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Federal Grand Jury Indicts Former Trump Adviser Peter Navarro On Criminal Contempt Charges; Biden Lays Out Plan To Stop Gun Violence In Prime-Time Address; Dem Sen. Murphy: "Prepared For Failure" On Bipartisan Gun Talks; Biden Calls For Assault Weapons Ban, Tougher Background Checks; Lawmakers Spar In Contentious Hearing On Gun Violence. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 03, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody. Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. The breaking news this hour. A federal grand jury here in Washington has indicted, the former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro on criminal contempt of Congress charges. The indictment stems from Navarro's refusal to cooperate with the House January 6 committee and its investigation of the Capitol insurrection.

Let's get straight to our senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid. Paula, tell us more.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, this is not a big surprise because we know last week FBI agents showed up to Navarro's home and served him with a subpoena, specifically asking him to provide to a grand jury document's related to his refusal to comply with the House Select Committee, including any communications that he had had with former President Trump or his lawyers.

Now, Peter Navarro has been very public about his efforts to undermine the outcome of the 2020 election. He was subpoenaed by the committee last February and refused to comply with that citing executive privilege. The committee though at the time said, look, there's a lot of things we want to talk to you about that you've spoken about publicly, you have published in your book. And that would not be covered by executive privilege to come in answer our questions.

He refused to do that. He refused to provide any documents. So, the House voted to refer him to the justice department for criminal contempt. And now we've seen, he's been indicted by a grand jury.

KING: So, what happens next, Paula, in the legal process.

REID: So, he's expected to appear in court later today. Now the case against Peter Navarro is actually a pretty strong one in terms of contempt of Congress. Now, interestingly, the committee has expressed a lot of frustration that the justice department has done not - done enough to help them enforce these subpoenas, but the Navarro case is much stronger because he has not provided any cooperation. Unlike, for example, former chief of staff Mark Meadows, who did provide some documents, a lot of text messages that have really been some the most explosive stuff the committee has uncovered before he stopped cooperating. Navarro was also not one of the president's absolute top advisers. So, his arguments about privilege are unlikely to shield him in this case.

KING: Paula Reid, we appreciate the hustle on the breaking news. Standby. Let's get up to Capitol Hill now, our chief correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, Paula just noting. There's been some frustration up on the Hill that they don't think the Biden justice department is taking these requests seriously. Now you have the indictment of Peter Navarro.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Following Steve Bannon, remember the committee has wanted and Democrats at large not just on the committee, but they've wanted the justice department to do more investigating January 6, investigating Donald Trump's role and all of that into go after the former president.

You'll hear that from a lot of House Democrats, and they certainly on the committee in particular, were concerned that there was not enough effort by the justice department to take their contempt of Congress charges more seriously. But this indictment, undoubtedly will get some cheers on Capitol Hill among the Democrats on this committee.

The two Republicans also on this committee, they're still hoping that Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, who the House has referred for contempt charges will ultimately be charged themselves. But Navarro is important for the committee because they have said that he could provide some key information about Donald Trump's knowledge, his discussions, everything in the run up to January 6.

With Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the committee said at the time when the committee referred him for contempt charges. They said that Donald Trump have voiced support for the plans to overturn the elections, and plans that Navarro was talking about privately with the former presidents.

So ultimately, John, next week, we'll get the first sense from the committee when they have a public hearing about new information. They have uncovered gaps that they may have in their information, and whether people like Peter Navarro have information that could fill in those gaps. So, the question will be, now that he is indicted, what will they ultimately get any information they are seeking here, but no question about it. Democrats will be happy at this development today.

KING: Manu Raju on the Hill. Let's bring in now CNN' Evan Perez. Evan helped us understand here to Manu's point, the Mark Meadows referral is still pending. He has given the committee some information and he stopped. the Dan Scavino is still pending. Why does the Peter Navarro indictment matter? And what about the rest?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think for the justice department, this is a very, very big step, John, because obviously you know, that the Attorney General Merrick Garland has been getting a lot of criticism about the pace of some of these investigations that have to do with January 6.

Now, this is not directly related to anything that happened on January 6, this is more about Peter Navarro's trying to obstruct essentially, that's what the prosecutors are trying to allege here. The investigation that's being done by this committee on the Hill, but from a larger standpoint, you've seen a flurry of activity from the justice department.


You know that Merrick Garland doesn't say a lot about what's happening, but we have seen a flurry of activity recently, with subpoenas being sent to some of these so-called fake electors. People who were involved in the overall process by the former president to essentially stay in office. And so, you're seeing the justice department pick up some of that activity that we've been long promised by the form - by the attorney general was actually going to happen.

We're now seeing it come to fruition. And so, at least, I think for going into next week's hearings, right. It's very important for the justice department to telegraph to the world, to the country, that they are on the job and they're doing something about what happened on January 6.

KING: Important context. Evan Perez, thank you. Let's get some more perspective now from our senior legal analyst, Elie Honig. So, Elie, the Congress would say this is overdue, but thank you, but help as Evan was just doing there. Explain, there are two lanes here. This is - I'm not understanding the importance of this by any means, but this is a process question.

The Congress says you refuse to cooperate with us. We want you held in contempt. And then there's the larger justice department investigation of potential criminal behavior between Election Day, the Insurrection and up to Inauguration Day. Help with context?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Yes, John. So, first of all, focusing on the narrow issue of Peter Navarro. This is very bad news for Peter Navarro. This is very serious. This is a federal indictment, United States versus Peter Navarro. If he is convicted, he can go to prison for up to a year. But it's important to know this is an unusual law that says, if he's convicted, he has to go to prison for at least one month. So, the stakes here are very real.

And bigger picture, John, if somewhat answers the question of well, will the justice department back up the committee and Congress when people defy their subpoenas. As we know here, Peter Navarro was one of several people who defied subpoenas. Congress held Peter Navarro in contempt, sent it over to DOJ and DOJ has now charged Peter Navarro with a crime.

So, there is a message there to other people who may be considering defying the committee. However, it does bear noting, this makes quite clear that DOJ is nowhere near charging Mark Meadows. The Mark Meadows contempt referral got sent over to DOJ over six months ago. This one on Navarro and Scavino got sent about two months ago. So, it raises the question, will DOJ be charging Meadows? Seems like not. Will DOJ be charging Dan Scavino who was held in contempt the very same day as Peter Navarro? So, there is a bit of a mixed message there. But I think look, if I'm somebody thinking about well, should I comply with Congress's subpoena to testify in the hearings. I'm absolutely taking note of this indictment of Peter Navarro, and it could push me towards testify.

KING: So, helped me explore that question you just raised a little bit further, in the sense that we know Peter Navarro was involved. He was a trade adviser, but he was involved after the election of trying to help, trying to find ways to stymie the results, to overturn the results, to steal the election. Quite frankly, that's Peter Navarro.

We also know from all these text messages that Mark Meadows was much more central. He's essentially the gatekeeper to the president. He's the chief of staff. But he did give the committee some text messages. Then he stopped and said, well, I'm not going to cooperate any further. Is that the reason for the delay? Take us inside the room when prosecutors are debating. Well, he did cooperate some, but he then he stopped. How do you sort that out? Where's the line?

HONIG: It looks to me, John, like prosecutors are considering two factors. One is executive privilege. The defense that Mark Meadows and Navarro and Dan Scavino and Steve Bannon, for that matter are all have raised or will raise is executive privilege. They'll say, we don't have to testify about our conversations with the president.

Now, Steve Bannon had no claim of executive privilege, but he wasn't really - he wasn't even in the White House at the time. By contrast, Mark Meadows was chief of staff, so he arguably has the strongest claim of executive privilege. And I think Navarro and Scavino fall somewhere in the middle on that spectrum. So, you're weighing that factor.

The second factor, as you said, John is, well was there any compliance here. Mark Meadows, as you noted, did partially comply, he turned over thousands of texts, and then he stopped. So, in contrast to Peter Navarro, and the others who completely stonewalled, who turned over nothing. So, from a prosecutor's point of view, it's a stronger case against someone who completely refused, as opposed to a case against Mark Meadows, who partially complied.

KING: Elie Honig, appreciate the important insights and context. We'll continue the conversation. With me here in the room in studio here to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, and NPR's Franco Ordonez.

Let's remind people, Peter Navarro. He was President Trump's trade adviser. He was the architect of some of this tough on China. We want tariffs on China policy, who then became a conspiracy theorist and election denier. One of the few people the president trusted, not only inside the White House in the deliberations, but in touch with Trump world outside of the White House.

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes. There is no question about that. He was extremely active and really championing some of the efforts to overturn the election. I mean, I think, Navarro, was one of the, you know, top spokesperson who we saw on so many different networks carrying Trump's flag in arguing these cases, and I find it very interesting that, you know, that the justice department is raising these indicting Navarro. But I do question, will they go farther? I think it's a big step to indict him. But will they take the next step in regards to these points about what the House is going to be investigating?


KING: And so, let's listen for those of you who may forget, what he looks like, what he sounds like and how he talks. Peter Navarro, this is on January 5. This is the day before January 6. Peter Navarro, just describing the plan.


PETER NAVARRO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The plan was simply this. We had over a hundred congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill ready to implement the suite. We were going to challenge the results of the election in six battleground states. These were the places where we believe that if the votes were sent back to those battleground states, and looked at again, that there would be enough concern amongst the legislatures that most or all of those states would decertify the election.


KING: That was January 5, this year. So, one year after, essentially the insurrection. He makes it sound like this is perfectly normal, but it's not.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, great. And there he is on television, talking about this plan that he details in his book. And so, the idea that somehow, this is executive privilege that he can't talk to. The committee seems like an absurd argument, which of course, the justice department at this point, not buying in saying, you know, compelling him, essentially, to talk to the committee.

This is a committee that has done, I think, far more extensive work than anybody thought they would, going into this. They've had some people stonewalled them, but they've had many people cooperate and give hours and hours of testimony. And we'll see some of that start to be unveiled in the weeks to come.

And I think this certainly, again, spotlights the kind of work they've been able to do, and we'll see, I think some bombshells may be coming in the next week of information. We hadn't known before about these the detailed plan that so many people throughout the administration had to overturn the election.

KING: Forgive me. The detail, the detail what, that's the most significant part of it, because I know there are people watching Democrats, Republicans, independents, and people are just tired. They don't talk about this anymore. They were not trying to steal your car. They were trying to steal your country. They were trying to steal your country. And it's the details in the sense that we know this was corrupt.

We know, there is nothing to support the allegations of big fraud. It's a lie. But the question is, were there people involved who were trying to do to actually do things? Is it the fake electors get pence to do things? Was there a plan in place to actually break the law? Or was it just spewing lies and conspiracies? Or can he get the details?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: He was definitely the latter. And the question is, was it the former, but there was no person probably on the government's dime on the taxpayer funded salary. He was a trade adviser at that time, but he had long left that portfolio aside. He became a one of the highest-ranking government officials who was trying to overtake the election. So obviously, that's what the committee is going for.

They don't necessarily need his testimony. They have built a timeline and a case that we're going to see unveiled starting next Thursday evening in the first hearings. What they, you know, what he could offer, probably, as you said, was this. How detailed was this crime? Was his work with the president to overtake the electors, that's probably what they're going for, but separately, the committee.

Peter Navarro now finds himself in trouble. I mean, he has talked a lot for a long time. He wrote a book now, as Elie was saying, this federal cases against him. So, they don't need him for the hearing. But he has his own legal situations worry about. I think, we should point out, no one was closer. Few people were closer to the president than him in making this argument.

KING: Right. Very tight in the Steve Bannon loophole. And then the question is this, it was his fake electorate. But what's interesting when you look at the indictment, count one, papers count two, testimony. One thing we have learned from the January 6 committee is, yes, they're bringing in a lot of members of the Trump inner circle to talk, but the papers. That's how you put it together. That's how you piece it together. Emails, notes, conversations, documentation to prove the point.

ORDONEZ: Yes. I mean, like you said earlier, it is about the details. And what is going to come out in this and what impact is it going to have on the American public? Let's just remember with the investigations on Trump, the Robert Moeller investigation, some of that was so much buried in legalese that it didn't necessarily penetrate as well. But this case, Congress has an opportunity to really have an impact.

KING: Reporters are going to stay with us. We'll continue the conversation. We'll continue to track the legal developments there. But next for us, President Biden's urgent plea for gun reform. Even as Republicans are already saying no, to most of what the president wants.



KING: In his primetime speech last night, urging gun reforms, the president appealed to the American people to help him. And he spoke to Republicans, already saying no to most of what he wants. The president posing this question.


JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: How much more carnage are we willing to accept? How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say enough?


KING: President is addressing the nation included a detailed wish list, but it also reflected the political reality here in Washington. The president knows there simply are not enough votes for most of what he wants. And so, he's asking for your help. The president using the word enough 11 times in his speech last night.


PRES. BIDEN: How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say enough, enough, enough, enough, enough. Don't tell me raising the age won't make a difference. Enough, enough, enough, enough, enough. I tell Americans enough, enough, it's time for each of us to do our part.


KING: CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins here with more on the president's ideas, and importantly, Kaitlan his strategy to pressure the Congress.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And of course, he's doing that as he did in his evening address last night that 17-minute speech delivered by the president, but he doesn't appear to be doing so directly yet, John. Because he told reporters today that his staff is having constant conversations with lawmakers and their staffs about this and that he is being updated by his own staff on the latest, on those negotiations, on those talks that are playing out between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But the key word there, John, is staff because it does not sound based on what the president said and told reporters this morning, that he is ready to get directly involved yet beyond delivery and address in the form that he did last night. Where he did lay out specifics that he wanted to see, but it doesn't appear that the president is himself is actually getting on the phone, having these conversations with lawmakers. And the White House has said that's because they want to give it space for these negotiations to play out between the lawmakers themselves. And when the time is right, the president will get involved. But you heard him last night being cautious on this saying that, it is going to be an uphill battle for there to be some kind of consensus or agreement on Capitol Hill.

He said it was unconscionable. He believed that a lot of Senate Republicans are not even involved in those discussions at all. But he sounded very cautious today, John, when he said he will try to see if there can be some progress to be made. But for now, that's far from clear. John?

KING: Kaitlan Collins, live at the White House. And let's follow up by going up to Capitol Hill and our chief correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, the big question, the day after is did the president move the dial at all specifically, where it matters most Senate Republicans?

RAJU: It's really unclear, John, because the Senate has been on a weeklong recess this week. They don't get back into session until next week. And that's really where the rubber is going to meet the road, where they're going to have to make some decisions here about whether or not they can actually get consensus on a narrow deal that could actually become law.

And then these discussions they have been happening behind the scenes, staff level discussions are happening today, I'm told, and member level discussions will move forward next week. But the question will be ultimately, if they do get a deal, will it be what the president has called for or will that be satisfactory to a lot of people who wanted Congress to do much more.

At the moment, it is very clear that Democrats have already made a number of concessions on gun restrictions, access to guns. Of course, the assault weapons ban, is something that is a non-starter that Joe Biden has been pushing for, but also raising the age of 18 and 21 to purchase assault style semi-automatic rifles.

That is something that I am told that Republicans are very skeptical of, it's unlikely at the moment that could get in the bill. So, John, can they get a narrower deal? Will it be enough? Can they get the support? All big questions as they come back to Congress and make some key decisions next week.

KING: Manu Raju, live on the Hill. Manu, thank you. Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our great reporters. So, here's what the president asked for. He said, let's ban assault weapons. But then he quickly moved on to if we can't do that, let's raise the age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21.

He knows the math. The tougher background check laws the president wants. He wants new red flag laws to copies about 19 states have those already and repeal liability shields for gun manufacturers. Detailed wish list after the president talking more broadly about Congress should do something. Here's a detailed list, but he seemed to know the answer from the Senate. HENDERSON: It's an ambitious list. It's a sort of democratic wish list. And you've got to figure out if you can get 10 Republicans. You got to listen to what Mitch McConnell is saying. He seems to want something much more narrowly focused on schools, on mental health. Does that translate to some sort of red flag laws, maybe money for red flag laws or sort of encouragement for individual states to enact of these red flag laws?

But again, that will essentially be up to the states to see if they want to do that. And we've already seen many states try to enact these red flag laws. But they're either stalled or vetoed at the state level. So, we'll see. I mean, is this time different? I think is the big question given of the spate of killings that we've seen over this last two weeks and the mass number of deaths, particularly these kids in Texas, is this time different? And do Republicans feel some sort of pressure in a way that they hadn't before?

KING: And the president speaks, president now, vice president of the Obama years, nearly four decades in the United States Senate. He has been in this debate many, many, many, many times over the years, which is why he knows there are a handful of Republicans involved in the bipartisan negotiations now, but there are no gun restrictions, no new gun restrictions on the table in those negotiations so far, which is why the president looked the American people die and raised the question about Senate Republicans.


PRES. BIDEN: The fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don't want any of these proposals, even to be debated, or come up for a vote. I find unconscionable. We can't fail the American people again.


KING: The president says unconscionable some people at home are going to get mad at me right now. But I just want to get to the bulk political math here. This is a map of the 2022 battleground states for the Senate. The red states are currently held by Republicans. Right. If you look at the red states, currently held by Republican maybe Pennsylvania, which has a strong gun culture, but also has the Philadelphia suburbs. That is a laboratory, if you will, if you want to fight this out in election.


When you look at the other red states, Republican seats, those are states where they do not worry about not passing new gun reforms. Now in the states the Republicans are trying to take away from Democrats, can you sell it in Nevada, can the Democrats make it an issue in Arizona, maybe in Georgia. But if you look at the map, there are one or two places. Jeff Zeleny, where Mitch McConnell might think, OK, this potentially is bad for us, but one or two you can deal with, which is why he feels no pressure?

ZELENY: He feels no pressure and that just does not get to the number of 10. And there's no one who understands the difficulty of this assignment more than President Biden. I mean, we all saw him during Sandy Hook when he walked the halls of Congress literally. And if those 26 deaths weren't horrific enough to prompt legislation, back when the Senate had 54 Democrats, if I recall, it's impossible to imagine that something broader can get done.

It is deja vu, no doubt about it. The question is, is the time different? Is there just enough of a sense that people are fed up about this? I remain incredibly skeptical about this. Even on background check laws, perhaps the trigger laws are something that doesn't mean the president shouldn't try, that doesn't mean he shouldn't give speeches like that. That is what his moral authority is for. That is what that megaphone is for, but even people I talked to at the White House, the president himself, you know, skeptical that anything is different this time.

KING: You posed the question, this time. You posed the question too, you know, after Newtown, after pick, after you know, church in South Carolina, supermarket in Buffalo. The question comes up a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. So, John Cornyn, the Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is asked to take the lead.

The bipartisan negotiations does say this, it the Senate can't agree on a legislative response after the killings in Uvalde, Texas. Cornyn said, it will be embarrassing. So, if you want progress that is encouraging. The question is, what's on the table? And let's listen to a bit of a House hearing yesterday. Everyone says will this time be different. If you think about the debate in the House, doesn't seem so.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): You know, didn't have due process, you know, didn't have their constitutional right to life respected. The kids at Parkland and Sandy Hook and Uvalde and Buffalo and the list goes on and on. So, spare me the bulk about constitutional rights.

REP. GREG STEUBE (R-FL): Here is a seven-round magazine, which would be less than what would be lawful under this bill, if this bill were to come off. It doesn't fit. So, this gun would be banned. I hope that is not loaded. I'm at my house. I can do whatever I want with my guns.


KING: To make progress on anything that is difficult. You need to have a conversation. Everyone needs to come in with an open mind, just doesn't exist.

ORDONEZ: It really doesn't exist. I mean, it is almost amazing what has happened in Congress in Washington. The ability to get something done is almost impossible on so many different issues. I mean, this kind of reminds me, like there's so much talk about wanting Biden to take executive action to take other stuff. But we've seen on other issues, how hard it is to make the ball move on certain issues like immigration, for example. And if Biden tries to do something by himself to take action. You just showed that map of all the red states, critics from those states, attorney generals from those states are going to come out and file a suit and you're going to be all over this. I think what it really shows is just how the challenges of the system in Washington today and how hard it is to get anything done in a Democratic way.

KING: So, we'll see. That's a great point. Back to your point, will the president do this consistently. Will he travel the country this year? Even if he's going to lose, will he travel the country to make the point. I think that's something to watch as we go up. Next for us. A brand-new report tells us the economy keeps adding jobs and wages yes are climbing. The president says it is a historic recovery. But inflation still has many Americans in a sour mood.