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Slew of Election Deniers Backed by Trump Win Across U.S.; Federal Grand Jury Subpoenas Ex-Trump White House Counsel Cipollone; Pentagon Wiped Phones of Top Officials at End of Trump Administration. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired August 03, 2022 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: So, here are your heat advisories now. You mentioned nearly 100 million people, a bulk of that is happening today, and then includes the northeast by the time we get into tomorrow where the feels like temperature could top 109, 110 across portions of Arkansas, Oklahoma. Here are your high temperatures, you can see close to 90 degrees, feeling much hotter over the next couple of days. Brianna?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, especially there in Kentucky where a lot of people are without power still. Jennifer, thank you for that.
New Day continues right now.
Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world, it is Wednesday, August 3rd. I'm Brianna Keilar and John Berman is off and John Avalon is here with us.
JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning.
KEILAR: Good morning, great to have you.
It is the morning after election night in America where democracy was on the ballot. First, a stunning rejection by voters in conservative Kansas, voters defeating an amendment aimed at restricting abortion rights and the result wasn't close. Kansas is the first state to vote on the issue since the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Perhaps even more significant was the voter turnout here because nearly 700,000 votes were cast in Tuesday's primary and that dwarfs the voter turnout in the state's 2020 presidential primary election.
Five states in all held primaries on Tuesday, one other big takeaway here was a slew of election deniers backed by former President Trump, they were winners.
AVLON: And here to break down the numbers is CNN's Senior Data Analyst Harry Enten.
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Hey, John.
AVLON: Good morning to you. ENTEN: Good morning.
AVLON: What we got?
ENTEN: What we got? Let's start in Kansas, which Brianna was just talking about. My goodness gracious, sometimes I get surprised by results and this is one of them. I did expect that no would win, that is that they were not going to say that, in fact, there wasn't a right to a constitutional ban to abortion, that is that there is, but look at this, 59 percent of the vote. I thought this race would be within 5 percent.
And the thing that I think is important to note here, as Brianna was saying, turnout was well up. But if you look at the Democratic primary versus the Republican primary for governor and you can compare the turnout in the two of them, Democrats did much better relative to 2018 than Republicans did and that is very much unlike any of the other primaries that we've seen so far this season across the nation.
Democrats were revved up to turn out to vote in this primary and this was the reason why, the right to make sure that there is a constitutional right to abortion.
AVLON: Because there were really no other high stakes competitive primaries. So, this really off cycle Democrats turning out, upsetting conventional wisdom.
ENTEN: Yes, exactly right. If there was the idea that abortion would bring out Democrats and Democrats are hoping for that, this race at least is an initial confirmation of that fact.
AVLON: All right. Let's move on to the other big theme, which is the Trumpism election denial, specifically what happened to the Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump. What do we know?
ENTEN: All right. So, we will start off in Michigan, right? Peter Meijer, the incumbent there, goes down to defeat to John Gibbs. Remember , there was a lot of Democratic money backing John Gibbs because the idea was that they thought that Meijer was too strong in the general election. He does, in fact, go down to defeat, he's the second Republican to go down to defeat in a primary, Tom Rice was the other one in South Carolina.
AVLON: Yes. I want to note that that is a pretty narrow margin, 3,700 votes and change. That would indicate that that 400,000 spend by the DCCC might have made a decisive difference.
ENTEN: It may very well. And we will see if Democrats come to regret that this fall.
Let's look at two other races in Washington, Dan Newhouse voted to impeach Donald Trump. We don't have a call there yet. This is a top 2 primary, ergo you have to finish in the top 2. Right now, Newhouse would, in fact, finish in the top two. Jaime Herrera Beutler over in Washington's third district, she right now is in the top two but, again, we don't have a call there. AVLON: Around 50 percent in.
Okay. Let's move over to Arizona.
ENTEN: Arizona, right now, none of these races have calls but the Trump-backed candidates are leading in all of them. Here, the Trump- backed candidates ahead, here, in the secretary of state's race, the Trump-backed candidates ahead. Why don't we go up to that Senate Republican primary, Blake Masters is well ahead, he was backed by Donald Trump, and here down in the attorney general's race, the Republican that was backed by Donald Trump, again, ahead. But I will point out, both the governors and the Senate race are going to be races we're watching this fall.
AVLON: Absolutely. And this one pretty narrow, momentum shifted overnight.
AVLON: Okay. Let's go to Michigan gov.
ENTEN: Michigan governor, another Trumped-backed candidate. This one, we do get the check mark for Tudor Dixon, well out ahead, 40 percent of the vote. She was not very much ahead a little bit while ago, but the fact of the matter is that Trump endorsement very much helped her out.
AVLON: All right.
Finally, Missouri's Senate, which Eric won?
ENTEN: Okay. It was not Eric Estrada, the former actor.
AVLON: I appreciate that reference.
ENTEN: He did not win. Remember, he endorsed Eric, E-R-I-C. It was Eric Schmitt, the attorney general there, well out ahead, getting nearly 46 percent of the vote. He was leading before Trump endorsed the Eric, and he won again. Eric Greitens, the other Eric, did not come anywhere close.
AVLON: In third.
ENTEN: In third.
AVLON: Fascinating. Harry Enten, thanks for breaking it down, buddy.
ENTEN: Thank you, my friend.
AVLON: All right.
KEILAR: All right. Let's talk about this now with Republican Strategist and CNN Political Commentator Alice Stewart and Aisha Mills, she is the Democratic candidate for Congress in New York's 18th district.
Let's zero in, if we shall, on Kansas. And this is a place where voters rejected by ballot -- and this is really the first test we have seen of this -- there was -- they said no to eliminating protections for abortion, and it was resounding. Alice, I'm curious what you think the takeaway for Republicans is on that and what's really become an enclave for people to get abortions in the plains?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's -- we need to really step up the game. If we really want to protect life and protect the unborn, we cannot take for granted that the successes we have had in the past with regard to getting Republicans out to support the life issue as well as Supreme Court justice nominees, we need to really redouble our efforts.
Look, I know that the Value Them Both campaign in Kansas has worked really hard to make sure that they protect the life issue. They've told me last night they are going to double down and continue their efforts to protect life. But we can't just assume that the efforts we've done to-date are going to continue because this is really just a starting point and it's a good barometer. It's a wake-up call for Republicans not to assume that the people that we have had out there supporting this issue are going to be galvanized unless we get out there.
I know a lot of folks are working on bus campaigns and efforts to get votes out. We cannot just rest on what we --
AVLON: But let me press you on that point before we get to the Democrats' take on this, which is it's an issue also just what's a majoritarian position, right? So, for example, Gallup poll found that 63 percent of Republican women believe that decisions about terminating a pregNancy should be between a woman and her doctor, sometimes it's a woman, a doctor, her family and her God. That's 63 percent of Republican women.
That indicates that this is not a winning issue when always put up at the ballot box. It may be with activist judges, it may be in low turnout primaries but this was massive turnout and some Trump voters statistically probably voted to keep abortion legal in Kansas.
STEWART: Right, which goes even more to the point many people who say that this decision should not be left in the hands of nine unelected justices, it should be put in the hands of the people. Look, I'm not particularly thrilled with the outcome of this vote in Kansas because I support life but I am thrilled with the fact that this is now in the hands of people, the hands of elected people. That's what our democracy is about. Important decisions like this are made best closest to the people.
AVLON: And we should say good people can disagree on this of all issues, and that's a very fair point.
Aisha, Democrats have got to be cheering today though because this has been their hope that in the wake of the overturning of Roe that there would be this massive enthusiasm. It hasn't shown up in all polls. Election deniers did very well last night but at least in Kansas, nothing the matter with Kansas from Democrats' perspective this morning.
AISHA MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The fact that the people are even weighing in on this, I think, is a big problem and a big issue that Democrats see. This is an issue, abortion, and I also was a leader in the marriage equality movement, issues around bodily autonomy, around health care, are best left to individuals and their doctors. The electorate, activist judges, lawmakers should not be deciding what women can do with our bodies. And I think that that's the message that we see here.
That's why I'm running for Congress right now in the New York 18 is because I believe that we should have a government that is for the people, about the people, by the people, but that the people should have equality and they should be able to seek their own decision- making without the government being in their way.
And I believe that that's what we saw in Kansas, more so than any ideological tent towards whether someone believes this in abortion or doesn't believe in abortion, we are talking about whether the Constitution there should determine how people make medical or health care decisions. That's really the key issue.
KEILAR: If the legislature follows suit, if they actually follow what the voters want in Kansas, then where should that take them?
MILLS: If the legislators follow suit?
KEILAR: If the legislature looks at what voters want, then where should that take them on abortion?
MILL: It should take them nowhere. It should say, we should be -- women should be able to have abortions period, full stop. That's it.
STEWART: And that's the whole key, is if they leave things as they are and the majority of people in Kansas voted no, which, in essence, as Aisha said would leave things status quo and would not change the state Constitution in Kansas and would protect abortion rights for the people in Kansas.
AVLON: Before we go, I've got to ask about Peter Meijer. I mean, his race last night, he appears to have lost, but was close, 3,700 votes.
That Democratic DCCC spend, some $300,000, $400,000 to meddle in his primary and boost the name idea of his opponent might have been decisive.
Alice, I know that frustrates you as a Republican, but this is a Republican who voted to impeach Trump, someone who voted to support -- protect marriage equality, someone who supported -- voted the gun bill. Aisha, are you ashamed that Democrats did that?
MILLS: It is disappoint to go me that Democrats are funding anybody who is right-wing, okay? It is very disappointing. And as someone who is running in a race right now where I am not the establishment-backed candidate, it is frustrating when Democrats want to try to determine the outcome as opposed to let the people determine the outcome and then get in and support someone who I believe is fundamentally against our values.
Now, there is a political calculus around that, I don't necessarily agree with it.
STEWART: And the sanctimonious bull crap of Democrats who say that they are the party for democracy, to put hard earned money of Democratic supporters behind Republicans who are election deniers is ridiculous. The hypocrisy behind this is so disgusting because what they are, they are a tool for Donald Trump's grievances on past elections.
So, the fact that Meijer didn't do well in this is bad for so many reasons. You have Democrats who are taking money away from good candidates, like Aisha, that could help good a Democrat, and they are putting it behind a bad Republican who not only is an election denier but also supports Trump and a lot of the things that he has done to really be an affront to the confidence that we should have in our election process.
KEILAR: Alice and Aisha, thank you so much for your perspectives, we appreciate it.
So, there is evidence this morning that the Justice Department probe into January 6th is going from simmer to boil. A grand jury has subpoenaed former Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and he has already testified before the House select committee, as you may be aware of, about his old boss' efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Now, the DOJ wants to hear from him. And this is just a major step that reaches deeper into Trump's inner circle.
CNN Senior Crime and Justice Correspondent Katelyn Polantz is joining us now on this. This is a big deal that they will be hearing from him.
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Brianna, it really, really is. And for them to go after Pat Cipollone, to try and lock down what he knew about January 6th just shows how serious, how significant this criminal investigation is into January 6.
So, my colleague, Pamela Brown, she was able to confirm last night a story first reported by ABC News that former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has been subpoenaed by the federal grand jury that is investigating January 6th out of Washington, D.C. And this sort of fact-finding step, it would be the sort of thing where prosecutors would want to talk to Cipollone probably about what he spoke to the House select committee about, but also what he was witnessing, what he was hearing in the west wing, maybe things that the House select didn't ask him about, other things he may have witnessed. Part of this, too, that Pam had learned when she was doing this reporting, is that Cipollone and his attorneys are in discussions over access, over executive privilege and whether prosecutors can actually get to Trump's statements themselves. That's something that we already know is a brewing fight and a very important one at that because people from the office of the vice president, Marc Short, Greg Jacob, they have already been into the grand jury and everything that they said, the only thing that they stopped at was being able to share what Trump himself was saying.
And so the Justice Department is about to go and have a fight over possibly getting access to Trump's statements. That is something that could bubble up with Cipollone as well. And if we remember back at that House select committee hearing, what we've heard of Cipollone saying before is that the key thing he had said was that Trump was the only person in the White House who didn't want to tell rioters to leave the Capitol on January 6th. The House select committee made a very big deal about this. But even when Cipollone was testifying to that at the House select committee, he was very hesitant to say exactly what Trump said and even to name Trump in that circumstance because he kept citing executive privilege.
So, this could be something that brings us to another court fight, but it really is an aggressive step by investigators to want to bring him into the grand jury and lock down his testimony.
KEILAR: Yes. It was clear that unburdened by what he perceived was that executive privilege, he would have talked about it so he would have a lot to say there. So, we'll be watching this.
Katelyn, thank you so much for the great reporting.
AVLON: First on CNN, court filings show the Department of Defense wiped the phones of top defense and army officials at the end of the Trump administration, deleting any texts about the events surrounding the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
CNN's Whitney Wild is live in Washington with the story.
WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, John this, all surfaced when a government watchdog group, American Oversight, tried to get January 6th records from former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, former Chief of Staff Kash Patel and former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, among other prominent Pentagon officials.
This reporting from my colleagues, Tierney Sneed and Zachary Cohen, shows that this watchdog group filed an initial request for those records just a few days after the Capitol attack prior to when some of the officials they were requesting records from left.
Miller, Patel and McCarthy have all been viewed as very crucial witnesses to understanding the government's response to the January 6 Capitol assault and for understanding former President Donald Trump's reaction to that Capitol breach. All three were involved in the Defense Department's response to sending the National Guard troops to the U.S. Capitol as this riot was under folding.
So, certainly a lot of questions. The assumption is that they had substantive information on their phones. That's why this group was suing to seek those records. They can't get them now, however, at this point there's no suggestion that these officials themselves erased the records, rather when they turned the phones in, they were wiped.
Here is a quote from the government's filing in this case, DOD and the Army conveyed to the plaintiff, American Oversight, that when an employee separates from DOD or the Army, he or she turns in the government-issued phone and the phone is wiped. For those custodians who are no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and, therefore, could not be searched, although it's possible that particular text messages could have been saved into other record systems, such as email.
There are so many unanswered questions here, but at this point what's very clear over the last few weeks is that record retention problems are a pattern across government. American Oversight is now joining Senator Dick Durbin, who heads up the Senate Judiciary Committee, he is calling on DOJ to investigate the loss of records at other agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, like the Secret Service, American Oversight wants to see Merrick Garland take up an investigation into the DOD issues here. John and Brianna?
AVLON: Well, it looks like we're going to need a forensic scientist if one of our earlier guests has anything to say about it to see if any of that data can be retrieved.
Whitney Wild, thank you very much.
KEILAR: And joining us now is former Defense Secretary under President Trump Mark Esper. Sir, thank you so much for being with us.
MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Thanks, Brianna. Good to be with you both.
KEILAR: I do want to get your opinion, your perspective first on these deleted texts. Having been someone in that position, knowing about records retention, what is your reaction to learning that these things have gone poof?
ESPER: You know, my sense is that the headline is dramatic, but when you dig into it, you find that it is probably a process that was just executing itself. I mean, your previous report acknowledged from a filing that the department -- under the Biden administration reported it was a normal process to wipe the phones. That's always been my understanding as well. There was reporting elsewhere this morning that a defense official, again, in the Biden administration said this was a normal process.
So, look, I think it needs to be looked into, but I think what we will find is that this was just a circumstance of people leaving government two weeks or so after January 6th and their phones being wiped and cleared for the next person to take them.
AVLON: The one reason I think there's concerns that this isn't just normal business as usual, normal process, is there's nothing normal, of course, around January 6th and indeed Freedom of Information Act requests were placed a week after January 6th, well before the transfer of administrations. So, I mean, you as secretary of defense, I assume you were acutely aware of Presidential Record Acts and the need to preserve documents for history, for posterity, for the American people who they belong to, weren't you?
ESPER: Well, yes, of course, you're aware but the bureaucracy largely handles that, right? And, of course, this report comes in the wake of what we've learned, you two just reported about the text messages missing from DHS and the Secret Service. So, that makes it all the more dramatic, if you will.
But, look, I've got to tell you from working five times in that building at the Pentagon, that sometimes it takes a piece of paper or request weeks, if not, months to get to the people that actually end up doing these things. So, again, I'm not -- I'm not jumping to any conclusions, it needs to be looked into, but my sense is, at the end of the day, it will come out to be normal process.
And, look, on top of this too, there was a hearing last year on this topic, I think at least McCarthy and Miller have already been interviewed by the January 6th committee, they need to get to the bottom of this as well. So, we need to let this process play out.
KEILAR: Why considering that we have recent examples of documents that should have been preserved? I mean, this played out during the 2016 election with Hillary Clinton's emails and a lot of people who didn't know about records preservation became keenly aware and interested in it and it seems like something that everyone knew these things need to be saved.
How do we get to this point where they're just being deleted at DOD still?
ESPER: Yes. I think that needs to be looked into and probably an update to the legislation that governs this and the rules and regulations in each of the departments.
KEILAR: By DOJ?
ESPER: No. I would begin with Congress, of course. I think that's the body at the end of the day that's going to have to change the law. But immediately to get to the bottom of this latest report, I think the DOD I.G. can look into this fairly quickly and should.
KEILAR: All right. Sir, if you can just stand by for us, we are going to have more with the former secretary here in just a moment, but, first, those who play with fire will perish, that is a quote. China's foreign minister lashing out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her trip to Taiwan.
After a lengthy fight, the Senate has passed the bill to expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
AVLON: And Alex Jones taking the stand as parents of Sandy Hook victims seek damages for his conspiracy theories.
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ALEX JONES, HOST, INFOWARS: I actually feel good because I get a chance to for the first time say what's really going on instead of the courtroom media and high-powered law firms manipulating what I actually did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): While China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating and going to certain meetings that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan.
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AVLON: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defying the Chinese with her historic trip to Taiwan. Pelosi and her congressional delegation left the island this morning. But how significant was her visit and how will it impact long-term U.S. relations with Beijing?
CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now. Kylie, what's your read on the diplomatic impact of this trip?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think that is yet to be determined because we really don't know exactly how this is going to impact U.S.-China relations. But what we are seeing right now is that the increased rhetoric that we saw from China surrounding this visit, the warnings that there was going to be a response are actually manifesting.
And the question is what do these military exercises that China is now staging around the entire island of Taiwan, how far do they go? Because according to Taiwan's government, they are irrational and what they have seen in terms of these planned exercises is that they are actually going to go into Taiwan's territorial waters.
And that's what we're watching for over the course of the next few days and hours as they carry out these military exercises. Do they go closer to Taiwan than they have in the past? That would be the escalation. That would be the escalation that Secretary of State Tony Blinken has called for China not to do.
So, Pelosi obviously felt like this was an incredibly important trip for her to make. She didn't mince words while she was visiting with these Taiwan leaders, defending Taiwan's democracy, but the fallout of the trip is what we are still watching incredibly closely.
KEILAR: That picture we are seeing of what China is doing around Taiwan, if we can put that back up, it's extraordinary. This looks like a rehearsal for a blockade, right?
ATWOOD: Right. And you see at the bottom there just how close some of these exercises are to Taiwan. I mean, there is the expectation that they could come as close as ten miles to Taiwan's coastline. And what that would mean is that some people living in Taiwan might be able to hear these exercises.
So, that, of course, would be incredibly intimidating. It's also something that Taiwan would actually do if they were going to invade -- excuse me, China would do if they were going to invade Taiwan. And so that's the concern here. Are they preparing for that eventuality?
AVLON: And that sense of intimidation may be the feature, not the bug, of these exercises. Kylie Atwood, thank you very much, as always, great to see you.
KEILAR: Mark Esper, former defense secretary during the Trump administration, is back with us.
Sir, when you look at that, this circling of Taiwan, and you were recently back from Taiwan yourself, what do you see and how should the U.S. be looking at this and responding to this?
ESPER: Well, first of all, I give Speaker Pelosi credit for doing what she did. I think she defended a very important principle that the Chinese Communist Party is not going to dictate where American officials travel to. You know, this will be momentous in that regard.
And keep in mind, you know, three, four days ago, we were talking about the Chinese shooting down her airplane or a war starting over that, none of that has happened or likely will happen. I think a week from now, this will all be behind that.
But that said, to your question, Brianna, what that looks like is a blockade of Taiwan, and that is, of course, what the Taiwanese defense officials are calling it. When I've talked about this in another forum (ph), I've talked about one of the things that the Chinese could do at some point down the road is implement a blockade against Taiwan, which would be, you know, tough for us and others to deal with. They could basically strangle the Taiwanese economy and compel them to come to the negotiating table to figure out what reunification looks like on their terms.
And so this is one of the scenarios we always talked about and prepared for when I was secretary of defense.
AVLON: And indeed in your memoir, which I have got right here, you write two of the flash points you were most concerned about were China's attempting to go seize Taiwan and sort of a blockade or conflict in the straits. I want to ask you to take a step back because, you know, five months or so ago, at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict the conventional wisdom seemed to be that China would learn, take a note, if you will, from Ukraine's resistance and the international community's condemnation and isolation of Russia, and that maybe they would revert to a more cautious tone with China, more long-term vision, which had been the case during (INAUDIBLE). Instead, the rhetoric seems to have ratcheted up under Xi.
I wonder what you think their thinking is that accounts for that.
ESPER: Well, first thing, when I was in Taipei and I met with all the Taiwanese leaders, the topic at the time was lessons learned from Ukraine.