answer. She just said -- he's already said no to a pardon.

HUNT: Very interesting. And for those -- for those of our viewers who are just meeting Jeff on this show. You have done this for so many years, sat on the plane, asked questions of people like Kate, probably the two of you --


WILLIAMS: It actually was really awkward when we sat down. Yes, yes.

HUNT: It's why I love having both of you. Thank you both.

All right. Come -- coming up next here. Weve got more flooding on the way for South Florida, creating life-threatening conditions.

Plus, protesters storm the field at a Congressional Baseball Game -- at the Congressional Baseball Game. There's only one. It's one of five things you have to see this morning.



HUNT: All right. Millions of people in South Florida remain under flood threats this morning after heavy rains triggered flash floods submerging cars and roads on Wednesday, some parts saw up to a foot and a half of rain.

That is a month's worth in just 48 hours. At least five counties remain under a state of emergency. This person, kayaking down the street in a seaside community near Fort Lauderdale, while others were left to make their way wading through thigh-high waters.


LEE MARSHALL, RESIDENT: It's crazy. I've seen people walk in the water all up to their waist. Small cars, they're not making it. We've seen over 50 cars.


HUNT: Our meteorologist Elisa Raffa tracking all of it for us this morning.

Elisa, good morning.

ELISA RAFFA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. I mean, we're talking about streets that look like rivers. You pointed out this kayaker. I mean, just kayaking down the streets, because there's so much rain.


Cars, submerged; roads, dangerous and impassable. When you see water like this, you should never try to drive through it. It really caused some problems yesterday.

I mean, look at the amount of rain that has fallen. In the last 48 hours, we're talking multiple locations with over ten inches of rain. Look at how wide that area is.

And then you look at Fort Lauderdale, Miami. They really got the brunt of it yesterday.

A foot of rain in Fort Lauderdale over the last two days, nine inches in Miami, more than seven inches in Sarasota. The one-day total in Fort Lauderdale of about 9.5 inches is more than a month's worth of rain ended. It is the wettest -- eighth wettest day on record.

The threat continues as we go through in the day-to-day. A moderate risk for flooding from Naples to Fort Lauderdale as we continue with some of that heavy rain. Another four to eight inches is possible -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Elisa Raffa for us this morning. Elisa, thank you very much.

All right, 25 minutes past the hour, five things you have to see this morning.

Violence in Buenos Aires, police clashing with anti-government protesters outside of Argentinian -- Argentina's Congress. Senators were scheduled to debate a bill on government and economic reforms that have been proposed by the Argentinian president.

A massive fire breaking out in an oil refinery in Northern Iraq. At least one person was injured. The cause of the fire still under investigation.

A brief brawl -- How's that for a descriptor? -- breaking out in the Italian Parliament yesterday.

The scuffle started when a lawmaker from the Five-Star Movement Party tried to hand an Italian flag to a lawmaker from the far-right League Party. Yikes.

Capitol Police arresting eight climate change protesters during a Congressional Baseball Game -- the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park here in D.C.

Video posted on the platform formerly known as Twitter by the group Climate Defiance shows several protesters going over the railing and running onto the field before being tackled by officers.

And this is Misty. She's a hunting dog that fell 30 feet down a lava crack in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. She was rescued by an avid hiker and rappeler, who heard about her plight on social media and drove two hours to save her.

Oh, I love that.

All right. Coming up next here, the Senate set to vote today on nationwide IVF protections. Does it have a chance to pass?

Plus Donald Trump returns to Capitol Hill.