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Elie Mystal is Interviewed about the Supreme Court Review; Defending Democracy is Simple; Carole King is Interviewed about Climate Action. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired October 15, 2021 - 08:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, President Biden's Supreme Court Commission released draft materials on two key issues, whether to create term limits for justices, and whether to expand the size of the court.

Now, this report, though, didn't really reach a firm recommendation on either issue. The final report is expected to be submitted to the president next month.

I will say, there's body language on both sides.

Joining me now is justice correspondent for "The Nation" magazine, Elie Mystal.

Ellie, I think the commission actually did the opposite for each issue here. First, on the issue of expanding the number of justices, they said it's legal, you can do it, but they seemed to hint that they think it would create a whole bunch of problems.

Your take on that?

ELIE MYSTAL, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NATION" MAGAZINE: Yes, of course. Let's roll the tape back here.

This commission was designed to give President Biden cover to not do anything on the Supreme Court, to not reform the court, to not take the next step necessary to protect, I believe, voting rights, LGBTQ rights, and women's rights in this country. We know that because the commission was laced with people who have to argue in front of the Supreme Court for a living. We know that it wasn't designed for reform because he placed no reformers on the Supreme Court. This commission is like asking -- it's like putting a bunch of sharks on your water safety commission. That's what this commission is. And they predictably came up with no answer. No need to go any further, no need to do anything to reform the Supreme Court.

BERMAN: Now, there is nothing in the Constitution that says you can't add the number of Supreme Court justices. That's up to Congress to do. There's nothing in the Constitution about that. That much the commission agreed on.

There is something in the Constitution that deals with the length of service. Justices serve in terms of however long they want as long as there is good behavior. Basically they serve for life. That's in the Constitution.

So as interesting as term limits might be -- and there are a lot of people who are supportive of that, Justice Breyer has said supportive things, maybe 18 years -- it would probably take a constitutional amendment to get it done, right?

MYSTAL: Well, here's -- again, here's a slight of hand this commission did. And it's smart if you -- if you don't -- if you haven't kind of -- if you're not a reformer, if you haven't kind of been in this world for the past decade, right?

One of the things they suggested is rotating judges, having some judges, you know, be on the Supreme Court some days and be on the, you know, Circuit Court of Appeals on other days as a way to expand kind of diversity and whatever. But that actual idea, the rotation of judges, that is there to get around the constitutional requirement that judges serve for life in good behavior. A rotation is a term limit solution without a constitutional amendment. That's why it's there. But did the commission say that? Did the commission put that together? No, no, no, no. For term limits we need a constitutional amendment.

But there's this other thing that maybe we can do -- I mean, so they're -- again, they're trying to confuse people and, again, the reason why is because Biden doesn't have the stomach for this. Biden was the least aggressive person on Supreme Court reform in the primaries that has carried through to his administration.

And here's another way that you know this commission is not designed to do anything. They did this whole report, it's hundreds and hundreds of pages, I've read most of them, they mentioned nothing about ethics. There's no -- there's no suggestion here for judicial ethics reform. The Supreme Court is the only court in the country that operates without ethics rules. Given the Me Too movement, given Brett Kavanaugh, one would think that this would be a good time to talk about ethics rules. It's low hanging fruit. The commission didn't even touch it. That's how you know that these people weren't serious about dealing with the Supreme Court. They were trying to give the administration cover to do nothing.

BERMAN: Elie Mystal, always a pleasure to speak with you. You leave no mystery as to where you stand.


I appreciate it.

MYSTAL: Thanks for having me on, John.

BERMAN: All right, so it turns out the tools to defend democracy from those who would tear it apart have been on the books for years. So why aren't we using them? A "Reality Check," next.


BERMAN: Steve Bannon is defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the insurrection. The committee says it will submit a criminal referral to the Justice Department for not showing up. It turns out, defying a subpoena is illegal, which is why they have them.

John Avlon with a "Reality Check."


If you refuse to answer a subpoena, you should be held in contempt of court, or Congress as the case may be. And that's why the January 6th investigation committee is 100 percent right to pursue criminal contempt charges against Steve Bannon.

Look, one of the reasons we're in this mess is because the Trump administration withered muscle memory around actually enforcing the law, often through obstruction and (INAUDIBLE) the council's opinions and the general politization of the DOJ.


When confronted by congressional subpoenas for its inner circle, they stalled for time, potentially proving that delay can mean denial of justice. And all that's got to stop. Enforcing the law without fear of favor is the minimum that a return to normal requires. In other words, to defend our democracy, just follow the damn law.

And this applies to issues big and small. That's why it's appropriate to see Trump required to give a deposition in an assault case involving his security team during a demonstration outside Trump Tower. Also along with his upcoming deposition in the defamation suit brought by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos. It's basic. No one's above the law.

That's also why he should face charges in the Stormy Daniel case that already landed his former lawyer Michael Cohen in jail for facilitating hush payments allegedly ordered by Trump. The FEC shamefully decided not to pursue the case along partisan lines and the five-year statute of limitations is close to running out. But freed from political constraints, the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York can and should follow through on its investigation and indict the man they previously identified as individual one, who they say directed the payments just days before the election.

But that is small ball compared to an attempt to overturn the election, from within the White House. And the now clear evidence that Trump conspired to interfere in the election, which is illegal, from telling the DOJ, quote, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me, to his caught on tape demand that the Georgia secretary of state find 11,780 votes. Wouldn't be surprising to see criminal charges on election interference ultimately brought by the Fulton County D.A. But the problem is there's been a strange reluctance to enforce basic

codes of conduct, even those enshrined in the Constitution, like the Emoluments Clause. Because you might have missed the recent House report from the Oversight Reform Committee found that the Trump Organization was paid $3.7 million by foreign governments through his D.C. hotel while he was in office, while also filing misleading government forms about the profitability of the hotel.

In addition, there's been silence from the DOJ on the clear case for obstruction of justice laid out by the Mueller report, but blocked by that OLC opinion that sitting presidents are immune from prosecution. That can't shield him anymore. Not only that, ex-presidents don't have the right to invoke executive privilege, especially without cooperation from the current president. And that's not going to happen. The Biden administration is right to release all relevant documents with regard to the January 6th attacks, especially as Trump ordered his apparatchiks not to comply.

The rioters should be charged with what they did, not just obstruction of congressional proceedings, but violation of the anti-riot act and, in some cases, seditious conspiracy. Likewise, the 14th Amendment Section 3 was specifically designed to prohibit people who participate in insurrection against the United States for participating in American politics or government going forward, while Section 2383 of the criminal code offers legal penalty for insurrection that also covers incitement.

Use the tools at your disposal. We're in this mess because at critical moments over the past five years key decisionmakers have shimmied and shied away from applying the law, usually for political purposes. Most shamefully, Republican leadership's decision to oppose Trump's impeachment after he incited an attack on the U.S. Capitol. So it's time to learn our lesson. Apply the law, fairly, but without flinching. Because without accountability, you're only inviting more illegal and unethical behavior with our democracy hanging in the balance.

And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: Yes, it turns out laws work best when you enforce them.

AVLON: Such a crazy idea, right? Accountability works.

BERMAN: Imagine that.

All right, thanks, John.

AVLON: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: The standoff over vaccine mandate about to come to a head in Chicago as officers refuse the mayor's order.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a controversial climate change provision in President Biden's multi-trillion dollar agenda has many activists upset. Grammy Award winning singer Carole King among them. She will join us live, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KEILAR: As Congress continues to haggle over the multitrillion dollar infrastructure and reconciliation packages, a little known provision in the bills that encourages logging is raising a red flag for some environmentalists. They say that these provisions would pave the way for logging in 30 million acres of national forest over the next 15 years, adding that this could set back many of President Joe Biden's key climate initiatives by increasing carbon emissions from logging by nearly 50 percent, destroying forest ecosystems and endangering wildlife species.

Joining me now to talk about this is someone you will definitely recognize, Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter Carole King. She is also a well-known environmentalist and activist.

And we thank you for being with us this morning.


KEILAR: So let's talk about what's in these bills, tens of billions of dollars respectively that would go toward forest management. What do you want people to know about this?

KING: Well, first of all, forest management is one of many euphemisms for logging. And I want people to know that these provisions are antithetical to climate action. They -- logging releases megatons, gigatons of carbon. And living trees store carbon in our forests. So the thing is that logging in our national forest is taxpayer subsidized. It has been for decades, hence the cost of 20 billion in the logging provisions in the infrastructure bill, and 21 billion -- billion -- I mean, think about it, billion, dollars in the Build Back Better Act, which I prefer to call it because reconciliation, what does that mean?


I mean, I know what it means, but to people, they need to know. There are so many great and necessary things in these bills and I just want people to know, especially people who are -- which is more and more people all the time, who are concerned about climate, that these logging provisions, take them out. They're not doing any good, except maybe, you know, for the timber lobby, but they're really bad and they are destructive and they're costing us money. And if we need to reduce the cost to negotiate, arrive at a bill that everybody that needs to agree on it will agree to, then these are the provisions that should come out.

And one of them mandates logging at taxpayer expense and it also, this mandate, provides that it will sort of supersede or weaken the existing environmental laws from the Nixon administration, go figure. So there's really a lot of harm in these logging provisions. My advice

and plea to Congress and President Biden is, take them out and that you'll lower your cost by $42 billion in both bills.

KEILAR: I think -- look, there's been so much focus on the price tag. I think that sometimes what is in these bills and what's not in these bills does get lost at times.

I wonder, you know, what you say, especially this time where I think we see the effects of climate change all around us, how do you think history will judge climate skeptics in American society right now?

KING: You know, I can't even speculate about how it will judge. But I will say that I am in the moment. We are living in the moment and it is in this moment that we must act.

On a personal level, I just want to say to people, imagine yourself in a mature forest, surrounded by wild nature. It can't speak for itself. It doesn't have a huge lobby the way the timber industry does. We have to fight for the forests so that our -- I mean it's already -- our children, our grandchildren, history, so that people -- it will be there for people to stand in and appreciate and take in and be part of.

So that is my plea to people, really see the -- on the microlevel what it means to you and your family. Plus, taking these provisions out will free up money, even if we don't totally reduce all the costs. We take these provisions out. There's more money for childcare. There's more money for medical, you know, medical, dental, all the things -- all the wonderful and great things that are in these bills. And the bridges and the -- and all the -- all the things that -- like even, you know, we do have bipartisan agreement on.

So, take these provisions out. They serve nobody.

KEILAR: You know, music gives you this platform as a performer and a songwriter to talk about these issues. I do -- I do want to congratulate you, by the way. You are going to be inducted yet again into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame here for -- as a performer. Before it was as a songwriter. So congratulations to that.

But I wonder, you know, today, we're seeing Adele release her new single and you are the trailblazer, I think, when it comes to singing and song writing for so many women, right. They're -- Carole, they're standing on your shoulders. And I wonder what you think, as you're watching a big day like this come for one of those people, Adele.

KING: Oh, I think it's great. I watched her video and there's one line in it that just, like, blew me away. It's right toward the beginning. Her song is called "Easy On Me," which I think you talked about earlier. And there's this line about washing my hands in forever. Oh, my God, that is so good.

But, she's amazing. And, you know, younger -- there are younger women who are just, you know, making great strides in song writing and taking it to new levels and, you know, singing their own songs and controlling their own careers and destiny and I think that's great. I sort of see them as my professional grandchildren.

KEILAR: I love it.

Look, they are doing this because of you. You know, and a few others. This is why they can do this. And it's amazing to talk to someone who's such an inspiration and who is so talented.

Carole King, what a joy to speak with you this morning. Thank you.

KING: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And here's what else to watch.


ON SCREEN TEXT: 12:45 p.m. ET, Biden visits CT to promote Build Back Better plan.

1:15 p.m. ET, FDA advisers vote on boosters.

5:30 p.m. ET, First lady campaigns in Henrico County, Virginia.



KEILAR: Some new CNN reporting just in about President Biden's efforts to avoid an accidental war with China. Stand by for that.


BERMAN: When the coronavirus pandemic struck Bali, tourism, the driving economic force in the region, practically came to a halt. Thousands of people were left out of work and at risk of going hungry. This week CNN's Hero found a way to help his community by implementing a simple plan, empower people to trade in collected plastic waste for rice.


JANUR YASA, CNN HERO: I kept going with this mission because people empowered me, because people get excited, because of the community that respond into this initiative.

I see the smile in their face. I see the cleaner environment. And also I see they can provide for their family. This initiative is so simple, and we can do this in every community.

We clean the environment. We feed the people. And they're proud doing this.

My goal is to really spread this movement. I want to inspire people that everything is possible. There is no small dream.


If you believe and you do it with the community and you will succeed.


BERMAN: Wonderful.