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House January 6th Committee Continues Public Hearings on Attempts by Trump and His Supporters to Undermine Transfer of Presidential Power to Joe Biden; Witnesses in House January 6th Committee Hearing Report Tense Conversation between President Trump and Mike Pence During Insurrection; January 6th Hearing Raises Questions About Legal Exposure For Trump, Allies. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired June 17, 2022 - 08:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Look, they're worried about their families, and this is certainly not what they signed up for with these jobs. Sean, thank you so much.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Friday, June 17th, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

We do have some new evidence that Donald Trump and his allies knew their scheme to overturn the 2020 election was unconstitutional and illegal, and still they forged ahead with it anyway. That is raising some new questions this morning about the former president's legal jeopardy, his exposure here. Images also that we are seeing for the first time showing former vice president Mike Pence sheltering in a secure location for nearly five hours as rioters overwhelmed the Capitol, looking, chanting, to hang him. We were told they came within 40 feet of the vice president's evacuation route.

And we're also learning new details about a heated phone call between Trump and Pence on that morning of January 6th. This is what witnesses, including Ivanka Trump, said about Trump's demeanor on the call.


NICHOLAS LUNA, FORMER TRUMP SPECIAL ASSISTANT: I remember hearing the word "wimp," either he called him a wimp, I don't remember if he said, you are a wimp, you'll be a wimp.

IVANKA TRUMP, DAUGHTER OF FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: It was a different tone than I'd heard him take with the vice president before.


BERMAN: There's also a major new piece of evidence revealed by the committee. John Eastman, the conservative lawyer central to the plans to overturn the election results, asked for a pardon after January 6th.

And new this morning, "The New York Times" obtained a copy of a letter sent by the house select committee to Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. They want to speak to her next month. The panel has email correspondence between her and Eastman. Thomas said she is looking forward to appearing before the panel to clear up any of what she calls misconceptions.

Joining us now, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting on the Watergate break-in, which was 50 years ago today, started a series of events that led to the resignation of President Nixon. A new edition of their book about all those events, "All the President's Men," is out now, and Carl Bernstein's book "Chasing History, A Kid in the Newsroom" also available now. Gentlemen, it's an honor to have you here this morning.

Bob, you say you have been obsessively watching the January 6th hearings. I wonder what you think so far, and especially yesterday the major takeaway is.

BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's an accumulation of compelling evidence that if you look at what the law is, 18-USC-371 that says clearly it is a crime to subvert the legitimate function of government. January 6th, the day they had to certify who is -- who has won the election is that moment. In fact, it's the only moment in the Constitution and the law.

And we now see and we now know and we have known for some time that Trump worked on this for months to subvert it. Not only is it clearly against the law, but it is against common sense, it is against the Constitution and the legal system we have. We need to have the certification of the president, Joe Biden. And they did it.

And Trump supporters investigated this, some of his biggest allies, and discovered there is zero evidence, zero, not just minuscule, but zero evidence that the election was rigged, that there was fraud. Everyone knows, even Trump, whose agreed to -- he's not hanging around the White House trying to get in. He's gone back to Mar-a-Lago and Joe Biden is president. And as we know all the evidence, again, all of the evidence supports that Joe Biden won legitimately.

KEILAR: Carl, what did you learn yesterday that you didn't know before?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The intensity. Nothing terribly new. It just builds on this record that makes it very clear that Donald Trump and others around him led a conspiracy to undermine the electoral system itself. But worse than that, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is the first seditious president in our history.


If you look at the timeline that Bob has just referred to, that the committee has developed involving what happened for the certification that was supposed to take place at 1:00 p.m. on January 6th, this was a coordinated effort by the lawyers around the president, by his chief of staff, by the president himself, to really enact, commit to a coup to overturn an election, a free and fair election.

So what you have, really, is the first seditious president of the United States in our history, sedition in the form of a president himself trying to obstruct the transfer of power from the duly elected successor to Donald Trump, Joe Biden, trying to ensure that that did not happen. Nothing in our history comparable to this, an undermining of democracy such as we have never seen by any president in American history.

BERMAN: Carl, we had a staff sergeant who was badly injured on January 6th with us earlier who has been at the hearings watching, who praised Mike Pence for not following Donald Trump's orders to overturn the election, but he said this also. He said if Mike Pence wanted to do what was right now, he would come forward and just tell us what happened. There is someone who knows everything Donald Trump was told directly, knows what happened in the conversations between Mike Pence and Donald Trump, and that's Mike Pence.

BERNSTEIN: I think it is a really good point. If we had Mike Pence's testimony, and perhaps it's possible voluntarily he will come forward, we'll have to see, it would be an enormous addition to the record. But with even without that addition, it is an airtight case that this committee, which has really done its work, and which the Republicans in Congress, with the exception of Liz Cheney and a couple of others have tried to subvert at every turn, there is the evidence that this committee has developed, and it is going to continue to pile on with this evidence.

And one of the big questions about their hearings as opposed to the Watergate hearings, there is no question about the president's conduct, but there is also this matter of a justice of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, who may figure in this in a really awful way, and that his wife Ginni Thomas is among those who appears to have urged that the big lie as we keep referring to it on television is perpetuated, was perpetuated, that she participated in these discussions. She has been asked by the committee to come in voluntarily. They've got an awful lot of evidence about Ginni Thomas, too. What that amounts to we're going to have to see.

But the chief -- the justice of the Supreme Court, her husband, this is unprecedented that we have had the wife of a Supreme Court justice involved in and around a plot to make sure that the successor to the president, duly elected, she kept challenging that election. And we need to hear from her, what she knew and when she knew it.

KEILAR: Bob, I think we're hearing a very compelling and credible narrative about what the president was doing. It seems like a lot of people just observing this are kind of surprised. They think that the committee is maybe delivering more than they expected. But there is a lot of disagreement about what that is ultimately going to mean when it comes to accountability for President Trump. What are your expectations? And what if there really isn't any? WOODWARD: Well, there is the accountability, and what we have learned

now. Yesterday's hearing had all kinds of Trump supporters, people in the White House, in the Trump campaign, and those close, closest to Vice President Pence, making it very clear what happened. And the reporting that has been done on this has established that what Trump did with Pence in these phone calls, in these meetings, is just abusive. It is -- I am not going to be your friend if you don't do what I want, if you don't overturn the election here.

And Pence, to his credit, I think, and this is important, he said, no, I'm going to follow the Constitution and the law. And, of course, Trump did not like that, and threatened him.

Now, as we know from criminal law, for somebody, particularly the president of the United States is Pence's boss in many, many ways, and significant ways, to harass him and urge him to do something clearly illegal -- I believe, Brianna, it was on this show months ago when we talked about this issue, that the president cannot do this. And if he does, he is subject to the law.


And this is 100-year Supreme Court decisions, written by Justice Taft, saying that if you try to subvert the normal, necessary functions of government, it is a crime, particularly if you do it dishonestly. And what we heard yesterday was a string of dishonest actions and threats by the president at that time, Donald Trump. And where this goes, it is a good question. What is Merrick Garland, the attorney general, going to do, what is the Justice Department going to do?

In a sense, for history, it's very important, is there going to be accountability here. But the function of this committee to err the witnesses, have them testify all under oath, documents, and emails, there is a kind of clarity that in some ways resembles what happened in Watergate and when the Nixon tapes and all of the evidence came out, it was very clear that Nixon was going to have to resign.

BERMAN: History is one type of accountability. But the other type, you just brought up, is possible prosecution here. You gentlemen have more reporting tentacles around Washington than any combination of humans on earth. Carl, what do you think Merrick Garland might do? And if he does nothing, is there accountability?

BERNSTEIN: We don't know what Merrick Garland is going to do, and as Bob just indicated, there is a tremendous weight on his shoulders, because this is worse than Watergate. In Watergate we had a criminal president of the United States who tried to undermine the electoral system. Here we have a criminal president, Donald Trump, but not only tried to undermine the electoral system, tried to undermine the basic transfer of power from one president to another, and staged, attempted to stage a coup, a coup the likes of which you see in banana republics, in authoritarian dictatorships. There never has been anything like this in our history.

So the Justice Department now has to make a decision because it's very clear that the president, Donald Trump, violated the law. No question, there is no question about his seditious actions. The last sedition we had in this country on any kind of scale, was Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. And Trump even outdid Jefferson Davis. He committed the United States, under him, as the chief officer of the United States government, he committed it to trying to stage an illegal coup.

So that gives real power to Merrick Garland to bring about an indictment, if he chooses to do it. The policy of the Justice Department going back a long time is that it would not indict a sitting president. This was not now -- it is not now about a sitting president. It's about a former president who illegally conspired to violate the law and the Constitution of the United States. So it's a different decision than the Nixon case, in which the grand jury, which wanted to charge Richard Nixon with a crime, named him instead as an unindicted co-conspirator.

But Garland has a real chance here to send a message to the country and to the world that we are more than just a nation of laws, that we are a nation that believes and requires the continuity of a president of the United States above all else, because without that continuity, what Donald Trump attempted to do was to stop in its tracks democracy itself in this country.

KEILAR: What is also different is, you talk about Nixon resigning. Donald Trump is deciding, as our reporting indicates, not whether he should run, but when he should run. So certainly, it is a different time, a different man. And yet, Bob, some things never change, which brings us to the new forward, the new edition of "All the President's Men," and you're reflecting on this 50 years later. What are your thoughts?

WOODWARD: Well, my wife, Elsa, discovered -- went back and looked at George Washington's farewell address. This is in 1796, a mighty long time ago. And George Washington said in that address that democracy is fragile, and made the point that, quote, unprincipled men will seek and have the presidency and it was a unprincipled men will seek and have the presidency and it was a warning.


And, of course, we had Nixon, to our surprise, quite frankly, Carl's and mine, then came Trump. And what Trump tried to do is -- Nixon in his own way was attacking democracy and he paid the price, the Republican Party forced him to resign.

But as Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the January 6th Committee, who I think, by the way, is doing a great job, just very powerful voice, he said the will of the people continues to be in jeopardy, that Donald Trump is out there, just had a rally, when was it last night, out there saying, look, all my -- not all, but many of his endorsed candidates, particularly in the state of Nevada, it was a sweep for him, and the best information available is that Trump is going to run.

And he, if he is indicted, by the Justice Department, or grand jury, as a criminal can be indicted, what's the political impact of that going to be. CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And this gets to the next

question about what the real difference between Watergate and a major way and what happened now is the Republican Party itself, which has become a vessel for Donald Trump and his -- what he's trying to do to the country has been embraced by the Republican Party, which is astonishing.

Look that happened in Watergate. There was a vote of 77-0, Republicans joining Democrats to create the Watergate committee, that investigated what happened in Watergate. There has been no such thing in terms of Republican support for this committee, for the January 6th committee, which the leadership, Kevin McCarthy, Mr. O?onnell in the Senate has tried to undermine at every point.

Only Liz Cheney and a couple other Republicans have acted in terms of their own duties to ensure that this investigation goes forward.

But then, in Watergate, the Republican leadership itself went to Richard Nixon, led by Barry Goldwater, the 1964 nominee of his party, considered by decade later to be the conscience of the Republican Party --

WOODWARD: And there was an important moment in this --


WOODWARD: -- after Nixon resigned, we went up to see Goldwater in his apartment. He poured whiskey for everyone.

BERNSTEIN: We each got a tumbler of whiskey.

WOODWARD: And he had his dictated diary, and he read --


WOODWARD: -- the -- for August 7th, 1974, when he and the Republican leadership in Congress went to see Nixon. I mean, this is a moment you and I will never forget.

BERNSTEIN: Goldwater pulled out this diary and start reading to us how he and the leadership went to the Oval Office, sat across Goldwater himself from Nixon, and Nixon asked him, Barry, how many votes do I have in the Senate for acquittal in a Senate trial because Nixon knew he was going to be impeached by the full house.

And Nixon really expected that he could be acquitted. And Goldwater looked at the president, directly across from him, and said, Mr. President, you may have four to six votes for acquittal, and you don't have mine. And the next day, Richard Nixon announced his resignation from the presidency.

What a difference Republicans on the house judiciary committee pushed and voted for those articles of impeachment. Look what happened in the two impeachment trials of Donald Trump. Nothing -- we have now a political party, one of the two political parties in this country has now embraced and committed itself to Trumpism, to authoritarianism of Trump's brand. This is unprecedented in American history.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Carl, Bob, I have to say, maybe your podcast could be titled "Whiskey with Barry".



BERMAN: If you had told an 18-year-old version of me that one day I would be listening to stories about Watergate reporting from Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, I would not have believed. It would have been more than I could have ever dreamed of.

Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, thank you so much for being with us this morning.


BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you. Thanks.

BERMAN: The new 50th anniversary edition of "All the President's Men" with a new intro, co-written by Carl and Bob, is out now.

So, what, if any, could come from the new evidence uncovered at the hearing in terms of possible criminality? George Conway joins us next.

KEILAR: A look at stock futures this morning after the Dow plunged 700 points. Now reporting on the White House shifting blame for the struggling economy ahead.

And just in, WWE CEO Vince McMahon stepping down following hush money allegations. Details ahead.



GREG JACOB, FORMER COUNSEL TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: He said absolutely, al gore did not have a basis to do it in 2000, Kamala Harris shouldn't be able to do it in 2024, but I think you should do it today.


BERMAN: That was Greg Jacob, former counsel to Vice President Mike Pence explaining how Trump ally, conservative lawyer John Eastman, was willing to admit he would break the law for political reasons to change the results of the election and keep then president Trump in office.

The revelations came on day three of hearings about what transpired leading up to and the day of and the day after the capitol riot.

Congressman Pete Aguilar read what he said was an email from Eastman which seemed to show his concern over past actions.


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): In fact, just a few days later, Dr. Eastman emailed Rudy Giuliani and requested that he be included on a list of potential recipients of a presidential pardon.


Dr. Eastman's email stated, quote, I?e decided I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.


BERMAN: Joining us now, conservative attorney George Conway, contributing columnist at "The Washington Post."

George, we got some questions for you. You have a great one on the legal ramifications.

KEILAR: I wonder, George, if you think that former President Trump is in more legal trouble today than he was 24 hours ago.

GEORGE CONWAY, ATTORNEY: Yes. Absolutely, without a doubt. This all wreaks of criminality. And, Bob Woodward put his nose right on it. You talked about section 371 of the criminal code, which forbids frauds against the United States, and this was -- it showed deceit. It showed an intent to deceive, to use deceit to impair a function of the lawful function of the United States government, by the fact that Trump was told repeatedly that the legal theory on which he thought he could get vice president pence to defraud electoral votes was completely bogus.

Let me take a step back here. This isn't the only way you can prove Donald Trump's criminal intent in that regard. On Monday, we had the hearing where it was shown that Trump was repeatedly told that all of his electoral fraud claims, the facts on the ground, were false.

He was told repeatedly that he lost. He was told repeatedly that, no, Dominion thing is bullshit as Bill Barr said. He was told that by multiple people, he lost 60 lawsuits, he had no reason to believe that factually he had won that election, he had won those contesting states.

Now, yesterday, we saw he knew, had to have known, that the legal theory by which he could get this undone, get these certifications -- certified electoral votes undone was also false. These are a kind of independent -- these are independent ways to show criminal intent. And there is a -- it screws up the point that Judge Luttig made, not orally, but in his written statement, where he talked about the possibility of quote, unquote accountability for Donald Trump's attempt to steal the election.

He used those words. He didn't talk about criminal liability in those words, but he talked about the fact that under the law, willful blindness to facts or law is not a defense. And that, when he pointed that out, it dove tails exactly with what we have seen this week and it means that he -- that Donald Trump can and should be criminally -- held criminally liable. BERMAN: We learned a great deal, just flat out new information we did

not know yesterday, particularly about John Eastman, number one, that on January 5th, even after admitting that he did not think Mike Pence could legally just throw out electoral votes, he pushed the pence team to do it. Number two, that he was still pushing for pence to intervene even after the insurrection, and number three he asked for a pardon after all of it.

George, I guess the more interesting question about this, though, is John Eastman's legal liability, Donald Trump's legal liability, how similar or different are they?

CONWAY: Very similar. Because let's ask the question, why was this crank allowed -- this crank, Eastman, even though all the other lawyers around him and everyone else was saying this is bogus, and even though he was admitting in effect that his own theory was bogus, why did he get to keep banging on Pence and getting meetings in -- and phone calls with the president? The reason is because Trump wanted him to.

Why did Eastman back off a theory one day and come back and try to get pence the next day to throw out electoral votes? Because he must have had a conversation with Donald Trump. Trump was pushing this. And Trump and Eastman were part of a criminal conspiracy.

It takes just an agreement or just acting in concert to attempt to achieve an illegal end to establish a criminal conspiracy. So, their criminal liability is one and the same.

BERMAN: Of course, John Eastman has pleaded the Fifth so far. So getting that link, that piece of evidence of conspiracy between Trump and Eastman would be something the committee and potentially prosecutors would need to do going forward to make this case. George Conway, thank you for being with us this morning.

CONWAY: Thank you.

BERMAN: We're going to be joined by a member of the White House counsel of economic advisers on the president's assertion that a recession is not inevitable.