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Pence's Legal Advisor to Testify of Trump's Plan to 'Cling to Power'; NYT: Pro-Trump Lawyer Connected Potential Violence to Trump Actions; Committee Raises Questions about Loudermilk's Jan. 5 Capitol Tour. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired June 16, 2022 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, June 16. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.
And a flurry of new developments overnight surrounding the January 6th insurrection, just hours before the next hearing gets under way.
"The New York Times" reports previously undisclosed emails from Trump lawyer John Eastman, claiming he was aware of a, quote, "heated fight" among Supreme Court justices over whether to take up a case on the 2020 election.
But even more than that, "The Times" reports a response from another pro-Trump lawyer, quote, "Odds of action by the Supreme Court before January 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be wild chaos on January 6 unless they rule by then either way."
This was about two weeks, this email, before the insurrection. The "Times" says this raises questions about a link to the idea of the violence that ultimately took place. Much more on this in just a moment.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: But first, CNN is learning exclusively what an adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence will say at today's hearing, which focuses on the pressure that Donald Trump put on Pence to deny votes.
Retired Republican federal Judge J. Michael Luttig is expected to condemn Trump for instigating a war on democracy so that he could cling to power. Judge Luttig says, "Had the vice president of the United States obeyed the president of the United States, America would immediately have been plunged into what would have been tantamount to a revolution within a paralyzing constitutional crisis."
BERMAN: Let's begin our coverage this morning with Pamela Brown in Washington. Pamela, Judge Luttig will be one of the key witnesses today, and you have a preview of what he will say.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Yes, that's right. John and Brianna, retired Republican federal judge, Judge J. Michael Luttig, is a key witness, testified to the committee today, because he advised Pence it would be unconstitutional to overturn the election results.
And our Jamie Rangel obtained his opening statement. And in it, he paints a clear picture of a constitutional crisis with democracy on the brink, saying, "This false and reckless insistence that the former president won the 2020 presidential election has laid waste to Americans' confidence in their national elections. More alarming still is that the former president pledges that his reelection will not be stolen from him next time around, and his Republican Party allies and supporters obeisantly pledge the same."
And he goes on to say, "No American ought to turn away from January 6, 2021, until all of America comes to grips with what befell our country that day and we decide what we want for our democracy from this day forward."
Now, what makes Luttig's testimony even more compelling here is his stature in Republican circles and his connection to John Eastman, the Trump attorney who pushed that six-point plan for Pence to overturn the election. Eastman was once a clerk for him.
And on January 5, 2021, after Pence's lawyer asked for help, Luttig tweeted out that Pence didn't have the power to overturn the election.
Back to you.
BERMAN: Just a taste of what he might say when he's under oath in this hearing, which starts in just a few hours. Pamela Brown, stay with us. We have more to discuss.
KEILAR: And more now on "The New York Times" reporting about Trump lawyer John Eastman's claim that he was aware of a heated fight among Supreme Court justices. They were allegedly battling over whether to hear arguments about the former president's efforts to overturn the election.
CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live for us in Washington. Katelyn, what are we learning about this email?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this new story from "The New York Times" describes emails between two lawyers who were working with Donald Trump and the Trump campaign after the election.
They did appear to reveal that one lawyer, John Eastman, he's well connected among conservatives, a former Supreme Court clerk, that he had insight into the internal deliberations of the Supreme Court and that another lawyer was using that information with him to look at ramping up their legal battle with this expectation of chaos on January 6.
So in these emails, the "Times" says that Eastman on Christmas Eve 2020 writes, "So the odds are not based on the legal merits but an assessments of the justices' spines, and I understand that there is a heated fight under way." He then says, "For those willing to do their duty" -- that would be on the Supreme Court -- "we should help them by giving them a Wisconsin cert petition to add into the mix."
So that appears to be Eastman using his familiarity with the high court to plot out what Trump should do to try to overturn the election result.
That's astonishing on its own. Then the second lawyer comes in and he replies. He's assisting the campaign, too. His name is Kenneth Chesebro. He replies that "The odds of action before January 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be wild chaos on January 6, unless by then -- unless they rule by then, either way."
So you see there that, according to this report, there was this discussion of how this effort by Trump to block the election using the courts could be considered, at the same time that they were expecting his supporters to descend on Washington. this potentially intimidating moment; how those two sides of this plan were fitting together.
The "Times" is also saying that these emails were obtained by the House Select Committee when they got access to hundreds of Eastman's emails in recent weeks.
I should also add that CNN has reached out to the House Committee. They're not commenting at this time. But Brianna and John, we do know that today the House's public hearing will be focused on this pressure campaign aimed at Mike Pence.
And from what the committee has said, their findings about Pence are as much as they are about Eastman and what Eastman was trying to do on behalf of Donald Trump. So we already know we will be hearing more about John Eastman and his emails today.
KEILAR: It raises the question, how did Eastman have insight into what the court was thinking, if he did, if you take him at his word in these emails? We don't know the answer to that at this point, but the January 6th Committee, Katelyn, does have emails between Eastman and Ginni Thomas, who is, of course, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.
POLANTZ: That's right. So we don't -- we don't know exactly why Eastman might believe or believe he can say he has insight, but we do know that the House in recent days was getting even additional emails from John Eastman. They won a recent court order, so they got new emails. And in that latest batch, there was this email correspondence that CNN has learned about between John Eastman/Ginni Thomas.
We don't know the nature of the contents of those emails, what they were. He is the sort of person that would have met Ginni Thomas, would know her for many, many years. He would know Justice Thomas. But we can say now that they were in touch -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Very interesting. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much for the reporting.
BERMAN: Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig; and Laura Jarrett, attorney at law and co-anchor of "EARLY START."
This new reporting raises a whole bunch of new questions. I do want to start with this email from Kenneth Chesebro, who was a pro-Trump lawyer who wrote to John Eastman, "Odds of action by the Supreme Court before January 6 will become more favorable if the justices start to fear that there will be wild chaos on January 6 unless they rule by then, either way."
It seems to discuss the strategic value of the idea of violence on January 6, weeks before it happens, Elie.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This is such a crucial link that we were wondering whether we would see when we went into these hearings.
This is the first piece of tangible evidence showing that people around Donald Trump, advising Donald Trump, suspected there might be violence. Not necessarily wanted it to happen, but if it happened, they said, We can benefit from this. There's an advantage to us if there is violence, if there is chaos that breaks out.
And they're trying to leverage that into pressure on the Supreme Court. It's the first link we have between the strategy that's going on behind the scenes and the hope for violence on January 6.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And it's interesting, because their argument has always been things got out of hand. We have legitimate court cases. We have a legitimate case to push forward.
But this is -- this sort of suggests that violence was actually a feature and it was contemplated and that, as you said, even if it wasn't wanted, it was out there and that they thought the Supreme Court would factor it into their decision.
Now, again, we have so many questions, right?
BERMAN: A lot.
JARRETT: I would think the panel would have to talk to this -- this Wisconsin lawyer and sort of interrogate what did you mean? And how was this discussed? Did the president know about it?
I mean, there's 1,000 questions you would want to cross-examine him Elie Honig style on, but we would need to flesh all of that out.
HONIG: Can I give you just one thing that jumped out at me? In the email the word "wild" --
HONIG: -- is in quotation marks. You would not put that in quotation marks.
JARRETT: And it was -- it was part of what Trump said in his -- in his tweet --
BERMAN: There you go.
JARRETT: -- days before, talking about it's going to be wild down on the Ellipse.
BERMAN: Exactly. That word was used by the former president himself. "Wild."
KEILAR: It's also reasonable that, if you're talking about the threat of violence, there's the possibility of violence.
I do wonder, though, Chesebro, is it enough that it's an email from him? It might be different if it were an email from Eastman. Does that matter in the intentionality of linking the potential of violence, being an instrument of this whole scheme?
JARRETT: I mean, this is -- this -- I mean, this article is full of all kinds of Easter eggs, but this is -- this is not the full picture. Right? We have no idea what they said in text messages, what they said to each other.
I mean, there's going to have to be a full sort of airing out of all of this, I think, when you're assessing the intentionality. But the basic point, of course, is that this all goes to the question of whether there was obstruction of an official proceeding, which is one of the charges we've seen in this case.
And whether that's the something that the Justice Department is interested in, vis-a-vis Eastman or anyone else, we don't yet know, but that would be the central -- that would be the central case, I would think.
HONIG: I've got questions for Ginni Thomas, as well --
JARRETT: Goodness, yes.
HONIG: -- that I would like to see asked. I don't know why -- maybe I do know why the committee has sort of tiptoed around her. Right?
It started off as she has these extremist views. Fine. You're allowed to have extremist views.
Then we started learning, well, she was involved in pressuring legislators in the state of Arizona. And now we're seeing these emails between her and Eastman. We don't know what's in those emails yet. Boy, I think we need to know that.
JARRETT: Yes, and why is the committee saying that they -- she's not -- she's not a part of this investigation?
Now, going on the record, saying she is -- she's not the focus of this investigation. OK. She's not the focus, but she's now a central player
Now going on the record saying she's -- she's not the focus of this investigation. OK, she's not the focus, but she's now a central player talking to the architect of the man who had the plot to overturn the 2020 election.
BERMAN: And, again, one of the key questions raised by this "New York Times" article is how does John Eastman know --
BERMAN: -- what's happening within the Supreme Court? I mean, haven't we just been through this, leaks from the Supreme Court being something that never happens?
JARRETT: And we should note, this is -- Eastman is not a bit player here. He has obviously crafted a very ill-conceived, I think, objectively problematic scheme. But he is a clerk to not only Michael Luttig, who's the former federal judge who is going to testify against the president today, explaining how this was an attack on democracy; he's a former clerk to Clarence Thomas.
He knows all of this people. He's very well-connected. So his view on all of this, I think, should be colored by the fact that he is sort of an insider, if you will.
HONIG: There's only two possibilities when he says, I'm hearing there's dissension within the Supreme Court. He's making it up, he's lying, or he has an inside track. It's got to be one of those two.
KEILAR: What do you think? Which one would you be inclined to think it is?
HONIG: I'm not really a conspiracy theorist, but you could draw a link -- look, there's known links. We're not sort of grasping at straws. We know he clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. We know he has emails -- we have reporting now -- with Ginni Thomas. I would look there first. Let's put it that way.
BERMAN: Elie Honig, Laura Jarrett, thank you both for being here this morning. A lot going on, to be sure.
So new video of a Republican congressman giving a tour at the Capitol the day before January 6th. Now the committee is raising new questions.
Plus, what is the latest status in the Senate gun talks? The lead Republican negotiator says there had been holdups on two key points, but they do plan to meet today for more discussions.
And Donald Trump telling friends he wants to announce a bid for the 2024 presidency before the midterm elections. Some of his advisers, though, they're not so sure about that strategy.
KEILAR: Video released by the January 6th Committee is raising some new questions and concerns about a tour given by Republican Congressman Barry Loudermilk on the eve of the insurrection. Was one of the rioters who was on that tour casing the Capitol building?
CNN's Pamela Brown is back with us on this story. Pam, tell us about this.
BROWN: Yes, so, Brianna, the Select Committee says the footage here shows one of the individuals to whom GOP Congressman Barry Loudermilk giving a tour on January 5th. And then that same person was outside the building during the insurrection, screaming threats about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Now, Capitol Police, they say that there is no evidence that Congressman Loudermilk gave a reconnaissance tour, but committee members say this video suggests otherwise.
BROWN (voice-over): The House Select Committee Investigating January 6th releasing new footage calling into question the actions of GOP Congressman Barry Loudermilk the day before the Capitol attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has begun.
BROWN (voice-over): The new video features footage from the Capitol attack of a man making direct threats to members of Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're coming in like white on rice for Pelosi, Nadler, Schumer, even you, AOC.
BROWN (voice-over): The video streamed live, showing a crowd walking towards the Capitol, featuring someone showing off a crude weapon he had made.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our fearless leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, baby. Check out my flag I made, guys. See it? There you go, baby. It's for a certain person.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.
BROWN (voice-over): That man recording the video was seen taking photos on a tour of Capitol offices with Loudermilk the day before. The man captured on Capitol Police surveillance cameras taking photos of a hallway, security checkpoint and a stairwell, while the congressman is talking to others nearby.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): He was taking pictures of things that tourists aren't usually very interested in. The tunnel between the Rayburn Building and the Capitol, where the next day I was evacuated through that tunnel. And we also know that the extremists were compiling maps of the tunnels and the buildings before January 6th.
BROWN (voice-over): By releasing this footage, the committee is directly challenging the findings of the Capitol Police, who earlier this week said in a statement that "There is no evidence the tour entered the Capitol. They were only seen in the adjacent Capitol offices and did not enter any of the tunnels leading into the Capitol," according to Capitol Police, the chief concluding, "We do not consider any of the activities we observed as suspicious."
REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): First they said there were no tours, there were no MAGA hats. They were very upset about that. Clearly, we know that there were tours. I do have more questions about the timing of this letter and the conclusions that they gathered and whether they had all of the information that -- that we have, when they issued this letter.
BROWN (voice-over): Loudermilk says he does not know the man taking the photos and denies any wrongdoing.
REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK (R-GA): There's nothing there. The Capitol Police looked at it, said there is nothing suspicious because the Capitol Police know when visitors come, they take pictures.
BROWN (voice-over): On Wednesday the Select Committee requested to meet with Loudermilk for a second time, writing, "The behavior of these individuals during the January 5th, 2021, tour raises concerns about their activity and intent while inside the Capitol complex."
BROWN (on camera): And looking ahead, today's hearing will focus on Trump's pressure campaign against then-Vice President Mike Pence to try to overturn the 2020 election on January 6, 2021, and how it put Pence's life in danger. That hearing will start this afternoon at 1 p.m. Eastern Time -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you for that report.
BERMAN: Joining us now is former deputy director of the FBI and CNN senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe.
Andy, how do you reconcile that video released by the January 6th Committee and the press release we saw just the day before from the Capitol Police saying, "We do not consider any of the activities we observed as suspicious"?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's really hard to reconcile those two things.
I should say, John, I am shocked that the Capitol Police would release such a statement that essentially gives the entire thing a clean bill of health, right? They're basically saying, We don't see anything here. I'm shocked that they would release a statement like that without doing a complete investigation, which would, of course, include reviewing the video from January 6th and would, you know, under any reasonable terms, include interviewing the people involved, to include the congressman, but also the people who appear on the video.
So I don't think you really can reconcile the two things. It appears to have been a bit of a rush to judgment, and I think there were many, many really interesting questions that remain around this issue. KEILAR: What stands out to you, Andy, when you look at this video?
MCCABE: Well, you know, this is -- what you see in that video is exactly the same sort of things that investigators who are investigating potential spies or terrorists or people who conduct casing activity, you see the same sorts of behaviors in that video.
It doesn't mean that that's what that person was doing. It just appears to be the same sort of pre-operational behavior that you look for among people who are planning some sort of an attack or an operation or something like that.
The photographing of security facilities and security checkpoints is a dead give-away to investigators that you have something suspicious on your hands here. That is not something that normal tourists take a look at.
When you combine that with the photographs of the egresses and the hallways in places where people would move through a totally secure building, it raises a lot of really concerning suspicions about what exactly was this group doing.
Now, again, it doesn't mean they were doing anything wrong, but it certainly is the kind of thing you'd want to look into.
BERMAN: Two sort of unknown things at this point, No. 1, we haven't heard any evidence that the person taking the pictures actually got inside any of the buildings on January 6.
And No. 2, Congressman Loudermilk says he doesn't know the guy. And the implication there is he doesn't know he was taking those pictures. How much do either of those two things matter?
MCCABE: Well, the first one I'd say matters somewhat less, because now we know from other reporting that there were discussions among extremists. Again, not necessarily this person we see in the video. But there were discussions in the community about occupying buildings.
You know, that's one of the revelations we've had in the last 24 hours about the internal Proud Boys document. They had some plan to actually occupy federal buildings. So those sorts of ideas are out there.
So you put that together with someone who's not in the Capitol, but in the Capitol office buildings, taking a look at security checkpoints and egresses, that all starts to look a little bit concerning.
As far as the congressman goes, he claims not to know this person. OK. Then how did you end up giving him and his group a tour on that day?
This is not something that -- that members of Congress typically do anyway. So let's sit down and talk about what you do know about this person, how you got connected with them. Why you put yourself in a position to personally walk them around and show them congressional office buildings on that day.
Again, there could be very reasonable, innocuous answers to these questions, but it is strange that the congressman's unwilling to sit down and provide reasonable, innocuous answers, if there are some.
BERMAN: The January 6th Committee has now asked at least twice that we know of. Andy McCabe, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
MCCABE: Thank you.
BERMAN: We are going to speak to January 6th Committee member Congressman Jamie Raskin ahead on the show. He'll tell us about today's hearings.
And we're also going to ask him about these new revelations in "The New York Times" about Trump lawyers talking about the idea, maybe even the strategic value, of violence on January 6, weeks before it took place.
The Fed declares war on inflation, hiking interest rates by three- quarters of a percent. What does that mean for your money?
KEILAR: Plus, new CNN reporting on how Donald Trump is getting more and more concerned about the rise of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
BERMAN: The bipartisan group of senators working on gun safety legislation will meet later today. The lead Republican negotiator tells CNN two key issues are still unresolved as they race to finalize the text of the bill by the week's end.
CNN's Lauren Fox, live on Capitol hill. Lauren, where exactly do things stand right now?
LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, they met late into the evening yesterday, and emerging Senator John Cornyn, the leading Republican negotiator, told us that he's getting closer to a deal with Democrats but that they were not there as of last night.
That's significant, because part of the deal was that they were hoping to find legislative text in a final agreement by this afternoon or early evening, because lawmakers are leaving town for the weekend.