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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

January 6 Hearing Today Focused on Trump Circle's Ties to Extremists; President's Approval Rating Sinks to 33 Percent; Japan Grieves as Funeral Held for Former PM Shinzo Abe; WH: Iran Preparing to Supply Russia with Weapons-Capable Drones. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It was Tuesday, July 12. I'm Erica Hill, in for Christine Romans.

One of the hundreds who pleaded guilty to descending on the Capitol January 6 is set to testify today before the House committee investigating the riot. The panel will also hear from self-described propagandist for the Oath Keepers. And for the first time, expect to hear from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone. The committee expected to play some of his testimony which was recorded on Friday.

The focus of today's hearing, links between extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys and members of former President Trump's inner circle.

CNN's Marshall Cohen is live in Washington this morning with a preview for us.

How does the committee plan to connect those dots, Marshall?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. It's all about those right wing extremist groups and Donald Trump and the committee has been making the case that this was so much more than a wink and a node. This was a real affiliation to create a violent attempted overthrow on January.

So, as you mentioned, we're expecting in-person testimony from two witnesses today. I'll break them down for you. The first is a guy by the name of Jason Van Tatenhove. He is former national spokesman of the Oath Keepers. Their members breached the Capitol on January 6. Some of the Oath Keepers even charged with sedition.

This guy Tatenhove, he was not part of the group on that day, he hadn't been affiliated for a few years, but he was connected to many of the higher ranking members and has become a critic these days of their right wing violent ideology and their anti-government views. So he will be able to shed light on that.

And then also we're expecting in-person testimony by one of the convicted rioters themselves, a man by the name of Steven Ayers. He is important because he acknowledges that he was inspired and motivated by Donald Trump's tweet in December of 2020 which was basically a message to the masses, a call to action to come to Washington on January 6 and protest wildly.

Trump said let's get wild, be wild. The committee has worked very hard to connect that tweet to the violence and they say that it was not a coincidence that there were real links between these right wing extremist groups and the Trump inner circle. Those links ran right through people like Roger Stone, Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn, that is what the committee will be flushing out later today.

And, Erica, just to be crystal clear, Flynn, Stone, Trump, all these guys deny that they knew about any plan for violence that day. But if those denials hold up, that is what the committee -- we're going to find out today to see if the committee has anything that can possibly undercut those denials and connect Trump to the violence.

HILL: And we'll be watching to see just how straight I guess that line is as they attempt to draw it. Marshall, appreciate it.

Also with us is Matthew Brown, national correspondent for "The Washington Post." I want to pick up what we just saw there with Marshall Cohen. So, specifically, if we look at Steven Ayers who has cited that tweet from the president inspiring him, does it need to be more than just Steven Ayers who has now pleaded guilty talking about that connection?

MATTHEW BROWN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, so this is a very integral part of what the January 6 committee will be doing here. And it is really trying to bring the link between the words of Donald Trump and the actions of the rioters on January 6.

Now, so far, we don't seem to have indication that there were direct communications so far between agents like Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, close associates of Trump and in the plot to overturn the election. What will be interesting from this testimony is that they are saying though that there was a causal link regardless of whether there were direct communications or just the basic knowledge of having extremist groups, having radicalized Americans on the ground he near the Capitol, that that is enough to show that Donald Trump was fully aware of what his words were causing the rioters to do and intentional actions that he was inciting people to attack the Capitol.


HILL: You mentioned Michael Flynn. There is also going to be focus on the December 18 meeting at the White House which involves Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn and by all accounts devolved pretty quickly into screaming matches. Pat Cipollone was reportedly asked about this in that testimony which he gave on Friday which was videotaped as we know.

How important do you think the details of that meeting and his account of what went down, how important is that going to be today?

BROWN: Absolutely. Pat Cipollone's testimony was apparently everything that the January 6 committee asked for. Lawmakers expressed on Sunday that they were very satisfied with his testimony.

Cipollone's words here which we've heard a lot of his role from others who were in the room during those conversations, Cipollone himself has attempted to be part of, quote/unquote, team normal against a lot of the election conspiracy theories and legal theories that that were more outlandish that were being proposed at Trump at the time, for instance, seizing election machines, such as going on and declaring even martial law as we heard others were lobbying Trump do.

That case that Cipollone is going to be making was very consequential in that he is both trying to protect his own reputation but also show that Trump was very conscious of how there were people in his own orbit, like close associates like himself, top legal advisers, who were saying that you cannot possibly do these things and that there was a faction within the White House that was very concerned and very knowledgeable that what they were doing was illegal.

HILL: And interesting to learn too that Overstock CEO, former CEO Patrick Byrne, an ally, as we know, of former President Trump, has now we've learned expected to meet with the committee. He was integral here in terms of pushing the big lie. We keep hearing from the committee that more and more people are now willing to talk.

What does it tell you that they expect to hear from Patrick Byrne?

BROWN: Yeah, burn and others are very interesting. At this point we've been very aware of the fact that the January 6 committee will be focused on how people close into Trump's orbit were spreading misinformation that was radicalizing Americans. You just saw, for instance, Steve Bannon doing an about-face saying he wanted to testify and that will be a very interesting point here for the committee where they are saying that people in Trump's close orbit were very aware of the misinformation and conspiracy theories that they were spreading to the American public and that that was itself both an effort to overturn the election but also an effort to incite violence.

So, Byrne and others' testimony will be interesting to hear in that it will really content the dots on what exactly were the coordinated parts of that effort. And what Trump actually knew about what he was riling up the Americans to do.

HILL: A lot still coming at us. Some of that will happen later today with that hearing. Good to have you here this morning. Thank you.

And just a reminder, CNN's special coverage of the hearing begins right here on CNN at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Right now in Tokyo, final good-byes for the former prime minister assassinated at a campaign event.

Plus, the moment President Biden was interrupted by a Parkland parent demanding more action.

And newly released pictures that could change the way we see the universe.



HILL: The Biden administration says federal law overwrites state abortion bans when emergency care is needed and can penalize institutions who fail to provide abortions in the case of an emergency. This comes on a letter to the nation's providers.

On Monday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra cited the emergency medical treatment and active labor act, a federal statute that protects provider's clinical judgment and also the actions they may take to treat pregnant patients facing emergency medical conditions.

Strong words from President Biden on gun violence. On the south lawn he hosted hundreds who have been impacted. Victims and their families spanning tragedies from columbine to Highland Park were invited to the event to mark the first major gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is what we owe those families in Buffalo where a grocery store became a killing field. It is what we owe the families in Uvalde where an elementary school became a killing family. That is what we owe the families in Highland Park when July 4th -- a parade became a killing field.


HILL: But not everyone was on board.


BIDEN: Because make no mistake -- sit down, you'll hear what I have to say you'll hear what I have to say.

MANUEL OLIVER, GRIEVING FATHER: You have to do more than that. You have to open an office in the White House. Name a director (INAUDIBLE) I have been trying to tell you this, for years. (INAUDIBLE) We have to do this.

BIDEN: Let him talk. Let him talk. No one -- OK?


HILL: That is Manuel Oliver, his son was killed in the 2018 Parkland shooting. He is an outspoken advocate for gun reform and consistently urged for more to be done.

Well, President Biden's approval ratings are sinking to all-time lows. According to the latest "New York Times" poll, just 30 percent think he is doing a good job. And among those who plan to vote in the 2024 Democratic primaries or caucuses, nearly two thirds, 64 percent think the part I should nominate other than Joe Biden.

Jasmine Wright is joining us from Washington. I'm guessing these are numbers the White House is not that excited

about. Are they addressing them?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: No, they are not that excited but they are addressing them. Yesterday, we here from Karine Jean-Pierre who said that these numbers are not solely what this White House is focused on, and she even found a silver lining, Erica.


Take a listen.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would also say from that very same poll, there were 92 percent of Democrats who support this president as well. Look, not to get into politics from here or get into any political analysis, look, this is not something -- you know, there is going to be many polls, they will go up, they will go down. This is not the thing that we are solely focused on.


WRIGHT: Of course, Karine Jean-Pierre is right that polls do go up and they do go down, but this should be a concerning poll for the White House because we are getting closer and closer to those November midterms where the president is expected to come out and rally supporters who vote for his party. That is going to be something that is hard to do with these type of numbers and also just the general pessimism in the air about the economy, something that is driving some of the hemorrhaging from his own party.

So certainly this is going to be a tough sell for the president in just a few months if these numbers remain the same way.

HILL: Yeah, certainly will be. As we look ahead to what is happening right now, the president set to leave tonight for his first visit to the Middle East as president, that trip includes a controversial stop in Saudi Arabia where he is set to meet with the crown prince. What more is the White House saying?

WRIGHT: Well, the White House is framing this as a crucial, crucial visit to the region really to strengthen both their strength in the region but also security. And now, the White House says this is the president's first time to the region as president and this is more and more crucial as the Russian invasion in Ukraine goes on.

And the backdrop of this trip will be energy prices and as well as really trying to isolate Russia taking key members off the game here, offer the board. Now, part of this controversy of course comes from the president's comments in 2020 when he said he wanted to make Saudi Arabia a pariah for its role in killing "Washington Post" columnist and American citizen Jamal Khashoggi and this trip will be kind of an about-face for him.

Now, national security adviser Jake Sullivan was asked if the president has talked with Khashoggi's family and here was his answer.


JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have had contact with Khashoggi's family. The president himself has not spoken with them, but he has been focused on this issue from the beginning. As he said when he took office and as we have stuck by since then, our goal has been to recalibrate the relationship. That's why we released the intelligence community's report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and it's why we have issued 76 visa bans in addition to sanctioning the rapid intervention force.


WRIGHT: Now, Sullivan also went on to say that President Biden has not expressed regret for his comments saying that he wanted to make Saudi Arabia a pariah, and also that human rights will be on the table when he meets with leaders in that region.

Now, he is expected to attend the larger conference but also meet with King Salman and his leadership team which includes the crown prince who of course was heavily implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. So all eyes will be on that meeting. We'll be looking to see if he shakes hands with the crown prince, if they take a photo, really under this crucial, crucial meeting. And, of course, that is something that the White House did not want to preview.

HILL: Yeah, and a lot of questions about how exactly human rights will be addressed and specifically will be brought up.

Appreciate it. Jasmine, thank you.

In Japan, hundreds of people lining the streets as that historic temple in Tokyo to pay final respects to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His private funeral was held earlier today. Abe, of course, was assassinated Friday in broad daylight during a campaign speech.

CNN's Blake Essig is live in Tokyo this hour.

So, Blake, describe that scene for us.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, look, it is a sad day here in Japan and even the weather, gray skies and a little rain, seems to be reflecting the mood as Japan says good-bye and lays to rest its longest serving prime minister, a man who first served in parliament in 1993. It would go on to become both a popular leader and polarizing figure who is most important responsible in a big way for the Japan that exists today.

Now, several hours ago, a funeral services were held here at the Zojoji Temple here in Tokyo, similar to the closed door vigil. The funeral service was also limited to only close family and friends. Abe's the body travelled in procession to the prime minister's office, the Diet and LDP headquarters before heading to the funeral hall to be cremated.


Now, he visited those specific locations because Japanese culture, sometimes the body will be driven by places where the deceased was heavily associated to so that people can bid farewell. We saw his first pass by Japan's parliament, hundreds lined the streets including children, people who looked like they had just left work to come watch the hearse go by. Diet members and Diet police were also lining the streets, all there to say farewell as Abe's body passed by.

For the past several days we've talked to people out on the street and every single person, whether they liked Abe or not, was shocked, saddened and horrified that such a violent act could be carried out against one of the most powerful people in Japan in broad daylight in a country where gun violence essentially doesn't exist. This is very much a country in mourning as it lays to rest its longest serving prime minister. And the investigation into his assassination continues for days.

We've reported that the suspect targeted the former prime minister because of a grudge that he held against a group that he believed Abe had ties to that was linked to his mother. We've now learned, Erica, that that group is the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, more commonly known as the Unification Church founded in South Korea in the 1950s.

HILL: Blake Essig in Tokyo for us this morning, thank you.

Just ahead here, how Iran could play a role in Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine.

And counting down to the Emmy nominations later this morning, who's expected, who may get a nod and who may get snubbed.



HILL: Iran is preparing to supply Russia with hundreds of drones to use against Ukraine including drones that are weapons-capable.


JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs with initial training sessions slated to begin as soon as early July. It is unclear whether Iran has delivered any of these UAVs to Russia already.


HILL: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says news of Iran supplying drones is evidence that Russia's supply of weapons is being depleted.

Clare Sebastian has information for us from London this morning.

So, this information, Clare, actually comes from some declassified U.S. intelligence. What else is in that intel?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, recently declassified U.S. intelligence, Erica, according to the White House. Jake Sullivan making it clear that this is happening pretty quickly, training sessions beginning this month, he said.

And that training element shows that this is not just a business deal, that this is actual military cooperation between Iran and Russia. Russia, of course, has struggled to find anyone willing to provide that kind of cooperation. Even China has shied away from that. But he said it is unclear how sophisticated these drones are. We don't know how bad the news is for Ukraine which is, of course, is using Turkish and American made drones on the battlefield very intensively.

But I think it was interesting the way the statement was made, coming at the very end of the briefing. It's clear that the U.S. is doing this strategically to try to reinforce that Russia is sustaining heavy losses on the battlefield to reinforce that military hit that we know in terms of reputation the Russian armed forces took essentially at the beginning of this conflict, and timing worth noting as well coming on the eve of President Biden's first trip to the Middle East, Iran's role in that region and beyond set to play a major part in those talks. And we just learned from the Kremlin that President Putin will be visiting Tehran next week to meet with the president there and Turkish president, that will be happening for a week today.

HILL: Yeah, all of those important developments and the timing as well, really important to note that. Clare, thank you.

In southern Ukraine, more explosions lighting up the sky.

This is the second time in four days that the Russian-occupied town there in the Kherson region has been hit. The town is site of an important hydroelectric dam. On Monday, at least six people were killed in that same area, following another series of explosions.

Ukrainian officials say the city of Mykolaiv also came under heavy fire, overnight, at least 12 people injured.

CNN's Scott McLean is live in Kyiv this morning.

So who is behind those -- I mean, is it Russia, what is going on with all these strikes?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Erica. Look, the Russian-backed administration in that area says that this strike on Nova Kakhovka was Ukrainian strike using the HIMARS system. These are the American-supplied weapons.

And in fact one official from that administration said of these strikes that the Americans actually went to war with Russia. So the Ukrainians say that they hit a cache of ammunition there. Russian state media, though, initially said that wasn't a cache of ammunition, it was part of a hydroelectric power plant though they quickly corrected that when they were contradicted by a local official who said actually this was a stash of potassium nitrate, an element of fertilizer, also what caused the Beirut explosion two years ago.

And officials on the Russian side say the damage is vast, the damage radius of the blast is well over a mile, more than 70 people are injured, seven at least are missing presumed dead because of the scale of the damage. And Russians insist this was not a military target saying that there were warehouses, stores, pharmacies that were all within that blast radius.

This is really another sign of Ukrainian escalation in this part of the country.