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Senate GOP Opens Door to Some Gun Reform as Talks Intensify; Witnesses Who Dealt with Proud Boys to Testify on Thursday; Email: Trump Campaign Told Fake Electors in Georgia to Use 'Secrecy'; U.S. Intel Chief: Biden Declassified Russia Intel Over Allied 'Skepticism'; Ukraine: Intense Fighting Ongoing in Sloviansk Against Russians. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 07, 2022 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.


On this NEWS DAY, two leading Republican senators say that raising the age to buy semi-automatic weapons is likely off the table, but it's interesting what they're looking do instead.

Five members of the Proud Boys, including the group's top leader, now charged with seditious conspiracy in the Capitol attack. What the evidence shows.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: In a blow to the Biden administration, Mexico's president says that he will skip the Summit of the Americas because of who the U.S. decided to exclude.

Plus, gas prices keep hitting record highs. We will break down the numbers and why we might not see prices come down anytime soon.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, June 7.

We have important new reporting this morning on the status of the gun safety talks in Washington. Negotiators met late into the night, and it seems there are areas of possible agreement. Narrow agreement, but agreement.

Word of a measure that might change how people younger than 21 buy semiautomatic weapons. Remember, both the killers in Buffalo and Uvalde were 18. They used semiautomatic AR-15-style weapons.

This would not be a ban on sales to those under 21, which the president and others have called for, but something of an adjustment; and we will have details on that in just a moment.

Since Friday, gun violence has killed more than a dozen people and injured dozens more in at least 13 mass shootings in the United States. Awful scenes at graduation parties, a night club, a popular entertainment district and a strip mall.

Let's go right to CNN's Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill to get the very latest on what is being discussed in these meetings -- Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a two-hour meeting late into the evening yesterday of those four principals, including John Cornyn, the leading Republican negotiator; and Chris Murphy, the leading Democratic negotiator.

They are emerging from this meeting last night telling us that they have more work to do, but progress is being made on one very specific provision.

And that is looking at how to look at the juvenile records of people between the ages of 18 and 21 when they try to go and buy a semiautomatic weapon.

Thom Tillis telling me and my colleague, Manu Raju, yesterday that this could create some kind of waiting period for individuals who go and try to buy these kinds of weapons at a gun store. And it could be between two, three, four weeks. There could be an expedited process. They're looking at the best way to do that.

But it just gives you a sense of how narrow and targeted this proposal is going to be.

Murphy striking a tone of optimism last night saying that, yes, there's more work to do, but he's feeling very good about the progress they're making.

What is not on the table in this negotiation is raising the age that you could buy one of these weapons from 18 to 21. Many Republicans saying if states want to do that. That is their prerogative, but they are not going to be targeting it.

They're also talking about trying to ensure that schools have more safety protocols, as well as making sure that there is more money for mental health.

But again, this is a narrow proposal. This is not going to be the panacea that the president called for just a week ago. But lawmakers feeling optimistic they may be able to get to a deal by the end of the week. We'll just have to wait and see -- John.

BERMAN: The timing is everything here. It will be very interesting to see over the next few hours what we hear from senators on both sides about this possible waiting-like period for people younger than 21 to buy these semiautomatic weapons.

Lauren Fox, terrific reporting. Thank you.

KEILAR: Witnesses who interacted with the far-right Proud Boys on and around January 6 are among those scheduled to testify at the first public hearing in prime time on Thursday, and Katelyn Polantz is joining us with new CNN reporting on this.

Can you tell us who the committee is going to hear from?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. We're now getting a hint of what we're going to get in these public hearings from the House.

The two people that we've learned of last night, my colleagues on the Hill are reporting that one is Capitol Hill Police Officer Caroline Edwards. She was injured on January 6.

And the other is documentarian Nick Quested. So he was a videographer that was essentially embedded with the Proud Boys, this politically- connected right-wing group we've heard a lot about over the past several years.

And there is an expectation that he may have video of lots of moments with them leading up to January 6, potentially, allegedly planning that they may have been doing; a key meeting that Enrique Tarrio, the head of the Proud Boys, had before the attack.

And then also, he was on the ground with them that day. So we're going to get a new view, and potentially, he'll be walking through this as the House is asking him questions.

At the same time, this is great timing for the House, because the Proud Boys just yesterday were charged with a new, very significant set of charges, seditious conspiracy. So we did have people like Enrique Tarrio, five Proud Boys leaders charged previously with conspiracy related to January 6. Prosecutors are now bringing a more ambitious case called seditious conspiracy.

And what they're alleging now is that this group was not just conspiring together to obstruct the vote on January 6; they also were working together to intimidate members of Congress with force to get them to leave what they were doing on January 6 to get out of the chamber of Congress.

KEILAR: It's really interesting reporting. And separately, I know that you're also learning about a fake elector scheme in Georgia that was directed by the Trump campaign.

POLANTZ: Right. So we've heard about this fake elector situation across several different states, battleground states where Trump had lost. The Trump campaign wanted to bring fake electors in, certify the vote, just in case Biden's electors fell through for some reason.


And what I obtained was an e-mail that the Trump campaign, a staffer in Georgia, directed Republican electors for Trump to meet in the state house the next day in secret and gave specific directions: Please do this secretly.

The staffer, Robert Sinners, wrote, "Your duties are imperative to ensure the end result, a win in Georgia for President Trump, but will be hampered unless we have complete secrecy and discretion."

Now, ultimately, that meeting of the electors in Georgia for Trump was caught on camera, and people that were electors there were talking about it publicly. But this e-mail urging secrecy from the Trump campaign is now of interest to three different sets of investigators. We know that the House committee obtained it. We know that the Fulton County grand jury that's looking into Trump in Georgia, they also obtained it.

And then finally the Justice Department. This is something that is part of the Justice Department investigation into the electors as they continue their January 6 probe.

KEILAR: There it is in writing, right? In writing.

Katelyn Polantz, fantastic reporting. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: A whole lot there. Joining me now, "EARLY START" anchor and attorney at law Laura Jarrett; CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin; CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.

I want to start with the legal team of Jarrett, Jarrett and Toobin here. The charges of --

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Who's the second Jarrett?

BERMAN: You're on there twice. Can't just have two.


JARRETT: I'll take it.

AVLON: The little one.

BERMAN: I want to he know, seditious conspiracy, what exactly is that and the significant of levying these charges on the Proud Boys.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Counselor, you want to take that, or you want me to do that?

JARRETT: So the significance here is -- is quite serious. This is the most serious charge that we have seen to date against this group of rioters.

We've seen the Oath Keepers charged with it. Now we have the Proud Boys. They're upping the ante. They're facing, potentially, 20 years if convicted.

And it's essentially the heart of what this whole thing is. Striking at the heart of democracy, trying to stop the vote count, trying to stop the peaceful transition of power. And the key is that they were trying to do it by force.

They have the planning. They have the facilitation. They have all of this. The question is, is there any connection to the Trump campaign? Are these just fringe groups acting on their own? Are we in sort of act one here, or is this the end of the road?

TOOBIN: That is the question that really hangs over the entire January 6 investigation, because look, we've known since the day it happened, that there were people attacking the Capitol. And we now know a great deal more about the Proud Boys and other groups that were affiliated and part of that attack on the Capitol.

What we have not seen and what is the great question surrounding this investigation is what, if any, was the connection between the people inside the Capitol and the Trump campaign or the Trump White House. That seems to be a focus of the January 6th investigation, including what we'll see on Thursday. But we'll see it when we see it, because we haven't seen it yet.

AVLON: Look, an attempted coup would fall under seditious conspiracy. And the fact that you've got the Proud Boys now being charged with this, as I mentioned, the Oath Keepers. These are two organizations which are paramilitary self-styled sort of vigilante organizations that were, among other things, providing security to people in the Trump orbit.

We know from other depositions that the head of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, was in contact with somebody in Trump's orbit, possibly within the White House.

And so this is very serious. Remember "stand by, stand back"?

BERMAN: President Trump -- then-President Trump, during the debate, was asked, if you would have to send a message to the Proud Boys. He said, "Stand back and stand by," Proud Boys.

AVLON: Correct. So the question is, for what? What kind of -- what kind of coordination, if any, was occurring? But this is very serious. The issue -- conspiracy and sedition. This seems to be where things are going. There's a bunch of people who say, Look, if it's an unsuccessful coup, what laws could you possibly break? It's a conspiracy.

BERMAN: Conspiracy is two or more people engaging in an action to stop an active government. That would be seditious conspiracy --

JARRETT: Do you want to join our law firm? You've got the elements of this crime down pat.

BERMAN: There's a good hiring environment right now. The confluence of events here, John, is that, look, there's the legal case here, the Justice Department with this indictment, but also the January 6th Committee.


BERMAN: Their first hearing, which is now Thursday now, we are now told will focus on said Proud Boys, and the witnesses will be concerned maybe with this broader area. What do you think about that?

AVLON: Look, it's clear they are laying out a story. They're trying to do a -- tell a story over several nights. They're trying to build to, potentially, Donald Trump on the last night. The question will be, can they persuade anybody? Particularly if the

hearings are not being held live on partisan networks that may be key to communicating the seriousness to people who haven't been paying attention.


I think how they tell the story, how they lay out the total arc the first night is going to be key. And how much is new information and how much is simply repackaging?


AVLON: Because the news media will be looking for new information. They have over a thousand hours of interviews.

BERMAN: This is the schedule we're seeing right now. Thursday night in prime time, you can see it right here live on CNN at 8 p.m. And now we know the second hearing will be Monday morning at 10 a.m.

I want to come back to the hearings in just a second, if I can, and stay on the law and this new reporting we just got from Kaitlan. First, Georgia. Can we talk about Georgia?

JARRETT: Georgia is, like, the sleeper in this whole thing. It is because it's the -- it's where, I think, the most exposure is. And Kaitlan's reporting on it is so good, because it speaks to this whole issue of intent.

If this whole thing was on the up and up and you actually believed that Donald Trump was the rightful winner, why is all of this shrouded in secrecy? I think that it speaks to the criminality of it, and it speaks to the criminal -- potential criminal intent of the actors involved.

Now what Trump knew, of course all of that's going to be -- remain to be seen. But the fact that a member of the Trump campaign is on the record in an e-mail saying, We have to do all this shrouded in secrecy, I think, is noteworthy.

TOOBIN: Criminal intent is always the hardest thing to prove in a white-collar case. Because, you know, Donald Trump will say, Look, I was doing this in the open. I was working with a lawyer, John Eastman, who was a Supreme Court law clerk, what -- where is the secrecy here?

That e-mail suggests that they were operating in secret, which suggests that they knew they were doing something wrong. In fairness, we need to point out that the person who sent that e-mail appears to be a fairly low-level person.

Where he got the instruction to act in secrecy, that's something that people are going to want to know. But it's a suggestion that at least some people in the Trump orbit knew that this was an improper, if not illegal operation.

BERMAN: Just to remind people what we're talking about here, what Kaitlan just reported, is this is an e-mail from someone who was working with the Trump campaign to Georgia, would-be Trump Georgia electors, telling them to meet in private, to put together this alternate slate of electors who would then put Donald Trump in the White House, presumably.

JARRETT: The whole thing was to try and give Pence a pretext, right, to try the stop the vote, which of course, he didn't do.

AVLON: These are fake electors that are being set up. This an attempt to basically come up with a legal fiction to try to steal the election.

And the question you just raised, how was this communicated. You know, how did the low-level Trump staffer get this idea to coordinate the pressure? How did the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers get this idea that they were to disrupt the counting of the electoral votes on January 6th? Was this loosely coordinated? And if so, how close to the White House and the Oval Office did it get?

BERMAN: Let's talk now about Thursday night, because again, we were just talking about the Proud Boys, this person who did a documentary on the Proud Boys will be a witness Thursday night, we're told, as will a Capitol police officer.

James Goldston, former president of ABC News, who I worked for, full disclosure, when he was E.P. of "GMA" and "Nightline," a terrific television producer, has been brought in to help produce --


BERMAN: -- these hearings. What does that tell you?

JARRETT: I think it shows you that they want to make this compelling. They know that a certain segment of the American public has a tin ear to this, sadly, and shouldn't, but has seen that video of them storming the Capitol so many times now it may not have the same impact.

And so I think that they brought in, essentially, an expert, a show runner, to try to package it in a way that breaks through.

TOOBIN: And it is worth remembering that most congressional hearings are absolutely awful to watch on television. They are, you know, when they give each member of Congress five minutes to ask questions when they bloviate for five minutes and then don't even ask any questions. I mean, no wonder those don't have much of an impact.

There seems to be an acknowledgement here, is that we have to make a television slow, and that's why they hired a television professional. We'll see what he produces, but it seems to me, at least, that they are thinking in a -- in a more intelligent way about it.

BERMAN: It's interesting that, according to "The Washington Post" -- well, a few things to watch for, according to "The Washington Post."

No. 1, first night, the focus perhaps on the Proud Boys and the Capitol itself with that documentarian and also the Capitol Police officer.

Somewhere in the middle, video depositions that could include Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. And then the last day of the hearings will be the focus on Donald Trump himself. And that's the part that interests me, John. Why wait?

AVLON: Because you're building up to the main point. Because you're trying to keep people's attention.

TOOBIN: If you've lost the audience by the last one, why not lead with your strongest material?

AVLON: I think this is -- Yes. And I think it's a question of the story telling of this, right. You're connecting the dots. You're trying to tell a compelling true story.

You are going to need to, in the opening hearing, create the arc for people. And this is what we're going to -- it's the old rule for speech writing, right? You know, tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them. And so that's got to happen the first night.


People need to know what to expect, even as new information and bombshells drop.

There's high expectations around this. But again, you cannot emphasize enough that what we are doing, despite the fact we've been covering this for so long, this is unprecedented in American history. This is not a partisan exercise. This goes to the heart of our democracy.

And so, yes, people -- people better pay attention, but if you need to make it more palatable by telling the story well, that's also your obligation as someone trying to uphold the Constitution.

BERMAN: John Avlon, Laura Jarrett, Jeffrey Toobin, great to see you all this morning. Thank you very much.

President Biden gave the order to declassify intelligence in the run- up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This morning, we know why.

And another Russian general killed on the battlefield. We're live in Ukraine.

KEILAR: Plus, gas prices shattering all-time highs. When will this end? Christine Romans breaking it down, next.



KEILAR: This morning, the DNI revealing why President Biden declassified intel before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Admiral Haines saying that it's because U.S. officials' warnings of the attack were being met by skepticism by American allies. CNN's Alex Marquardt is joining us now on this story. Tell us what's

new here.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it can be hard to remember now how high the doubt was in the lead-up to the war in Ukraine that this would actually happen.

Putin had massed troops along the border before and hadn't done anything. This time there were more troops surrounding Ukraine.

I was in Ukraine in the lead-up to this war. A lot of Ukrainians I spoke with didn't believe it would happen two days before the war happened. President Zelenskyy himself said, We don't think that there's going to be a war. And that was echoed among American allies in NATO and in Europe.

So according to the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, President Biden essentially told her and told the intelligence community, you need to declassify this stuff. This is a quote from the director of national intelligence.

She says that Biden told them, "You need to go out and share as much as you possibly can and ensure that folks see what it is that you're seeing so that we can engage again and perhaps have more productive conversations about how to plan for, essentially, the potential of a Russian invasion."

So that's what the intelligence community did. They went out, and they selectively declassified and released some of what they knew. They talked about the potential for Russian false flag operations, for Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns. They talked about the number of Russian troops they were seeing on the border and the number of battle groups.

This is a very sensitive and complex process, declassification. It's one that can essentially also burn what are known as sources and methods, the way that intelligence, the intelligence community collects this intelligence.

So it was not just in order to bring these allies on board, but it was also to make the Russians doubt what it was that they were doing to sow doubt, to make them think that, if they went ahead with this, there wouldn't be this element of surprise.

It was very effective in communicating to the world what it was the U.S. intelligence was seeing. And they were correct in predicting that this war would end up happening.

Now there were some miscalculations in terms of the strength of the Ukrainians, underestimating how strong they would be in their morale, underestimating -- overestimating the strength of the Russian forces. And there's actually an intelligence review under way on how the intelligence community assesses foreign fighting forces.

But the way that they declassified all this intelligence, Avril Haines says, could be used as a model in the future for other subjects. KEILAR: They really wrested control of the narrative, the U.S. intel

community did, the U.S. government did with this. So it's interesting to see how they're trying for a repeat of it in the future.

Alex, great reporting. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: So this morning, heavy fighting being reported in Eastern Ukraine as Russia tries to continue to press its offensive there. CNN's Ben Wedeman this morning is live for us in Sloviansk.

And Ben, I do understand you are now hearing air raid sirens, and there's a sense that the Russians aren't that far away?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're in Sloviansk where the Russians are just to the Northeast of us here, and air raid sirens have been going on most of the day. And we've been hearing fairly regular blasts.

Nonetheless, people are trying -- the few people left in this city are trying to get on with daily life. In fact, right behind me is a center where people are able to pick up diapers, baby formula, and other food for very young children.

But people are leaving this city. We watched earlier today as two busloads of people left the town.

Now, they're not only leaving because of the threat of an imminent Russian attack, but also the fact that there's no running water, there hasn't been running water since about ten days in this town.

Oftentimes there's no electricity. And cooking gas is in short supply, as well. And in fact, we've heard from Ukrainian officials that the front line outside of Sloviansk is, in their words, under constant fire.

And unlike in Severodonetsk, which is to the East of here, where there's been back and forth battles -- sometimes the Ukrainians are able to regain ground -- in this area, they're under constant pressure from Russian forces.

And officials say at this point, there's no inexpedience, in their words, to talk about a counteroffensive.


So the fighting not far from here in Severodonetsk. As I said, it's back and forth but continues to be very intense -- John.

BERMAN: We can hear the air raid sirens. We can hear the cries of children living under constant threat. Ben Wedeman, thank you very much.

So gas prices continue to rise. We're going to talk about the record numbers we're seeing in all kinds of places, next.

KEILAR: And another Tuesday, another primary day. What to watch in the races in seven states just ahead.


KEILAR: Gas prices continue to skyrocket, unfortunately, jumping another nickel overnight.

With us now, Christine Romans, anchor of "EARLY START" and CNN chief business correspondent, to break down some of these numbers for us. What are you seeing?