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Dem-Linked Lawyer Indicted for Lying; Virginia Candidates Spar over Mandates; Controversy over New Milley Revelation. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 17, 2021 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The special counsel appointed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the investigators of the Russia investigation issued a new indictment. Now, a reminder, that this investigation has actually been going on longer than the Mueller investigation itself.

Now, cyber security lawyer Michael Sussmann, whose firm represented Hillary Clinton's campaign, is being charged with lying to the FBI.

Joining me now, CNN anchor of "EARLY START," also covered the Justice Department and an accomplished lawyer, Laura Jarrett is here. And CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin here as well.

Laura, first, I -- in a second we're going to talk about what this indictment kind of isn't. But, first, just explain what it is and what is alleged to have happened here.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CO-ANCHOR, "EARLY START": So, I think it's fair to categorize this as a speaking indictment. And what I mean by that is that is that it has a story to tell. Durham has a story to tell. But it's very, very different from the narrow false statement charge that Michael Sussmann is being charged with here.

So, as you mentioned, he's a lawyer at Perkins. He goes to the former general counsel of the FBI, Jim Baker, has some information about a potential connection between a Russian-backed bank, Alfa Bank, and a Trump email server. Never mind that that whole thing turns out to pan to nothing. But he goes to Baker with this information.

Baker's recollection is that Sussmann did not represent that he was coming there on behalf of any client. Problem for Sussmann is that his billing entries have Clinton Foundation or general political advice. So that's a problem for him because he's now been charged with lying to the FBI.

That's a crime. You can go to jail for that. People have gone to jail for that.

Big picture, though, this falls short of the promise of the Durham investigation. All along we had been told that this was going to be some massive, explosive, deep state conspiracy. That is not this. It is still an indictment. It is still serious for Sussmann. He's had to resign from his firm because of this. But it is a far cry from what the former president and the former attorney general cooked up for this investigation.

BERMAN: Just to show people what you're talking about here -- and, again, I don't want to diminish lying to the FBI --

JARRETT: Of course not.

BERMAN: If he is convicted of that --


BERMAN: Because as we said all along, that's not just a process crime, it's a crime.


BERMAN: But this was supposed to be, according to many, including the former president and people on conservative media, the biggest thing ever.



SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: John Durham is now very strongly hinting the origins of the Russia probe weren't just rot with inaccuracies and errors but instead down right unlawful.

This is a preview of coming attractions.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: Bottom line is that the forthcoming Durham report, which the attorney general has been assisting him on, is far more comprehensive in scope.

We're going to learn, I think, a lot more in the coming months.

BILL BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: So it's a much broader investigation. And, also, he's not just looking at the FISA aspect of it, he is looking at all the conduct, both before and after the election.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: But the John Durham investigation is a very important -- I feel one of the most important investigations in the history of our country.


BERMAN: So, Jeffrey Toobin, no indictments, no charges for the launching of the investigation itself, which is why this even happened. And, again, this has been going on longer than the Mueller investigation itself and it's about to wrap up, we understand. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and -- and if we can

just also -- I mean I think Counselor Jarrett gave a very accurate description of the charges here. But, if I can just add how weird this case is and how unusual even this case is.


I mean, first of all, Sussmann isn't charged with lying to an FBI agent. He's charged with voluntarily going to a lawyer at the FBI, the top lawyer, Jim Baker, and describing what might be a crime and saying you should look into this. In that conversation, he says, I'm not representing a client generally, I -- specifically, I'm just sort of reporting this. That's what's alleged.

There are no notes of this conversation. There is -- this is a five- year-old conversation. And in Baker's report to his colleague, the colleague writes down, as everyone knows that Sussmann's firm represents the Clinton campaign.


TOOBIN: So there was no mystery about who Sussmann was or where Sussmann was coming from. So the idea that this is some, you know, lie that changed the FBI and changed their investigation just seems deeply bizarre to me, if this statement was ever said at all, because there are no notes. There's no one present there other than the two lawyers and it was almost exactly five years ago because the statute of limitations is going to run out in a couple days. That's why this case was brought today.

So, I mean, not only did the Durham investigation labor mightily and brought forth a mouse, this isn't much of a mouse. I don't know what this case is.

JARRETT: And just to add to your point, Jeffrey, what strikes me so much is that Trump and his allies have been talking about James Baker being part of this alleged cabal at the FBI, which we all know was not founded in any fact at all, but that was their theory. And now Durham's entire case rests on Jim Baker being truthful, right? If Jim Baker's recollection actually falls apart on this or it wasn't as sound as Durham paints it to be, then the whole case, to me, falls apart.

BERMAN: But, Jeffrey, just -- just on --

TOOBIN: A hundred percent.

BERMAN: Jeffrey, on the bigger picture, though, just address the bigger picture here, which is, again, you know, you heard the people on Fox talking about this blowing up everything. I mean what were the deliverables here compared to what was alleged or promised?

TOOBIN: Right. It's important to remember that -- that's right. That's right, Berman. I mean the idea that the former president and his -- and his allies have been pushing is that there was something corrupt about the Russia investigation from the beginning, that there never was a legitimate investigation about whether the former president and his campaign were in cahoots with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

What Robert Mueller found, as people may recall, was that there were extensive contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign, just nothing that rose to the level of a criminal offense he could charge. But certainly there is nothing that Durham has found so far that suggests there was anything improper about this FBI investigation at all. And that was what was supposed to be at the heart of this investigation. And so far at least, and this has been years, as Laura pointed out, nothing has been shown to be improper that the FBI did.

BERMAN: And it's not for lack of looking. As I said, it's longer than the Mueller investigation itself at this point.

Jeffrey Toobin, Laura Jarrett, thank you both very much.

Speaking of investigations, new CNN reporting on the Georgia probe into Donald Trump's effort to steal the election.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, the race for Virginia governor could be a race between vaccine mandates and no vaccine mandates. See what happened in a fiery debate last night.



KEILAR: After Gavin Newsom batted down efforts to oust him from the governor's office in California, the political spotlight is now on Virginia where Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is running for his second stint as leader of the commonwealth, is debating Republican Glenn Youngkin. That's something that happened last night. It's clear that vaccine mandates are very much on the ballot here.

And we have CNN's Dan Merica joining us with more.

It's interesting because COVID, Dan, was a big factor in California, and here we see it playing out again in Virginia.

DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it was pretty easy to tell that the most salient issue in this debate was COVID. It was the first question. And it was returned to over and over and over again. And it really did, you know, show a very vast difference between McAuliffe, who is advocating for vaccine mandates, and Youngkin, who has said it's a personal choice.

Actually, take a listen to what -- how they both frame their positions.


TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: So I am for requiring mandate vaccinations. He's not. He likes to do PSAs. PSAs aren't going to get you anything. I want everybody to be vaccinated here in the commonwealth of Virginia.

GLENN YOUNGKIN (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: And here we go again. My opponent wants to mandate. I respect your ability to make decisions because that's what leaders do.


MERICA: I mean at one point McAuliffe even told Youngkin that half of Virginia wouldn't know who he was if he did a PSA for a vaccine.

And this is -- you're right, this is all about, you know, Newsom won his recall race, in large party by running on strict, aggressive COVID measures, and Democrats have taken that as a lesson, a lesson learned that not only can you, you know, put in place strong COVID measures, but also it's good politics and it helps to frame the debate against Republicans who, in large measure, are fighting vaccine mandate and are saying it's a personal choice.

We're going to see them debate again. We expect this to come up. And polling backs up what McAuliffe's position is as well. Polling shows that Americans are far more open now than they were previously to vaccine mandates, Brianna.


KEILAR: He doesn't have the Democratic registration advantage that Gavin Newsom had.

MERICA: He does not.

KEILAR: But, still, he clearly thinks this is the way to go.

MERICA: I mean the huge voter base in Virginia is in northern Virginia. And while there are vast differences between northern Virginia and places in California, you really can see a similarity between Democrats being -- wanting someone who is strong and aggressive on vaccines and feeling that someone who isn't is a liability for the state.

KEILAR: Yes. All right, we'll be tracking this. It's going to be an interesting race.

MERICA: Right.

KEILAR: Dan, great to see you this morning.

Still ahead, new details on what former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan really thought of President Trump after the 2016 election.

BERMAN: An uproar after a Pennsylvania school district banned books on equality and CNN's town hall on racism.



BERMAN: New fallout from the book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, which detailed how Joints Chief Chairman General Mark Milley made calls to his Chinese counterpart, fearful that Trump's actions could lead to a war with China. The White House is defending Milley, while Republicans are calling for him to resign, even calling his actions treasonous.

We're joined this morning by CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" columnist Josh Rogin, who writes, when proper context is added to the Milley calls, the picture that emerges is not of a brave military officer saving the country from a crazy president hellbent on starting a World War, it's more mundane but all too common Washington story of powerful men with big egos who can't get along causing government dysfunction and diplomatic confusion. Milley's offense was not treason, it was hubris.

Josh Rogin joins us now.

I should note, he's also the author of "Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the battle for the 21st Century."

Josh, a lot there. Can I actually back up for a second here because you say a lot in this new column in "The Washington Post."


BERMAN: And one of the things you do note, and I think it's important for people to realize, is you say Milley wasn't like freelancing here. This was -- this was a coordinated effort. What do you mean?

ROGIN: Right. Well, every Washington story has like three versions, the leak, the rebuttal and then the truth, right? So we're now, with a lot of reporting from a lot of different outlets, finding out what was really going on with these phone calls between Mark Milley and his Chinese counterpart. And as it turns out, it wasn't really Mark Milley's idea in the first place. It was a decision by his boss, at that time Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who saw U.S./China relations getting really tense and decided that he needed to send a signal to the Chinese to cool down tensions.

Now, Milley was following his lead. And that doesn't speak to exactly what Milley said, whether we warned the Chinese that we were going to attack. I think that's something Milley will have to address himself when he testifies before Congress next week.

But the point is, this was not Mark Milley, you know, saving the Republic from a nuclear attack coming from Donald Trump on China. That's not what happened. What happened was that the Pentagon and the White House weren't talking to each other. And that the head of the Pentagon, Mark Esper, decided to do something on China by himself and Mark Milley was following that. That's a less sexy story, but it has the added benefit of being the truth.

KEILAR: You say Milley wasn't freelancing, but you make it pretty clear that DOD was kind of freelancing here, right, that they're -- you talk about there had been a breakdown in communications following the Lafayette Square situation, breakdown in coms between DOD and the White House. And, furthermore, that it wasn't even clear, as your reporting shows, that China was actually really concerned the U.S. would take military action.

ROGIN: Right. Right. First of all, there's no evidence that Donald Trump was about to nuke

China, right? There was some crazy stuff going on at the White House. The My Pillow guy and Rudy were trying to convince him that the machines were hacked. But that's different from saying Donald Trump was planning to attack China. There's no evidence for that. But what Milley and Esper were doing, they were saying, well, it's getting a little hot in here, let's turn down the temperature.

Now, the reason the White House guys, especially the Trump people, were shocked by this is because they didn't know. Milley and Esper didn't tell the White House, which in any normal world you would tell the White House. You would coordinate. But they weren't talking to each other because they hated each other because Milley and Esper and the White House guys were not on speaking terms, OK. So that's not to say that, you know, one was right and one was wrong, they just didn't talk to each other and that's why there was so much confusion. And that confusion spilled into our foreign policy.

So what are the Chinese supposed to think? Are they supposed to listen to Esper and Milley, are they supposed to listen to Robert O'Brien and Mike Pompeo? And, meanwhile, they're sending a signal to us that they're worried about our aggression. But they could have been doing that to screw with us because that's what -- how they act, you know? Maybe they were saying, hey, we think Trump's going to attack because they wanted to see what -- how we would react and they got two different reactions, one from Pompeo and O'Brien and a different one from Esper and Milley. That's not a conspiracy, that's a mess. That's our foreign policy in a mess. And that reflects the mess that was going on inside of our government and that's what was really happening at end of the Trump administration.

BERMAN: So you say hubris not treason. Why?

ROGIN: Right.

Yes, so I think if you read, of course, this book "Peril," by my "Post" colleagues, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, it hasn't come out yet, but if you look at all of the books, it's pretty clear that Mark Milley, our Joint Chiefs chairman, was engaged in a series of interactions with foreign officials, with members of Congress, members of the intelligence community, to warn all of them that he was going to save the republic from what he thought might be a military coup.

Now, you know, first of all, it's -- again, it's not clear that -- I don't see any steps that Trump actually took to perpetrate an attack on China or some sort of military coup. That's not to say there wasn't other shenanigans going on. But there was a distinct feeling inside the Trump administration that Mark Milley was taking it upon himself to be the guardrails of our republic when actually that's not his job. Actually, in America, we place our faith in institutions, not individuals, you know, and we -- and those institutions did hold and there was no military coup. But now everyone's leaking to reporters who are writing a bunch of books because they want to shape their legacy.

[06:55:07] And, you know, the truth is different than one person's telling of their legacy. The truth is complicated and it's messy and they're -- nobody's 100 percent good or 100 percent bad. But now Mark Milley, because of all of these books, painting him as the hero of the Republicans, turned out to be a very controversial figure who's still in charge of the Joint Chiefs. And that's a problem not just for the last administration, but even for this one, because when generals get too political and too powerful, that's never a good thing.

KEILAR: Josh Rogin, thank you so much for talking with us about your very interesting column today.

Security is ramping up in the nation's capital. Officials on alert for potential violence today ahead of tomorrow's Justice for January 6th protest rally.

BERMAN: Plus, one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump says he's out. Not running for re-election. One of the big reasons, concerns -- safety concerns for himself and his family.



BERMAN: Welcome to our viewers in the United States.