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Judge Blocks Abortion Ban in Texas; Today: Deadline for Trump Allies to Cooperate with Probe; Petito's Father Wants Laundrie Found Alive; McConnell Folds, Likely Extending Debt Ceiling Deadline. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 07, 2021 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, October 7. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.


Breaking overnight, a federal judge blocked the abortion ban in Texas. The judge, siding with the Biden administration, was sued after the Supreme Court declined to step in and block the Texas law.

This is a law that bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected. That's usually around six weeks, before most women even know they're pregnant.

The Texas law also effectively deputizes its citizens, allowing them to sue clinics, doctors, nurses, even Lyft drivers who may take a woman to get an abortion.

KEILAR: In his scathing 113-page ruling, the judge here said, "From the moment S.B. 8 went into effect, women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution. That other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion is theirs to decide. This Court will not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right."

Texas officials are planning to appeal this ruling. So what does all of this mean going forward? CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig joining us now. He's a former state and federal prosecutor.

How significant is this decision?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Brianna, this is tremendous, mostly importantly because as we stand here now, this anti-abortion law in Texas is not in effect. It is on pause.

Also important to know, however: this is just the first step in the legal battle that is to come. This is temporary.

This decision we got yesterday came from a district court judge, a trial-level judge in the federal court for the Western District of Texas. So it's a first step. There are more legal battles ahead. We're going to end up in the court of appeals and potentially in the U.S. Supreme Court.

That said, what happens in the district court, very important. Enormous win for the Biden administration. Enormous blow for the Texas law here.

KEILAR: So then, the judge directly addressed this novel enforcement scheme, which -- that's one of the things that made it difficult, right, for -- for getting around the enforcement of it. Individual citizens empowered to go after abortion providers and others who help women get abortions. What did he say about that?

HONIG: Yes, exactly. Brianna, when you read this opinion, it's striking. The language this judge used is very direct. He pulled no punches.

The judge, Robert Pitman, said, "Fully aware that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional" -- You don't see that kind of directness from judges all the time -- "the State contrived" -- made up -- "an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme to do just that."

Like you said, Brianna, Texas put together this law in a way to make it difficult for a judge like Judge Pitman to review it. And he essentially said, I'm not buying it. I'm letting you sort of weave between the lines here and get around judicial review. And that's why he issued his ruling.

BERMAN: So Elie, the attorney general and the Biden White House, they applauded this decision last night. But their -- their applause, their euphoria here, I imagine, could be very temporary. What's next?

HONIG: Yes. This is indeed temporary. Like I said, this is an opinion from a district court judge. Now, the judge said, I'm putting the Texas law on hold, and I'm not going to stay my own opinion. Meaning that hold goes into effect now.

What we're going to see next, and possibly as soon as today, is the state of Texas is going to go to the court of appeals, the Fifth Circuit. By the way, famously conservative.

And they're going to ask the court of appeals to do two things. One, put the district court ruling on hold, let that Texas law go back into effect. And eventually, they're going to ask the Fifth Circuit to overturn what the judge just did last night.

And then, whoever loses here on the court of appeals is almost certainly going to try -- try is the key word here -- to get the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, the Supreme Court doesn't take every case. They take a very small percentage of cases. But it will be up to the Supreme Court if they want to hear this somewhere down the line.

BERMAN: All right. So stay tuned. Maybe as soon as a day or two and this law could be back in effect. But we'll see what the Fifth Circuit does. Elie, you stick around.

HONIG: I will.

BERMAN: Because we have a lot more for you in just a moment.

So these four allies of Donald Trump are on the clock. Today is the deadline for Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, Steve Bannon, and Kash Patel to comply with subpoenas from the House Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection.

Want to bring in Meridith McGraw, a national political correspondent for "Politico." So these four people, subpoenas not just for testimony but also documents. What are the chances that any of them comply?

MERIDITH MCGRAW, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO": Right now, it seems highly unlikely that they're going to be cooperating here with the committee.

But what we're going to see today is really whether or not the committee is going to hold these witnesses in contempt and if they're going to follow through with their threats for criminal enforcement here.

They've said that, if these four allies of Trump, if they don't come forward and bring their documents, that they could face criminal ramifications here. And so we're going the see whether or not they're going to hold true to that. But right now, it doesn't seem like they're going to be complying.

KEILAR: So how much does that slow things down? Because clearly, that's the procedure or sort of the tactic that we've seen in the past with Trump administration officials.

MCGRAW: Right. We've seen them slow-roll things before. So of course, this would slow things down.

But the committee wants to move fast. And they've also shown that they really want to look at everything. It's not just these four. They've also issued subpoenas for other people who were at the White House. They want to talk to social media giants about what they might know about the motivations of how everything happened on January 6th.

BERMAN: So Politico is reporting that the January 6th Committee has spoken to Richard Donahue, who was a Justice Department official, who was part of those meetings with Jeffrey Clark and Jeffrey Rosen, where the Justice Department -- there were people in the Justice Department trying to step in and say there was corruption. Others standing in the way.

By the way, there's a Senate committee report coming out later this morning which delves into this, as well.

But what does this tell us about where the January 6th committee is?

MCGRAW: Well, it shows just how sweeping this investigation is. Like I said, it's not just learning about what was said behind closed doors at the White House on that day, what President Trump was doing that day. It's also about what led up to all of this.

And Richard Donahue was No. 2 at the Justice Department. And he took detailed notes about a conversation that President Trump had with acting attorney general at the time. And at the time, Trump was trying to pressure them into saying that the election was corrupt and that they -- they shouldn't recognize the results.

And so they want to get to the bottom of that and really understand just how we got to everything that happened on January 6th.

KEILAR: The former president has said here recently that the real insurrection wasn't on January 6th. It was on November 3rd.

BERMAN: That's a stunning statement.

KEILAR: It is -- I mean, like we always talk about the outrage muscle kind of being worked to fatigue. But that's pretty nuts as an -- as an admission by the former president.


How is the committee approaching that? And also, what is the risk for these folks clearly doing, it seems, what Donald Trump wants them to do instead of fulfilling their obligations under the law?

MCGRAW: Yes. That was a pretty remarkable comment by the former president, saying that the actual insurrection was what happened on election day. That is something he has talked about. I'm sure it's going to come up at his rally in Iowa this Saturday, too.

But the former president has said that, really, election integrity is what this is all about. But as we saw from everything that unfolded January 6th, lives were lost. A lot of people were led astray and the truth. And I think that's what they need to hear more about.

BERMAN: Look, it's concerning, because it's now the price of admission to be part of Trump's Republican Party, to say things like the election itself was an insurrection. Think of the impact that that could have. It really is something that people need to be aware of.

Thanks so much for being with us.

MCGRAW: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

So Congressman Jason Crow sending a strong message about witnesses who defy the January 6th Committee.


REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): If they continue to disregard the subpoenas, I'm going to highly encourage the authorities to pursue criminal contempt. Because frankly, that's what would happen to any American. If you refuse -- Any American sitting at home listening to this right now, if you represent a subpoena, there are consequences for you.


BERMAN: Elie Honig is back with us. Elie, so what options does the committee have?

HONIG: All right, John. So any time a person defies a congressional subpoena, Congress really has three options.

The first one is what we call the inherent enforcement power. Way back in the late 1700s, 1800s, even early 1900s, if somebody defied a subpoena, the sergeant at arms could go out, arrest that person, lock them up. That's actually a picture of a jail near the Capitol building that used to be used to lock up people who defied congressional subpoenas.

However, that power has not been used in nearly 100 years, since 1935. This is the current day sergeant at arms, William Walker. He's really there for security of the membership. I do not think it's at all likely that we're going to see the sergeant at arms going out and handcuffing Mark Meadows and Steve Bannon. This is more of a historical relic than a realistic probability going forward.

KEILAR: OK. So the slow route. The January 6th committee can go to the courts. They can try to enforce the subpoenas. What does that look like and does it essentially render this effort ineffective?

HONIG: This is, in fact, the slow route, Brianna. So Congress can go to a federal court, and they can ask a judge, we want an order requiring these four people to testify. And if they don't, then they can meet civil and criminal penalties.

The problem, of course, is Donald Trump has already told us he's going to try to get in the way. He's going to try to invoke executive privilege, potentially absolute immunity. Really anything to, as you say, Brianna, slow things down.

We have to remember where we are. This happened, of course, January 6th, 2021. That's nine months ago. This committee has let nine months go by, and they've really not done much in terms of getting into Trump's inner circle.

And as a practical matter, a little more than a year from now, we're going to have a new Congress. Early January 2023. That could be a Republican-controlled Congress.

What can be done? A, the committee needs to be ready to go into the courts as soon as today or next week when the subpoenas are defied. And judges. Judges just need to do a better job.

Don McGahn, the dispute over his subpoena, took two years. That's unacceptable. Judges are human beings. They can do better. They need to handle these cases more quickly.

BERMAN: I think the most interesting of this isn't with the courts, per se, Elie. I think it's with the Justice Department. It's the idea that the Justice Department and the attorney general has a real decision to make here. Explain that.

HONIG: I agree. So if a person defies a subpoena, Congress can then vote to hold that person in contempt. At that point, Congress has the option to refer a case over to Merrick Garland and the Justice Department. We just heard Representative Crow allude to this.

Key thing to understand. The decision whether to bring a criminal charge, that's going to be Merrick Garland's decision. There is a federal crime for defying a congressional subpoena. One year maximum. Actually, one month minimum, which is interesting.

Historically, however, DOJ has passed on bringing these charges. It's been over 50 years since DOJ has charged anybody over this statute. If we look back through the last decade or so, these four people are high-profile people who were held in contempt of Congress. Bill Barr, Wilbur Ross in 2019. Lois Lerner from the IRS in 2013. And Eric Holder back in 2012. In all of those instances, and for decades before that, DOJ has said we're not going to charge.

That said, Merrick Garland has got a really important decision here. Because John, as you say, that could be the most direct, the quickest and, really, the only route to compel these people to testify.

KEILAR: If they did testify or if eventually they are compelled to testify, they could take the Fifth Amendment. Tell us about that.


HONIG: Yes. So they have a trump card of sorts here. No pun intended. The Fifth Amendment.

Any person has the right to take the fifth to remain silent. We've seen that done in Congress before, famously by Oliver North back in the '80s, by the founder of Enron, Kenneth Lay; by the baseball player, Mark McGwire in the steroids investigation. So any of these witnesses ultimately can take the Fifth.

If they do take the Fifth, there's little or nothing Congress can do. The only counter move, then, is Congress can immunize the witnesses, meaning you have to testify now. We're not going to use your testimony against you in the future, but you have to testify now.

The problem with that is it makes it essentially impossible to prosecute these people. That's actually what happened with Oliver North back in the '80s. He was immunized. He testified. He was then convicted. But a federal court threw out the conviction, because they said, Hey, Congress, you immunized him. Sorry, you can't prosecute him later on.

BERMAN: I'll tell you, as things stand, there are zero repercussions for refusing a congressional subpoena. If things continue as they are and there is no DOJ enforcement of this.

What do they matter? They're just pieces of paper? If you don't have to obey them, if there's no sanction for disobeying them, I'm not sure I understand the point of having them to begin with, Elie. So we'll have to see.

HONIG: John, this is going to be on the committee, and on judges, and on Merrick Garland.

BERMAN: Elie Honig, thank you very much.

HONIG: By now.

KEILAR: It's a suggestion. Optional.

BERMAN: They should call it a congressional suggestion, then, not a congressional subpoena.

KEILAR: A congressional suggestion.

BERMAN: Why don't you come in and talk to us. We'd like it if you did. If you can't, meh. You know.

KEILAR: See you another time maybe.

BERMAN: Maybe.

Significant developments overnight in the manhunt for Brian Laundrie. His parents changing their story about when he was last seen as police find new clues about where Laundrie may be hiding out.

KEILAR: Plus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell folding in his standoff with Democrats over lifting the debt ceiling.

And a Hollywood ending to the National League wildcard game has the L.A. Dodgers moving on.

BERMAN: Chavez Ravine, I think.



KEILAR: Breaking overnight, a number of significant developments in the search for Brian Laundrie. A source telling CNN police have actually found remnants of a camp site that appear to be recently used at the Florida reserve where Brian Laundrie's parents' lawyers say they believe he was headed before he disappeared.

Laundrie's father has now reportedly been asked to help officials track him down. Laundrie's parents also have changed their story. That happened yesterday about when they last saw their son. They saw authorities they last saw him on September 13th, which is a day earlier than they had previously disclosed and five days before they reported him missing.

The update is coming after police confirmed that a car belonging to the Laundrie family had been abandoned outside of that reserve, the Carlton Reserve.

In the meantime, Gabby Petito's family is speaking out about losing their daughter and revealing new details about where Gabby's body was found.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was the remnants of a fire ring there. And you could see where those rocks had been moved to make the fire ring. There was a clearing where I would assume, knowing I have a similar tent, where I would place my tent, and that opening would face out overlooking the -- the mountain range.

NICOLE SCHMIDT, GABBY'S MOTHER: And it wasn't far from the van. It was a five-minute walk, you said, something like that?

JOSEPH PETITO, GABBY'S FATHER: I just hope he's found. I really do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will be found.

PETITO: No, I mean, like alive. I want to see him in a jail cell for the rest of his life, where he's an outdoorsman. Being in that concrete cell that he can't go see those trees and hug the -- you know, and smell the fresh air like.

PHIL MCGRAW, TALK SHOW HOST: What was it like for you to hear that 911 call that somebody made?

PETITO: I didn't listen to the whole call. I can't do it. I -- I just can't do it.

SCHMIDT: I was angry. Because it didn't make any sense.

PETITO: You don't sleep. You don't eat. You go through scenarios in your head, because we don't have the answers. You know, as I play the last moments of what I perceive what they would be, it makes it even worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I try not to think about that. I try not to think about that.

PETITO: it's one rabbit hole after another. I've got a great support system, but it's -- it's hell.


KEILAR: And joining us now to talk about some of these new developments, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson.

Joey, a lot to go through here today. Let's start first with learning that in this reserve, which had so far come up empty, there is a campsite that appears to have recently been used. What does that mean?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. Brianna, good morning to you.

It could mean a little. It could mean a lot. And so just to clarify, remember it's a large world. It's a large certain area. Many people use that. And so we can't immediately draw the conclusion that, just because it was recently used, there's any connection to him. Now, saying that, we also have to be mindful of prior search warrants

that were done with respect to his home -- that is Mr. Laundrie -- with respect to items that the police were looking for. And we have to presume., based upon that, that they have relevant DNA, they have relevant samples with regard to anything that would have to do with him. And certainly, they have samples as to Gabby Petito.

And so the police can make that connection, right, because of the information and forensic technology that they have. But a camp site, in and of itself, without more, that is the information I provided to you, right, could mean nothing. But it could mean a lot if they make the connection -- that is authorities -- with information that they've gleaned from their search warrants.

KEILAR: Law enforcement asked Brian Laundrie's father to basically help them, because of familiarity with the trails that Brian Laundrie also is familiar with. Then they reversed that after the finding of this campsite. Tell us how you are looking at that request of the father and also the reversal.


JACKSON: Well, remember this, Brianna, right? From the outset, they wanted assistance from the family. Why? Because you would think, believe or understand that the family might have information relevant to the disappearance of Gabby Petito and the subsequent determination that she was dead.

And so authorities, of course, get information from a variety of sources. One of course, are any witnesses that might have seen what occurred, right, or might have given information. We know those witnesses have come out with regard to the interactions between Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie.

But a major source of information is the family, right? We know he came back, Mr. Laundrie, to his family. You have to presume that there were discussions with respect to where you were, what you did, where was she, what were your interactions, where do you think she is, what, if anything, did you have to do with it? So that's important.

And then, of course, they want to go, authorities, to find out from that family, help us. And so with the actual discovery of this site, this campsite, they then reversed that. Right? Because potentially, they didn't need, for that purpose, the family's help.

But I think the family still has important information that they can share, but lawyers, I presume, are telling them not to do so.

KEILAR: Yes. They are sharing and changing information. So we're going to see what all that means today.

Joey Jackson, thank you so much.

JACKSON: Always. Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: A potential deal between Republicans and Democrats to avert potential economic calamity, for now. We are live from Capitol Hill.

BERMAN: Plus, Minneapolis police officers heard talking about hunting people down during protests over George Floyd's death last summer. The brand-new body camera video, coming up.



BERMAN: So, in a matter of hours the Senate is set to reconvene negotiations on a short-term debt ceiling increase to avert a potential default.

What you need to know here is that the economy was on the brink of epic calamity. And Senate leaders, both Republicans and Democrats, getting together to maybe delay it a little bit. Chuck Schumer does say a deal is in the works.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We've been negotiating all afternoon and all night, just until the recent. We are not -- we're making good progress. We're not there yet. But I hope we can come to an agreement tomorrow morning.


BERMAN: Now, this agreement would only delay the ultimate pain until December, which could be quite a month. Both parties will face the same issue again.

CNN's Lauren Fox, live on Capitol Hill. They've been up all night talking, Lauren. And then, also this indicates that maybe Mitch McConnell, for once, was feeling some pressure.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And if there's anything that Congress loves, it's a punt, John. And this is, like you said, just going to kick the can down the road until likely early December, when there's also going to be a potential deposit shutdown, because you have a funding deadline.

But first, this negotiation. What you are seeing behind the scenes is leadership staff on both sides of the aisle working very hard. And I'm told from both Republicans and Democrats I'm talking to that they're feeling like they are making good progress.

Potentially, this deal could come together sometime this morning. This could also slide into the afternoon, because that's how things can work up here on Capitol Hill.

But lawmakers are expected to be on recess next week. That can be a real change agent when it comes to getting a negotiation going.

One of the things that we saw yesterday was that McConnell went into this private Republican lunch, and he surprised some of his members by saying he was going to offer Democrats this short-term debt ceiling increase as an off-ramp to this potential crisis.

Lawmakers were getting nervous on both sides of the aisle. Because they saw the writing on the wall. Democrats were not going to use this very difficult process in the Budget Committee to try and do this on their own. Instead, they were talking about a potential rules change.

We also know there were conversations happening between McConnell and a Democrat moderate Joe Manchin from West Virginia. He is seen as somebody who can kind of go between both parties. He has strong relationships with Republicans on the other side of the aisle. And he's seen as a moderate member.

But there were real conversations about potentially changing Senate rules.

So what did he say to McConnell to try to get this along? We don't have the answer to that. But certainly, it indicates that there were warning signs that Democrats were not going to blink. And so McConnell did.

And I do think that that is a significant development. Because since July, McConnell has been saying over and over again, Republicans were not going to lift a finger to help Democrats increase this debt limit. Now they are willing to do it in the short-term. Where this leaves us in late November, early December, that still remains to be seen, John.

BERMAN: There were a lot of observers who may have thought that it wasn't possible for Mitch McConnell to blink. That the eyes didn't work that way. So this is unusual, although it only delays things until December.

Lauren Fox, keep us posted on these talks. Thanks for being with us.

KEILAR: And a show of solidarity as players are returning to the field for the first time since sexual misconduct allegations that have rocked the National Women's Soccer League.

BERMAN: And a walk-off. Oh, my goodness! There is nothing more dramatic than this. The National League wildcard game ends in high, high, high drama. That's coming up.