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Ex-Pence Aide is Highest-Ranking WH Official Known to Testify at Grand Jury; U.S. Grows More Concerned about Chinese Action on Taiwan; Biden: 'I Don't Think We're Going to See a Recession'; Trump Returns to Washington for First Time Since Leaving Office. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2022 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The first known Trump White House insiders testify before a federal grand jury. And new reports of China planning, perhaps, imminent moves on Taiwan.


Good morning, I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. New reports this morning about what the chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence was asked by a federal grand jury. Is this investigation further along than we thought?

President Biden says he does not expect the U.S. economy to enter a recession, but what do new numbers from Walmart tell us what is really happening?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: As Biden gets ready to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping, is Beijing gearing up for action against Taiwan?

And Donald Trump returns to Washington today for the first time since leaving office. Does his vision still resonate with voters?

BERMAN: How close was the Supreme Court to saving Roe? New CNN reporting this morning.

And new revelations that a trooper was on the scene of the Uvalde school shooting earlier than previously thought. What the body cam video shows.

KEILAR: And did the U.S. wait too long to contain the monkeypox outbreak? Dr. Fauci is going to be joining us live this morning.

And will John Berman and I be at work tomorrow as the Mega Millions reaches 800 million? I'll be here.

BERMAN: I'm not buying a ticket. It's a waste of money.

But we start with former chief of staff to Mike Pence, Marc Short, telling CNN that he testified, under subpoena, before a federal grand jury regarding January 6th.


did receive a subpoena for the federal grand jury, and I complied with that subpoena, but under advice of counsel, I really can't say much more than that.

That was my only appearance before the grand jury.

I'm not going to comment what others on the team have had to testify or not, regarding subpoenas, and what they've testified to.


BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin; and CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson.

Mr. Toobin, first to you. Marc Short, and in "The Wall Street Journal"/"New York Times" report, Greg Jacobs, you know, chief counsel to Mike Pence, testified before a federal grand jury.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's a really big deal. And this is why. It's because the Justice Department has been criticized by a lot of people, because it has apparently only focused on the relatively minor players in -- in the January 6th story. The hundreds of people who went in the Capitol.

This suggests that the Justice Department is now criminally investigating the White House. And these two witnesses are intimately familiar with major parts of Donald Trump's potential criminal liability.

Did he attempt to coerce Mike Pence into breaking the law to keep him in office? Did he participate in the fake electors scheme? Did he attempt to corrupt the Justice Department in an effort to stay in office?

Short and Jacobs know all about those issues, so the fact that they're in the grand jury is a clear indication that the Justice Department is looking at those issues.

KEILAR: And the questions they're being asked specifically, to get to that point, have to do with John Eastman and has to -- has to do with Rudy Giuliani. So what does that tell you about how high up this goes?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. It says a lot. And I think when we talk about the conversation about Marc Short, you have to put it into its broader context. What do I mean?

You looked at a seizure of electronic devices from Jeffrey Clark, right, former Justice Department official. FBI did that. Inspector general's office did that.

We looked at information -- you mentioned him -- John Eastman, his devices were seized, as well. And so what that tells you is that, right, to Jeffrey's point, what they've done is they've fanned inward. And now what they're evaluating is not only testimony, right? And that's very critical, because Marc Short gets you in the door. What were those conversations like?

In criminal cases, what you're doing is you're assessing state of mind. The person in the room could give you the assessment of the state of mind of the parties, but you have to look at it not only, Brianna, in the context of testimonial evidence. You have to look at it in the context of what other evidence the federal government has with respect to documentary emails, text messages, and other things that give us what was occurring at the time.

BERMAN: What you're both saying -- and this is interesting when you frame it like this -- this is White House insiders testifying in a criminal investigation into January 6. That's a new place. We're in a new place.

And Jeffrey, let me give you what "The Wall Street Journal" -- this is "Wall Street Journal" reporting, not CNN, about what these White House insiders were asked by federal prosecutors.

"One area of interest to prosecutors was a January 4th Oval Office meeting where conservative lawyer John Eastman pushed Mr. Pence, in Mr. Trump's presence, to either reject the electoral votes outright or suspend the proceedings and ask several state legislatures to reexamine the results."

Another quote from "The Journal": "Prosecutors also asked detailed questions about Rudy Giuliani, who forwarded to Mr. Pence's office letters from individual state legislators, urging Mr. Pence to accept false slates of electors, claiming Mr. Trump won from states he actually lost."

TOOBIN: The January 4 meeting is -- is really critical, because in one reading of that meeting, that was when Eastman effectively conceded, Look, we don't have the legal authority to do this. That Pence really doesn't have the legal authority to fail to accept the electors, but you should do it anyway.

That suggests corrupt state of mind. That suggests criminal intent, if that could be proven.

The fact that the Justice Department is looking at that is just a clear indication that they are seeking to determine if crimes took place in the Oval Office by John Eastman; potentially by Donald Trump, as well.

KEILAR: Potentially by Donald Trump?

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

KEILAR: So how -- I mean, that's really the question. If you have Eastman admitting that something is illegal, and he wants to proceed with it, and you have folks testifying to that, where's the line to Donald Trump?

JACKSON: It's a very -- I mean, it's a very clear line and a clear path. We're here having a conversation, right? Those conversations were in the office. What were you thinking at the time? No. 1, what were the steps up to and leading to this insurrection?

What were you doing with regard to state officials, et cetera? What was your ultimate plan?

You're now pushing back on the vice president, who has a constitutional duty and obligation, and you have lawyers telling you, Sir, this is not how it's done. This is not permitted. This is not what, you know, the Constitution or any statute provides for.

And so I think it clearly gives you an indication of what the president was thinking, and that gives you an indication what federal prosecutors could do. It's about the state of mind. You want to talk about corrupt -- intent, excuse me, then speak to the issues of what did you ask me to do, having knowledge that that was wrong.

BERMAN: Who is most worried about this very quickly, do you think?

TOOBIN: All of them. Eastman and Trump. Eastman and Trump, for starters.

BERMAN: All right. Last night, Jamie Raskin, who is a member of the January 6th Committee, went on one of the late-night comedy shows and was talking about the issues surrounding the Secret Service and these missing text messages. Let's listen to what he said.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT" Secret Service has said, Oh, yes, big mistake. Oopsie-daisy, we can't find them. Do you buy their explanation at all?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Is it for sale?

COLBERT: That's the question, yes.

RASKIN: I don't really buy that for one minute. For one thing, isn't it a little odd that all of the texts would vanish for January 6 and January 5th? You know, of all the days, what an odd coincidence that is.

And, you know, there was a preplanned migration of the phones that just happened to be on the same day as the first violent insurrection in American history.


BERMAN: I'm not sure he's totally right that it's just the January 5th and January 6th texts that are gone.

TOOBIN: I don't know that detail either. But the fact remains that they were told, on January 16th, to preserve their electronic messages. And they deleted them. That's the fact. They need a better explanation for what happened.

And, you know, the committee has to look into the technological possibilities of recovering things. Because as we all know, just because you hit delete, doesn't mean an electronic message goes away. They have to see if they can find them.

JACKSON: But do you really need to be told to preserve this information? You're the Secret Service. This is what you do. You have migrations. You plan for migrations, with respect to transferring data and other communications.

And how odd is it that, although you're so experienced at doing this, the critical data that we need just happens to be missing. It doesn't pass, as we say, the smell test. And I think that ultimately, some heads will roll with respect to where this info went.

TOOBIN: And there's also the background issue of Mr. Ornato, who was the lead Secret Service agent, who then becomes the deputy White House chief of staff. You know, whether he was acting in good faith is one of the key questions going on here.

So it's not like the Secret Service is in its usual position of being an apolitical entity. There was overlap in the Trump administration that we hadn't seen in previous administrations.

BERMAN: Counselors, thank you so much for being with us.

TOOBIN: Mr. Berman.

BERMAN: And we are going to speak --

TOOBIN: Ms. Keilar.

BERMAN: -- with one of the Republicans on the January 6th Committee. Congressman Adam Kinzinger will be with us.

KEILAR: And new this morning, U.S. officials are more worried over potential action by China on Taiwan. That is according to "The New York Times," adding that concerns have sharpened within the Biden administration over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's proposed visit to Taiwan next month, despite administration officials urging her to cancel the trip.

Joining us now, CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger. He is the White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times" who reported this story.

David, tell us a little bit about their concerns: what kind of response they're worried about and just the bigger problem this may play into.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Brianna, the -- the governing thinking inside the administration, and really around the world, had been that Taiwan was essentially safe until 2027 or so, which is the time the Chinese have said that the People's Liberation Army and Navy need to be ready to take the island.


But what's happened in the past few months is that a series of aggressive steps by the PLA around Taiwan and some analysis about what the Chinese have learned from the Ukraine invasion are making a lot of senior officials pretty nervous that there may be an incident in the next year or year and a half, in which the Chinese try to cut off the Taiwan Strait.

A few months ago, they declared that the entire strait was within their control and was not necessarily international waters. And that's just been one of many ways that they've been worried about that, including, of course, Nancy Pelosi's announcement that she's planning to take a trip in a few weeks to Taiwan.

BERMAN: Every word in this article is worth reading, because there's new information here. And it does seem to raise the concern to a new level. A year to a year and a half is a time line that we had not heard before.

And you know, some quotes that have been in the public sphere but take on a new meaning based on your reporting. One is from General Mark Milley, who said that the U.S. military has seen significantly more and notably more aggressive action by the Chinese military around the straits. Like what, David?

SANGER: Well, there's been a lot of both naval activity and air activity to try to basically establish, this is our territory. And if you combine that with the political statements that, really, this isn't international waters.

They've come up with long and complex explanations about how it's totally within their control, though they don't quite say it's their sovereign territory. That combination is part of what has got people nervous.

Now, add to this that Xi Jinping is heading toward this major party Congress, which is supposed to reaffirm him as the sole leader of China; sort of add to the cult of personality; and more importantly, John, that it will make sure that he gets another full term.

And he's made it fairly clear that reunification with Taiwan one way or another is the legacy project he wants to leave, the way Vladimir Putin has made clear that taking Ukraine is his legacy project in his 70s.

KEILAR: David, Biden said that the military basically thinks it's a bad idea for Pelosi to go. But is she getting direct pressure from him other than that? Is she getting direct pressure from the White House saying, Hey, do not go?

SANGER: We haven't seen that, but it may well be happening behind the scenes.

They've been pretty explicit, though, that this is a really unnecessary provocation. There's not been a speaker of the House -- a speaker of the House visiting Taiwan since Newt Gingrich went in 1997. That was a very, very different political atmosphere between the U.S. and China.

And so the concept that somebody who is basically third in line to the presidency would go to Taiwan, a place where, of course, every leadership visit is subject to all these discussions about who we consider to be the real China, and the two-China policy and so forth. One-China policy.

And the Chinese arguing that we are essentially recognizing a second China by -- by sending a -- such a senior leader. That all gets pretty complicated pretty fast.

And the administration's message has been clear: we don't need this in the middle of all of these provocations.

KEILAR: David Sanger, thank you for sharing your reporting with us this morning.

SANGER: Thank you.

KEILAR: And you're also going to be interviewing John Kirby coming up, so we'll have more from him on that from the White House.

BERMAN: Yes. Curious what John Kirby says about this time line reported by David and others in "The Times."

Major new information from Walmart and crucial data out nearly every day this week that could give us an inside look at this economy. In the meantime, the White House is trying to quell recession fears.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to be in a recession, in my view. My hope is we go from this rapid growth to a steady growth. And so soon we'll see some coming down. But I don't think we're going to -- God willing, I don't think we're going to see a recession.


BERMAN: All right. With us now, "EARLY START" anchor and CNN's chief business correspondent, Christine Romans. The White House talking about the resilience of this economy.


BERMAN: And look, there are signs --


BERMAN: -- there are resilient. However, do you think they're going to regret this?

ROMANS: You know, I mean, maybe, but what else can you expect from a commander in chief who is trying to inspire confidence in the American economy?


And nobody knows if we're in a recession or heading for a recession. News flash: no one knows. These are all just forecasts.

And we've been talking about the road signs that have been completely pointing in opposite directions. You've got road signs pointing to a recession like this in this -- this warning yesterday from Walmart. Walmart, this big retailer, saying paycheck to paycheck customers, they are -- their budgets are bitten now by high inflation, you know, gas and food prices. They're cutting back on other things.

So, you know, cry me a river for Walmart, but it shows you that savvy shoppers are saving and cutting back where they need to.

But these are the kinds of things that are pointing to a recession. But then there are these other things in the economy that are really doing well.

The job market, for example, doing well. Stronger consumer finances. We are in a better position today than we were before the 2008/2009 financial crisis.

Three point six percent unemployment rate. On the margin, you're seeing signs of softening of the labor market. But still, 11 million open jobs. There are two jobs for every person who's looking for a job in this country right now. And people who are job-hopping are still getting double-digit salary increases.

The housing market showing signs of topping out, but still, overall, very strong.

And we're looking at gas prices cooling off for six weeks now into the seventh week. That is a big deal.

On the way up, we screamed about inflation and high gas prices and how it's hurting people. Now, on the way down, I'm not sure it's going to have the same impact for helping people feel better about the economy. But it does take some of that -- some of that pressure off of households, 4.33, the national average. Look how much it has come down, almost 60 cents in just a month. That's a big swift move here, and there are some who think it's going to keep -- keep falling.

So, where we are, no one knows. The street signs are pointing every which way. So, I understand the recession obsession in this country right now, but for most people, if you have a job; if you have, you know, your money in a 401(k), right; you're trying to cut corners, as we saw from the Walmart earning -- the Walmart earnings warning, but no one knows for sure.

BERMAN: Want to talk about conflicting information? Walmart saying it's having to cut prices, because inflation is high. So consumers are being able to spend less, so they're cutting prices, which by definition is anti-inflationary.


BERMAN: And it's all happening at once.

ROMANS: And it's a huge -- Remember how I told you months ago, higher prices cure higher prices. Right? At some point, people pull back, and then the prices start to fall again. So that's what you're at least seeing in the Walmart part of the story.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thank you very much for that.

President Biden talking about Donald Trump in ways that he does not every day. For failing to act during the insurrection. And this happens as Trump returns to Washington, D.C., for the first time since leaving office.

Brittney Griner in a Russian courtroom. What she is now doing for her trial.

KEILAR: And a Republican lawmaker voted no on codifying same-sex marriage into law. And then he turned around, almost immediately, and attended his gay son's wedding.



KEILAR: As Donald Trump returns to Washington today for the first time since leaving office, President Biden is ripping his predecessor. He accused him of cowardice in office, for failing to act during the January 6th Capitol riot.


BIDEN: And for three hours, the defeated former president of the United States watched it all happen, as he sat in the comfort of the private dining room next to the Oval Office. While he was doing that, brave law enforcement officers subject to the medieval hell for three hours. Dripping in blood, surrounded by carnage. Donald Trump lacked the courage to act.


KEILAR: All right. Let's bring in CNN's Kristen Holmes, live for us in Washington. He doesn't talk like this every day, Kristen, so when he says this and he also says it that way, you really take note. What's going on here?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. Look, this is coming at a time when Biden is looking to draw stronger contrast with Republicans ahead of the midterms. It's also coming at a time that former President Donald Trump is publicly teasing, routinely, another run for president in 2024.

And interestingly, aides and allies to the former president actually hope those midterms and that potential presidential bid will be what today is about when Trump returns to Washington for the first time since leaving office.

They want him to take this opportunity to set a Republican agenda ahead of November, as well as to lay the groundwork in a real way for a presidential bid in 2024. Outside of these large-scale rallies where he just airs his grievances, particularly about 2020 and the election and spouts those conspiracy theories.

Now, one thing to note here. The group that is hosting this summit is the America First Policy Institute. They are a group that is made up of former Trump administration officials, and advisers, allies. While Trump has been focused on the past, they have been looking forward, trying to shape policy, gearing up for a potential run and even a potential win, in some cases, talking about what personnel might be in the White House.

So you're going to hear from a slew of Republican speakers today: Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise. You're going to hear from Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, even former White House officials like Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

And while they are going to be focused on the future of the Republican Party, it remains to be seen whether or not Trump can actually get past the election, get past those grievances, and focus on that, as well.

KEILAR: All right, Kristen, thank you for that.

BERMAN: Here's a little more of what President Biden had to say in his speech.


BIDEN: Can't be pro-insurrection and pro-cop. You can't be pro- insurrection and pro-democracy. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro- American.


BERMAN: All right. With us now, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp; and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon. That sounds like an interesting platform that the Democrats could lean into, John.


JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Stated clearly, succinctly, and it has the added virtue of being true. I mean, you know, that's one of the things, as people plot sort of this Trump comeback, they're going to say, Let's not focus on the past. Let's focus on the future. He wants to talk about policy.

No, if you're backing Donald Trump's political re-emergence right now, you are objectively pro-insurrection. You're saying that doesn't bother you. And therefore, you give up your basic right to say, you know, I'm -- I'm a patriot who's thinking about the Constitution.



CUPP: I mean, this was a transformation that didn't happen overnight. You know, the Republicans went from the party of law and order to the party of lawlessness and chaos. You know, Trump conditioned that environment over time, starting with,

you know, I mean, the Trump campaign didn't pay police officers for protecting him and supporters at rallies. He's in debt, stiffed them on those bills.

He -- he stopped COVID relief for cops. Every single Trump administration budget, wanted to cut funding for cops. Every Republican in Congress didn't vote for -- for Biden's American Relief Bill, which would have funded cops.

So I mean, this is something that happened over time, that he cajoled supporters to get to a place where they were attacking police officers at the Capitol.

AVLON: And I just add, you know, Democrats should probably lean into it and follow Biden's lead on this, only to this extent. You know, they've gotten hit about the head and neck for the literally five, by my count, House members who support defund the police. When that's not the policy of this president, this administration, or the vast, vast, vast majority of Democrats.

You know, they should actually take a step further and do, I think, a redux crime bill; really push that forward, as Biden championed back in the Clinton administration. If they really want to draw this contrast more clearly, which I think is worth doing.

CUPP: Yes. And if Republicans are going to leave cops on the cutting room floor, Democrats should pick them up.

KEILAR: I want to listen to something, different topic here, that Marc Short, former top aide to Vice President Mike Pence said. And this was in response to former Congressman Matt Gaetz, who is under investigation for -- I just want to be very clear about how I say this -- for alleged -- alleged sex with a minor or sex trafficking of a minor. He had said that Mike Pence is not going to be president. And boy, did Marc Short fire back.


SHORT: I don't know if Mike Pence will run for president in 2024, but I don't think Matt Gaetz will have an impact on that. In fact, I'd be surprised if he was still voting. It's more likely he'll be in prison for child sex trafficking by 2024. And I'm actually surprised the Florida law enforcement still allows him to speak to teenage conferences like that. So I'm not too worried about what Matt Gaetz thinks.


CUPP: Savage.

AVLON: I mean --

CUPP: Just savage.

AVLON: I mean, when I heard that, I had to watch -- is that real? I'd like to report a murder. I mean, that was -- that was premeditated. I mean, it was brutal. And language that is decidedly un-Pence-like. That's what was partly so shocking about it.

CUPP: But can I just say, like, Matt -- Matt Gaetz, the whole dismissal of Mike Pence as president, I don't think he's wrong. I've said for a while now, including here, I don't know who the Mike Pence voter is. He's polling at 6 percent. Behind Trump and DeSantis and other -- other characters. And -- and only doubles that at 12 percent when Trump is removed from the equation.

Folks like me, you know, conservative who find him to be traitorous because he didn't stop Trump enough, aren't voting for Mike Pence. And then Trump supporters think he's a traitor. They're not voting for Mike Pence. So I don't know who his voters are.

BERMAN: Can I just ask -- Marc Short turned it up to 11.

CUPP: Yes.

BERMAN: Actually, it wasn't 11. I mean, you know --

KEILAR: Forty-two?

BERMAN: Forty-two.

AVLON: That's not --

BERMAN: Up to 42 there. And it made me wonder if this was a sign about something bigger. What if this isn't about Matt Gaetz, per se? What if this is a preview for how one world, one part of the Republican Party, is willing to deal with another, going forward as we head into a presidential election?

CUPP: Well, you'll have the Adam Kinzingers -- I know he's coming up on your program -- the Liz Cheneys, the Pence camp.

BERMAN: Well, that -- those are different camps, but that -- you know, it's growing. If Pence world --

CUPP: Well, if they're going to fight Trump, that's one camp, right? There's the camp against -- against Trump. And -- and so you might have a DeSantis, you know, camp sounding a little like that. We'll have -- we'll have to see where they stake out their territory if Donald Trump runs in 2024.

BERMAN: I mean, people willing to go nuclear.

CUPP: Yes.

BERMAN: I mean, that was --


BERMAN: -- nuclear.

CUPP: Yes. AVLON: That was. And I think, look, I think it's a continuation of the

Republican Party that Donald Trump wrought. Which is he famously said, Well, I'm a counterpuncher. Well, that's exactly, you know, in effect what was happening. The problem is that everybody gets in sort of a troll escalation war. Yes, things are going to get even more ugly in American politics.

KEILAR: He does raise a question, though. Why -- why is Matt Gaetz, a Congressman, facing these charges -- or facing this investigation, this kind of accusation -- this is a conference, just to be clear, 15- year-olds are at. And he's there? It's a -- it's an important question that Marc Short does raise. I don't understand why he's speaking there.

S.E., Avlon, thanks to both of you.

AVLON: Thanks, guys.

KEILAR: So Brittney Griner is back in court in Russia this morning. How the efforts to secure her release are going, next.