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Fmr. DOJ Officials Detail Trump's Efforts To Overturn Election; No New Mandates From DeSantis Despite Record Cases In FL; Ocasio- Cortez Doesn't Rule Out Challenge To Schumer. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: 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. To clear 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.

And I think also what is so unusual about this are these conversations between Jeffrey Clark and then President Trump, for the head of the Civil Division to be and running the acting Attorney General or the Attorney General depending on the timeline of when Bill Barr and Jeffrey Rosen were there, is incredibly unusual. You are not supposed to be having conversations with the President. That is completely unnatural for someone in that position, if you look at the organization chart at the Justice Department.

And Jeffrey Clark has defended those conversations saying that they were consistent with the law and they were weighing the pros and cons. But when you are learning all of this, you have to raise the question of what pros and cons are they weighing about coming out and having the Justice Department try to help sow doubt about the election, even though they had no evidence that there was any doubt to be raised about it?

KING: Does it matter? I mean, there are still Republicans to this day bowing at the altar of Donald Trump, you would think that as you learn details like this, that enough Republicans would stand up and say, sorry, we have to quit this as quickly as possible.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think it's interesting that we've heard from Senator Durbin and Blumenthal, the Democrats on this Committee. But we haven't really heard too much from the Republicans who are on this Committee and what they think.

I think the whole that the President, the former President continues to have on the Republican Party is going to be interesting to continue to watch, especially as we see President Biden's agenda now make its way through Congress, and how many Republicans continue to support things like the infrastructure bill, and how much, you know, what the President tried to, what the former president tried to do with the election still continues to be part of this overall conversation.

KING: I'm nuts to think that Republicans are going to stand up and say enough, right?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, yes, I'm looking with you on that one. I also think that it's not just the Republicans haven't come out and said that Donald Trump is wrong for what happened on January 6th, they've actually been elevating people in state parties and in school boards and locally, who have actually try to change the narrative of what we know to be true coming out of that and leading up to that. You know, this wasn't a secret thing that was happening.

You know, we have the back channel conversations between the former president and the DOJ. But we have the public statements. I mean, we have a president who was clearly in putting all of his effort into trying to overturn the election. Now he did it with the same level of ignorance about how the government functions as he governed with as President, but there was not a lack of effort from the former president's part. We've seen the Republican Party now not only rally around him.

But when you look at the state parties, I was out in Michigan a couple months ago, the people who have backed him on this thing are taking over on the grassroots level, which means these fights are still to come in the future.

KING: And so we live in a very polarized world. And we do this day to day including in the cable news business and in the newspaper business as you write online. This is Ruth Marcus is now the deputy editorial page editor at The Washington Post for many years a great, great reporter. I try not to be alarmist, but it is difficult to read the latest accounts and not be alarmed. The drip-drip-drip evolution of the story has served to mask how serious the threat was and how close it came to fruition.

Ruth makes a critical point here, which is why where did these investigations go on Capitol Hill. Speaker Pelosi in the House has said let's put this all in the Select Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee is doing this work. Perhaps Republicans will never believe anything produced by a Democratic majority. But what is the plan to pull all of this together and whether there are criminal referrals, like L.A. (ph) says a possible or just to lay it all out on the record so that weeks from now, but also years from now, people can look back at the details?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. I think that parallel paths that the Senate and House are on right now is a big question for leadership how do they merge these eventually. For Pelosi the issue was important enough, like you said, to put in one committee. And even last week, she put out the statement congratulating the

Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney on landing these interviews, even though they hadn't technically interviewed Rosen and others. And said, OK, thank you for all your hard work, now, we're going to send it all off to the Select 1/6 Committee.

And part of that is Pelosi is hand selected, who is on that committee. She knows the staff. They meet in her office and strategize. She has all the control over this Committee that she needs. And for her, like you said, it's about laying out a record. Obviously, Congress can't bring criminal charges but they can put it all out in the open to make sure it doesn't happen again.

KING: Well, we have elections too. But yes, it'll be interesting to watch as it all plays out.


Up next for us, Florida reported more than 134,000 new COVID infections last week and its positivity rate is approaching 20 percent, Governor Ron DeSantis says, all is well.


KING: Governor Ron DeSantis is the test case for staying the course no matter the numbers. Take a look. Florida reporting a record COVID case count last week nearly 135,000 new infections, less than half of its population is fully vaccinated. And the positivity rate among those under 40 who get a COVID test, tops 20 percent. But the state's Republican governor says all is well, no new COVID restrictions necessary.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I talked to people around the state how are things going and they say things are humming. You have some politicians that say I am going to eliminate the virus, I will defeat it. Unfortunately government can't just end it. You know, we still have 1918 flu floating around.


KING: Our panel is back with us. I just want to note for the record because he styles him of sort of mini Trump, Donald Trump once said, he would defeat the virus too. I know he's referring to President Biden there. But he is a test case in some ways. Is he not, Governor DeSantis in the sense that he says, look, this happens. I'm not going to restrict your life. I don't want to kids wearing masks in school, essentially tough it out.


HERNDON: Exactly. He's running a test case where his own political ambition, but also how much that Republican base, how much the base cares about governing at large. You know, he is someone who has said that this virus is not going to impede the way that he sees his stage of short run, mentioning freedoms and things like that.

But we know this is an ambitious politician, someone who is looking ahead to his own reelection, but also looking ahead to what the future of the Republican Party is going to look like after Trump. He has made a bet on coronavirus restrictions. He has made a bet on those cultural issues, things like critical race theory in the like.

And these things that the Republican base is looking for someone who can implement those issues, but take away the kind of bombastic nature of Donald Trump. We know the donor base likes that we know the kind of elite class of Republicans have been looking to Ron DeSantis is kind of a voice of the future. The question is whether the grassroots will like that. And so far, in Florida, we don't see a real pushback against that. But Democrats are going to try to rustle that up for his reelection chances. That's going to be test case number one, and then we know he's looking again to 2025.

KING: And so we need to like stop the tape today and then come back a month and two months and three months because right now the trajectory of COVID and Florida is dangerous. It is just -- it's dangerous. Now among those disagree, we know he's in a war words with President Biden at the moment, but also this is Senator Bill Cassidy, a doctor, a Republican senator from Louisiana. The governor says he doesn't think local school boards should be mandating masks. Senator Cassidy says, not your call, shouldn't be anyway.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I do disagree. Governor DeSantis. The local official should have control here. Whenever politicians mess with public health, usually it doesn't work out well for public health. And ultimately, it doesn't work out for the politician because public health suffers and the American people want public health.


KING: Let me let me add to this before we talk about it is the governor of Arkansas. You heard Senator Cassidy say politicians should not get involved in public health. Well, Governor Hutchinson in Arkansas was one of the politicians who decided to sign a ban on mask mandates. Now he says I regret it.


GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Facts change and leaders have to adjust to the new facts that you're half and the reality of what you have to deal with. It was an error to sign that law.


KING: Its interest interesting in the middle of this current COVID surge, some Republicans that especially the governors who have to get vaccinations, some of them saying what else can we do, what can we do, but DeSantis holding firm?

PARTI: Yes, I think the interesting thing about both Governor's DeSantis and Abbott in Texas, is that they're not just kind of letting people do what they want. They're actually taking action in terms of telling school districts that they can't ask -- that they can't make their children mask up. They're actually taking sort of the opposite approach here.

So they are taking some action. It's just not in line with what the Biden administration wants. And what we're hearing from the White House now is, you know, at least get out of the way is kind of the phrase that they've been using. If you're not going to follow public health guidelines, don't discourage other people or make other people not follow those public health guidelines.

KING: There is either, if you disagree with Governor DeSantis, at least he does encourage people to get vaccinated, he does. We should put that on the record. I want you to listen here to this Marjorie Taylor Greene who is, shall we say, on a different breed when it comes to getting a vaccine.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I hear Alabama might be one of the most unvaccinated states in the nation. Well, Joe Biden wants to come talk to you guys. He's going to be sending one of his police state friends to your front door. What they don't know is in the south, we all love our Second Amendment rights.


KING: There's a lot to unravel there. Number one applause when she says Alabama is one of the least vaccinated states in the country. That should not be an applause line in any setting Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever. And then the idea that Joe Biden is going to send his police state friends to your front door. What they don't know is in the south, we love our Second Amendment rights. We are months removed from an armed insurrection at the United States Capitol. I don't know what to say.

COLLINS: That messaging is so harmful because people do have this idea and misinformation does spread. And we've seen how powerful it can be about this idea that the federal government is going to come knock on your door if you're not vaccinated. And if you've listened to even just an eighth of what the public health officials have been saying at a federal level, they are obviously trying to put out good information out there, encourage people to get vaccinated, but still say it's a personal choice that you're making when it comes to whatnot.

I don't think the applause for the idea that Alabama is one of the least vaccinated states is very funny. I'm from there. The idea that less than 35 percent of a lot of the people that I grew up with are not vaccinated and haven't made that choice, in part because of harmful messaging like that is not something worth clapping over.

KING: Not that she would listen but the Republican leadership she's just --

[12:45:03] CAYGLE: I mean --

KING: -- they don't try to end this.

CAYGLE: No. She's -- really the Senate is the outlier here. Senate Republicans are the only ones that we've seen. McConnell opens his oppressors right now saying please get vaccinated, please wear a mask. We saw Bill Cassidy earlier saying things like that. But House Republican Leader McCarthy and others just kind of do what DeSantis and Abbott are doing and, you know, politicize this and turn it into something that, you know, is very dangerous for the public health frankly.

KING: It's going to be just fascinating to watch as we go through this surge now, which happens to be taking us into an election year how the two again, how COVID and politics collide. Interesting days ahead, appreciate everybody.

Coming in up next, being AOC, CNN's Dana Bash go one on one with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.



KING: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is developing a unique brand in American politics, being outspoken is a big part of it. But so is maximizing her leverage. So some questions don't get an answer.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you going to challenge Senator Schumer in a primary race?

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): You know, I -- here's the thing is that, and I know it drives everybody nuts. But the way that I really feel about this, and the way that I really approach my politics and my political career is that I do not look at things.

And I do not set my course, positionally. And I know there's a lot of people who do not believe that, but I really, I can't operate the way that I operate and do the things that I do in politics, while trying to be aspiring to other things or calculating to other things. And so all that is to say is that I make decisions based on what I think our people need and my community needs. And so I'm not commenting on that.


KING: That exchange, just one of many the New York congresswoman has with Dana Bash as part of a new CNN profile series called being. Dana Bash joins me now. She gets it --

BASH: Oh, yes.

KING: -- if she answers that question. Now, if she's in a primary with Schumer, everything changes. If she's not going to run, she loses leverage.

BASH: That's exactly right. She's got some time. And as you can imagine, I didn't leave it there. There were follow up questions, including whether or not she is going to put Chuck Schumer out of his misery or in his misery in the near future.

She also didn't answer that. But one of the other questions I asked is about the highest office because there were posted notes outside of her office. People left saying AOC for president. She didn't answer she just said I don't want to dash the dreams of little girls, which was an interesting add up to that.

KING: It's an interesting keep the door open. Another thing is, look, she's become quite polarizing. If you watch another network, you see her face a lot. She says, listen to this in your interview, some of her Democratic colleagues might be getting the wrong impression.


BASH: I saw that you said once that I think a lot of people, including my Democratic colleagues, believe the "Fox News" version of me.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, yes. I mean, it was my first term was very painful. It was very, very painful. And, you know, I came in and I unseated incumbent that, while may not have been very resonant in our community, was very popular inside those, you know, smoke filled rooms. And so I took away a friend. And I walked in into a very cold environment, even within my own party.


KING: She defeated a good friend of the Speaker, Joe Crowley, is it better now?

BASH: You know, a little. It seems as though she at least she feels like she's proved herself and she's gotten to establish more real relationships with people. But that moment was so fascinating because, you know, we both know she's right. Former Congressman Joe Crowley is very, very popular here.

He's an affable guy. He had a lot of and still has a lot of friends in the Democratic Party. And she was one of the first, he was one of the first rather to be toppled in a very public way within his own party in that wave of successful primary fights. And the way that she describes what it was like as cold, was really telling.

And it's better the way she describes it, but still not 100 percent better. And the reason is because, as she said in the first clip, she understands where she wants to go in politics and that is and continues to be challenging the establishment. And that includes maybe especially includes the establishment of her own party.

KING: Relationship with the Speaker better in the sense that Nancy Pelosi often says I was once you. I was once challenging the establishment better.

BASH: I think they understand each other. It's probably the best way to describe it.

KING: They understand each other, great diplomatic.

Thanks, Dana, very much. And be sure to catch this new CNN series "Being." First episode tonight at 9:00 p.m. only right here on CNN.


Up next, that huge bipartisan infrastructure package, guess what now teed up for a final Senate vote.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today, a final Senate vote on that massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill scheduled for early tomorrow. The bipartisan deal cleared the final obstacle last night when 18 Republican senators joined all the Democrats to cut off debate and advanced the bill toward final passage.

The U.N. Secretary General calls it quote code red for humanity that a landmark U.N. report on climate change warning earth is warming faster than previously thought. And it puts the blame squarely on us. The report for more than 200 climate scientists says a hotter future is now unavoidable. And the last minute nevermind from the California Republican Party, state GOP now says it will not endorse any of the four candidates running to replace Governor Gavin Newsom, who of course faces a recall election next month.


We'll see you back here tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.