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Chinese Military Performs Demonstrations after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Visit to Taiwan; Some Trump Backed Candidate Win Republican Primaries; Senator Ron Johnsons Says Social Security and Medicare Should be Changed into Discretionary Government Spending; Lawyers for Alex Jones Inadvertently Release His Text Messages from Past Two Years; The Secret U.S. Weapon Suspected of Killing Al Qaeda Leader. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 04, 2022 - 08:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Taiwan's defense ministry says China fired multiple missiles toward waters near the northeastern and southwestern parts of the island.

Videos here released by the Chinese military show multiple conventional missiles being launched from the mainland.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Military helicopters were seen flying past Pingtan Island, one of China's closest ports to Taiwan. Projectiles also spotted being shot near the Taiwan Strait. Chinese state media said the exercises are to simulate an air and sea blockade around Taiwan. The military posturing is a deliberate show of force after Speaker Pelosi's visit, something China warned would happen. China claims Taiwan is part of its territory, despite never having controlled it, and vowed to take resolute and forceful measures in response to the speaker's visit.

CNN's senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga joins us now. Bianna, great to see you as always. But this is a serious escalation. How do you see it?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SECURITY GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: This is an escalation that China had been warning about in the weeks prior to this trip that we know that Pelosi would be taking. But from a cost- benefit analysis, the question is, was it worth it? Was anything substantive made during these meetings that she had on the ground there?

Symbolically, this was a huge move, showing once again the United States stands in support of Taiwan and their autonomy there. That having been said, given the tensions, not only in the region right now, in China's escalation, and Xi's escalation, as he's approaching his party Congress meeting later this year, set to become the third term, unprecedented leader of that country and leader for life, was it worth it? And with all of the focus now on Ukraine, would this actually benefit Taiwan and its security? And that's the question really going forward. They're holding embargoes now on trade between China and Taiwan. And the Taiwanese obviously embraced this visit, but the question is what will happen in the weeks to come.

KEILAR: There is the issue too, if Nancy Pelosi was committed to go or wanted to go, and then she decided to step back from going, then was that a show of weakness or pulling a punch? The U.S. is going to be in a position like this again, right? So how does that affect the calculus going forward? When you put all those pictures together, it is a pretty scary sight of what China is doing.

GOLODRYGA: And it raises the question of how concrete and how stable is the strategic ambiguity policy that has been in place for so many years, and now it seems from President Biden's standpoint, the first few times we heard him say the U.S. will come to Taiwan's defense and that the U.S. supports Taiwan, was that a gaffe or not. It appears that that strategic ambiguity now has become more of a strategic clarity stance from the United States in its approach to China. And there is just concern that maybe not now, maybe not in the few years to come, but China and the United States perhaps are gearing up for some sort of military escalation there, South China Sea or the in the Strait of Taiwan. What could happen militarily on that front is the big question as to whether or not any more high profile and high- ranking officials travel to Taiwan anytime soon.

KEILAR: Such a good point, definitely more unstable situation. Bianna, thank you so much.

BENSON: Sure, sure.

AVLON: OK, more votes coming in overnight from Tuesday's key primary races in Arizona and Washington. First let's go to Washington state, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse both voted to impeach Trump in 2020. So are Donald Trump isn't getting his revenge. Newhouse is leading his Trump backed challenge by about six points, and Beutler has a smaller lead over Trump endorsed Joe Kent.

KEILAR: Election denialism put to the test in Arizona. The Republican primary for governor still too close to call. Kari Lake, though, is about 12,000 votes ahead of Karrin Taylor Robson. Lake is the Trump- backed candidate who backs his debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen. She claims the same about her race if she loses. Yes, ahead if she were to lose. Obviously, we don't have the full result there yet. Mike Pence and the governor, Doug Ducey, have backed Robson in that race.

If Kari Lake maintains her lead and she wins, she's going to be joining a Republican nominee for secretary of state who also maintains without proof that there was election fraud in Arizona.

Joining us now is CNN anchor Chris Wallace, the host of "Who's Talking to Chris Wallace." Chris, great to have you. Great to see you here this morning.


KEILAR: A lot of election deniers doing very well in these elections, but also you're going to see them in potentially, or if they are to win in the general, in these positions where they could affect the outcome of elections.

WALLACE: Yes, the first one we have to make is none of them have been elected to any positions. They're winning Republican nominations.


But in Arizona, in Nevada, in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, there are a lot of people who are going to be the nominees for governor or the nominees for secretary of state, which is the position that generally oversees elections, who have expressed tremendous doubts or just outright disbelief that Joe Biden won in 2020, and have suggested all kinds of reforms of 2024 if they're in a position of power, things like no mail-in balloting, no drop boxes, no electronic voting machines. So there could be a dramatic change if they take power in 2023 in how elections are conducted. And all four of those I mentioned are swing states in 2024.

AVLON: Well, and implicit in all of this is the idea that you only accept an election's result if you win. That's the opposite of democracy. And that's what's so dangerous about this. This is the downstream effect of disinformation, I'm sure you'll agree. So just how dangerous is this for our democracy looking ahead to the next election, potentially?

WALLACE: One of the linchpins of our democracy has been one that we have faith in the elections, that the person who is elected wins, and the person who lost is -- leaves gracefully, and also the peaceful transfer of power. And after 2020, both of those basic principles, bedrocks of democracy, have been put into question. You start having this in a number of states. Kari Lake in Arizona on primary day was saying that there is fraud in the election before there had been any votes cast, and in effect saying if I lose, it was rigged. Of course, we heard that from Donald Trump --

AVLON: In interviews with you, months ahead of the election.

WALLACE: Yes, and also in the debates. So it cuts at the very core of a democracy.

AVLON: It does.

KEILAR: Chris, I want to have you listen to something that Senator Ron Johnson said about Social Security and Medicare.


SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R-WI): Defense spending has always been discretionary. V.A. spending is discretionary. What's mandatory are things like Social Security and Medicare. If you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost. And our problem in this country is that more than 70 percent of our federal budget, of our federal spending, what we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so it is all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt.


KEILAR: What do you make of that? Fixing problems, evaluating problems, turning it into discretionary funding, sounds like cutting Medicare and Social Security.

WALLACE: Well, it's certainly putting it up for grabs. It's terrible policy and it's suicidal politics.


WALLACE: Because of the fact it's the old political cliche, Social Security is the third rail of American politics, the third rail in the New York subway system being the one where you can electrocute yourself. But the fundamental misunderstanding, Social Security is not money that is just handed out to Americans, hey, here is some free money. We pay into Social Security. We pay into Medicare. It's in effect an insurance policy, like you pay premiums. Nobody would say, well, you're not entitled to the benefit for life insurance when the person who has the policy dies. We have been paying into this system for years.

Look, there are -- there are problems with Social Security and Medicare. I think the biggest one is that Social Security, which was passed, I think, in 1935, was the life expectancy was very different than it is now. And I checked yesterday, you can begin getting Social Security benefits at 62. The average life expectancy for an American man or woman is close to 80. So it wasn't built for that kind of system. Maybe you have to raise the retirement age.

But the idea of saying this is an entitlement -- an entitlement is probably a wrong word, because it gives you -- I'm entitled to this. The fact is you paid into it, and you're getting the benefit, sometimes more than you actually paid in, but the benefit of what you paid into the system in the first place.

AVLON: All incredibly important points and clarifications.

WALLACE: But can I say just one other thing about this?

AVLON: Sure.

WALLACE: What's interesting is that he, Ron Johnson, is running for re-election in Wisconsin. He's running, it looks like, against Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor, who is very liberal, and there are plenty of things to go after him on that he's gone too far to the left, Green New Deal, Medicare for all, embracing the Squad. But when Ron Johnson says something like this just as the race begins to shape up in Wisconsin, instead of sort of pivoting slightly to the center, it puts him further out on the extreme.

AVLON: Sure does. And we should point out that the Wisconsin Democratic primary is still coming up. I think the state treasurer is running against the lieutenant governor. But you're right, Mandela Barnes is in pole position right now.

I want to ask you about the gap between polling and reality in effect, or at least results. Joe Biden has been in the cellar when it comes to his approval rating, really beginning one year ago this month with the invasion -- with the withdrawal from Afghanistan.


Independent voters abandoned him at that point. He's never gotten his mojo back. You see there, 36 percent approval rating. That's in spite of, we all understand, inflation is very high. Unemployment relatively low. But a huge number of bipartisan accomplishments have been passed in this term under this president's leadership with Democrats in Congress, 50/50. Republicans, by the way, Mitch McConnell deserves credit for making many of those things bipartisan as well. So how do you account for that gap between Biden's low approval rating and the fact that things are actually getting done in Washington, which is something we're not accustomed to always?

WALLACE: Yes, but here's where I take issue with that, John.

AVLON: Sure.

WALLACE: Because it seems to me that bills are being passed, but people don't live on the front page of "The New York Times" or NEW DAY on CNN. They live in their daily lives. And even though those bills have been passed, and you can look at all the bills there, an awful lot of them haven't affected people's lives yet. What are they living in their daily lives? They're living, gasoline, which, yes, is down substantially, but it's still a dollar a gallon more expensive than it was a year ago. They're living with crime, they're living with all kinds of issues.

And the fact that a chips bill has been passed, or it looks like, we're not sure, but it looks like they're going to pass this bipartisan reconciliation -- or rather partisan reconciliation bill, that hasn't affected people's lives yet. So when things begin to make a difference in people's lives, maybe you'll see some effect. But the fact that Washington passes something and we haven't seen the downstream results of it, I think has very limited political effect, in addition to which, I think at a certain point, people have made judgments about Joe Biden, and clearly at this point at least it can change. People don't have confidence in him.

AVLON: I think its perception in vigor in part. But as you point out, people can't eat long-term strategy.

WALLACE: And they can't eat legislation that either hasn't been passed or hasn't affected their daily lives.

KEILAR: We have been talking about that. When it kicks in, they might say, oh, I see how that affects my prescription drug prices, great. But today, they don't feel anything, it doesn't necessarily matter to them. Chris, as we love to have you hang around, we just love to see you.

AVLON: More to come.

KEILAR: As much as we can. AVLON: We're not letting you go. You have to stay there.

WALLACE: More hippo?

AVLON: More cowbell, more hippo.

KEILAR: We would love more hippo. But no, more Chris Wallace.

So what role did conspiracy theorist Alex Jones play on January 6th? Jones is actually on trial in Texas for lies that he spread about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. A jury is now deciding how much he's going to pay in damages to the parents of one victim. With Jones on the stand Wednesday, there was a bombshell moment, just something the likes of which you don't normally see in court as a lawyer for the Sandy Hook parents revealed this.


MARK BANKSTON, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: Did you know that 12 days ago, 12 days ago, your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cellphone with every text message you sent for the past two years. And when informed, did not take any steps to identify it as privileged or protected in any way. And as of two days ago, it fell free and clear into my possession, and that is how I know you lied to me.


KEILAR: Now, remember, January 6th was within that two-year timeline of text messages. Jones spent weeks encouraging Trump supporters to converge on the Capitol and was highly visible, as you can see here, on the day of the insurrection. CNN's Drew Griffin has more on this.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna and John, Jones wasn't just front and center at those protests on January 6th. He had been bragging about his involvement leading up to the protests, and had a longstanding relationship with the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stuart Rhodes.


GRIFFIN: On December 19th, 2020, Donald Trump tells his followers, "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there. Will be wild." Alex Jones never looked back.

ALEX JONES: People need to start going to D.C. now. Don't wait. Go to D.C. Go to D.C. Go to D.C. Go to the White House. Just go to the White House! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: January 6th, fight for Trump.

GRIFFIN: His show became a commercial for Trump's rally. And on New Year's Eve, "Infowars" guest host Matt Bracken said this.

MATT BRACKEN: We're going to only be saved by millions of Americans moving to Washington, occupying the entire area, if necessary, storming right into the Capitol.

GRIFFIN: Jones told his audience he was intimately involved in the planning of the January 6th rally.

JONES: I put the money down because -- this is all private, folks. It was hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then a big donor came through and took care of that for us. It's not about me bragging. It's just people know the history.


GRIFFIN (voice over): As crowds gathered in Washington, D.C., on the night before the big rally, Jones would warn of a coming battle.

JONES: This will be their waterloo. This will be their destruction.

GRIFFIN: The next day, Jones was front and center for Trump's speech.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We're going to walk down to the Capitol.

GRIFFIN: Megaphone in hand, Jones then led a crowd to the Capitol.

JONES: Let's go take our country back. That's certainly minutes away. Let's start marching to the Capitol.

GRIFFIN: When he arrived, it was chaos. Trump supporters were in hand-to-hand combat with police.

JONES: Let's march around to the other side and let's not fight the police and give the system what they want. We were peaceful.

GRIFFIN: The west side was anything but peaceful as Jones was leading a crowd to the other side, the Capitol was breached. Jones arrived on the Capitol's east side, climbed steps packed with rioters and called for peace, but also revolution.

Jones sees it all and takes off.

JONES: Fight for Trump. Fight for Trump. Fight for Trump.

GRIFFIN: Minutes after Jones left, a mob trying to force the east Capitol doors would push their way through. From a perch overlooking the Capitol, he would rejoin InfoWars broadcast and start a new conspiracy theory.

JONES: This is the bureaucracy. Antifa started this. We're pretty much sure.

GRIFFIN: These were Trump supporters, including extremists with deep ties to Alex Jones.


GRIFFIN (on camera): At least 20 of those arrested on January 6th either worked for, appeared on InfoWars, or followed his content. That includes Oath Keeper Founder Stewart Rhodes, charged with seditious conspiracy. Brianna, John?

KEILAR: All right. Drew, amazing reporting there.

Chris Wallace is back with us now. You can draw this line between all these conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook to all these conspiracy theories about QAnon. They're just all kind of in the same mix and Alex Jones is so much a part of this. Do you think the committee is going to want to get their hands on those texts? You would, right?

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: I would think so, yes. I mean, he's kind of the nexus, Alex Jones, between the people on the street and some of the political people in larger Trump world. And the texts and what conversations were going on back and forth between him and trump acolytes on the one hand him and people like Stewart Rhodes and the other.

Can I just say one thing about that video? You know, it reminds me of Steve Bannon, and I'd say that about him and Alex Jones, it is the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt, speak loudly and carry a little stick. I mean, he marched these people up to the edge of the Capitol, right up the east front of the Capitol, oh, and I'll see you, guys, they go in and they all face the charges and they all face the police and he goes back to his perch and oversees it and starts talking about Antifa. I mean, he is -- he's a bad guy.

And anybody who hasn't seen it should see the moment that you had a moment ago from the trial, where he has said -- he's on a trial for defamation. He's got to pay damages to the families of the Sandy Hook children who were slaughtered because he said it was a hoax and they were all actors. And what happens is he was -- as part of the discovery, he was supposed to say, did you mention Sandy Hook in any of your texts and he said, no, I didn't, and now it turns out that his lawyer inadvertently sent two years of texts, which are filled with Sandy Hook references, to the plaintiff.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: And to that point, you know, he said that when he was -- testimony that the January 6th commission that he took the Fifth over 100 times and this is all conspiracy, they're making millions of dollars.

WALLACE: He's been confronted with the fact that his lawyer messed up and put two years of texts, gave them to the other side and he is literally sweating bullets. There is sweat running into his eyes, there's sweat running down -- anybody who had issues with Alex Jones over the years, it is a good time.

KEILAR: Chris Wallace, it is always a good time with you.

AVLON: Always a good time with you.

KEILAR: Always. Thank you.

AVLON: Good morning.

KEILAR: So, tomorrow, join Drew Griffin as he talks with people who know Alex Jones. This is a CNN special report, Megaphone for Conspiracy, and that will begin at 11:00 P.M. Eastern.

So, just in this morning, CNN has learned the prosecutor is seeking 9.5 years of jail time for Brittney Griner, 9.5 years. A verdict could come later today. What will that be? CNN is live at the courthouse.

AVLON: Plus, what we're learning about the weapon may have been used to kill the leader of Al Qaeda.



KEILAR: New details this morning of the killing of the leader of Al Qaeda and the world's most wanted terrorist, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The precise nature of the drone strike, the fact that there was no explosion, and the damage seemed to be limited to this tiny portion of the building where he was suggests it could be the work of a secretive U.S. weapon, a modified Hellfire missile nicknamed the flying Ginsu.

CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman is joining us now. Tell us about this modified Hellfire missile.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We can tell you what we believe we know. The truth is the Pentagon, the DOD, they don't really want to talk about this thing. This is what is believed to be, based on a lot of military watchers who studied it closely, it is a version of a Hellfire missile, meaning it's about five feet long, about 100 pounds, and what makes it unique is this. You can't see the two in the back, but there are six blades that as this flies toward a target, they pop out at the last possible moment, creating a kinetic attack force. What that means is no explosion, just a tremendous force moving through a target, so something about as big as a screen, is exposed to the attack and nothing else around it.

It is a very unusual weapon. And, again, they don't really want to talk about it, in part because it is so unusual, and such a surprise on the battlefield now.


AVLON: I mean, given the nickname, I think it answers some of the question. But, really, explain to folks how this differs from other Hellfire missiles.

FOREMAN: All right. If you look at a normal Hellfire missile, you see some loaded on a drone here, again, we talked about the size and they're not terribly big. These have been around for decades. They were developed as anti-tank weapons. They are used to fire munitions into buildings, into vehicles, sometimes at a different sort of communications centers, things like that. They're very common and very widely used.

The big difference is this. If you look at the firing of a normal Hellfire missile, it takes off, and it is carrying a warhead. It is being guided toward a target, and when it hits, it is going to explode. The blast area when it explodes would be potentially about as big as a football field, in terms of where people would be in danger. That's a big impact. And bear in mind, this thing is moving very, very fast.

The difference with this one, you go back to the RX-9, you're talking about one that does not have a blast area at all. You can't call this a bomb. This is a kinetic weapon. It is a kinetic missile. That's its purpose. And that's why they say, you use it in a civilian place, you're much less likely to hit anyone other than your target, because, again, the damage area is right in one spot.

KEILAR: Yes, it limits that collateral damage that U.S. drone strikes have faced so much criticism because of.

When you're specifically, Tom, looking at the aftermath of this strike that we saw in Kabul, what suggests that this could be the weapon that was used?

FOREMAN: The same thing that would suggest to you. Look at the house. There is no sign of a giant blast here. You talk about a blast that could reach out across a football field. There is no sign of that here. There is limited contained damage, you don't see burn marks, you don't see blast fragmentation, you see none of the things you would expect to see from a normal explosion out there.

And I want to point out the speed of this thing because this is important. This is moving close to 1,000 miles an hour, which puts it above the speed of sound at sea level. So, even if you were theoretically looking for threats out there, you would not hear it approaching because it is coming too fast. At the speed it is traveling, if you actually spotted this relatively small missile a mile away, you would have four seconds before it was on top of you. That's how fast it is moving.

So, that's what makes it such a devastating weapon. People don't see it coming, they don't know it's coming and when it strikes, if it is guided properly and it is being guided, this could actually be guided by somebody in the United States. They don't even have to be over there when they take it into their target. The goal is to hit specifically what they're after, and nothing else. And look at the building. You don't have to be an expert to say I don't think thing blew up in there. Something very violent, very dramatic happened, but I don't think it was an explosion because it doesn't look like an explosion.

That's the signature of this missile, which now appears to have been used about a dozen times in recent years through Yemen and in Iraq, a few other places over there.

KEILAR: Yes. Look, it clears up a lot of questions that I think people have looking at these pictures. Tom, thank you.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

AVLON: Thanks, Tom.

KEILAR: Right now, closing arguments are under way in WNBA Star Brittney Griner's trial. We're going to tell you what we're hearing from the courtroom.

AVLON: And soon, a critical hearing in the Uvalde school shooting investigation will get under way. Why the Department of Public Safety could be blocked from sharing information about the massacre.