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Trump, GOP Push Baseless Claims of Fraud before Results; Threats against Officials, New Laws may Destabilize Elections. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2021 - 07:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether or not you win or lose, will you accept the results of the election tomorrow?

LARRY ELDER (R), CALIFORNIA SPECIAL ELECTION GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I think we all ought to be looking at election integrity.

We have lawyers all set up, all ready to go to file lawsuits in a timely fashion.


BERMAN: Donald Trump, a veteran liar on election results, put out a statement again before the polls are even closed in California saying somehow it's rigged. Again, if you lose, it must be rigged, he's saying, actively undermining the foundations of democracy.

What is the impact of this, you might ask? Well, there's a rally planned for this Saturday in support of the January 6th insurrectionists, right here in Washington at the Capitol. A source tells CNN that law enforcement is preparing for some protesters to be armed. New security fencing is set to go back up.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: So, this is a dangerous and pivotal point in American history. Trump not only insisted he won in 2020, lies made millions of Americans doubt the U.S. election system. He relentlessly pressured local election officials and the Department of Justice to help reverse the results of the election, and when that did not work, his supporters turned to changing voting laws across the country.

BERMAN: All right. To talk about how dangerous this is, again, for the foundation of the democracy, you have to look at the entire scope of actions here by the former president, his inner circle and also Republican politicians who are believers in these lies.

Here's CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: John, CNN spoke to more than a dozen state and county officials involved in elections for this special report, many of them Republicans themselves, they all expressed concerns about the future of the United States, that Donald Trump's big lie could change this nation forever.


GRIFFIN (voice over): Donald Trump's attempt to subvert the election started long before anyone voted --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We're not going to lose this, except if they cheat.

GRIFFIN: -- continued on election night.

TRUMP: We want all voting to stop.

GRIFFIN: Sparked and attempted insurrection.

TRUMP: We fight like hell.

GRIFFIN: As disgraceful as Trump's public words were, behind the scenes, Trump and his inner circle were using all the powers of the presidential office to cheat, not to stop the steal, but to start it.

RICHARD L. HASEN, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE: It was an attempt to undermine the will of the people. It was profoundly anti-democratic, and potentially criminal.

GRIFFIN: The 45th president of the United States tried to coerce the Department of Justice to lie on his behalf while also strong arming state and local election officials to overthrow the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no question that our democracy is at a breaking point.

GRIFFIN: In the weeks following the election, Trump and his inner circle would wage a high pressure campaign.

TRUMP (voice over): Hello, Frances, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Brad and Ryan and everybody.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY (voice over): Bill, it's Rudy Giuliani.

GRIFFIN: At least 30 contacts between Trump and Republican officials in crucial states, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the White House operator.

CLINT L. HICKMAN, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: I was out to dinner with friends, and a phone call came in from Washington, D.C. of a number I did not recognize.

GRIFFIN: Clint Hickman, a Trump supporter who was then the chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors couldn't believe it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was calling to let you know that the president is available to take your call if you're free.

GRIFFIN: Hickman let the call go to voice mail. Days later, the White House operator called back. Hickman, again, refused to pick it up.

HICKMAN: Obviously, I thought it was going to be something to do about election and operations and I was not prepared to talk about that. The governor of Arizona had already certified it, the attorney general of Arizona, the secretary of state had certify it.

GRIFFIN: Records now revealed dozens of text messages and multiple phone calls from the White House, from Rudy Giuliani, and also the head of Arizona's Republican Party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just talked to President Trump and he would like me to talk to you.

GRIFFIN: Trying to put pressure on the Maricopa County Republican supervisors to intervene in a free and fair election that Joe Biden won. Supervisor Bill Gates believes it was an attack on the Constitution.

BILL GATES, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: I saw that a voice mail had popped up. It was just unbelievable to hear, you know, instantly I knew who it was. I knew that voice, you know, Rudy Giuliani, America's mayor.

GIULIANI (voice over): Bill, it's Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's lawyer. I have a few things I would like to talk over with you. Maybe we can get this thing fixed up.

GRIFFIN: The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors had just received this subpoena demanding election officials hand over millions of ballots to state Republican politicians who were launching fraud investigations.

GATES: He wanted us to turn over the ballots as soon as possible, so that the state senate could get to work.

GRIFFIN: Get to work doing?

GATES: One of the objectives was to get their hands on the ballot before the January 6th hearing in the Capitol.


They wanted evidence to support decertifying the election.

GRIFFIN: It's Constitution be damned, really?

GATES: Right. One of the main reasons I became Republican in 1980s was I thought the because I thought the Republican Party was the party of the rule of law, the party of the Constitution.

GRIFFIN: In Michigan, a Wayne County Republican official voted to certify the election, then changed her mind after a call from Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have provided them with a copy of my affidavit rescinding my vote.

GRIFFIN: In Georgia, Trump not only called the state's top elections investigator --

TRUMP (voice over): But whatever you can do, Frances.

GRIFFIN: -- but in what now is being investigated as a possible crime. Trump tried to convince Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to change the vote count.

TRUMP (voice over): And there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you've recalculated.

HASEN: It seems clearer and clearer that Trump was actually trying to steal the election. He was actually trying to create conditions where he would be declared the winner even though he actually lost the election. It is incredibly dangerous and destabilizing.

GRIFFIN: And perhaps most dangerous of all, President Trump even tried to use the United States Department of Justice to pull off his attempted coup. In the notes of a December 27 phone call now handed over to congressional investigators, Trump told his acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, just say that the election was corrupt, leave the rest to me and the R congressmen. Both men refused Trump's request, and both have testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Senator Dick Durbin.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What was the most shocking to you?

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.

GRIFFIN: Trump tried to pressure Rosen to file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court, to declare that the Electoral College votes cast cannot be counted. His chief of staff was repeatedly emailing top DOJ officials at least five times asking they investigate conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

MATT MASTERSON, FORMER SENIOR CYBERSECURITY ADVISER/CISA: It's an attempt to use the Department of Justice in order to influence the election that's run at the state and local level. So, it's dangerous, it's inappropriate and it should be unacceptable.

GRIFFIN: And Trump had been secretly working with someone inside the Department of Justice. An official from the environmental division named Jeffrey Clark who was pushing allegations of voter fraud despite all the evidence against it. Clark urged his bosses to sign a letter to Georgia's governor containing a lie. It falsely claimed the Justice Department identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election and advised the governor to convene in special session. Acting Attorney General Rosen and the deputy A.G. Donoghue said no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The country came very close to a coup.

GRIFFIN: It was the violence of the insurrection on January 6th that finally ended Trump's plans to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president. Yet, with no proof, with no facts, with no evidence at all that fraud played any role in his defeat, Trump has convinced his base of support that the electoral system of the United States is corrupt.

Former Republican New Jersey Oregon Christine Todd Whitman, who started a group to safeguard U.S. democracy, says this is a threat to the country.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, CO-FOUNDER, STATES UNITED DEMOCRACY CENTER: Abraham Lincoln said if this government falls, it will fall from within, and we have to remember those things because it can. It could happen.


GRIFFIN: One thing that Bill Gates, that Maricopa County supervisor told me, is that if it weren't for Republicans willing to risk their careers for standing up for what's right, there might have been a very different outcome, and some of those elections officials are dealing with threats to their very lives. John?

BERMAN: Drew Griffin, thank you very much for that report. It really is remarkable when you lay it out all like that in such vivid detail.

Joining us now, CNN Anchor and Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt, and former Trump White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah, who, we should note, that left largely because of the election lie that people in the administration was spewing at the time.

Kasie, I want to start with you. It's important what Drew laid out, not just as a matter of history to understand what happened and how close this country came to imminent disaster but also because it's not over, because there's a California recall election today and people are already (INAUDIBLE). Donald Trump and Larry Elder and others are already saying it's rigged before the results are in. It matters now because there's a protest planned for Saturday in defense of the January 6th insurrectionists. It's still happening.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Our entire system of government is predicated on all of us, on all sides of the aisle with a variety of political beliefs, buying into the idea that we can have a system where we elect people, and we all agree afterward that those chosen people are the ones who actually are in charge and who have power.


And former President Trump started doing this sort of thing immediately as he got into office, raising questions about reporting about him on a variety of fronts and it is really stunning to see it all laid out that way. It was just laid out.

And I just have to say, those local election officials, they are heroes, quite frankly, for being willing to stand up and say, absolutely not, are you going to mess with something that I know is credible, that I know is true, and Alyssa, I know, her boss was in the Capitol -- her boss was in the Capitol during that insurrection and the former president was so committed to this lie that he was willing to literally jeopardize the safety and security of Mike Pence, his vice president, and that, I think is something that, you know, the Republican Party is obviously still grappling with it, they're still this the throes of it, and we're going to see more of it when we start covering these recall returns coming in.

KEILAR: And so what is the answer to looking at what happened and the election being undermined, the logical answer? What members of Congress should have done on both sides of the aisle was to see the danger that that posed, but that's not what you see happening. This continues to be perpetuated.

You mentioned the local election officials. Some of them have been neutered by these voting laws, right? So the lesson was exactly the reverse. It seemed to be for Republicans that actually, hey, this may work for us. And when you ask Republicans in the most recent SSRS poll how important is believing Trump won 2020 to being a Republican, very important or somewhat important? 59 percent, so six in ten, as Berman often says, this is now foundational to the GOP. How problematic is that?

ALYSSA FARAH, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It's extremely problematic. And I think we can assume going in to both 2022 and 2024, it's more or less going to be a litmus test. And you see some of the folks who are running, they're all ready. The president -- the former president, I should say, is endorsing against people who voted for impeachment or who did not uphold the myth, so he's endorsing against Fred Upton, for example, in Michigan, in favor of somebody who wants to carry on this lie.

And I hate to put it in politically crass terms, but for the 2022 majority, which we think is going to go to Republicans, that's what the political calculus -- in the House, I should say, you have to say, Republicans, what do you want that majority to look like, because you're going to be electing a lot of people, if we go with the Trump endorsees, who are supporting the big lie.

And I have been trying to ring the alarm over this for quite some time, that now is the time to speak up. Let's put this behind us, let's acknowledge the election was lost and not carry on this myth that you're seeing it with Larry Elder. And he didn't even mention this past week, President Trump said that the election might still be decertified. That's a terrifying reality.

And you can almost follow statements like that followed by actions that happen, and I'm concerned about September 18th. I'm glad the Capitol is taking precautions, and hopefully that won't be anything like January 6th, but it's scary. BERMAN: What's it like -- we were all watching together Drew's piece, piecing together what happened. You were there for part of it, not all of it, because you left. I mean, you had had enough. What's it like to see that now?

FARAH: Well, listen, it's odd. I have worked in politics for a long time. Losing is part of politics. Winning is part of politics. And to Kasie's point, it's foundational to our democracy that we just accept it when we lose. We came up short. We knew that we didn't win. So to kind of say this last minute scramble, most of which was after I was left, is it's beneath who we are as a country, and it's going to have repercussions. I think that we can expect that, going forward, it's not just going to be Donald Trump. It's going to be whoever the next iteration of him is that is going to say they didn't lose. It was stolen. It was rigged. And people believe it. That's the scary point.

HUNT: Right. I mean, and that's the challenge. Adam Kinzinger is one of two members of Congress, Republicans, who are still willing to speak out, the other being Liz Cheney. And the point he makes over and over again is that leaders have to stand up and lead. And what has happened is that Republicans, and this poll shows this very clearly, are consuming information that's being driven, misinformation, disinformation by former President Donald Trump.

And Republicans, this number, this 59 percent who believe Trump won in 2020 is why Republicans are so afraid that they cannot win a primary if they don't buy into this. But they're not willing to stand up and say, no, this isn't true. They're not willing to go in there and actually do it day in and day out. They're willing to lead.

And Kinzinger would go home. His district is going to be eliminated. It's a swing district. There are a lot of Democrats there. It's a different kind of landscape than some other Republicans face. But he says, look, my colleagues are not willing to do this.


They're not willing to actually do what it takes to step up and to lead. And if we don't have Republicans doing that, all they're left with is this disinformation that's being driven by the former president.

KEILAR: I was speak to go one member of Congress who raised concerns with a colleague who he considered to be a trustworthy Republican partner but who was buying into the big lie at least publicly. And that member of Congress said, do you want someone besides me? This is what I was told, do you want someone besides me, do you want someone who actually really believes the big lie who isn't essentially just trumpeting it? What does that say to you?

HUNT: I mean, it is -- it feels cowardly on the one hand, on the other hand, there's some -- potentially some truth to it because of the way that these districts are drawn. If there is someone who is in a more moderate lane of Fred Upton, for example, in Michigan, who decides that they're going to actually stand, and then their own voters throw them out, the Republican nominee is someone else. Now, that's a swing district a Democrat might, in fact, win there. But there are other places where that's simply not the case, where it's always going to be held by a Republican, and that potentially pushes it off the edge.

But there is, I think, a certain level of cowardice associated with doing it that way. I mean, it's essentially choosing winning over principle. And you saw some Republicans during the Trump administration step up in the middle and try to criticize him, and they fell one by one, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, the list kind of goes on, and we're left here.

And I think, too, for me watching all of this, the question was always like, oh, our system is going to hold, it's going to be fine, we're listening to this entertainer who's out there essentially entertaining America, and then I was at the Capitol January 6th and it all became extraordinarily real. And I think the more we learn about that, the luckier we realize we are. It could have been so much worse than it actually was. And here we are facing another potential incident like this on Saturday as a man is arrested with white supremacist symbols and weapons in a truck outside the Democratic National Committee down the street from the Capitol. I mean, when you line all of those facts up, it's astonishing that this is America today.

KEILAR: Trump rewrote the game and we don't know how it's going to end. I think that's really the fact.

BERMAN: Again, it's not history. It's now. I mean, it's today with the California recall. It's Saturday at this protest on the Capitol. It's happening before our eyes.

HUNT: It's 2022. It's 2024. I mean, it is very difficult to see how we get out of this and navigate successfully.

FARAH: Well, in looking at 2024, I can expect that on a debate stage, if anyone decides to challenge President Trump who I think we can all agree is running again, I could imagine this is a raise your hand moment, was Biden elected and a guarantee that a lot of the folks running are not going to be willing to admit it. So that's going to be what I'm watching for, who are the Republicans who actually have courage to say, of course, we lost the election, let's try to win legitimately this time.

HUNT: Maybe Chris Christie, we were talking about that earlier. He was willing to say that a little bit this week but --

BERMAN: Except not say Trump's name. Say my name.

KEILAR: Also don't do debate prep with him. But, nonetheless, Alyssa, Kasie, thank you so much to both of you.

Donald Trump's lies have convinced so many people, we've just been talking about this, that there was major voting fraud. Election officials across the country have been threatened, they have been harassed just for doing their jobs. Listen to this voice mail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You rigged my (BLEEP) election you (BLEEP) piece of (BLEEP). We're going to try you and we're going to hang you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're coming for you Claire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really sincerely hope you get what's coming to you, you fraudulent (BLEEP).


KEILAR: It's frightening. It's real. You'll hear from some who face threats like that, next.

BERMAN: Plus, vaccine scientists debating the need for booster shots for the general population.



BERMAN: One of the dangerous consequences of the big lie, of the 2020 election, is that tens of millions of Americans believe it. They mistakenly believe that Trump won the 2020 election, some of them threatening violence against election officials for just doing their jobs.

Once again, here's CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin.

GRIFFIN: John, there are two things happening all across the country and at an alarming rate. Both are dangerous to democracy, threats against elections officials, which are causing some to quit, and laws in more than a dozen states that change the rules on voting.

We have to warn you, some of the language you're about to hear is very graphic.


GRIFFIN (voice over): In Milwaukee, Elections Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg has been bombarded by hate ever since an extremist right wing web site, Gateway Pundit, published lies about her.

You rigged my fucking election, you fucking piece of hit, we're going to try you and hang you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You rigged my fucking election you fucking piece of shit. We're going to try you and we're going to hang you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're coming for you Claire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really sincerely hope you get what's coming to you, you fraudulent fuck.

GRIFFIN: What was your immediate reaction to what on that machine? CLAIRE WOODALL-VOGG, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MILWAUKEE ELECTION COMMISSION: It's frightening because there are crazy people out there. And while it might just be them blowing off steam, I think it's clear that they believe it. And I think only someone who truly believed it would act on it.

GRIFFIN: How many threats do you think you have gotten?

WOODALL-VOGG: I think over 150.

GRIFFIN: 150 threats?

WOODALL-VOGG: Yes. I received a letter, very colorful language to my home, which did make me very frightened in that I have a three-month- old and a four-year-old to think about, and all because I did my job, and made sure that all of the city of Milwaukee's ballots were counted.

GRIFFIN: What did that letter say?

WOODALL-VOGG: Am I allowed to tell you the swear words on camera?


WOODALL-VOGG: It said, you are a fraudulent (BLEEP).


A lot of the emails (BLEEP) bitch, a whore. The common thread was that no one also has any respect for women in the world.

GRIFFIN: What happened in Milwaukee is happening all across the country. In Phoenix, Republican Bill Gates and his fellow supervisors faced their own threats every single day.

GATES: Just last Friday, my colleagues and I all were treated to an orange jump suit that a gentleman sent to us, and, you know, declared that we will end up in jail someday because we are traitors in the minds of these people.

GRIFFIN: This could lead to a damaging loss of experienced professionals who know how to conduct elections. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice found one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job. Matt Masterson was the lead cyber security adviser for the Department of Homeland Security in the 2020 election and says it's all creating an alarming situation.

MASTERSON: Local election officials are going to leave and then that opens the door to adding less professional, more political actors into the election space, which, again, is incredibly dangerous.

Woodall-Vogg says she's staying but she closed the elections office until she can beef up security.

WOODALL-VOGG: And so it made me really concerned how powerful conspiracy theories have become that my job would become dangerous, that election administrator now in our very well established democracy has lots of checks and balances is now a dangerous profession.

GRIFFIN: The danger isn't just the obvious threat of violence but the threat to democracy. Experts say Donald Trump and his Republican allies have injected enough doubt into the election process to threaten its stability.

HASEN: It's going to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. He is undermining the system in a way that is going to cause the system to deteriorate.

GRIFFIN: Some Republicans are also undermining the system with new unnecessary legislation. Across the United States, Republican state lawmakers are passing law after law aimed at fixing a problem that does not exist, mass voter fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bill, I'll say it one more time will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Easy to vote, and hard to cheat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Arizona, we want to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat.

GRIFFIN: At least 18 states have enacted 31 laws with new restrictions on voting methods since the beginning of the year. The most concerning are being called election subversion laws, impacting how elections are run and who's in charge.

WHITMAN: They didn't like the fact that they lost those states, and so now they're rewriting the rules for the future, but they're doing it in a way that will make it extremely problematic because they make it very partisan.

GRIFFIN: Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, is part of a group working to safeguard U.S. democracy.

WHITMAN: What you have with local official secretaries of state and others are people who are trained to oversee elections. That is their job to do that. Now, what you see in the states like Texas, Arizona, Georgia, is they are starting to pull it back and put it in the hands of legislatures, the political legislatures.

GRIFFIN: Case in point, Georgia's Election Integrity Act of 2021, 98 pages long. It was signed into law in March by Governor Brian Kemp repeating that Republican mantra.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bill makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat.

GRIFFIN: Among its provisions, it strips power from the Georgia secretary of state and allows lawmakers to intervene in how counties administer and count the vote.

It sounds like it makes it easier for the politicians to cheat.

TONNIE ADAMS, HEARD COUNTY, GEORGIA ELECTION SUPERVISOR: You could have that perception. You're going to have your I.D. with you.

GRIFFIN: Tonnie Adams is Heard County, Georgia's elections supervisor.

ADAMS: I believe it's a massive power grab. The secretary of state has been removed as a voting member of the state election board.

GRIFFIN: Basically tossing the secretary of state aside for a political person?

ADAMS: Exactly.

GRIFFIN: in Arizona, Republican legislators have made their power grab blatant, passing a law that strips some election oversight powers from the Arizona secretary of state, currently a Democrat, and gives them to the Arizona attorney general, currently a Republican. It expires in less than two years, making sure it's a Republican who oversees any disputes in the important midterm elections. Gates says his party's big lie about vote fraud is getting way out of hand.

GATES: I'm worried about the people who look at this now, they have listened to their leaders, their Republican leaders, and they are now convinced that our system is corrupt, that there's this large conspiracy. And we have yet to see many Republicans speak out, and tell people, no, the election was fair. It's time to move on. Enough is enough.

GRIFFIN: In Texas, which Trump won, Republican legislators passed law that bans drive through and 24-hour voting favored in heavily minority Houston, and creates new hurdles for --