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New Day

Ex-Acting A.G. Testifies: Trump, Loyalist Tried Stealing Election; Corporate America's September Plan Implodes Due To Surge; Texas Schools Attempt To Balance Student Safety With Mask Bans. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 09, 2021 - 07:30   ET



WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: So, Brianna, this is a conversation ongoing. There is this big question about should these be considered line-of-duty deaths. Should they be afforded the same benefits as other men and women who are killed in the line of duty? Certainly, a conversation that won't go away anytime soon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's so important that it is raised now, not just for January sixth but for law enforcement in general. We've talked about this with military service. It's time, it seems, to be talking more about it when it comes to service by police officers.

Whitney Wild, thank you so much for that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New testimony from two top former Justice Department officials put a Trump-appointed environmental law chief at the Justice Department at the center of a major effort to help Trump subvert the results of the 2020 election.

According to sources, former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue said that Jeffrey Clark sought to deploy the department's resources in support of false voting fraud claims by Trump. He even tried to oust his bosses who were resisting Trump.

Joining me now is the former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who also served as White House counsel in the George W. Bush administration. He's now the dean at Belmont University's School of -- College of Law in Nashville. Attorney General, it's always a pleasure to have you on. Thanks so much.

Two things were going on here. Number one, you had the former president, himself, leaning on the acting attorney general, saying just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republicans in Congress.

And then you have this guy who, at the time, was running the civil rights division. Everyone was acting at that point. But a senior Justice Department official actively trying to overturn the election. That is what Jeffrey Rosen, who was the acting attorney general, is now telling Congress. How big of a deal is this?


Before I get into that, let me just say put me in the camp that believes that Jeffrey Smith and others like him deserve a line-of-duty death recognition, as far as I'm concerned.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Rosen, right. Yes, Jeffrey Rosen -- yes.

GONZALES: No, Jeffrey Smith.

Listen, with respect to Jeffrey Rosen --

BERMAN: All right, sorry.

GONZALES: -- and this whole episode, very, very serious and it's bizarre, quite honestly, as someone who worked in the Department of Justice and in the White House and appreciates the importance of making sure that we're very disciplined in the line of communications that occur between the White House and the Department of Justice, particularly in this scenario where you have a president that is apparently insistent on trying to find a way to overturn the election results. And so, it's a very, very serious situation.

And, I -- you know, on the one hand, I agree with Ambassador Bolton. I watched the interview with you. This was from a coup. The institutions did hold.

On the other hand, if, in fact, he had been successful in persuading the acting attorney general to send the letter that he apparently had drafted, then it would have surely have complicated things. And who knows? It would have given Republicans in Congress a reason to question the outcome of these elections and perhaps stopped the certification -- the Electoral College vote.

And so, yes, there were some serious issues that happened here and obviously, lessons to be learned. And I applaud the work of the January six Commission. I think that this is -- this is very important work and we need to learn from what happened here.

BERMAN: When you say the January six commission you mean the House Select Committee that includes Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger?

GONZALES: Yes, yes -- that's correct.

BERMAN: Yes, because unfortunately, there is no bipartisan commission outside of Congress that they could -- so you think this, at this point, is worthy of investigation. What would you investigate, and who, specifically?

GONZALES: Well, obviously, I would begin where Congress apparently is beginning, and that is to identify the people involved in these discussions and get testimony from them. I'm sure at some point they're going to ask to speak with the president and perhaps the vice president to see what he knows.

So I think Congress is going to proceed in a methodical manner, interviewing witnesses. And based upon the testimony received, perhaps getting ideas about all right, who else -- where should we go next? So I think Congress is going to -- is going to conduct a thorough investigation. At least, that is my hope.

As I said earlier, there are important lessons to learn here. But as I also said earlier, the institutions work as they should. You know, a lot of people worry about where we are today as a country. I don't worry about the institutions per se. The institutions are only as good, quite frankly, as the people that operate within those institutions.

And what I worry about today is sometimes about the leadership that we have in our country. I worry more about the leadership -- about the personalities of officeholders -- than I do about the institutions themselves.


BERMAN: Well look, Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue was the acting deputy attorney general -- they held, right? But as another official described it to us last week, that's the thinnest membrane of protection that you can possibly have. I mean, that was all that was standing between them and these letters going out to states around the country.

And you can only imagine what could have happened at that point. The insurrection was bad -- bad enough. You can only imagine what would have happened if you had the Justice Department sending out these official comments that were clearly dishonest and lies.

Is it possible that you think crimes were committed? Is that something that should be investigated here?

GONZALES: I -- you know, I don't know if crimes were committed here, quite frankly. I think that, obviously, Congress will look into that. If they believe crimes were committed they'll make -- they'll make a referral to the Department of Justice -- Merrick Garland's Department of Justice. And they'll do -- if they believe that those suggestions or recommendations are credible they'll do an investigation.

I don't know, quite frankly. I haven't looked at this closely enough to make a recommendation or determination as to whether or not crimes were, in fact, committed. But, in fact, if they were committed and the Department of Justice believes that they were committed and they believe they can be successfully prosecuted, then they should be prosecuted.

BERMAN: Former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, thanks for coming on. Also, thank you for being a loyal viewer. Appreciate your viewership, as always. Thank you.

GONZALES: OK. Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right.

Corporate America starting to reverse course. Employees now being told to keep working from home a while longer.

KEILAR: And what should you do if you're sending your child back to school in a state where there are bans on mask mandates?



BERMAN: The spread of the Delta variant has corporate America's September office plan on hold. CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans now. This really has thrown a wrench into this.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Yes, and it's moving quickly here. October is the new September or in some cases, January is the new September. They're pushing back their return-to-office plans.

Last week, we heard from Wells Fargo, Pelton, BlackRock, and a lot of others simply delaying their planned returns. Amazon is pushing back its return to corporate offices not until next year. Of course, its fulfillment centers are bustling and have been.

But what we're hearing from managers here, be patient, be flexible. And the delay has a benefit. It gives managers more time to encourage or mandate employees be vaccinated. After months of reluctance, a growing number of companies requiring vaccinations for employees and in some cases, for clients and customers, too.

Tyson Foods wants all U.S. employees vaccinated no later than November first. Facebook and Goldman Sachs requiring vaccines to come back to the office. United Airlines now the first major U.S. carrier to require all employees must be vaccinated. And an executive tells us any employee who refuses to show proof of vaccination will be fired.

It's been months now of companies encouraging, first, and then incentivizing vaccines. Most recently, Kroger, McDonald's, Bolthouse Farms, and Vanguard offering paid time off or money to get the shot. A thousand bucks for Vanguard employees.


ROMANS: And a court win, by the way, for Norwegian Cruise Lines. In Florida, a federal just says Norwegian can require passengers show proof they have been vaccinated before they board.

And meantime, vaccinated or not, keep that mask handy, folks. Major U.S. retailers changing their plans. Depending on where you live, you may be required to mask up before walking through their doors. We're talking Walmart, Target, Costco, Home Depot, Kroger, McDonald's, Starbucks. They want you to wear a mask in high-transmission areas. So you'll need to know if that's you. That's the CDC. BERMAN: These are the businesses asking to do that.

ROMANS: They want to get back to normal and they think masks and vaccinations are the way to do that. They're also being flexible, saying amid this COVID variant, let's just give it a few more weeks to see where we are and what the numbers look like.

BERMAN: It's interesting that there are businesses saying vaccination and masks are good business.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: People need to remember that.


BERMAN: Romans, thank you very much.


KEILAR: Reopening schools and keeping students safe during a pandemic is no easy task. Reopening schools in states, certainly that ban masks, is all the more difficult.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has refused to implement statewide safety precautions, even as the weekly average of new COVID cases there reaches levels not seen since February.

Evan McMorris-Santoro is joining us now. Evan, tell us -- how are school administrators reconciling the governor's stance with this need, obviously, to keep kids safe?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, you set that up perfectly. The reality of the situation is for the past several weeks, we've been having this debate between red-state governors and the CDC of whether or not masks should be required in schools.

Well, the time for debate is over and school is right around the corner. So that means administrators and parents in these red states are having to figure out just how they're going to go about keeping their kids safe when school starts.



MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Austin Independent School District superintendent Stephanie Elizalde says she's doing everything she can to create a healthy environment.


ELIZALDE: This is an example of an outdoor classroom space.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): On Thursday, the district announced it will require masks on school buses because of federal guidance from the CDC. That's a defiant stance against the spirit of Gov. Greg Abbott's multiple executive orders banning mask mandates.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Kids will not be forced by government or by schools to wear a mask in school.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (on camera): If this executive order is not repealed in Texas, is it safe to send kids back to school in classrooms in Austin with this no-mask requirement?

ELIZALDE: It is safe. It is not as safe as it could be. So, again, as simple as the word sounds, we have to keep balancing it out.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): School starts in about a week. Elizalde is trying to make things as safe as possible. So back in school buildings this year are air filters, Plexiglas, social distancing, and grouping students in closely-monitored pods.

ELIZALDE: Spaces that have high traffic --

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): But what she really wants to do is require masks in school buildings and it's the one thing she can't do.

ELIZALDE: I have in my mind what if a child dies on my watch? How do I go say to you I'm really sorry -- we did everything we could. The governor's executive order kept me from being -- like, what does that do to a parent?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): In the face of the highly contagious Delta variant, the CDC made one change to guidance for schools this year -- universal masking. But politics are complicating the situation in at least seven states where mask mandates are banned. This could have real consequences.

In Arkansas, some schools opened and they couldn't require masks. Hundreds of students had to quarantine.

The state's governor now regrets the mask mandate he signed in April.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: Our cases were at a low point. Everything has changed now. And yes, in hindsight I wish that had not become law.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Parents sued in Arkansas to allow schools to require masks. And on Friday, a judge stopped the state from enforcing the mask ban while that case goes forward. The governor told CNN he supports the judge's ruling.

There's been no change of heart or policy in Texas.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the shirt.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): With time running out for a policy change, Nakeenya Wilson is teaching mask responsibility to her son.

WILSON: Well, he's five, right -- so we have these conversations over and over again.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Her son is headed to kindergarten. His 3-year-old sister, who is immunocompromised, is staying home.

Meanwhile, Texas is seeing a 67 percent increase in new reported coronavirus cases. So without a mask mandate, Wilson says all she can do is hope.

WILSON: They are, like, inseparable when they're home together and what he is exposed to could potentially expose her to something that could cause her to get sick.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Brianna, what's especially weird about this is that school is not going to look the same as it did before the pandemic this year, regardless of masks. When you're inside a school building now there's still distancing, there's still all the things with Plexiglas. All those things that schools had throughout the rest of this whole pandemic, they still have.

But this mask issue, which is what the CDC says is the best way to prevent Delta from spreading -- that's the one thing a lot of schools just still can't do. And they only have a couple of days left until kids come back in the buildings -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it is upon us here.

Evan, thank you for that report.

You know, there is a crisis on the border. The last time the border patrol saw this number of migrants trying to cross in a month was two decades ago.

This morning, the ed board for "The Washington Post" is demanding a coherent strategy. So, yes, President Biden has a real problem on his hands here and his critics are capitalizing on it.

Listen to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is echoing the tone of far-right extremists when it comes to immigrant reform.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: They don't come all the way across Mexico for the purpose of visiting for two days. They want to be in America.

And I think what's hard for most of us to accept is that the anti- American left would love to drown traditional classic Americans with as many people as they can who know nothing of American history, nothing of American tradition, nothing of the rule of law. And I think that when you go and you look at the radical left, this is their ideal model -- is to get rid of the rest of us because we believe in George Washington or we believe in the Constitution.


KEILAR: That is awfully close to what's known as the Great Replacement Theory -- the theory that white people are being replaced by non-white people, especially immigrants.

In recent years, it has worked into a conspiracy theory that falsely alleges Jewish people are orchestrating the entire thing. It's ridiculous.

Remember this moment from 2017 in Charlottesville.



CHARLOTTESVILLE PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!


KEILAR: That is the same theory we're talking about here, also believed by a man who allegedly killed 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, and another man who allegedly killed 23 at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019. And now, similar words from a former Speaker of the House.

Former key Trump administration officials have also been openly slamming legal immigration. Take Stephen Miller, still a senior adviser to the ex-president.


STEPHEN MILLER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The cliche is illegal immigration equals bad, legal immigration equals good. But you've all heard that cliche before. The problem with that cliche is that just because something is legal doesn't always mean it's good, right?

After five decades of record immigration, what we need is a timeout so that we can take stock of everybody who's here and those who are here lawfully.


KEILAR: And here's Steve Cortez, who advised Trump's 2020 campaign, suggesting a new form of a contract with American to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.


STEVE CORTES, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: And one of the things I would propose putting in there is a moratorium. A halt, temporarily, on even legal immigration. MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: But we need to halt the legal immigration until we can get something controlled at the southern border.


KEILAR: Again, legal immigration -- it is a process that is tough. So tough that green cards can take an average of over five years to get for immigrants sponsored by American employers or citizen family members. And that was in 2018 before COVID.

It doesn't end there. Here's how Fox's chief propagandist compared what he described as mask violence committed by undocumented immigrants in the United States to Hungary's strategy.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT": The Biden administration did this on purpose and they're still doing it. And that is exactly why Democrats become hysterical when you mention the obvious successes that are on display here in Hungary on the immigration question. They don't want you to know that there is an option to the chaos and filth and crime growing all around us.


KEILAR: Now, Hungary is run by a leader, Viktor Orban, who has put razor wire along the border to stop refugees from even trying to seek asylum. At one point, he'd kept over 100 refugees detained in border zones for over a year. It's been ruled illegal by the E.U.'s top court and that is the backdrop for that praise.

And, of course, there is more. Some conservative lawmakers and pundits -- some of the same ones arguing against masking in schools to protect unvaccinated children -- are saying COVID-19 is a problem, but only at the border.

In Texas, new coronavirus cases are on a steep climb. The seven-day average hit nearly 12,000 new cases yesterday. But they say it's not the state residents' low uptick of vaccine that's to blame. If you ask Sen. Ted Cruz, it's this.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): If you don't want to see this pandemic come back -- come back with the Delta variant or many -- most of these illegal immigrants coming in having been vaccinated. They're being put in cages with other people who are COVID-positive. They're spreading COVID and then releasing COVID in our communities. This is lunacy.


KEILAR: The Biden administration has been using a Trump administration policy known as Title 42. It means that hundreds of thousands of migrants at the southern border, including asylum seekers, can't enter because of the COVID public health emergency. Congressman Chip Roy, just a couple of weeks ago, said this.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): And here we are saying oh, we're going to have to wear masks on the floor of the House, but we're going to do nothing to stop the flow of people coming across our border. Republicans should be ashamed of their selves.

I introduced legislation for a discharge petition to require the enforcement of Title 42 so that we will turn people away at the border who have COVID rather than forcing this ridiculousness on the American people.


KEILAR: Again, the Biden administration is enforcing Title 42. In fact, since Biden took over -- took office, over 510,000 people have been expelled under that rule. That is nearly twice as many people as those who were apprehended.

And while Congressman Chip Roy is complaining about wearing masks, you know who also has to wear them -- migrants apprehended by Customs and Border Protection, according to a statement obtained by "The Washington Post." CBP and Immigration and Customs enforcement also told "The Washington Post" they do widespread testing of people who stay in custody.

And while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is blocking local governments from imposing their own mask mandates, saying that Texas is past the time of government mandates, he has imposed a different kind of mandate on state troopers, ordering them to pull over cars they deem to be possibly transporting migrants. Critics are pointing out this could lead to widespread racial profiling.


And then, there's Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis. About one in five new cases of COVID in the United States -- one in five in the country are coming out of Florida. According to DeSantis, it's because of the border with Mexico.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Joe Biden has taken to himself to try to single out Florida over COVID. This is a guy who ran for president saying he was going to, quote, "shut down the virus." And what has he done? He's imported more virus from around the world by having a wide- open southern border.

Why don't you do your job? Why don't you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don't want to hear a blip about COVID from you.


KEILAR: Now, I know you might be asking does Florida share a border with Mexico, and you'd be right -- nope. Ah, but DeSantis has an explanation for that.


DESANTIS: You have hundreds of thousands of people pouring across every month. Not only are they letting them through, they're then farming them out all across our communities across this country -- putting them on planes, putting them on buses.


KEILAR: That claim is not based in fact. There is no proof of some largescale importation of COVID-sickened migrants to Florida that could be blamed for the terrible infection numbers in DeSantis' state.

And as we noted, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are being expelled. And, Sen. Rand Paul, who just slammed the CDC for offering guidelines on safely reopening schools, is making this bizarre claim with zero evidence.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): They're taking kids from down at the border who may have it and they're plucking them up and putting them all over the United States as if they're wishing to seed the country with a new variant. It's an awful thing to do.


KEILAR: There are some in the Republican Party who insist that COVID isn't so bad -- certainly not bad enough to have kids wear masks in school, even if they're too young to be vaccinated. But actually, it is bad -- they say very bad. A threat, in fact, if it's undocumented immigrants bringing it into the country. And again, no evidence that they're responsible for the COVID surge in U.S. communities.

It is the centuries-old trope of demonizing foreign people as diseased. The 'are not' on that virus is sky-high and these conservative voices know that. They're the vectors here infecting Americans they profess to care about with misinformation. And the rising case numbers, the lagging vaccination numbers are proof of that.

BERMAN: And also, Gov. Ron DeSantis, we'd love to hear a blip from you about the record hospitalizations in Florida and what you intend to do to get those numbers down as they keep on rising.

KEILAR: Yes. A lot of his policies right now are not -- you know, they're not discouraging those numbers and it seems like he's looking for a scapegoat. But it's -- like I said, it's a trope, you know, and it's a dangerous one at that.

Time is running out. A shocking new report just released into the state of the world and what lies ahead because of the climate crisis.