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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Rep. Liz Cheney Concedes Loss to Trump-Backed GOP Rival; FBI Interviewed Trump White House Lawyers in Mar-a-Lago Document Probe; Biden Signs $750 Billion Climate, Health Care & Tax Bill. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, August 17th. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin this morning with Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney conceding to Trump back rival. Harriet Hageman beat Cheney in the state's Republican primary by more than two to one. Cheney has been one of former Donald Trump's ardent Republican critics which she admitted in her concession speech was the reason she lost.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Two years ago, I won this primary with 73 percent of the vote. I could easily have done the same again. The path was clear.

But it would have required that I go along with President Trump's lie about the 2020 election, it would've required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system, and attacked the foundations of our republic. That was a path that I could not, and would not take.


ROMANS: So Cheney will be out of office come January, until then she continues as co-chair of the January 6 committee.

CNN's Daniella Diaz live on Capitol Hill this morning.

Daniella, Cheney is vowing to do everything in her power to keep Donald Trump from returning to the oval office.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: That's right, Christine. And she chose to go down fighting Donald Trump until the end, as you guys just noted, from that speech last night that she gave. Look, she's a three-term congresswoman. She has voted to impeach Donald Trump as one of the -- group of handful -- handful group of Republicans who wanted to impeach Trump after not returning to Congress after this year.

She knew she could lose her seat in Congress as the Wyoming congresswoman, the at-large seat, against a primary candidate who is backed by Donald Trump. But she still stayed clear and focus on her goal, which was to continue to call out Trump for his lies about the 2020 election. And the threat that she feels that she has on the democracy in the United States.

Take a listen on what she said last night about the continued threat that she seized from former President Donald Trump.


CHENEY: We must be very clear eyed about the threat we face. And about what is required to defeat. It I have said, since January 6th, that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Donald Trump is a never again near the over office and I mean it.


This is a fight for all of us together. I am a conservative Republican. I believe deeply in the principles, and the ideals on which my party was founded. I love its history, and I love what our party has stood for. But I love my country more.



DIAZ: Christiane, she has not shared where -- what she will do after she loses the seat. Of course, she left the door open about a potential presidential run, a foil to former President Donald Trump. We all know as he continues to say he will likely jump into the 2024 race as a Republican candidate.

She has left the door open about whether she will challenge him, but she did not stay that in her speech last night. We know that she will continue to serve on that committee that is investigating the January 6th riot. And she continues to of course, you've got top Republican from the committee. And she wants to continue to of course call out former President Donald Trump on what he has done to democracy as we have noted in her speech last night -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Daniella. Thank you so much for that.

Let's talk about this with Daniel Strauss, senior political correspondent at "The New Republic".

Political consequences, Daniel, for standing up to democracy, standing up to Donald Trump's election lies. She knew that she could be defeated for doing that. But she knew that there was a bigger goal here than retaining that seat.

Now of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump, eight are now out of office. You don't see -- you don't see someone standing up to those political consequences very often?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: No, I've never seen someone so adamant about it as Cheney. I mean, she, from the beginning from those race was very clear about how outspoken she claimed to be about Donald Trump in the opposition, more so than any other member of Congress.

And so, going into election night, she knew that she was the heavy underdog despite out raising Hageman by a substantial portion of money.


Still, though, this was the deciding issue in a race, in a state where the Cheney name has been dominant for generations. It's a remarkable shift, but we do know from Cheney, from her allies, that she does not plan to recede at all in how she is helping to lead the January 6 committee, and in the possibility of running as a Republican, not as an independent conservative, in the next presidential election. That would be if Donald Trump runs, against Trump in the GOP primary.

ROMANS: Well, she's been very clear that there is a big political purpose that is bigger than a House seat, the one House seat in Wyoming that she intends to take her political skills and leadership to a much bigger -- much bigger stage which is protecting democracy.

In her concession speech, she compared herself to Lincoln, a Republican who lost a Senate race before winning the presidency.

Do you think that was a hint at the running in 2024?

STRAUSS: Yeah. I mean, that's deliberate. Every time, in any kind of election night speech when a candidate alludes to a presidential race, that is entirely on purpose. And that is what Cheney is doing here.

Now, look, her chances in a presidential election are pretty slim. But that wouldn't be why she would run, she would run to fight Trump in the primary more than anything else.

ROMANS: There are other ways that she could do it to, if our nation now is to safeguard democracy for another term she could raise money, she can support other candidates. She could, what? She could do television. She could, whatever the avenues for her?

STRAUSS: Well, a book deal is seemingly entirely in her future. She could also go to the think tank world. Republicans I've talked to have known him for years, and poster say that is pretty unlikely. She could set up some kind of outside group, like a 501c three, it seems more likely.

She doesn't really have a huge political committee mechanism right now. That's likely in the future. And she will continue her work in the January 6 committee. If it, which seems likely, Republicans retake control of Progress, in the next midterm elections. It is likely that they will shut down this committee. But still, I think members of the committee will continue the work in some form, maybe as some sort of outside body, but without the same power as a congressional committee but still with the same purpose.

ROMANS: All right. Daniel Strauss with "The New Republic", thank you so much for getting up early for us this morning. Nice to see you.

STRAUSS: Thanks, Christine. Nice to see you.

ROMANS: All right. Later today, Rudy Giuliani testified before a special grand jury in Georgia.

Will the judge reveal the evidence that led to that search at Mar-a- Lago?

And Joe Biden ready to push the reset button on his presidency.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Two former White House lawyers were interviewed by the FBI earlier this year as part of the investigation into those sensitive documents that were taken to Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

And, later today, a former Trump lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, will appear before a special grand jury investigating possible election interference in Georgia.

More now from CNN's Jessica Schneider.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are new revelations that former President Trump's two top White House lawyers interviewed with the FBI about classified documents at Mar-a- Lago. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Pat Philbin were Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives when Trump left office. They could have insight about what was taken to Mar-a-Lago and why exactly 11 sets of classified documents remained there until last Monday when FBI agents searched Trump's Palm Beach home.

The new details come as the court fight for more information about the search is looming. A federal judge announcing that he'll hold a hearing on Thursday on whether to publicly release the affidavit that is what provided the basis for last Monday's search. The Justice Department is seeking to keep it secret, saying any release will reveal highly sensitive information about witnesses, specific investigative techniques, and it would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation.

CNN and other media outlets have asked the judge to unseal the affidavit and Trump himself must weigh in on whether he wants it release by tomorrow.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it says there are significant problems here for president Trump and many of his advisers post-presidency. SCHNEIDER: Trump has repeatedly railed against the search calling it

a witch hunt and accusing FBI agents of stealing three of his passports. But Trump's attorneys say they have been returned by Monday night with the FBI putting out a statement to make clear that they were simply swept up in the search as is routine.

In executing search warrants, the FBI follows search and seizure procedures ordered by the courts and then rush items that do not need to be retained for law enforcement purposes.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, this is not a machine you want counting your votes.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, Trump's former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has officially become a target in another criminal investigation, this one being led by an Atlanta area prosecutor into efforts by Trump and his allies to flip election results in Georgia, claiming it was rigged.

GIULIANI: The recount being done in Georgia will tell us nothing, because these fraudulent ballots will just be counted again.

They are passing out dope, not just ballots. It is clear they are stealing votes.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani is scheduled to appear before the grand jury but still unclear if he will answer questions or plead the Fifth.

GIULIANI: The statements that I made are either attorney/client privileged because they were between me and him, or they would be made on his behalf in order to defend him.

BOLTON: President Trump may be right behind him in terms of liability. If Rudy is in troubling as the target of an investigation, then I think that Trump almost certainly is as well.



SCHNEIDER (on camera): And as for the Justice Department, they are making clear in a court filing this week that that classified information investigation is still ongoing. In the meantime, the battle is escalating between two top House Democrats and a DHS inspector general. Members of Congress Benny Thompson and Carolyn Maloney, they are accusing IG Joseph Cuffari of obstructing their investigation into the missing secret service text messages. That allegation was in a letter released Tuesday afternoon. There is no response from the inspector general's office just yet.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: Thank you so much, Jessica.

Let's bring in Lis Wiehl, former federal prosecutor and author of the book "A Spy in Plain Sight." So, Jessica laying out all of these legal troubles the president faces

and every day a new development, we're learning now that Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin, two White House lawyers, were interviewed by the FBI earlier this year. That is a huge development.

What information could they provide and could they provide information that could criminally implicate the former president?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Maybe. I would be very surprised if their testimony in those interviews was full and complete. Just like I think that Giuliani will take the fifth or attorney/client privilege. I think that those lawyers would have done the same thing. Though they may have been -- remember, at that point when they were interviewed, they were trying to negotiate, right, with the Justice Department about return of these documents.

So they may have given information, enough information, over that arouse suspicion if you will, the department, and let they will another subpoena and able to videotape certain things at Mar-a-Lago. And also that started them down the road of getting these sources that supplement and inform the affidavit that is now the subject of whether, you know, it will be unsealed or not.

ROMANS: We know "The New York Times" Maggie Haberman is reporting that essentially these lawyers were trying to get the president to -- try to help the National Archives retrieve some of the material and the former president repeatedly pushed back saying it is not theirs, it is I mean, of these documents.

WIEHL: Right.

ROMANS: So we'll see -- we'll see if we find anymore information on that. But again, that is from Maggie Haberman in "The New York Times."

Let's talk about Georgia. On Thursday -- sorry, let's talk about Mar- a-Lago. On Thursday, a federal judge is going to hear the DOJ's opposition to unsealing that probable cause affidavit.

How do you think that plays out?

WIEHL: I don't think that the judge will do that. That would set a really bad precedence for all other search warrants. I mean, remember when this happened, you know, basic search warrant, the FBI or another agency relies on sources, people that come forward, reliable sources, that then are vetted by the judge to make sure that they are reliable. But those sources want privacy and anonymity until this all comes in full flesh when they have to testify.

And the fact now that the former president has heightened the public, you know, furor over this would really cause issues, this is a security concern as well. But it really would chill other search warrants, including this one, you know, if you were able to release that information.

You know, in my years as a prosecutor, I've never saw it done. I'd be shocked if this judge actually unsealed the warrant. ROMANS: All right. Now to Georgia, Rudy Giuliani has been ordered to

appear before the special grand jury investigating the former president's attempts to overturn his election defeat. Giuliani's lawyers we're told is a target of the investigation, not a material witness.

What is the distinction and you think that he is just going to plead the Fifth or attorney/client privilege here?

WIEHL: I do. It would be much harder for him to do that, if you were called a material witness. Material witness basically means you saw something, you witness something -- but you weren't a part of a conspiracy, you weren't a part of a criminal act.

A target is the same. What happens when the Department of Justice decides someone is a target, they have to send out what is called a target letter. So it is very clear that Giuliani is a target, as opposed to material witness. We know that from his lawyers. What it means, it amps up the possibility of a Fifth Amendment because if you are a target, you could be looking at criminal charges and the Fifth Amendment attaches.

And it also, you know, Giuliani will say -- you just know it, he will say attorney client privilege, anything that was -- any kind of communications between him and the president. There are just a few exceptions like ongoing crime which might apply here.

But here is the thing, Christine. They want him in front the grand jury so they can nail him down. If you want to plead the Fifth now, we want to know that because if his story changes between now and the imminent trial, they would have that grand jury testimony which they can read in open court to the jurors.


That is the key that they are going after right now, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Lis Wiehl watching it all for us, former federal prosecutor, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

WIEHL: Great to see you.

ROMANS: All right. President Biden takes action on some student loan debt. And a moon rocket rolls out to the launch pad before blast off.


ROMANS: The Biden administration is canceling another $3.9 billion in student loan debt, this affects 208,000 students who went to the now defunct for-profit ITT Technical Institute.


That brings the total amount of student loans cancelled by President Biden nearly $32 billion. Biden is expected to announce by the end of the month whether he will more broadly cancel debt for 43 million federal student loan borrowers.

And the White House is trying to reset President Biden's image. Aides are planning a major speech for the president after Labor Day as a kickoff for the midterm campaign.

CNN's MJ Lee has more from a big bill signing at the White House.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The soul of America is vibrant, the future of America is bright and the promise of America is real and just beginning.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A major moment for the Joe Biden presidency.

BIDEN: It is not just about today, it is about tomorrow. It is about delivering progress and prosperity to American families.

LEE: Capping a productive year of legislating on Capitol Hill, President Biden signing into law a sweeping $750 billion climate, health care and tax bill.

Democrats have billed the package the "Inflation Reduction Act" despite experts concluding that there would likely be little to no immediate impact on lowering prices.

BIDEN: The Inflation Reduction Act invests $369 billion to take the most aggressive action ever, ever, ever in confronting the climate crisis and strengthening or economic -- our energy securities.

LEE: It does mark the most significant investment to fight climate change. The law would also reduce prescription drug prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug makers, extend Affordable Care Act health care subsidies, and tax large corporations to reduce the deficit.

BIDEN: Every single Republican in the Congress sided with the special interests in this vote. Every single one.

LEE: And while this package arrived on the president's desk after getting zero Republican votes, Biden has also been growing a list of bipartisan legislative accomplishments. That had been a signature promise from presidential candidate Joe Biden.

BIDEN: I'm running as a proud Democrat. But I will govern as an American president. I will work with Democrats and Republicans.

LEE: A year and a half into his first term, Biden has signed in to law a gun safety bill.

BIDEN: Lives will be saved.

LEE: Legislation to help veterans exposed to burn pits.

BIDEN: This law is long overdue. LEE: A semiconductor bill aimed at makes the U.S. more competitive against China.

BIDEN: Those tiny computer chips, smaller than a fingertip.

LEE: And a major infrastructure package, all bills that garnered some support from across the political aisle.

BIDEN: Red states, blue starts, you're all contacting me, you all said that you were for this.


LEE (on camera): Now, after President Biden signed had bill into law, we saw him turn and give that pen to Senator Joe Manchin. It is, of course, the surprise deal that was struck between Senator Manchin and Senator Chuck Schumer in recent weeks that allowed for this legislation to ultimately come together and that rhetoric that we heard from President Biden on Tuesday that Democrats are delivering for the American people.

Expect to hear a lot more of that from President Biden and Democrats heading into the midterm elections, touting legislative accomplishments, that is going to be so central to the Democratic Party's messaging heading into the midterms and White House officials here saying that the president himself will be doing a whole lot more traveling to do exactly that.

MJ Lee, CNN, the White House.

ROMANS: All right. MJ Lee, thank you for that.

First Lady Jill Biden is, quote, feeling good and isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, while traveling with the president. The White House says the 71-year-old who is double vaccinated and twice boosted is experiencing common like symptoms. She is in South Carolina, preparing for her full job as an English professor. Family members traveling with the president and first lady have all tested negative.

All right. Ahead on EARLY START, Ukraine's new strategy to drive Russian troops out of a critical port city,

And how the war on inflation is inflating credit card bills.