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Biden: Elections May Be "Illegitimates" If Voting Bills Not Passed; Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) is Interviewed on Democracy in Peril. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2022 - 08:00   ET


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Just to remind our viewers what Havana syndrome is, this is when U.S. diplomats, spies, and military personnel around the globe have experienced symptoms of vertigo, nausea, sometimes piercing directional noise, and in some cases traumatic brain injury.

So we are hearing in the findings, in the response to these initial findings, not great responses from those who have come out and talked about the awful symptoms that they have experienced. We are hearing from the lawyer of one of those officials, Mark Zaid, saying in response quote, "Too bad this is contradicted by classified info CIA won't share."

Now, CIA Director Bill Burns is saying that the work here is not done. These are interim findings, and there are about two dozen cases that are still unexplained. Those are the ones that they are going to be digging into. There may be others, but those are the ones that they are going to be still looking at to try to figure out what and who is behind these mysterious attacks

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Kylie, this is very interesting, and I know it's gg going to raise a lot of eyebrows and raise a lot of new questions. Thank you so much for your reporting.

New day continues right now.

Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, January 20th. I'm John Berman. Brianna is working nights this week. Kasie Hunt here in the chair to mark the one-year anniversary with the Biden presidency.


BERMAN: So this morning the White House is trying to make clear the president did not somehow give permission for Russian leader Vladimir Putin to launch some kind of incursion, but a minor incursion, into Ukraine. His remarks at his one-year news conference raised immediate alarm in Kiev after the president spoke in stunningly stark terms of what he sees as the likelihood of a Russian invasion.

And that was in addition to other major developments in the news conference, one where for the first time he said he would be willing to break up his significant domestic agenda bill. He refused to say the next elections would be legitimate. He confessed surprise by the lack of flexibility among Republicans in a lingering power of Donald Trump. But, finally the most immediate concern this morning deals with Ukraine.

HUNT: His comments come at a tipping point in that region as Russia nearly completes its buildup of forces along the Ukrainian border. An invasion, Biden suggests, all but inevitable.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia will be held account accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they're capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.


HUNT: The White House quickly attempted to clean up those remarks. Here is what Vice President Kamala Harris said just moments ago.


KAMALA HARRIS, (D) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will interpret any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia and Vladimir Putin as an aggressive action, and it will be met with costs, severe and certain.


BERMAN: Joining us now, chief Washington correspondent, anchor of THE LEAD and co-anchor of STATE OF THE UNION, Jake Tapper, who was in the chair during this news conference. And this morning, Jake, I think the key question is where is the White House now? How would you assess how they're trying to manage this situation?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they have a few things to clean up from the press conference. Look, President Biden often says what's on his mind. Sometimes that can be seen as refreshing. Sometimes it can be seen as confusing. And sometimes perhaps it could be seen as dangerous. And in giving his assessment of the reality of the unanimity of NATO, which is that they are united on some things but not, for instance, a quote-unquote, minor incursion, he caused problems for the NATO coalition. He caused problems for Ukraine.

You heard Matthew Chance's reporting out of Ukraine, out of Kiev, individuals worried that President Biden essentially gave a, quote, green light to Putin. That is certainly not what the White House wanted the president to convey. But as we know, Vladimir Putin watches American politics very sharply, very keenly, like a hawk, and I don't think that necessarily the president said anything that Putin didn't already know in terms of what he could get away with and what he cannot get away with. But I do think that perhaps it gives him further pretext to carry out an invasion, especially when you consider that it did sound to Ukrainian officials as though President Biden was distinguishing between a minor incursion and a major invasion, and, in their view, giving a green light for the minor incursion.


HUNT: And Jake, do you think that this projects weakness among the NATO allies to have actually said this out loud as commander in chief?

TAPPER: I don't think it conveys what NATO allies would have wanted the president to say, which would have been a very clear deterrent. Don't do this. This is what's going to happen. No shades of gray. No distinguishing, trying to convince Putin that it was not in his interest to invade. That doesn't mean there is anything necessarily that President Biden could have said that would have changed Putin's mind one way or the other. He's going to do what he's going to do. But I don't think it was the kind of clear, concise, do not do this, this is why, that I'm sure even people in the national security apparatus for the Biden administration, much less Germany and other NATO countries would have wanted him to say.

BERMAN: Jake, shifting gears to the domestic agenda. And again, what this all really portends going forward, the president said he was surprised by Republican intransigence, that he couldn't get Republicans to work with him as much as he'd like. Although I will note, he did pass the infrastructure bill, which notably had bipartisan support, which seems to be an exception to the rule, which calls into his question whether or not his view of the rule is exactly how envisions it. But he was surprised by Republicans, also surprised by the lingering power of Donald Trump, and that somehow is going to change he says. So what does that mean?

TAPPER: Well, I don't know if he's actually surprised by it or not. He was the vice president for Barack Obama, and Mitch McConnell met right after the election of Barack Obama and said that his goal was to make Obama a one-term president. The idea that Republican in intransigence is something new or partisan politics in Washington is something new, I think this was probably more for domestic consumption.

But as you note, he does have a major bipartisan accomplishment in the infrastructure bill, and instead of choosing to talk about that and herald that major accomplishment, which eluded previous presidents, he chose to talk about Republican intransigence. And that's, I guess, a midterm election strategy. Obviously, I'm not saying that there isn't Republican intransigence. There is. But there are ways and places where they could cooperate. It's not easy, but that of course is why Biden got the job. He told the American people that he could do this. He was a deal maker. HUNT: Jake, I want to go back to, while we're on the domestic agenda,

and talk about a little bit about little bit about voting and the sanctity of our free and fair elections here, because it's pretty clear to me that President Biden had the base of the Democratic Party in mind when he was talking about voting rights and the importance of passing voting rights legislation. But he did it in such a way that questioned the legitimacy potentially of the midterm elections in 2022. We just talked to Senator Chris Coons. He said that there is a meeting today, a bipartisan meeting to talk about the reforming the Electoral Count Act, some real questions about whether progressive Democrats are going to be willing to go along with it. How dangerous do you think it is that President Biden went there on questioning the legitimacy of our elections? And what should he do next?

TAPPER: It's never good for an American president to sow seeds of doubt in the legitimacy of American elections unless he has some sort of overwhelming reason as to why he's making that argument. And I do not see that. I don't think that President Biden should have said what he said about how he's not guaranteeing the legitimacy of the midterm elections. Of course not.

First of all, where's the evidence, as we would say with President Trump, where's the evidence for what you're talking about? Second of all, second of all, it's demoralizing for your own voters, as we saw in Georgia in January, 2021, when President Trump did that and depressed his own base. So that's a second reason.

And the third reason is, look, we can't pretend that it is as easy for the average minority voter, African American or Latino voter, to vote I this country -- Native American voter -- to vote in this country as it is for the average white voter. It is not. And we can't pretend that there isn't an effort right now on the state level to make it tougher to vote in 2022 than it was in 2020.

But all that being said, if we are now saying that any election like that is an illegitimate election, then point to me to one American election that's been legitimate. The effort to disenfranchise American voters is not a new one. The effort to make it tougher for people to vote in this country is not a new one. So are we ready to say that because that is part of the process in this country, as hideous as it is, we've never had a legitimate American election?


That's a road that I'm not ready to go down and I doubt President Biden is either.

BERMAN: Jake Tapper, a pleasure to have you on with us this morning. Thank you very much. And you can, of course, catch Jake on THE LEAD at 4:00 p.m. eastern time today.

So breaking overnight, the Supreme Court rejected a request by former president Trump to seal hundreds of White House records related to January 6th under claims of executive privilege. Some of that material has already been handed over to the January 6th committee, of which our next guest is a member. Joining me now is Congressman Pete Aguilar of California. Congressman, thank you so much. What do you have now in terms of those records?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA), VICE CHAIR, HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Well, the committee will start to go through those records promptly. We've received some already, and we will continue to receive some in the days ahead. But it's important to just note how important this is for us in our seek, in our desire to get to the ruth and to seek justice. This is important. This is an important step. The former president did not want these records out there, and we're going to find out exactly why.

BERMAN: Let me ask you about some of the specifics in the records that were requested there. The videos, the outtakes of some of the messages that he sent during the insurrection, why are those important?

AGUILAR: Well, those are important because we're trying to piece together what former president was doing in these 187 minutes that he may have been in the study off of the Oval watching the attack on the Capitol, and what his demeanor was like. Why didn't he go to the press room and call off these individuals? Why didn't he tell them not to do this? Those are some questions that we have.

And the speeches he gave, or the Rose Garden tweet that was put out, there may have been multiple takes, we have heard, and so we would be interested in what some of those other drafts and other takes would look like. So that has been something that we have asked about.

BERMAN: Call logs, what might they reveal to you in terms of who and when those calls were made?

AGUILAR: Well, the call logs and some of this other information, the notes from Mark Meadows himself is part of this kind of trove of documents. All of these will help us piece together and clarify some of the information that we have from public reporting, but also some of the information that we have received through depositions and interviews.

And so this becomes a corroborating and connective tissue that will help us piece together the puzzle of what exactly happened on January 6th, the lead-up to that, and what we need to do to protect democracy and to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

AGUILAR: From a legal perspective, why does the former president's state of mind during those 187 minutes, which you might get a bigger window into now -- there's a lot of information that you have today that you didn't have yesterday. But from a legal perspective, why does that state of mind matter?

AGUILAR: Well, I think it's important to know what the president was doing during those 187 minutes, and we have asked individuals who were around him some of those questions. But I think it's important to get to why didn't he help us? I was in the Capitol. I was on the House floor. Members of Congress on the other side of the aisle were reaching out to Mark Meadows and to others in the White House. Why didn't he do anything about it? And what was his intent? What did he want to see happen? Those are some of the things that I think are important if we're seeking to tell the truth to the American public.

BERMAN: When will the public learn what's in these documents?

AGUILAR: Well, we're still just going through them. And we've said before that we're in the investigative stage of our work. We will have a public stage that will include public hearings in the future, and that may be an opportunity where we can share what we have learned broadly through depositions and interviews and through some of the evidence and information that we see here today. So the answer is we're still working through this and we'll know more soon.

BERMAN: Congressman Pete Aguilar, thank you so much for being with us.

AGUILAR: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Just in, Bob Saget's widow breaking her silence after the comedian's sudden death. What she says about their final days together.

Plus, if you had a breakthrough COVID infection, are you able to return to living like it's 2019? We'll ask an expert.

HUNT: And we'll be joined this hour by ESPN's Stephen A. Smith who says without the COVID vaccine, he wouldn't be here.



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: As President Biden defends his first year in office, he declined to say yesterday if upcoming election would be fair and legitimate in the absence of voting rights reforms.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not saying it's going to be legit. The increase in the prospect of being illegitimate is a direct proportion of us not being able to get these reforms passed.


HUNT: Joining me now to discuss this is the Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, who, of course, many credit with the fact that Joe Biden is in the White House today, having weighed in at a criminal moment in the president's campaign.

So, sir, I want to start by asking your view. We heard what the president had to say about whether the election would be legitimate in 2022 if these vote rights bills are not passed.

Do you agree with what he said in that press conference? Are you concerned that without these voting rights bills, the election results won't be legitimate?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I'm absolutely concerned about that. First of all, thanks for having me.

Let me remind the audience that in 1965 at the time of the advent of the Voting Rights Act, only 3 percent of African Americans in Alabama were registered to vote. We come in with the 1965 Voting Rights Act and look what we have now.

Nine years ago, the Supreme Court took direct aim at that act in Shelby v. Holder and got rid of preclearance.


And what preclearance means -- I want people to understand -- it means that if you change your voting laws and you've got a history of discriminating against black people or other minorities, you have to submit those changes to the Justice Department or to a federal court and explain why they are not discriminatory. And if they're not discriminatory, then you go ahead and do it.

So that's what we're doing here. We know the history of Alabama. We know the history of Georgia, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina. We know that history. And so they are now making these changes.

And one change is if you give somebody a drink water standing in line, it's a felony. That is crazy.

So how could it be a legitimate election if you've got those kinds of things hanging over you? And so, that's what we're trying to do here, put some federal oversight so when people make these kinds of felonious accusations at the voting booth, you can do something about it or at least prevent it.

HUNT: Sir, I absolutely take your point on the history and what's at stake and you, of course, are a critical voice on that. But I'm wondering in the context of today where you have Republicans, many believing President Trump's big lie that the election was stolen in 2020, do Democrats not need to make sure that there is confidence and faith in our election systems, even though as you point out, they're currently imperfect?

CLYBURN: Please tell me how we can make sure.

You've got 19 states that already passed 34 laws to make it harder to vote, to make the lines longer, getting rid of drop boxes so that people who don't have the convenience of voting. And you tell me -- you want the Democrats to make sure that it's fair? Do the Republicans have any responsibility for this?

It's their state. They are the majority in the legislature where these laws being passed. Please talk to the Republicans and ask them why are you doing this? What are you afraid of? What is it about democracy you do not want to have?

Why (INAUDIBLE) to install some cult as your party, and the cult leader as your presidential nominee? These are questions that I think need to be asked of the Republican Party. They are the ones making these changes.

HUNT: So big picture, sir and I absolutely hear the frustration in your voice around what Republicans are doing. What do you think is the level of frustration among Democrats and among your own party with how the president is doing?

I mean, we saw Stacey Abrams declined attend the president's voting rights speech down in Georgia, arguing that perhaps it was too little -- some, excuse me, others arguing that it was too little too late on voting rights.

How do you think that the president has handled his push to try and address all of these problems that you pointed out?

CLYBURN: Well, let me tell you something. I really, really believe in this president, and I agree the way he has sequenced these things. I've been saying to people pretty much all my life, as I started at very early age, that the first thing you need to do with any individual is make sure that their health is good, because if their health is not good, nothing else matters to them.

And so when this president came into office, the first order of business was to stop the dying. Get people well. Get shots in people's arms, and let's do what we can to get beyond this pandemic.

So, everybody who says that his first order of business should have been voting, I respectfully disagree. The first order of business is to get people healthy. And then you worry about voting.

So, he sequenced this correctly. He did the Rescue Act, and then we got people back to work with the infrastructure bill, and then he turned his attention to voting.

Now, you are telling me that if we had done this first, that it would have stopped the filibuster? I don't think so. I've been around Washington long enough to know that if people get dug in on philosophical things like keeping people from voting, there is not much you can do with them.

So, he was not going to stop this filibuster if he had done it way back in February of last year. I don't think so.

HUNT: All right. Congressman James Clyburn. It's an honor, always to have you here. Thank you very much for your perspective this morning.


Pretty significant.

CLYBURN: Thank you very much for having me.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is. And look, one of the issues here is that to some extent, Donald Trump broke the way that people talk about the electoral process here and what he tried to basically the question existence of truth period.

HUNT: Right.

BERMAN: And legitimacy of elections. So, President Biden is being compared to something that it's almost impossible to compare to when he's asked, will the elections be legitimate? You want your president to say the elections are legitimate. The apparatus is legitimate.

He somehow was trying to thread a needle and suggest that without these voting rights laws and also with the likely election of people who are running on lies about elections, that he doesn't know, he doesn't know. Will they warp the election process?

But the language that's being used is clearly concerning. It was interesting to hear James Clyburn just flat out without any compunction say that he has no problem calling elections illegitimate. This is going to be interesting for Democrats.

HUNT: Well, Clyburn's response right there tells me that that's exactly the kind of person that the president had in mind yesterday at his press conference, when he was answering that question, he was thinking about how African-American voters across the country and especially of people like Congressman Clyburn would respond and react.

All right. Coming up next, how far are we from getting past the omicron peak? Maybe not far at all? We have the latest outlook on the pace of the pandemic.

And we're just minutes away from getting weekly jobless numbers. This is very important data coming. We'll tell you what it says.