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New Signs: DOJ's Investigation Homing In On Trump's Actions; WAPO: Key January 6th Texts Missing From Trump DHS Officials; U.S. Frustrated At Moscow's Lack Of Response To Prisoner Offer; 9/11 Families Protesting Saudi-Backed Event At Trump Golf Report. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired July 29, 2022 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: A legal fight over executive privilege, one that could force Trump advisers to testify in a criminal probe. And one that tells us some about where the federal investigation is.

Now this was a CNN exclusive, the Department of Justice preparing to wage a court battle over executive privilege, which could open up the door to much more expansive testimony from those closest to Donald Trump.

Also this morning, the Washington Post reports texts from Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, these are two top officials from the Trump Department of Homeland Security. These texts are missing from the period leading up to January 6th.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: CNN has also learned that the January 6 committee plans to share 20 transcripts from his witnesses with Justice Department investigators. The committee also seems to be zeroing in on former Trump Cabinet officials, a particular interest conversations among those officials about possibly invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

BERMAN: Joining us now is John Wood, a former senior investigator for the January 6 Select Committee. He is running as an independent in Missouri for the Senate there. John, thank you so much for being with us. So it was CNN's exclusive reporting.

The Department of Justice is preparing to make a case, to get around executive privilege to basically forced the testimony to be prepared to force the testimony of key Trump advisers. What does this tell you about where they are, where this federal investigation is?

JOHN WOOD, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATOR, JANUARY 6TH SELECT COMMITTEE: Yes, this is a really big step, because up until a few days ago, there were very few public signs that the Justice Department was really focused on people in Trump's immediate inner circle, as opposed to the people who have breached the Capitol itself.

This development suggests not only are they focusing on people who are directly interacting with Trump, but that they're doing in an aggressive way. They're trying to get the direct conversations between senior staff and President Trump himself.

And my prediction is, is that the Justice Department ultimately will prevail, and they will get this information.

KEILAR: So if we, you know, if you watch the testimony from the committee, if you watch Pat Cipollone, you could tell he's stopped, of course, when it came to privilege, but you certainly got the sense that he would have complied.

If a court said he needed to, that he would have revealed information about those conversations. Who else, John, do you think would be revealing information that we've not yet heard about these conversations?

WOOD: They'll pass upon. He's an excellent example. The two people I've heard of through the media that have spoken to the grand jury are Marc Short, and Greg Jacob, who are the chief of staff and the legal counsel to Vice President Pence.

I think that's very important, because they were in a meeting on January 4th, in which President Trump tried to pressure Vice President Pence into unilaterally deciding the outcome of the election that is as sensitive of a conversation as you can get.

So it is, on the one hand, a situation where the argument in favor approved. The executive privilege may be high, but it's also a situation where on the other side of the balance, the Justice Department's interest in getting that information may be as high as it could get. So it's a high stakes battle.

BERMAN: Yes, high stakes battle risk reward there. The reward, again, this isn't legal terms here, if these advisers, if a Mark Meadows could not claim privilege before federal prosecutors, what would that open up? Would that open the door, just incredibly wide for them to get information that they want?

WOOD: I think so with the possible exception that Mark Meadows could take the fifth, if he thinks he has some criminal exposure. But up until now with the House Committee, he's been claiming executive privileges, his basis for not testifying.

Presumably, he would do the same in front of a grand jury. But if the court ultimately rules that he cannot rely on executive privilege, I think all he would be left with is either testifying or invoking the fifth.

BERMAN: But then you have immunity, right? If you're a federal grand jury with a federal investigation, you can say, OK, Mr. Meadows, you're going to take the fifth. We're going to grant you immunity, and then all of a sudden you have the potential for a bombshell star witness.

WOOD: That's exactly right. Although Mark Meadows is a pretty high- profile individual to be giving immunity too. So if he's a target of the investigation, they may be reluctant to give him immunity.

But that's right. If their focus was on President Trump himself, and they were willing to give us sort of get out of jail free card to Mark Meadows, they might be willing to give them immunity and then they would get, you know, exactly what President Trump said and did on January 6 itself and that would be extremely important.

KEILAR: How long could this fight take and how do you think that could affect the committee's process here?


WOOD: Yes. It's hard to know. The privilege issues that the House Select Committee litigated went through the courts pretty quickly. It took a few months. But they got through pretty quickly because they were able to make the case that they needed that information very quickly for the rest of its investigation.

I assume the Justice Department would make similar arguments, but it's impossible to know how quickly it would work its way through the courts.

BERMAN: And again, you know, the Justice Department's not working on the same time frame that the committee is. The committee presumably thinks there's a risk that it may be dissolved after the November elections, the Justice Department will not be --

KEILAR: Right.

BERMAN: -- dissolved. So they have more time. They may want to get this through quickly, but they certainly have more time to deal with this.

John, we want to ask you about these text messages that the Washington Post reports this morning, are also missing. We knew about the Secret Service text messages around and up to January 6, but now there appear to be messages that are also gone from Ken Cuccinelli, who was acting Deputy Director of Homeland Security and Chad Wolf, who is acting Director of Homeland Security, they were all acting. But these text messages are also gone. What do you see here?

WOOD: So I see a real mess where this happened with the Secret Service and with the senior leadership of the Department of Homeland Security. It's tempting to jump to the conclusion that there's something nefarious there, and that there's an attempt to destroy evidence, but I would not rule out the possibility of just incompetence. But it's hard to believe that this keeps happening in one department.

KEILAR: Well, let's look at the range of possibilities, right, the charitable, I think diagnosis of what happened might be incompetence, that you have an I.G. who knew in February of 2020, that these messages were not available, and did not tell Congress for a long, long time. But on the other hand, the worst case scenario would be what to you, John?

WOOD: Well, I mean, obviously, the worst case scenario would be that somebody intentionally destroyed these because they involve something embarrassing, but I would not jump to that conclusion.

But, you know, it really is unfortunate that these messages seem to be disappearing, particularly the Secret Service ones, because their secret service agents are going to try to contradict testimony of other witnesses.

For example, if they're going to try and contradict what Cassidy Hutchinson said about what happened on January 6, and yet their messages weren't preserved. I think that's going to undermine their credibility a lot, because you'll have to wonder what was on those messages.

Maybe there was something on those messages that would enhance the credibility of somebody like Cassidy Hutchison.

So I'm not going to jump to the conclusion that this was something intentional, but it really does make it harder for some of these people to contradict what other witnesses are saying if their text messages weren't preserved.

BERMAN: We'll talk more now about what the committee has been doing because they are beginning to hear from Cabinet officials. They hear from William Barr already, the Attorney General but they're hearing from other people who are in the Cabinet in and around January 6.

You can see it up on their screen. Mick Mulvaney, with that point was an adviser on Northern Ireland, but it previously have been acting Chief of Staff.

But they also spoke to Steve Mnuchin, who was the former Treasury Secretary and they're about -- they're trying to speak to Mike Pompeo, some of what they're asking about, we understand, is our issue surrounding the 25th Amendment where the Cabinet and Congress have worked together to remove the president temporarily from office.

I'm curious why that matters here, because definitionally those discussions took place after January 6. So why go into that?

WOOD: Yes, well, the committee has a very broad responsibility here. Remember, this is not the Justice Department. They are not trying to build a criminal case. They're trying to understand all the facts and circumstances surrounding what happened on January 6. And one of the things that they very understandably, want to understand is what the President's state of mind was.

And while some of those Cabinet officials may not have been directly interacting with the President on January 6, on the lead up to January 6, they may have insight into what the President's mental state was and whether they had concerns about his ability to govern.

And if they did have a concern about the President's ability to execute his duties as president, that's something the American people should know about.

BERMAN: John Wood, great to have you on this morning. Thank you so much for being with us. WOOD: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: So former Trump, acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney testified before the January 6 committee yesterday. We just talked about that. He's going to be with us in a little bit. We're going to ask him, what was it like?

What did the committee want to know? Who was asking the questions? What did the process look like? Also key questions for someone who served in the middle of that administration about this battle by the Justice Department to take on executive privilege.

This morning, Biden administration officials are frustrated that Russia has not responded to their prisoner swap proposal. They offered to return a convicted Russian arms dealer nicknamed the merchant of death in exchange for the release of Paul Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner.


CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live in Moscow for us this morning. Fred, what's the latest on the back and forth here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, actually, a couple of minutes ago, we just heard from Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia.

And so, the two things that we can glean from what he said is that first of all, the Russians really not keen to discuss any of this in public and certainly don't seem to be in a rush to discuss any of this with Secretary of State Blinken, either.

Of course, we know that Secretary of State came out a couple of days ago. And he there said that he was going to speak with Sergey Lavrov in the next couple of days, which led me to believe that a call was actually already pretty much set and was going to happen very soon.

Well, Lavrov just poured cold water on that. He said that he found out about the U.S.'s desire to have such a call while he was in Africa, from Secretary of State Blinken actually speaking there, speaking on TV.

And he said that an official request only came through about a day later. And he still doesn't know what topics the Secretary wants to speak about.

He has said that as far as prisoner swaps are concerned that apparently this was talked about between President Biden and President Putin in their meeting last year in Geneva, and that there were competent authorities on both sides that were put in place to deal with such matters.

And he says the Foreign Ministry isn't one of them.

However, the Russians are saying that they are going to make time. There is going to be a call. However, right now Lavrov is traveling. He says probably not going to happen until he comes back. So he says most probably not today, but they will set up a time.

So this call apparently will happen. How much progress will be made? Certainly, doesn't seem as though the Russians are very keen to speak about that, at least in public, guys.

KEILAR: Fred, can you tell us what's next for Brittney Griner? Does she have a chance of getting out anytime soon?

PLEITGEN: Yes, I mean, it's definitely very difficult. Of course, you know, one of the things that Secretary State Blinken says that he says about Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan to try and get that out in some sort of exchange.

As far as Brittney Griner is concerned, her trial continues this coming Tuesday. She, of course, took the stand this week to speak about, you know, exactly what happened, her side of the story that she only by accident brought vaping cartridges that apparently contain cannabis oil with her that she knew that this was a big mistake. And she was asking for leniency.

Again, the next trial date is going to be on August 2. We don't believe that there is going to be a verdict on that day. We know that the closing arguments still have to be held by the defense also as well.

However, the sort of timeframe that was given and again, in Russian courts, it's always very difficult to discern how long it will actually take, but they do hope that there could be a verdict in early August.

One of the things that we always have to point out as far as the process here in Russia is concerned is that leniency and acquittals are certainly not something that Russian codes -- courts are known for at all, guys.

BERMAN: Frederik Pleitgen for us in Moscow this morning. Fred, it's great to have you there. Thank you so much for sharing your new reporting.

So protests underway this morning at Donald Trump's New Jersey Golf Club as he hosts the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour. We're going to speak to a member -- we're going to speak to a son who lost his father on September 11th, who is leading the demonstrations there. And why the Biden administration is waiting until September to offer new guidance on COVID boosters?

KEILAR: And the "Renaissance" is rising this morning and the beehive is buzzing. Beyonce's new album dropping overnight.



KEILAR: Happening today, the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf tournament is going to kick off at Donald Trump's New Jersey Golf Club. Live Golf has lured big names away from the sport's main organizer, the PGA Tour with guaranteed pay days and big ones at that. Trump has publicly promoted the event disparaging the PGA Tour and September 11th survivors and families are expected to protest.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live for us in Bedminster, New Jersey. Polo, tell us what you're already seeing there.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, today we do expect some of those big golf names that you just mentioned a little while ago to converge here on Bedminster with the promise of millions of dollars in paydays.

But it will happen today as that tournament gets underway, much to the disappointment and outrage from some of those 9/11 families who are upset about this tournament that is set to begin today. In fact, we are less than 50 miles away from the site where the World Trade Center stood.

As for LIV Golf, they have responded to this criticism and these claims that it's attempting to, quote, sports wash Saudi Arabia's image of human rights violations. In fact, the former president yesterday, as he was teeing off in a pre-tournament, PreAm, offered a pretty stunning defense of his own.


SANDOVAL: Can you help me appreciate your decision to host this event?

DONALD TRUMP. FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, I've known these people for a long time in Saudi Arabia, and they've been friends of mine for a long time. They've invested in many American companies.

SANDOVAL: You're so closely associated with the city of New York.


SANDOVAL: You, of all people, understand the passion surrounding 9/11. What do you say to those family members who protested earlier this week and we'll be doing so again on Friday? Well, nobody's gotten to the bottom of 911, unfortunately, and they should have.


SANDOVAL: And those remarks from the former commander in chief really do contradict what we heard from then candidate Trump since six years ago, when he speculated about Saudi involvement in the attacks about 21 years ago, though the kingdom continues to deny potential role in those attacks.

We all know about that long-classified report that was released and in it, it basically stated that -- at least it stated that the hijackers were in contact with and possibly even received support from some individuals who may have been directly involved with the Saudi government.

So that Brianna, is one of the reasons why off site today we expect those families to once again gather, once again protest and once again speak out in honor of their loved ones. Brianna?


KEILAR: All right, Polo, we'll be watching to see what the day brings. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: And joining us now is Brett Eagleson, the President and Founder of 9/11 Justice. Brett lost his father on September 11 when he was 15 years old. Brett, we appreciate you being with us this morning. You are helping to lead what you're calling a family rally at Bedminster today and you will be speaking. What is your message there?

BRETT EAGLESON, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, 9/11 JUSTICE: Thank you for having me. Yes, we expect over 100 family members to be here today. Our message is very clear.

Our message is to the American people that we now know -- because of FBI documents that have recently been declassified by the Biden administration -- we now know that at least a dozen Saudi Kingdom officials were not just in contact with but were actively facilitating and supporting the al-Qaeda network here in America 21 years ago.

They were signing leases. They were signing the hijackers up for English. They were ingratiating them into the community.

They were getting them signed up for flight lessons. So it goes so much more than just speculation and just potential involvement. We now have an FBI document that says the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was involved in 911.

One of those 12 officials was actually working for the Saudi intelligence agency. I can't stress that enough, working for the Saudi intelligence agency. And I'm standing here on the parking lot of the hotel where all the golfers are at. And I'm telling you, not a single one of them have any idea of what these documents say.

And we're here, our number one goal is public education, public awareness. And former President United States, who in 2016 himself, said the Saudis did it, who in 2019 chose to invoke the state secrets principle against these documents.

It is absolutely shameful. It is absolutely disgusting that we have to be here today, coming out in full force, shaming a former president and shaming golfers and shaming people at large or doing business with this Saudi-funded golf league.

BERMAN: What does it feel like for you to be there today?

EAGLESON: Yes, I shouldn't have to be here. It's been 21 years. The Saudis are currently standing in trial in federal court in Manhattan less than 50 miles from where I'm standing. They're on trial for murder.

We have a form -- we have an FBI that has released thousands of pages of documents, documents that are dated back to 2014, 15, and 16, decades after the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission Report. How is it that we have to be here amongst family members standing in solidarity and have to shame the president? How is it that we have to even be here in the backyards of our 750 people were blown away, that were burned alive?

That, you know, the Saudi government is standing trial in New York, we have an FBI that says conclusively that the Saudis did it. And we have a president who's profiting from them and defending his decisions for making millions and millions of dollars.

And one question that I wish the media would ask is, how much is the president, former president, how much is Donald Trump personally benefiting from this relationship? How much money is he receiving today for hosting this tournament?

BERMAN: You also make the point as you ask that question, how much is he personally making from this? You point out that in your organization. It split pretty evenly amongst people who support Donald Trump. You have plenty of people who are at least were Trump supporters as part of your group. What did they think now?

EAGLESON: That's a great point. You know, 9/11 did not differentiate between whether you were Republican or Democrat, it killed us pretty evenly. So some of our biggest supporters, some of our most outspoken advocates are were some of the biggest Trump supporters.

So I have no idea what the President is doing. We have no idea. He is hemorrhaging Republican support over this issue.

If you ask most Republicans, they do not like the Saudis. If you ask most Republicans where they stand on this issue, they would 100 percent wholeheartedly back our issue. The 9/11 community deserves justice. That's all we want, is we want justice and public awareness, public acknowledgement of what the kingdom has done.

And everything the former president is doing, flies in the face of what he stands for. We have a former president who campaigned on the America First principle. All he stands for is America First.

He wears a hat that says Make America Great Again. But he's literally taking money from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who is currently standing in trial for murder against our loved ones.

BERMAN: From your perspective, from what you see in your own organization, is he losing support among people who were supportive of him?

EAGLESON: He is absolutely hemorrhaging support. I -- at least, 100 family members have reached out to me, family members that are vote along the Republican voting lines that say I don't understand what he's doing. I can't stand him.


He is just losing so much support, I mean, not, you know, not only from the independent class, but he's losing Republican support over this issue. So we can understand what Donald Trump is doing. But from what I'm hearing, from what I'm seeing, he is literally hemorrhaging support.

We have a lot of NYPD members, we have a lot of FDNY members, you know, typical groups that you would expect to vote along the conservative lines. They say that the former president is basically dead to them, that he is aligning himself with an evil kingdom, an evil regime.

He is putting money over America. And he just -- it's just -- he's just showing the worst form of greed and the worst form of evil that we could ever imagine.

BERMAN: You're making the statement near his golf club. If you had any opportunity, and I don't expect you will speak to him personally, what would you say to him?

EAGLESON: I would ask him what he's doing. I would ask him, when did he sign this LIV contract? How much is he personally benefiting? Did you sign this LIV contract before or after you chose to invoke the state secrets principle to keep these documents a secret?

I met with the former president in 2019, at the White House on 9/11, with my mom, with two former FBI agents, with a dozen other family members. We pleaded with him, please declassify the documents, please do it. He looked us in the eye, He shook our hands. He said he was going to declassify these documents.

Less than 24 hours later, his attorney general invoked what's known as the state secrets principle. It basically blocked all this information from coming to light. Information that we now have, thanks to the Biden presidential executive order which unwound the state secret's principle designation. He kept those documents secret for a reason. He was protecting the Saudi role in 9/11.

And to be fair, other regimes have done -- like other presidents have done it as well, Bush, Obama, they have all done it. President Biden unwound his decision to seal these documents.

So I would ask him, what were you thinking? At what point did you engage in this contract with LIV? How much money are you getting? How much does it take to buy you off? What dollar amount is more important than American lives, American values?

BERMAN: Brett Eagleson, I know it was 21 years ago, but I'm sure it doesn't feel that long. And we will always be sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

EAGLESON: Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito breaking his silence on overturning Roe vs. Wade.

KEILAR: Plus, reported cases of monkey pox now nearing 5,000 in the U.S. Health experts say there's a new tool that could contain the outbreak but there are barriers to accessing it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)