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Senate Set to Vote Tomorrow on Climate, Health Deal; Russia Ready to Discuss Prisoner Swap after Griner Sentencing; Trump Lawyers in Talks with DOJ about January 6th Probe. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 05, 2022 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It's Friday, August 5, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Avlon, in for John Berman this morning.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: Good morning.
KEILAR: Good morning.
One small step for an Arizona senator, one giant leap for the Biden agenda. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the lone Democratic holdout on the president's major climate and economic bill, is now on board.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer agreed to change some of the tax provisions to get Sinema to move forward on the bill. Democrats expect to have 50 votes plus the vice president's tiebreaker to push their marquee economic legislation through the Senate.
AVLON: The Inflation Reduction Act represents what would be the largest investment in energy and climate programs in U.S. history. It would extend healthcare subsidies and give Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices.
Senator Schumer says it will close tax loopholes and reduce the deficit by $300 billion.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill with the latest on the deal -- Sunlen.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John.
This is certainly a big breakthrough on Capitol Hill; and Democrats and the White House certainly breathing a huge sigh of relief this morning.
Senator Sinema coming out and announcing that she is on board, that she's going to move forward with this bill, meaning that Democrats very likely have the votes to get this passed through on Capitol Hill.
And this is a major piece of the Biden administration, with major investments in climate, energy and health care, as well as tax reform. And it was on that issue of tax reform where Senator Sinema expressed
concern in recent days and where she was able to push Democrats to make changes to this bill. In the end, Democrats making changes by dropping a $14 billion carried interest tax provision from the bill. They also pared back how companies can deduct the depreciated assets from their taxes. Those two things were something that Senator Sinema in recent days had been pushing for.
Now Senate Democrats will wait to see how the Senate parliamentarian rules. They will look over every detail of this bill, making sure that it abides by the very strict budgeting standards that Democrats need so they can push this through on party lines only with only Democratic support.
They have lined up a procedural vote likely on Saturday. Getting this passed through, and then, John and Brianna, sending it over to the House for final passage.
AVLON: All right, Sunlen, thank you very much. Fascinating.
KEILAR: Joining us now is John LaBombard. He served as the former -- as the communications director for Senator Kyrsten Sinema. He's currently a senior vice president at Rock Solutions, which is a bipartisan public affairs firm. And Jonathan Kott also with us, former senior advisor to Senator Joe Manchin.
John LaBombard, to you first. How significant is this?
JOHN LABOMBARD, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA: This is significant, and thanks for having me and I'm honored to be here alongside my long-time friend, John, the better John. This is significant and this is a really encouraging moment for the country, I believe, and also for the Democratic Party.
This thanks, I believe, to the hard work of the moderate Democrats in the Senate, Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema, is shaping up to be a real home run for domestic policy in this country.
If you were to have told us 18 months ago that, in a historically split 50/50 Senate and a pretty close House of Representatives, that we could be on the cusp of passing legislation of this magnitude while also cutting the deficit and without raising taxes on every day Americans, I think we would all agree this is a big home run.
AVLON: John Kott, I wonder, did you think that we would get to yes, knowing Joe Manchin, knowing all the false starts and abandoned negotiations? Did you actually believe in your heart that we'd get to this day?
JONATHAN KOTT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO SEN. JOE MANCHIN: I did, because Joe Manchin didn't walk away from the table. He kept telling people I'm not walking away. I just want to make sure I get this right.
I will tell you, after eight years working for him, he is a guy who likes to get stuff done. He wants to cut a deal. It's who he is. It's like the governor DNA in him.
And if he were going to -- if he were going to walk away, he would have told them, I'm done, I can't do this, I'm leaving. He said he didn't want to walk away. He kept working on it. He made the bill better.
Senator Sinema made the bill better. This is now a better bill at the right time, and Democrats should be celebrating this. And I think they will once we get through the painfully long bird bath vote-a-rama process that will happen next -- I think it's tomorrow night.
And I'm just glad John and I won't be wandering the halls of Russell looking for a Red Bull at 3 a.m.
AVLON: Bird bath vote-a-rama is like the world's worst carnival ride.
KEILAR: I miss wandering the halls of Russell at 3 a.m., to be honest. It's funny. It's funny what you miss being on the Hill.
LABOMBARD: You would be the only one.
KEILAR: I am not. Admit it: deep down you are.
You know, John LaBombard, there are going to still be critics, as you know, of Senator Sinema's, right? If we look back on some of the achievements in the Biden administration, gun legislation that obviously -- she was the linchpin there, leveraging her Republican contacts that wouldn't have gotten done.
But here she is in this agreement, and she's pulling the carried interest loophole out of this. You're going to have progressives who are saying, why does she care so much about hedge fund managers that that's the thing that she's plucking out of these negotiations?
LABOMBARD: It's a great question, and I'll tell you two things. One, John Kott and I were just having this same conversation in the green room about the fact that we have some incredible historic achievements in this Congress and under President Biden.
I, of course, am I little biased in this regard, and I happen to think that a lot of this deal-making and legislating is the result of moderate Senate Democrats like Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema who led on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, who led on the CHIPS Act, who led on the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. That's the way legislation is supposed to work.
And on tax policy at this point, it really is no secret in Washington that Senator Sinema, while it may be out of style for some in Washington, she expresses that she wants to be quite thoughtful and deliberate to avoid any unintended consequences on tax policy.
And if there are folks who are anxious that the carried interest provision was dropped in this bill in exchange for a tax on stock buy backs that's actually going to bring in more revenue to this bill and is actually going to retain the really important provisions that Senator Manchin secured on deficit reduction, we're not seeing the forest for the trees, if that's the case.
Because this bill is shaping up to be something that's custom-designed to get at what's on the minds of everyday Americans, which is rising costs and inflation.
AVLON: Look, there's no question the carried interest is a relatively small part of the revenue pie. I think the question is why Senator Sinema feels so strongly about protecting when it's only benefits -- you know, hedge fund managers, of whom her state has 94. We looked it up. But Senator Schumer's state has almost 700.
Nonetheless, you know, I think -- I take your point about the macro implications of this.
John Kott, going to you, though. Given that Manchin and Schumer negotiated this with not involving Kyrsten Sinema up front, do you have any insights why, knowing that she opposed the carried interest loophole, they included it in the deal and didn't include her in the negotiations at first?
KOTT: It's not that they didn't include her in the negotiations. I think Senator Manchin said this bill was largely negotiated with a bunch of moderate senators early last year. This -- they basically just took the framework. Senator Manchin had some changes he wanted to make to the energy side. He wants to make sure we're producing more in the U.S.
He had his concerns. He took them to Senator Schumer. Senator Schumer got him to yes. Then he took them to Senator Sinema. She had her concerns. And this is actually how the process works.
I think people were giving them a lot of grief for it, but I don't know why we're upset that a senator sat down and read through 725 pages, looked at the areas that they wanted to improve on, made the changes, got some compromise; and then we all got to yes.
We have a big-tent party. Look, Monday night when they have their leadership meetings, you have Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Joe Manchin and Mark Warner. That's a big tent. You had Kyrsten Sinema in there. This is how we get things done in Washington. Everybody has to compromise a little bit. And I think this bill was made better by both of our old bosses.
LABOMBARD: And if I just might add to that, I couldn't agree with John more on that point. The Democrats have often prided ourselves on being a big-tent party. Senator Manchin represents a state that's very different than Senator Sinema.
And it's OK that there are Democrats who feel differently about different policies. It's kind of crazy that we have to say that these days. But having different views and different perspectives on different policies, that's kind of the way this is supposed to work, where people come together and find the areas of consensus, even if they have different views on different pieces of this legislation. AVLON: Common ground.
KEILAR: John LaBombard, John Kott, thank you to both of you --
AVLON: Thanks, guys.
KEILAR: -- for being with us this morning. Big day.
AVLON: Appreciate it.
LABOMBARD: Thanks for having us.
AVLON: All right. New this morning, Russia says it's ready to discuss a potential prisoner swap with the United States after a court near Moscow handed down a nine-year prison sentence to U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner at her drug smuggling trial on Thursday.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Moscow with the latest. Fred, give us an update.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, John.
Well, yes, the diplomatic sphere but then you also have the legal sphere, as well. And certainly, I can say that Brittney Griner's lawyers are continuing their fight.
I was actually in touch with her legal defense team earlier today, and they say that they have to file an appeal if they're going to do so within ten days. And they say they are absolutely going to do -- do that with the court on the outskirts of Moscow.
As we speak right now, her legal team is actually outside of Moscow at the detention facility where Brittney Griner is being kept, and trying to visit her.
Of course, right now after this verdict, she needs all the support she can get. She's getting that not just from her legal team but internationally, really, especially from the basketball world.
Here's what we're learning.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): A moment of silence between the WNBA's Connecticut Sun and Phoenix Mercury. Forty-two seconds of silence, to be exact. The number that Brittney Griner wearing for the Phoenix Mercury.
SKYLAR DIGGINS-SMITH, PHOENIX MERCURY: Obviously it's devastating.
DIAMOND DESHIELDS, PHOENIX MERCURY: It's devastating.
DIGGINS-SMITH: Yes, you can't really say nothing other than that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just heartbreaking and, you know, we know that this verdict is unacceptable.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): In a Russian courtroom on Thursday, WNBA star Brittney Griner apologized to the court and to her Russian team and asked for leniency.
BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA STAR: I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, UMMC (ph), the fans and the city of Ekat (ph) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought onto them.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): It was almost six months ago when the 31-year- old two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist was arrested at a Moscow airport for carrying less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty to drug charges last month, saying she accidentally packed vaping cartridges while in a hurry.
GRINER: I made an honest mistake, and I hope that in your ruling, that it doesn't end my life here.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Despite her impassioned plea, the judge was unmoved, ruling that Griner acted with criminal intent; delivering a sentence of nine years in jail and a fine of 1 million rubles, which is about $16,000.
An emotional Griner was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, saying only this.
GRINER: I love my family.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Outside the courtroom, her attorneys called the verdict unfair.
ALEXANDER BOYKOV, BRITTNEY GRINER'S LAWYER: The average is five years or around five years, and almost a third of the people convicted get the parole.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): They plan on filing an appeal.
The White House condemned the verdict, with President Joe Biden saying in a statement, quote, "Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It's unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates."
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: That's really up to the Russian side.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): On whether the conviction opens new doors for negotiations for a prisoner swap, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby saying --
KIRBY: We're still open to having our proposal seriously and positively considered. And if on the Russian side, that means that they feel like they're more empowered to do that, then so be it. PLEITGEN (voice-over): It was in June that the Biden administration
made a proposal to the Kremlin to get Griner and fellow American citizen Paul Whelan home.
Whelan has been held in Russia since 2018 for alleged espionage, which he denies.
In exchange, the U.S. would offer to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year sentence in the United States.
So far, Russia has not agreed.
PLEITGEN: And of course, we have had some movement in the diplomatic sphere. Both Secretary of State Blinken and the Russian foreign minister are currently at a summit in Cambodia, and that's where the Russian foreign minister said that Russia is willing to engage with the United States.
However, the Russians are very adamant that they want to do that behind closed doors. In fact, the Kremlin also said today that there was a mechanism that's been put in place after the Biden/Putin summit last year in Geneva to deal with just such negotiations.
But all that, the Russians say, have to happen behind closed doors. Secretary of State Blinken at that same summit, by the way, saying that the U.S. will pursue that offer by the Russians, guys.
AVLON: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much.
We also have exclusive new CNN reporting for the first time that Trump's lawyers are in direct communication with the Justice Department officials as the criminal probe into January 6th accelerates.
And a verdict reached in the Alex Jones defamation trial. Is the $4 million payout to one Sandy Hook family just the beginning?
KEILAR: And overnight a lightning strike right outside the White House, and it sends four people to the hospital. We have the details ahead.
KEILAR: This morning we have exclusive new CNN reporting. Donald Trump's lawyers are now in direct talks with the Justice Department about their criminal investigation of January 6.
The talks are said to be focused on whether conversations the former president had can be kept from investigators under executive privilege.
CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live for us in Washington with this very latest. Katelyn, what can you tell us?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, they're talking. That's criminal investigators looking into January 6th and Donald Trump's defense lawyers.
And what they're talking about right now is these conversations that Trump was having in the White House and his interest in keeping those conversations, essentially, from the federal grand jury probe.
This development -- and it's a notable one as we try to understand how much this criminal investigation is about Trump -- it comes as part of the story of grand jury activity we've seen in recent weeks.
Specifically, we know of those two top officials who worked for Mike Pence and then the two Pats, Cipollone, Philbin, from the White House counsel's office, all being subpoenaed to testify to the grand jury in D.C.
But what we know of their testimony so far from the separate House investigation is those four have not been willing at this time to talk about direct conversations they had or witnessed with Trump. So over the last week. a court fight between the Justice Department and Trump over executive privilege has been brewing, we're expecting that that could take place under seal.
And that's where these direct talks come in. They're about Trump trying to prevent more disclosures to the grand jury about himself before and on January 6.
So history suggests he may not be successful in that, because the Justice Department may be able to get access. But I also want to take a step back for a second.
This first indication of direct talks is pretty telling about what the Justice Department is looking to learn. What's also pretty telling is what we are learning is happening behind the scenes with Trump and his lawyers.
Our reporting team on this we have heard from multiple sources that there is concern among Trump's lawyers that he could be indicted. They're working on defense strategies right now.
But Trump being Trump, he's skeptical. Brianna, we have heard he's still keeping ties with people who may become central in this probe, even though his advisers tell him that may not be the best idea.
Back to you.
KEILAR: Yes, indeed. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much.
Joining us now, Danya Perry, former federal prosecutor; and Elie Honig, CNN senior legal analyst, who's also a former federal prosecutor.
Elie, what does it tell us that his lawyers are in direct contact with the DOJ and what doesn't it tell us?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it tells us, first of all, Brianna, that Donald Trump is taking this seriously, or at least his lawyers are taking this seriously.
It is not unusual, I should say, for lawyers for somebody who has not yet been indicted to be in contact with prosecutors. It may sound like, Wow, that's shocking. But it is quite common; because as a defense lawyer if you can establish contact with prosecutors, you can get perhaps information out of them. They're not going to tell you anything they shouldn't tell you, but you may get a sense of where they are in terms of timeline. You may get a sense of what they're interested in. That is very much in your client's interest.
It does not tell us that Donald Trump is certain to get indicted. It tells us that it's in play and both sides are aware of the possibility.
AVLON: Danya, look, I mean, this is an unprecedented situation. There's nothing remotely like it in American history. But the closest is the Nixon presidency. And this debate around executive privilege. I mean, certainly, weren't a lot of the fault lines made a lot clearer by Nixon v. United States, that executive privilege holds but not in the case of potential criminal conduct or orders?
DANYA PERRY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I think this is a relatively easy one. And it sounds like DOJ is getting out in front of it. They're preemptively trying to litigate this issue to get an answer as quickly as possible.
So we have the Nixon precedent that is right on point, and that is not going to be in President Trump's favor.
And then we've got, more recently, Trump had brought an action when the National Archives was trying to produce documents to the select committee, and that was decided by the district court, the appellate court and the Supreme Court in a matter of just three months, where they handily said, no, this privilege is not yours, former President Trump. It belongs to the now current president.
So I think for that reason and also because a lot of the conversations he had were precisely not in his capacity as president. He was not -- I mean, it is not the function of a president to sit there in place for 187 minutes and do nothing.
So he was acting as a candidate and not an executive. And I think that this will be a quick trip to the Supreme Court to get a ruling that the executive privilege does not apply here.
HONIG: I agree that Donald Trump is unlikely to win in the courts on executive privilege, but the strategic upside there is delay. I mean, we know Donald Trump is the master of the art of delay.
And if he does assert executive privilege and if he can't work it out with DOJ, they'll say, fine, let's go to court. Let's earn another three, four, five, six months. KEILAR: You heard, Danya, what Katelyn said at the end of her
reporting there, which is Trump's lawyers are cautioning him it may not be the best idea to be talking to these witnesses. Oh, hello, of course it's not right.
But specifically. his attorneys are telling him, or have told him that he needs to stop talking to Mark Meadows. Explain why they're telling him that.
PERRY: I mean, as you point out, yes, it's not likely to carry much weight with him. He's been told, I think, by every lawyer, and he's had many, not to talk to potential witnesses, not to talk to the press. He goes out there. He makes admissions, and he dangles carrots, and he threatens witnesses.
So Mark Meadows, in particular, obviously, was right up close in -- in the president's circle on January 6th and also, of course, many of the events leading up to it. So he's going to have plenty of direct evidence that will be of great interest to prosecutors.
And it is standard, right, for lawyers to give that -- that cautionary warning to their clients: Don't tamper. Don't interfere. Stay away; can only hurt you.
But, you know, here we see this once again. And it does not sound like he is heeding that advice this time around, either.
AVLON: Yes. Of course not. Elie, I want to get your take on this new reporting about the DH -- DHS and text messages and cell phones. Basically a new directive apparently coming forward saying, look, we're not going -- we're going to back up the cell phones before we wipe them.
That seems too little too late, especially given the fact that this -- you know, January 6th, again, is not standard operating procedure. You know, there had already been a FOIA request put forward just before the phones were wiped. So what's your read on this directive?
HONIG: Well, having to issue a directive that says we're going to back up our cell phones before we wipe them, I mean, no kidding. They should have been doing this all along. That's the problem.
Right? I mean, it's standard operating -- it should have already been standard operating procedure. It's an embarrassment, continuing embarrassment for DHS, for Secret Service, also separately for the Department of Defense.
It tells me that there is at best mass organizational incompetence. And I think the questions that need to be asked now is was it something more than that? Was there some intentionality around the misplacement or loss of these emails and texts?
KEILAR: Elie and Danya, thank you so much for your insights this morning. AVLON: Thanks, guys.
HONIG: Thank you.
KEILAR: Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ordered to pay $4 million, just over $4 million to two Sandy Hook parents, and he could face even more payouts.
AVLON: And the January 6th Committee now trying to get its hands on troves of Alex Jones' text messages. What it could mean for the investigation into the Capitol insurrection.
KEILAR: Four point one million dollars, that is how much conspiracy theorist Alex Jones will have to pay for his lies.