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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Newly-Revealed Texts to Meadows Undercut GOP Whitewash of January 6; Biden to Travel to Kentucky to Survey Storm Damage Wednesday; Officials Still Assessing Damage from Deadly Tornado Outbreak. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Tuesday, December 14th. It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks so much for getting an early start with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

This morning, stunning revelations in the Capitol riot investigation as the House Select Committee voted to hold Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress. The unanimous vote weeks in the making, the result of Meadows openly defying the committee's subpoena.

To drive home why the panel wants to talk to him, lawmakers read a series of frantic text messages from January 6th aloud, messages pleading with Meadows to convince his boss to do something about this.


ROMANS: Insurrectionists storming barricades, attacking officers, smashing through windows, and pushing through doors.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): As the violence continued, one of the president's sons texted Mr. Meadows. Quote, he's got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol police is not enough, Donald Trump, Jr., texted. Meadows responded, quote, I'm pushing it hard. I agree.

Still, President Trump did not immediately act. Donald Trump, Jr., texted again and again, urging action by the president. Quote, we need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.


ROMANS: The texts show that the same Fox News hosts and members of the Trump inner circle who have now spent months downplaying the insurrection were, in fact, on January 6th begging the former president to call off the rioters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHENEY: Multiple Fox News hosts knew the president needed to act immediately. They texted Mr. Meadows, and he has turned over those texts.

Quote, Mark, the president needs to tell people in the capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy, Laura Ingraham wrote.

Please get him on TV, destroy everything you've accomplished, Brian Kilmeade texted.

Quote, can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol, Sean Hannity urged.


JARRETT: So, speaking of Hannity, Mark Meadows appeared on Hannity's show last night. You might think the two would talk about these text messages. But no, Meadows did, however, mention the text on Newsmax.


MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We've tried very hard in a very transparent and accommodating way to share non- privileged information.


MEADOWS: And what we found out tonight is that not only did that just get disregarded, but then they tried to weaponize text message, leak them to put out a narrative that, quite frankly, the president didn't act. And I can tell you, this is -- the president did act. This is all about -- you know, it's not about holding me in contempt. It's about coming after President Donald Trump.


JARRETT: CNN's Ryan Nobles has more from Capitol Hill on all of this.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, first the headline. For the third time, the January 6 select committee has voted out of their committee a referral of criminal contempt of someone with a close association to the former President Donald Trump. This time someone who is as close as it gets, his former chief of staff Mark Meadows who has now defied the committee's request to sit before them at a deposition.

Now, that's a big headline, that's the most tangible piece of information that came out of Monday night. But we learned so much more about the broader investigation here, things that were revealed from these 6,000 documents that Meadows shared with the committee, that the committee wants to know more about, text messages that Meadows shared with members of Congress, with Fox News personalities, with others, the children of the former president Donald Trump, all either, a, trying to encourage him to find a way to prevent the democratic process from moving forward. These were in the days leading up to January 6th. And on January 6th, people pleading with him to do something to convince Donald Trump to tell his supporters to back away from that riot at the Capitol.


Now, this is all part of the committee's case that they're building for this criminal contempt referral. Yes, the committee believes that Meadows is in contempt, but it's not ultimately their decision. It will ultimately be a decision of a jury of Meadows' peers.

And his situation is different than Steve Bannon or even Jeffrey Clark, the former DOJ official, because Meadows was chief of staff, he worked in the executive branch. So, there may be things he knows about that he can't share because it's protected under executive privilege, but the committee believes that he is using that in too broad of a sense. And the fact that he's handed over these documents, that he's talked about it in the book that he has written makes him available to them to ask questions.

This is what Pete Aguilar, a member of the committee told me about where they believe their contempt argument can be made after the hearing that took place on Monday night.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): The Supreme Court has made very clear that executive privilege is not absolute, and that's exactly what Mr. Meadows is claiming. And the fact that he sent us all these documents shows that he understands that he doesn't enjoy absolute privilege. These were non-privileged documents that he sent according to he and his attorney, and he should have to come talk about them.

NOBLES: So, what happens next? The full House is expected to vote on this contempt referral as soon as today, as soon as Tuesday. Then it will then be sent over to the Department of Justice that will decide whether or not they will prosecute Mark Meadows. There is a bit of a wonder whether or not Merrick Garland and his department will take that step.

But regardless, there is so much more that we know about this investigation. Keep in mind Meadows was in regular contact with a group of Republican members of Congress. We don't exactly know who they are.

The committee told us about which Fox News personality he was in communication with. They told us about which members of the Trump family Meadows was in touch with. Those members of Congress have still not been revealed, but you can bet that it will be a big part of this investigation as they go forward -- Laura and Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Ryan, thank you for that.

Now, one of the more remarkable messages to Meadows came from one of those unnamed lawmakers. As Congressman Schiff pointed out, the person was more concerned about failing to flip the election than the riot that happened the day before.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): This is the last message I want to highlight, again, from a lawmaker in the aftermath of January 6th. If we could cue graph number 3. Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the six states. I'm sorry nothing worked.

The day after a failed attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power through violence, an elected lawmaker tells the White House chief of staff, I'm sorry nothing worked. That is chilling.


ROMANS: All right. It is time now for three questions in three minutes.

So let's bring in former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin, host of the podcast "That Said with Michael Zeldin".

Good morning. So nice to see you bright and early this morning, sir.


ROMANS: These messages paint a clear picture of what people close to Trump were thinking and what they were saying. But, you know, they don't -- they don't speak directly to president's mindset and his intent that day yet. What stands out to you most from this new evidence?

ZELDIN: It seems to me the clear implication from Trump's inaction is that he enjoyed what he saw on the television, the siege on the Capitol. He felt that this was in his political interests. That's why in the face of all of these beggings of him to act, he refused to act. I think that he was happy with the outcome, thought it would help his chance to have this election set aside.

JARRETT: That's certainly the implication, but it does -- it does seem that we need that connective tissue, right, Michael? It does seem that's going to be the next link. If the committee manages to actually talk to Meadows or talk to others around him who can sort of fill in the picture here.

But put on the defense hat for a minute. I know you're a former prosecutor, but pretend you're representing Meadows. You've already released these thousands of pages of documents. So, what is your strongest ground to claim executive privilege, to keep you from having to actually testify and sit for a deposition?

ZELDIN: I would say that my client has done nothing to violate executive privilege, that he is standing by the former president's request that he not disclose anything that implicates executive privilege. He has not done so. All of that which he has turned over to the committee is non-privileged communications.

Once the committee said to my client that they intend to ask him about privileged information, he had no choice but to not show up.

JARRETT: You think that's the case, even when he's talking about conversations that he's -- he's relaying conversations he had with POTUS.


So, if he says, I talked to Trump and Trump thinks x. Trump thinks that the VP can flip the election. You think he hasn't waived privilege there?

ZELDIN: He can't waive privilege. The only person that can waive privilege is the president. Now, in this case, it's Biden who has waived the privilege.


ZELDIN: Trump, as former president, says he still retains that right. Meadows can't waive the privilege that exists with the president. So, I don't think there is a credible claim that Meadows has waived anything that he can't waive.

I hope that's not too legalistic, but it's kind of like attorney/client privilege. The privilege of law is with the client, not the attorney. The attorney can't waive that privilege for the client.

Here, Meadows can't waive that privilege to Trump. Trump standing by his right to assert this privilege, and we'll have to wait to see what the Supreme Court says about it.

ROMANS: So Meadows would be the second person held in contempt if the full House agrees to refer this to DOJ. How do you think the Justice Department will act?

ZELDIN: I think this is a pretty straightforward case because of Meadows' wholesale refusal to show up. He has non-privileged testimony that the committee wants, and notwithstanding any good faith disagreements about executive privilege protected communications. There is a whole host of information that the committee has set forth that they want from Meadows. And when he refused entirely to show up, I think he acted in contempt of Congress.

And I think that the DOJ can bring a charge against him, setting aside the executive privilege disagreement, and saying his conduct is legally contemptuous because he refused to answer questions about non- privileged information, information that he, as we've discussed, he has already given forward in the public domain and to the Congress itself.

So I think it's a pretty straightforward case should they decide to go there.

JARRETT: All right, we'll see what the Justice Department does with it and we will have you back to break it all down.

Michael Zeldin, thank you.

ZELDIN: Thank you for having me.

JARRETT: All right. Up next, a survivor recalls the moment a deadly tornado destroyed her home.

ROMANS: And the U.S. military takes action against troops who refuse COVID vaccines.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

President Biden will travel to Kentucky tomorrow to survey all the damage from the deadly series of tornadoes that decimated all the homes and businesses across the Midwest and South.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Each passing day, the human impact of this devastation is just -- the depth of the losses are becoming more and more apparent. This is a town with a relatively low average income of under $20,000 a year. It's a town that has been wiped out.

It's not the only town. It's not the only town. That path you see moves all the way up, well over 100 miles. There's more than one route it goes.


JARRETT: At least 74 people in Kentucky have been confirmed dead. And as the recovery begins, people are now dealing with the trauma that comes from surviving such a horrific disaster.


ROBIN CAMPBELL, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We look at each other and we had shut all the bedroom doors and bathroom doors so we would be in this little hallway by ourselves. And when it hit, all the windows popped at one time, and glass started flying, and it did make its way under the door. So it's good that we had the cushions there because that stopped that flying glass from underneath there.


JARRETT: Imagine that.

CNN's Brian Todd has more on this.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura and Christine, officials here and in seven he other states are still assessing the damage from the series of tornadoes that have just devastated the town of Mayfield. We came not long ago from the site of the rescue operation at the candle factory that collapsed just outside Mayfield.

And officials there say that eight people are confirmed dead. Eight people remain unaccounted for. And at least 94 people who were inside got out alive. That's the good news. That figure is higher than the number of survivors they thought they would find.

One thing officials told us is complicating the operation at the candle factory is something very unique you don't see at any other rescue site. That the smell of candles from the chemicals there is drifting all over that site, and it's throwing off the dogs who are being sent in to try to pull people out.

They are trying to move heavy machinery. They're trying to find out at that candle factory some of the areas where people may have gone to take shelter, to see in they can locate anybody else there. They were asked whether they feel there is any chance of finding someone alive in there now.

The officials told us they just don't know, but they are still considering this a rescue operation, a search and rescue operation, not yet a recovery operation. The governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, has said that he fears that the death toll could top 80 at some point. It's getting close to that right now. And the age, he choked up with emotion when he talked about the age ranges of the people who died.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: Eighteen are still unidentified. Of the ones that we know, the age -- the age range is five months to 86 years, and six are younger than 18.

TODD: Officials still assessing the damage here. These operations are pretty dangerous. Just to kind of come back into your neighborhood in places like this to try to salvage something of your home or your business, it's very dangerous to try to walk around because the footing is very unstable.


There are sharp objects. There's glass, wood protruding all over the place. So coming back to your home is still very dangerous -- Christine, Laura.


ROMANS: All right. Brian, so glad you're there for us to bring us that story. Awful.

Hand guns and Tasers take center stage at a high-profile police shooting trial next.

JARRETT: And new demands from the man who might just be the most powerful man in Washington, and we do not mean President Biden.



ROMANS: All right. More witnesses today in the trial of the former Minnesota police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright, later claiming she meant to fire her Taser, not her gun. Kim Potter is charged with first and second degree manslaughter. Prosecutors say she was negligent and reckless in this fatal mix up.

Yesterday, a state investigator described the differences between potter's gun and Taser in appearance, feel and positioning on her body.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is on the ground for us in Minneapolis.


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Laura.

On Monday, members of the jury learned key differences between the Taser and the firearm carried by that former Brooklyn center police officer, Kim Potter. They learned about everything from the color of the Taser to the weight difference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Taser is yellow, the firearm is black. The Taser has a stocky body to it compared to the Glock hand gun. The grip of the Taser is shorter and wider than the Glock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While this Taser 7 is yellow in color, the black is -- the top is black, is it not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there is black on the top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the handle itself has black, right?


BROADDUS: How did Potter mistake her hand gun for the Taser? On Monday, the prosecution trying to demonstrate someone trained on both weapons should not confuse the two -- Christine and Laura.


JARRETT: Adrienne, thank you for that report.

Still ahead for you, it has gone too far. New revelations from text messages sent on January 6, including from the former president's son.

ROMANS: And a major legal victory for the star gymnast who spoke out about their abusive team doctor.