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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Former Deputy White House Counsel Subpoenaed In January 6 Probe; DOJ Sues Peter Navarro Over Trump White House E-mails; Don Jr. and Ivanka Must Testify in New York Probe; Senate Votes To Ratify NATO Membership For Sweden And Finland. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 05:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Thursday morning to you it is August 4th, 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks for getting an Early Start with us. I'm Erica Hill.

First on CNN, Patrick Philbin, the former deputy counsel to President Trump subpoenaed in the federal criminal investigation of the January 6 insurrection. Sources tell CNN prosecutors want both Philbin testimony and documents. He worked in the White House Counsel's Office under Pat Cipollone, who has also been subpoenaed for testimony and documents.

Philbin did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment. But I do want to bring it out Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County. Dave, as you look at this latest subpoena, what does it tell you about where this investigation is potentially headed? Where they're looking?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: Yes. Good morning, Erica. I think this provides further evidence that the Department of Justice is investigating Donald Trump. The DOJ clearly wants to learn what Trump said and did on and about January 6.

Remember, they already interviewed Marc Short and Greg Jacob, both Pence aides, and now they want the two Pat's. Last week we had reports that DOJ was aggressively trying to block Trump World claims of executive privilege. And the reason why you want to do that is to get at Trump's communications and why do you want to get to Trump's communications? It's not so you could indict Rudy Giuliani, although that may eventually happen. It's to investigate the former president.

Now, also to put some water on this also means that an indictment of Donald Trump is not imminent, because when you litigate, issues of executive privilege that normally comes at the beginning of an investigation, rather than the end,

HILL: How do you see that playing out in terms of executive privilege here? ARONBERG: I think the DOJ is going to steamroll any attempts at claiming executive privilege because executive privilege doesn't apply here. I mean, first off executive privilege is within the realm of the current president, not the former president, but also as the courts have made clear, executive privilege is not designed to conceal a criminal conspiracy. There's a crime fraud exception, especially when it deals with the attempted overthrow of the U.S. government.

Now, the reason why that the January 6 committee did not try to break through executive privilege claimed by Pat Cipollone is because they and Pat Cipollone knew that the committee is on the clock, that the committee is likely to be disbanded after the midterm elections. So they didn't want to have to litigate this. They were just going to take whatever they could get from Cipollone.

DOJ is different. DOJ has time on their side, and they have more power to enforce their subpoenas. So they're going to get the information that Pat Cipollone held back and they may even get it from building.

HILL: We'll be watching for more on that. Meantime, Justice Department also suing Peter Navarro. They want some e-mails, so he was using a private e-mail account, right, that he used while working at the Trump White House. It's rare for someone to be sued, right, over this Records Act.

They apparently tried to negotiate as I understand it. Navarro though was refusing unless he was given immunity, not clear what he was asking for immunity from. But this is I mean, just a whole new can of worms.

ARONBERG: Yes, but his e-mails, remember that. This is further proof that Trump world's complaints about Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server was nothing more than contrived outrage, because Navarro is essentially doing the same thing. But it's worse because he's now saying that, hey, I'll give you government property back if you give me an immunity deal. And although you're right, we don't know the extent of the immunity he's demanding because of his arrogance and hubris. I suspect it's a get out of jail free card for everything he did related to January 6, including his pending criminal contempt charges.

This the same guy boasted about the Green Bay sweep, which was an attempted coup and rejected a generous plea deal from DOJ over the criminal contempt charges. So why would DOJ try to cut them a break now? I think this lawsuit, Erica, shows that Department of Justice like most of America has had enough of Peter Navarro.

HILL: Meantime, the Secret Service, new developments here coming under fire, right, for these erase messages. Now reportedly considering temporarily suspending texting privileges on phones for agents. You say this is absolutely the wrong approach that it's not about them -- it's not about the texting. It's about preserving that information.

ARONBERG: Exactly. I mean, disabling text messaging on your employee cell phones will only make the job harder for agents and impede investigations. I mean, time is of the essence when you deal with criminal investigation so you have no time to start playing phone tag.


So what the Secret Service is doing here is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I mean, the problem is not the texting. It's the lack of data retention. And so this further calls into question the leadership of the Secret Service at a time when confidence in their leadership is at an all time low.

HILL: Dave Aronberg always good to see you. Thank you.

ARONBERG: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: An update on another investigation involving the former presidency and has learned that the former president's son and daughter have testified in a civil probe of the Trump organization's finances. As we've been following this for some time, we now learn that Ivanka Trump answered questions under oath yesterday. Donald Trump Jr. did last week. Sources tell CNN he did not take the fifth. Former president expected to testify later this month.

The New York Attorney General's Office accuses the company of using false or misleading financial information to get loans and tax benefits. Now the Trump Organization and those involved have denied any wrongdoing and have labeled the investigation as politically motivated.

A bombshell in a Texas courtroom exposing Alex Jones lies on the stand as he's fact checked in real time. Juror is set to resume deliberations in just a few hours. They're deciding how much money the conspiracy theorists should pay for spreading lies about the Sandy Hook School massacre. Parents of one victim seeking $150 million. CNN's Miguel Marquez has more.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Erica, a jury in Austin, Texas is now deliberating how much conspiracist Alex Jones must pay for defaming the memory of six-year-old Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis, his parents Scarlet Lewis and Neil Heslin sue Jones and his parent company Free Speech System, and the judge found Jones liable. They are asking for up to $150 million in damages.

This phase of the trial is before a jury that will decide how much Jones must pay for his lies. Jesse's parents testified the lies told by Jones that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14 2012 wasn't real that their son never existed, and that they were actors caused them not only distress, but real threats from those who bought Jones -- into Jones lies.

The judge in the case repeatedly admonishing Jones for speaking out of turn for not answering questions and for trying to indicate that -- to the jury that he's broke and bankrupt. In one of the more bizarre moments Jones was caught out in a lie. He had earlier testified in a deposition that in response to requests from lawyers, he had searched his text messages for the keywords Sandy Hook and got zero hits. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Jones, did you know that 12 days ago 12 days ago, your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cell phone with every text message you've sent for the past two years, and when informed, did not take any steps to identify it as privileged or protected in any way. And as of two days ago, it felt free and clear into my possession. And that is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn't have to text messages about Sandy Hook. Did you know that?

ALEX JONES, HOST, "INFOWARS": I see. I told you the truth. This is your Perry Mason moment. I gave them my phone and --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Jones, you need to answer the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know this happened?

JONES: No -- no this happened but I mean, I told you I gave him the phone.

MARQUEZ: The information and the text messages not only had messages about Sandy Hook but also an accounting of how much money Jones's company has made, totaling hundreds of millions over several years. This is just one lawsuit brought by one family in all nine families of Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agents have successfully sued Jones for defamation.

There is concern among some of those families that Jones is using bankruptcy laws now to try and protect money from being claimed if juries come back with large awards. The jury in this case, got it late yesterday. Their full day of deliberation will start in a few hours. Erica.


HILL: Miguel Marquez with the latest for us. Thank you. Powerful testimony from Michigan Secretary of State about the continuing threats faced by election workers.


JOCELYN BENSON (D) MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: There is an omnipresent feeling of anxiety and dread that permeates our daily lives and those of our families.


HILL: Jocelyn Benson joins us live on Early Start next. Plus, one Democratic senator and a whole lot of focus. The President's inflation Reduction Act, the Manchin-Schumer bill there, what changes does Kyrsten Sinema want to see. We'll take a look. Plus, a new CNN poll of polls with more about how you feel about President Biden's job performance.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Emergency medical care being denied to women experiencing miscarriages.




HILL: Michigan Secretary of State fighting back tears Wednesday she told the Senate Judiciary Committee about threats she's facing overseeing the 2020 election in her state.


BENSON: One night in December 2020. I was about to put my son to bed when dozens of individuals descended upon our home. Growing in numbers over the course of an hour they stood outside my front door waking my neighbors, shouting obscenities and graphic threats and double horns. Not long ago, my son standing in our driveway, picked up a stick turned to me and said don't worry, mom. If the bad guys come again, I'll get them with this. He's six years old.


HILL: And Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson joins us live from Washington this morning. It's good to have you with us. I think that moment is a lot of people pause when they think about what it must be like for your six-year-old son to be standing there to make that statement to you.

You have talked about the threats that you received. But they're not done. What is life like for you now currently as Secretary of State, you're running again as I know, but what has changed in terms of those threats for you if anything/


BENSON: It did become more commonplace. I mean, there's not a week goes by where there isn't some incident that causes some anxiety. It's oftentimes several times a week and but it's created a constant state of anxiety and stress.

But at the same time, it's made me even more steadfast in my work. And more proud of the work that I do in a moment like this when misinformation is in lies, particularly lies from candidates themselves are causing people to increase their not just hateful rhetoric, but specific threats against self and other election officials. It makes many of us more steadfast and determined to do our work and fulfill our commitment to the people that we represent and to end to democracy itself.

HILL: How much are you across states, right, others in your position, other officials and other states? How much are you sharing information? And how important is that as you move forward?

BENSON: One of the things that has really increased over the last few years is our collaboration with other officials, particularly in battleground states that are facing a lot of the same challenges Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, where I'm in regular communication with statewide and local officials in those states. We've got a lot of collaborative partnerships over the last several years.

And it's one of the ways in which these challenges, these threats that we've been facing have actually made us stronger as a community, and more prepared for anything that may manifest itself. That doesn't mean it's appropriate for this misinformation to continue and to manifest itself in these threats to us and our families. But at the same time, many of us are working to use these challenges to make us stronger and better at our jobs.

HILL: I know you've noted that lawmakers need to set aside more funding for the security of future elections. How is that moving forward to this point? And we've asked repeatedly for that, and where does that stand in your state?

BENSON: I mean, we had a budget surplus in Michigan, and we asked for more funding for election officials. I allocated $8 million from my office that we have received from previous federal funding to local clerks to increase the security of their offices. And we have asked the state to do the same I was in DC asking the federal government to fill in the gap, the House and the Senate have passed, or the Appropriations Committee in the Senate has recommended $400 million allocation to the states for election funding.

That is the type of thing that if passed could be used to help increase our security at the state and local level, which is something that we're going to need to do if democracy is going to hold what I said to the committee is really protecting our security is protecting election security.

HILL: Are you confident that will pass?

BENSON: We receive lots of promises of increased funding in elections over the years and it fairly -- it oftentimes does not come to fruition. I'm hopeful this time is different. The 400 million that is in the proposed budget would help us significantly in the States.

And so we're trying to make the case that if you care about election integrity, if you care about election security and voting rights, that make an investment in our democracy, because we need it right now. The cost of administrating democracy in this challenge challenging times is escalating. And we need partners at the federal level to ensure that we have the resources we need to not just protect ourselves, but protect voters, protect election workers and protect the right to vote.

HILL: Election security, election integrity, democracy, frankly, should not be protecting democracy should not be a partisan issue. And yet, as we know, it has become one. Have you sense at all a change, though, in that arena? Are conversations starting to be more about the real facts here? What needs to be protected, what the major threats are? Or is it still really tough just to break through that partisan rhetoric? BENSON: Yes, and no. I mean, as we get closer to the midterm elections, we're seeing partisan rhetoric increase. But at the same time, I was grateful to see at the same time of our hearing yesterday, the Senate Rules Committee met and heard from a bipartisan presentation from Senator Collins and Senator Manchin in support of reforming the Electoral Count Act.

And so if we can see some bipartisan cooperation and agreement around some aspects of protecting our democracy, hopefully that can yield more, and that's my hope going into the future. The problems aren't going away. And so we need our federal leaders to step up and help us and recognize we can't do it alone. We can't protect democracy alone. But together we can.

HILL: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you.

BENSON: Thanks for having me.

HILL: COVID cases spiking nationwide as the CDC prepares to ease some guidelines what it could mean for back to school. Plus, Ukrainian forces working to repel Russian advances in the East. We have the very latest for you live from Ukraine, next.



HILL: This morning the Ukrainian military says it's been able to repel Russia's advance in the ease heavy rain however is complicating evacuations. Official senior leaks 6,000 Ukrainians trying to leave Russian occupied territories are stuck because flooding has made roads impassable. CNN's Nic Robertson is live in central Ukraine for us this morning.

So, Ukrainian officials also saying that their forces are making progress in terms of counter offenses. Give us a sense of where things stand this morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Vasylivka is where those estimated 6,000 people with about 1,200 cars, 1,200 vehicles waiting to go from the Kherson region in the south northwards towards Zaporizhzhia from Russian controlled territory to Ukrainian controlled territory they've been held at this last checkpoint for a number of days.


The rain now has washed out the roads. They're essentially stranded they're trying to get through. There is more rain in the forecast here, sunshine next week. But for these people trapped there, the conditions are become very hard. They say that they're being used as human shields effectively by the Russian forces there. And they desperately want to get out of that area into Ukrainian controlled territory. As far as things on the front lines here are concerned, we've been to the frontlines quite a bit over the past couple of days. There really isn't in this region a -- in the southern region, southern part of the conflict in Ukraine, there isn't really a sort of a trench style warfare. Because drone technology is so prevalent here the forces are sort of dug in in tree lines.

And this area here is very agricultural, huge fields. The fields intersected by these tree lines where forces are hidden, but they're not high concentrations of forces, particularly on the Ukrainian side. And the Ukrainian officials here are worried that the Russians are massing forces on the other side ready to try to advance here in the coming days. From what we've seen that isn't clear, but that's the concern on this side.

HILL: Nic Robertson, appreciate it. Thank you. A resolution to ratify Sweden and Finland for membership in NATO passing in the Senate. The historic vote to strengthen the alliance amid Russia's war in Ukraine 95 to one. Republican senator Josh Hawley, the lone no vote, Senator Rand Paul, but in present the next step here for President Biden to sign what's called an instrument of ratification.

Taking a look at oil prices down sharply Wednesday, U.S. crude fell 4 percent to 90.66 a barrel, that's the lowest level since before Russia invaded Ukraine. It's also a 27 percent drop since the beginning of March. Oil prices tumbled after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said weekly inventories jumped by four and a half million barrels last week. Analysts had expected a decline.

Several potential 2024 GOP hopefuls have some major issues with federal bureaucracy. Why they're backing Trump's plan to purge federal workers. Plus, hours from now CPAC kicks off with an eye on the midterms and the trial of Brittney Griner reaching its final stage. What can you expect from closing arguments? That's next.