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Inside Politics

Ex-DOJ Officials Detail Trump Efforts to Undermine Election; Governor Cuomo Accuser Details Groping in New Interview; Governor Cuomo Attorney: His Behavior Was Not Criminal; Unvaccinated Fuel Delta Variant Surge, Hospitalizations; Former DOJ Officials Detail Trump's Effort to Overturn Election. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 12:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Sources always call at the worst times. Whitney Wild thank you so much for that. Don't go anywhere "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now. Thanks for joining us.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a busy news day with us.

New pressure today on Andrew Cuomo, his top enforcer quits and an executive assistant adds her name and face to her stomach churning story of being repeatedly groped by the Governor of New York.

Plus, the COVID backslide gets worse hospitalizations and deaths double now what they were just two weeks ago, and cases climb to their highest level since February. And "Being AOC" a new CNN profile series begins with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Among the questions does she plan to primary the highest Ranking Democrat in the Senate?

But we begin this hour with the New York Governor and the impeachment investigation that just might remove Andrew Cuomo from office. This morning the New York Assembly Judiciary Committee is meeting right now behind closed doors.

Its Chairman says the Committee could reveal the result of its work sometime this month. And the pressure on the governor right now is intense. His Chief of Staff resigned on Sunday. Justice the Cuomo victim identified in an investigative report as executive assistant number one adds her voice to her story.


BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOVERNOR CUOMO ACCUSER: Reading that is disgusting. It's simple. I know the truth. He knows the truth. I know what happened and so does he.


KING: Let's get straight to CNN's Polo Sandoval. He is live in Albany for us Polo, a big day when it comes to the impeachment question?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And a big week too John, especially because the governor really has additional headaches to worry about, as you mentioned, his inner circle, it was just shrinking, getting even smaller with the resignation of one of his closest advisors.

There's that accuser now stepping - publicly stepping involuntarily stepping into the public light and now adding a vase of voice and a name to some of the most serious allegations that were laid out in that attorney general report that was released just under a week ago.

And then of course, that ongoing threat of impeachment as of right now here in Albany, you have both Republican and Democratic State Lawmakers that are meeting especially the Judiciary Committee that is convening right now in closed session.

We are expecting to hear from them potentially in the coming hours. And they are expected to share a little bit more about a potential timeline in terms of when those articles of impeachment could possibly be put forth for lawmakers to consider.

But we have to remember that at this point, we do know that the governor himself actually has until this Friday the 13th until 5 pm to provide any kind of evidence that he feels will be crucial. So we'll have to see if that happens obviously with that ongoing threat of possible criminal charges against the governor in addition to the threat of impeachment as well John.

KING: Alright, dicey times for the governor. We'll wait of course and see if we get any details out of this Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing. Polo Sandoval in Albany thinks for the live reporting.

With me in studio to share that with me today if not all in studio to share the reporting and insights excuse me, the Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Elie Honig, Jimmy Vielkind of "The Wall Street Journal" and CNN's Dana Bash.

Jimmy, I want to start with you. We're waiting to get a timetable out of the assembly. The Assembly Judiciary Committee about where this impeachment proceeding is heading? How fast do we think it will move once they have this meeting today?

JIMMY VIELKIND, NEW YORK POLITICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, John, what I've heard from members of the Judiciary Committee before today was that they expected to take at least four weeks even given the mountain of evidence that was included in Attorney General James's report before they can craft articles of impeachment.

Remember that people in the Assembly Judiciary Committee has said today and previously that they're not just looking at the sexual harassment allegations. They're also examining whether Governor Cuomo used state resources to produce his pandemic memoir and also examining state policies on the Coronavirus in nursing homes. There's a separate federal probe as to how the state handled the nursing homes and whether officials manipulated COVID-19 depth data? At the center of all of those things was Melissa DeRosa the governor's top aide her title is Secretary.

She stepped down last night in a move that caught administration officials by surprise and leads the governor without an ally as the impeachment moves forward.

KING: Well, into that point Dana Bash the governor has lost one of his most trusted aides. She also is implicated in the report as someone who participated actively coordinated some retaliation so we'll see how that plays out?

But he has lost his top most trusted a at a time when one of his accusers Brittany Commisso, let's listen to more of this now as Jimmy lays out this impeachment could go on for weeks. We could be waiting one of his accusers goes very public and listen in detail here. She says what the governor did to her and he says he still wants to fight.


COMMISSO: I then felt while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back onto my butt and he started rubbing it that's when he put his hand up my blouse and kept my breast over my bra.


COMMISSO: I exactly remember looking down seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself oh, my God!


KING: Just want to know for the record, CNN has reached out to the governor's office repeatedly, including today. The governor's office so far says they're not going to comment on the specifics of that interview. He has in the past denied touching anyone, inappropriately.

But if you listen to the power of that account, and some of the work in his office, we were talking before we came on the air, about conversations over the weekend. People who've been touched with the governor say at this point, he remains still defiant.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Extremely defiant in the face of conversation after conversation. I know we're both hearing this, where he is being told by people he is talking to it's over. You got--

KING: --told that math is overwhelming.

BASH: Yes.

KING: --and that accounts like that. More importantly, the credibility of accounts like that are overwhelming.

BASH: And if you think about where we are with this event, the more that the governor's lawyers, the governor's you know, supporters, the few that remain come out and try to defend him. The more we hear from the people who are talked about in this report, I mean, she was just labeled executive assistant number one, now she has a face, and she has a story.

And she has a story that she clearly wants to tell because of the way that Governor Cuomo and his legal team is pushing back on this. And at this point, it is about filling out the details and the human face between behind these women in a way that's not that beneficial to the governor. And that is where we are right now. And that's why his allies are saying, let's just put a stop to this.

KING: And so Elie, let's listen to a little bit more of Brittany Commisso because she also explained to this interview with CBS why she decided to file a criminal complaint listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you file that criminal complaint with the sheriff's office?

COMMISSIO: It was the right thing to do. The governor needs to be held accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And just so I'm clear, again, being held accountable to you mean seeing the governor charged with a crime?

COMMISSO: What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law.


KING: Elie walk through that process. We know six local district attorneys in the state have requested information have said they will look into this more deeply. What is your take on the likelihood of criminal activity against the governor?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, John. So each one of those district attorneys is going to have to ask themselves this question, do I have proof beyond a reasonable doubt to bring a criminal charge? Now, if Ms. Commisso's account is true and correct and can be proven that absolutely is a crime under New York State law, it's a misdemeanor.

It's called forcible touching, that means it's punishable by a maximum of one year in prison. But the key thing to remember here again, this is not a civil case. This is not even impeachment. If we're talking about criminal, it's beyond a reasonable doubt.

It's not enough to show that this probably happened, that is likely happened that this very likely happened. You have to be ready as a prosecutor to stand in front of a judge or a jury and prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The other thing that's important here, John is you or I or sort of normal folks, or even the New York State Assembly, looks at this whole body of evidence and says wow, 11 complainants, that's a lot, you have to take it all together, and you do.

But in a criminal case, a judge almost certainly is not going to allow the evidence of the other 10. It's going to be essentially all down to that one person. That's the kind of evidence that judges usually don't lead into criminal cases.

So it's a serious burden here, each DA is going to have to make his or her own independent determination.

KING: And you mentioned 11 that are in the state Attorney General's report 11 women 11 incidents are documented - incidents involving 11 women, I should say excuse me. One of them a female state trooper in the governor's detail I want you to listen yesterday, one of the governor's attorneys was on CNN yesterday with my colleague Pamela Brown, just well just listen.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not criminal conduct that he allegedly touched her down her back and touched her on the stomach and between her you know, her belly button and her private parts. That's not--

RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY FOR GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: He touched on her stuff. That's not criminal conduct as far as I know.

BROWN: OK, so if he did that, or is that acceptable behavior?

GLAVIN: Depends on what the context of the circumstances where? The governor may very well have touched the state troopers back and she may have understood it one way and he understood it another way.


KING: I'll start with you Dana on the politics of this and I get to Jimmy and Ellie. But in the sense that if that's not criminal behavior, the governor may understood it one way. At a time like this, we know we live - live with us covering the Bill Clinton White House. We went through this repeatedly with Trump. Now we're going through the Cuomo.

The politician under fire is eager for people to get out here and defend out there and defend him. That was the defense?

BASH: Exactly and that's what I was referring to with regard to other women who feel that they are not being heard, even though they are anonymously in this report saying, I have to push back against this.


BASH: Until we might hear from more of them. The fact is that she came out she told Pamela who did a great interview, that maybe the governor slipped, there were moments in there where it was pretty clear, it was even hard for his attorney to mount a real defense, not necessarily on the law, but on the morality and on the PR and the politics of this. KING: Alright, we'll leave it there for today. But we're waiting again for the details out of this hearing. Elie Honig, Jimmy Vielkind and Dana Bash thank you very much. Ahead for us alarming numbers of people being hospitalized and even more troubling, new, more dangerous COVID variants the experts say could emerge across the country if more people don't get vaccinated.



KING: The new COVID numbers are bleak to say the least. New infections back above 100,000 a day for the first time since February hospitalizations now at their highest level in nearly six months. Remember vaccines were not widely available last time the numbers were this troubling, but they are now which makes this current pain as unnecessary as it is real.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We are failing. We would not be in the place we are right now with this Delta surge if we'd been more effective in getting everybody to take advantage of these immunizations and now we're paying a terrible price.


KING: Let's show you what that terrible price Dr. Collins looks speaks of looks like? This is the map of the United States by now by county you can't really see the county lines on the map, can you that's because 95 percent of the population 95 percent of American people live in a county where the CDC says you should masks up, meaning lives in a county with either high or substantial community transmission.

Look at all that read. Look at all that high. What happens when you have such high community transmission is you get this back above 100,000 new infections a day back above 100,000 new infections a day for the first time since February.

One year ago we're at 54,000 cases a day had a little dip went up into the horrors of the winter. We're still going up right now as we make our way through the summer. When cases go up that fast hospitalizations go up as well. 66,509 people hospitalized with COVID as of yesterday.

At the peak in January is 142,000 back in February, we were about the same a little below 62 there a year ago 60,000. So this number remains up and remains frustrating. What the experts say is the only way to fix this is to get more Americans vaccinated. It is up a little bit these are people getting their first vaccine shot initiating vaccination.

It is trending up a little bit Sunday 481,000 plus, but most public health experts say you got to get it up well about 500,000 many say a million to a million and a half. At that point let's bring in to share her insights and expertise our CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, she's the Former Baltimore Health Commissioner, also Author of the new book, "Lifelines: Doctors journey in the fight for Public Health".

Dr. Wen, let's start with that how high? How fast, how much more aggressive is the Vaccine ramp up need to be in this race now against Delta, which we are losing?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: You're right that we're certainly losing this battle right now. I mean, when we look at even compared to a month ago, we are at 900 percent the level of new infections compared to early July. And there's no particular end in sight.

I mean, I think all of us would want the vaccination numbers to be a lot higher in the sense that we know we need a lot more community immunity, we can get there. However, we also have to keep in mind that vaccination for the short term is not going to be the answer as an even if every single person gets vaccinated today, we're still looking at another six weeks before there is enough immunity from that population.

And so we really need indoor mask mandates. And it's really upsetting I think that in the places the parts of the country that have the most surge, they are the places that are least likely to be imposing vaccine requirements and them and masking requirements too.

KING: Right and many of those same areas - about children on the map are going back to school, either starting last week, or this week, or in the next few days. So it all overlaps. And let's look at that population. This is the - this is the map of the country.

Alabama is now the only state below - look, it has the lowest 34.8 percent, it's below 35 percent of its people vaccinated but just pay attention down here. If you look in this area of the country here, we see the vaccination rate is the lowest, right?

Just remember this as I switch this is vaccination rate, right? So now we're going to look at cases per 100,000 people. Where's the problem? The darker the state here, the higher the problem it's the same area.

I'm going to stop here for a second Dr. Wen, Florida is the highest, but you see Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, there is 0, 0 and 0 dispute here, right where vaccinations are low, cases are higher. And if you look at that Florida number right now it jumps off the table at you.

WEN: That's the correlation that we're seeing. And it makes scientific sense that in places where there isn't a lot of immunity, that's why the Delta variant is ripping through these communities. And again, I find it and I think a lot of us in public health are so frustrated that at this point, we now have the tools.

But there are governors, leaders in these parts of the country that are saying, we don't want to use the tools at our disposal. In fact, we're not even going to allow families to use these tools at their disposal to protect their children. And that's extremely upsetting especially because we know how dangerous this delta variant is? KING: Right. And again, I just want to go through it for people - there are people I get criticized all the time, saying we're overstating this. We're hyping this right? This is where vaccinations are low. This is where cases are high. This is where hospitalizations are now going back up.


KING: It's the same overlapping area of the country and you mentioned politicians many of us want to stay the course. I just want to show you Dr. Wen some headlines out of Florida. This is "The Tampa Bay Times" Florida adds 34,506 Coronavirus cases 616 deaths. Miami Herald record breaking 23,000 new cases more people than ever hospitalized. One of our other Medical Contributors Dr. Jonathan Reiner, listen to this.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE & SURGERY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It's so high in Florida that I think that if Florida were another country, we would have to consider banning travel from Florida to the United States.


KING: Provocative but it points to the problem that one state in particular, is driving a surge right now.

WEN: That's right. And we know that we already have travel requirements for other parts of the world that have variants of concern that are undergoing their own surges. The only issue is here in the U.S., we know that it doesn't work for us to restrict travel from different states.

There are too many porous land borders, there's no way to be really imposing quarantining testing requirements for people from other states. And that's why I think for a lot of us who are living in areas and parts of the country that are not going through massive surges, right now.

We should not be resting and saying, oh, well, that's what's happening in Florida or Arkansas, Louisiana. We should be looking at what's going to happen to our states next, because this is a virus that knows no borders. And it's only a matter of time to before we may get another variant that may be even worse than the Delta variant in some ways.

And so this really should be a call to action for all of us if there is a problem in one part of the country it affects everyone in America.

KING: All right, I brought this map up just to reiterate, reinforce your point, Dr. Wen that yes, the problem is greatest down here. But you see, we're one country, we're one country so a problem in one region gets everywhere else and pretty quickly Dr. Wen grateful for your time and insights. Ahead for us, one Senator says the United States came close to what he calls "Total Catastrophe", new testimony new details about the former president's efforts to steal the election.



KING: Congressional investigators are getting stunning firsthand accounts of Donald Trump's effort to deny democracy and to stay in power. Over the weekend two top Trump Justice Department official set for interviews with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was part of those interviews, says Trump's conduct was tantamount to a coup attempt, and in the Senators view involves criminal behavior.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): We're talking about potential false statements, obstruction of justice attempts to impede the lawful activities of the United States. What Donald Trump did here, in effect was try to overthrow the election. And there are all kinds of potential criminal charges. Because asking the Department of Justice to call an election corrupt falsely, is potentially criminal violation.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights Kaitlan Collins our Chief White House Correspondent, Stead Herndon, National Political Reporter for "The New York Times" Heather Cagle, Congressional Reporter at "POLITICO" and Tarini Parti, White House Reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig is also back with me.

Elie, I want to start with you to the point Senator Blumenthal was making. We can put up on the screen that two officials that people are listening to Jeffrey Rosen was the Acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue, was his Acting Deputy at the time.

The man on the right Jeffrey Clark was an environmental lawyer that Donald Trump appointed to the Justice Department who was apparently willing to do his bidding. Is there criminal activity here as Congress looks into this? Do you see the potential for either the former president or those around him trying to help him today have criminal culpability?

HONIG: John, there's some disagreement out there in the legal world. I absolutely fall on Senator Blumenthal's side. I think there's absolutely potential criminality here that needs to be investigated by the Justice Department. But this is an important distinction.

The reporting out there as the Jeffrey Rosen has been talking to Congress, which of course, cannot bring criminal charges they can refer it but they can't bring criminal charges, but also to the Justice Department Inspector General. However, the Inspector General does not bring criminal charges either. They do internal discipline in review. So according to the reporting, Jeffrey Rosen is not talking to the part of DOJ that can bring criminal charges right now and that's where Merrick Garland I think needs to step up.

He needs to make sure there is a criminal investigation of this happening at DOJ. We don't see any evidence that that's happening as of yet.

KING: Let's bring the conversation into the room. And before we talk, let's just include now another Democrat, the Senator Dick Durbin listen to what he describes - again the justice - the Senate Judiciary committee's looking at this. There are House Committees looking at as well listen?


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Just how directly personally involved the president was the pressure he was putting on Jeffrey Rosen. It was real, very real. And it was very specific. This president's not subtle when he wants something former president is not subtle when he wants something.


KING: You're covering the White House at the time we knew this was happening but now we are getting such remarkable detail of never mind just phone calls to Secretary of State saying you know, can you flip this in Georgia? Can you do this there?

But asking the then Attorney General of the United States I know he was an acting. He's the top law enforcement officer in the country; declare the election corrupt essentially clear the path for me to stay here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right after the Attorney General when Bill Barr stepped down had just said there is no evidence of any kind of fraud, at least not widespread in this election.