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Former President Trump Requests Texas Governor Greg Abbott Conduct Audit of 2020 Presidential Votes; House Committee on January 6th Insurrection Subpoenas Former Adviser to President Trump Steve Bannon. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 24, 2021 - 08:00   ET



DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": That this isn't about that for them. This is about showing fealty to the ongoing leader of the Republican Party, which is Donald Trump. And the core argument that the Republican Party is making right now concerning the 2020 election is that there need to be a lot more audits, especially in super conservative states like Texas.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Why, though, in Texas, does President Trump, former President Trump, want audits when he won Texas?

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don't know. Do you know? It doesn't make any sense at all.

KEILAR: I thought you knew more than me, Kasie. That's why I have you here. I don't know, really.


HUNT: No, it's completely -- I feel like we've spent four years trying to explain why the former president was doing what he was doing, and at the end of the day, it just seems like he wants to get people to follow him. And I think that there is some of that going on here. I think that this broader campaign, too, is part of an attempt to undermine the system regardless of whether the outcome was what the former president actually wanted. But it is -- it is head scratching.

KEILAR: When you look at Arizona, do you think that state Senate Republicans are going to try to spin this? What is going to come out of this, quote-unquote, announcement today?

STRAUSS: I wouldn't be surprised if they spin this. This is a conservative state legislature, too.


STRAUSS: They're the ones who have to get creative here, right? But, again, this is about, if you're a state Republican lawmaker, this has turned into a test of whether you're loyal to Donald Trump, not what the results show. And so that is what the real question they're going to be thinking about is. And the same in Texas. Let's not forget that Greg Abbott faces

reelection soon, and he has primary challenges. What he needs to do, he's been accused in the past of being a little squishy. A lot of what Abbott has done lately have been things that the Republican base, the very conservative base, and Donald Trump approve of. Another audit there is something that Abbott can say he went along with as he goes into reelection.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hang on for one second here. We have got Sara Murray who has got some reporting on this Texas move overnight. Sara, tell us what's going on here.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, essentially, the Texas secretary of state's office, which is interesting because there is no secretary of state in Texas at the moment, so it was the office that sort of sent out this press release, saying we're going to start a forensic audit. In fact, it's already underway in four of these counties. Three of them are counties that Biden won in 2020, one is a county that Trump won.

And of course, this comes just a day after the former president sent a pretty lengthy letter to Governor Abbott. And what Trump was actually asking for, he wanted a forensic audit, but he wanted the legislature to take up a bill calling for a forensic audit in the special session. It seems like Governor Greg Abbott did one better in kind of pushing this forward.

Here is a portion of the letter that Donald Trump wrote to the Texas governor. He calls for a forensic audit and says "We're quickly running out of time, and it must be done this week. Texans know voting fraud occurred in this of their counties. Let's get to the bottom of the 2020 presidential election scam."

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. I feel like we should say that again. The Texas secretary of state, an official there, after the 2020 election, said the elections were safe and secure. But that has not stopped the former president from throwing temper tantrums about this. And we're seeing Republicans take this up, not just in Texas. We're seeing them do it in Pennsylvania. We're seeing them do it in Wisconsin and, of course, you guys are following everything going out of Arizona. So it seems like this is snowballing.

BERMAN: Sara, such a good point there. And Daniel Strauss and Kasie Hunt still here with us.

Guys, look, I think if this is covered as if the cyber ninjas somehow affirmed or confirmed Joe Biden's victory, we're doing it wrong. And that's not what we're doing here at all, because you didn't need the cyber ninjas to come in and say this election was legit. It was always legit. And this is a case, as you know, as they say in ninth grade English class, it is not about the destination, it is about the journey for Republicans here. It's about raising the questions themselves, Daniel. And you can see the impact that it had across the Republican Party and nationwide, where in the latest CNN poll, like 78 percent of Republicans don't think Joe Biden won. STRAUSS: Yes, look, this is -- that's the effect of all of this. It

is really not sort of getting to the bottom of voter fraud. It is not coming up and really investing in this. It is about eroding the system. It is about casting doubt and energizing the Republican base of the party. That is what we're seeing as a result of this.

BERMAN: And Kasie, the reaction, what reaction do you anticipate, because we had Ben Ginsberg on, who I know you know well, and he said, maybe over time this will reduce the number of Republicans who come out and call for this thing because they show it just won't work. Maybe naive -- Ben Ginsberg is anything but naive. And I hesitate to even ask, but is it naive?


HUNT: I don't know that I would say that about Ben's comments. But one thing I will say, when I think about, so Ben obviously has been an election lawyer for many, many years, has advised many Republican presidential campaigns. One thing that professional Republicans and people who have worked on campaigns and elections for a long time, some of whom were co-opted by Donald Trump or became part of that world, but many of whom didn't or, at least privately, disagree with him, they're really worried that this campaign ultimately will destroy their ability to win in general elections because there will be so much doubt that their people simply won't show up, they won't go to vote, they won't mail in their ballots. Republicans used to be very comfortable with mail-in voting. Usually Democrats, honestly, felt like that was to the detriment of their party because they had to do more work to get their voters physically to the polls.

So I think for big picture here, for people who still are -- view the -- like Ben who view the traditional values of the Republican Party, fiscal conservatism, all of those things that, frankly, Donald Trump didn't stand for, they don't -- they think this is all extraordinarily problematic. And, of course, the challenge for people who think that there needs to be a strong, robust Republican Party in the country that is actually bought into our Democratic system, and that of course I'm separating Trump out there from the GOP, the challenge they have is finding someone that gets the kind of attention and can stand up to the former president, especially if he does run again in 2024, because, this is really a tinder box that the former president is building here.

If he does decide to run, he spends the next three years essentially sewing doubt and confusion, he runs and actually shows again that he loses again, what happens then? We're seeing violence become more, frankly, accepted in some corners of the Republican base. And members of Congress are dealing with more and more violent threats. Just look at Congressman Gonzalez who recently said I don't want any part of this anymore because my family is getting threats. He got more threats after saying he was going to step down.

So, again, I think this is why it is so important that we highlight the fact that this is going on, that there are people that are being swayed by the audits that, yes, we all acknowledge are unnecessary, but at the same time potentially do have some real long-term impact. KEILAR: It is a really good way to think about things, building a

tinder box at the same time as Donald Trump can look back and he can see the conflagration that a tinder box creates in January 6th. Daniel and Kasie, we have a lot more to talk about with you if you can stand by. But the January 6th committee in this regard wants to talk to Steve Bannon in its first subpoenas about conversations that he had with Trump in the days that led up to the riot at the Capitol.

According to the new book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Bannon told Trump, quote, "We are going to kill the Biden presidency in the crib." This week Bannon appeared to confirm that on his podcast. He played a clip of Costa on TV detailing this reporting, and then he responded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to kill the Biden presidency in the crib. That was the phrase based on our reporting in that conversation.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes, because there is legitimacy. Just let this go what this illegitimate regime is doing. It killed itself, OK. But we told you from the very beginning, just expose it, just expose it, never back down, never give up, and this thing will implode.


KEILAR: What do you think about hearing that from Bannon? Is that problematic?

HUNT: Well, first of all, it is not an illegitimate regime.

KEILAR: And he knows that. To be clear, he knows that.

HUNT: And he does know that. And I think that there are real consequences to what Bannon was saying to the president ahead of January 6th. It does raise questions about his liability in all this, and it helps explain why the January 6th committee would want to talk to him about all of this.

And I think that there are going to be some real questions. These officials potentially have a lot of -- we have a lot to learn before we can say that they may have criminal liability in what happened on January 6th. But it's clear that there were people in the presidency, or like Steve Bannon saying that this is how we want this to play out. And there were very real world consequences, especially for the law enforcement officers who were protecting the Capitol that day because of, in part, because of what Bannon told the president.

KEILAR: We're getting a bigger picture now of his involvement in just how much of the pusher he was here. These subpoenas, Daniel, how are you looking at these subpoenas of these four confidants of President Trump?

STRAUSS: It's important that these are four confidants. These are people who have been close to Trump for years, from Bannon, who has been sort of one of the more bombastic people that Trump has chosen to surround himself with, to Kash Patel at the Department of Defense the day that the insurrection, or the mob attack happened.


It shows that this committee, despite sort of the roadblocks it hit so far, the efforts by some lawmakers to make sure it is as bipartisan as possible, are going forward regardless. And they plan to move aggressively on this investigation.

HUNT: I'll be honest with you, Brianna, the person on that graphic that we just showed that I'm actually the most interested in is Kash Patel, who had been installed at the Department of Defense. And after all of that, the information we learned from "Peril," the book by Woodward and costa, about what Mark Milley was doing, what was Kash Patel doing inside the Defense Department as this was all unfolding, as we were all at the Capitol waiting for the National Guard to show up, waiting for somebody to do something? There were literally hours where there were not people responding, where our top government officials were putting in calls to the Pentagon and the White House, and they were not being returned -- or rather, action was not being taken.

KEILAR: You want to argue things got out of hand, then you better show that you were adequately responding to some sort of unexpected conflagration or something that got bigger than you thought it would be. So we're, obviously we need to see what that is.

I want to thank you both, Daniel and Kasie, great to be with you this morning.

HUNT: Great to see you.

KEILAR: Breaking new developments in the Gabby Petito case. An arrest warrant for her missing fiance as the manhunt intensifies.

BERMAN: Plus, defiance among Republicans on Capitol Hill, why some say they will vote with the Democrats on a key part of the Biden agenda.




BERMAN: And what Britney Spears was not allowed to do under the conservatorship run by her father. New revelations from a CNN special report.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, a federal court in Wyoming issuing an arrest warrant for Bryan Laundrie over activities following the death of Gabrielle Petito. The warrant claims that Laundrie used a debit card and pin number to accounts that were not his, charging at least a thousand dollars. Laundrie is still the subject of an intense manhunt.

Let's talk about this now with former assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division, Chris Swecker.

Chris, I want to talk to you about your expectations here of what Laundrie is capable of. What do you think he's capable of doing as you see investigators looking at this reserve?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION: Well, this is a very strategic move on the part of the FBI because it narrows down his options. I don't believe he's a great outdoorsman. I don't think he can survive in that part -- that Florida wilderness area. It is full of mosquitoes. He doesn't have the means to survive in there. So if he is in there, I don't think he's alive.

So assuming he has gotten out of there, this warrant leverages every state, local and federal officer in the country, it puts his information into the NCIC system, which is a national warrant database. It puts stops at the borders. You can issue an Interpol red notice, so I think his options are narrowing significantly.

KEILAR: You were very involved in the Eric Rudolph case, which, of course, entailed months and months of searching in the North Carolina wilderness and, you know, in the end, I know there was some discussion about whether he had been in the wilderness the entire time.

But as you compare this to that case, what do you think are the differences in terms of Bryan Laundrie's abilities, his sort of survivalist instincts and also just the difference and really this outdoor environment that he's in?

SWECKER: Right. Well, not to give Eric Rudolph too much credit, but he was a significantly experienced outdoorsman. I don't mean camping out in an RV. I'm talking about wandering around in the national forest, foraging for food, surviving, creating hiding sites and shelters and that sort of thing and evading capture.

I don't think Brian Laundrie falls into that category. I think he's a camper, not an outdoorsman. I don't think he can survive in that wilderness area, which is mostly water in an outdoors fashion without some sort of shelter. Rudolph had cabins, summer cabins he could hide in and seek shelter. I don't think that exists in that park area. So, again, I don't think he can survive more than a couple of days in there.

KEILAR: So his abilities less, and the challenges of that environment even more. We know from a source close to the Laundrie family that Laundrie left his parents' home in Florida last Tuesday, they say, he didn't have his cell phone or his wallet. What does that tell you?

SWECKER: It makes me very suspicious of the parents. He's missing for three days before they report him missing and perhaps out of concern for his safety, but they waited three days. It looks, and, again, this is my suspicion, based on 40 years of experience, it looks a little bit like misdirection on their part giving him an opportunity to get away.

He knows that they can track his cell phone, so he leaves that behind. He leaves his wallet behind. But I would be willing to bet that he has financial means provided by someone. We know he took a thousand dollars out of Gabby Petito's account.

Again, he's not a very sophisticated person. I don't think he can survive an international manhunt.

KEILAR: Chris, thank you so much. You have so much expertise in this area and it is really helpful to get your perspective here, thanks.

SWECKER: Thank you.

KEILAR: Up next, we're going to talk to a Republican lawmaker who plans to vote with Democrats on President Biden's infrastructure plan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, we'll ask him about the bogus Arizona audit that continues to blow up Donald Trump's big lie.



BERMAN: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is urging Republican house members not to support the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate in August. It has marked a rare instance of bipartisanship in a deeply divided Washington. The Senate passed the bill with some Republican support.

But McCarthy says he no longer views the infrastructure bill as a bipartisan exercise because of a strategy by Democratic lawmakers to tie it to the far larger $3.5 trillion economic package filled with Democratic priorities. Several Republicans are signaling they plan to buck the party leadership and vote for infrastructure anyway.

One of them joins us now -- New York Republican Congressman Tom Reed.

Congressman, you are a yes on infrastructure?

REP. TOM REED (R-NY): I am, I'm a hard yes on the bipartisan $1.2 trillion deal that got 19 Republican votes in the Senate. It is a good bill. It is a compromise bill, and that, to me, is good legislation, sound policy, and I'm proud to support it.

BERMAN: How many of your colleagues do you have on board with you? You know, you're a pretty good vote counter.

REED: Yeah, I think right now obviously with the leadership on our side whipping against it, you got a good solid number of Republicans that will be there at the end of the day because they feel like I do. As that number 10, number 20, watch the dynamics over the next 72 hours, that's going to have a huge impact on the final tally of numbers for Republican support.


BERMAN: You tell me. You tell me, is it 10 or 20?

REED: It's right in that range, let's put it that way. You don't give your vote count until the actual vote is given. We'll need every vote to get this done.

BERMAN: You are not a yes on -- there is no legislation written yet on the $3.5 trillion budget plan, but how do you feel about that? Does that influence your infrastructure vote at all?

REED: It does not influence my bipartisan infrastructure $1.2 trillion position because that $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill they call it in Washington, D.C., I am adamantly opposed to. That contains significant tax increases on our small businesses, on individuals. It is a policy expansion using just partisan exercise of Democratic votes only, not bringing in true compromise, and I will tell you, that's not the way to legislate and I was advocating for that when we did the tax cuts on the Republican side to not go down reconciliation. I lost that advocacy. But that is not the way to legislate long-term for country.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about the impact of what we're seeing in Arizona this morning. This Cyber Ninja group put out a draft of what they called an audit of the Maricopa County results and it found Donald Trump won fewer votes than they thought going on and Joe Biden's margin was higher than it was going in.

I want to know from you is the impact that this has, what do you think the impact of all these questions that really have no basis in reality, that are being raised by Republican leaders around the country that cause things like this audit in Arizona?

REED: I will tell you, it is a concerning narrative. No doubt about it.

And my hope is that we can put these results of the last election behind us, and that we can look forward. There is going to continue to be a lot of people that just do not trust the system. That is one of the fundamental things that is tearing our country apart right now.

Many of my Republican colleagues, conservative colleagues, that just don't trust the system, they don't trust the media, they don't trust the election process, and that is a fundamental threat to our future existence and we have to overcome it. And fanning these flames of this lack of faith in our institutions is problematic. We got to stand firm against it.

BERMAN: I want to tell people in case they don't know, you're one of the first people to congratulate Joe Biden when he won the election in November, which is the -- the traditional time to congratulate a presidential winner. One of the first, and you were months ahead of many other Republicans to be sure.

You talk about the questions that are raised, 78 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of Republicans now don't believe that Joe Biden won the election according to the latest CNN poll, 78 percent. It is because Republican leaders are telling them not to.

REED: And it is concerning. And that is where if we lose faith in our election process, Republicans or Democrats, it is not a sustainable position for our elective democracy. That's why I will continue to be a voice to say, you know what, you have review processes, you have mechanisms to challenge the results, but once those challenges are done, we need to move forward.

And that is the message I tell my Republican colleagues each and every day, this issue comes up. It is time to go forward, learn the lessons, accept the results, and let's go on to the next election.

BERMAN: You were not one of the Republican house members who voted to impeach the president either time. However, there were ten of your colleagues who did vote to impeach him in February of this year. Anthony Gonzalez, one of them, announced he's not running for re- election.

CNN is reporting this morning that everyone else is going ahead full steam, wants to continue to be in congress, wants to continue to serve. And stand up for the things that they have been.

How important do you think that is?

REED: I think that's very important, because each individual member has to make the decision whether or not to run and put the vote up by the people, the constituents that represent them. And that's fundamentally where the question lies. It lies with the people expressing who they want to have represented in congress, and my colleagues, who are continuing to run, believe in what they are doing, and what they have done, and they'll put the record up to the people. This is not done by insiders of Washington, D.C. This is done by the people at the end of the day.

BERMAN: Congressman Tom Reed, appreciate you being with us this morning. Thank you very much.

REED: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right. Breaking news, the move from the top doctor of the CDC deciding who can now get COVID booster shots.

KEILAR: Plus, a man who thought he was kidnapped as a child learns the startling truth as an adult.