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Trump Lawyers in Talks with DOJ About January 6th Criminal Probe; Russia Ready to Discuss Prisoner Swap After Griner Sentencing; Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) Agrees to Move Forward on Democrats' Massive Economic Bill. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired August 05, 2022 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Trump prosecution in an interview CNN's Kasie Hunt, saying, it's a major moment of truth for the Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): They have to make decisions about prosecution, understanding what it means if the facts and the evidence are there and they decide not to prosecute, how do we then call ourselves a nation of laws?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLOND: Joining us now is CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Gabby Orr.
Katelyn, first to you, what have you learned? What's the latest?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, this is an important step in understanding where the Justice Department investigation is into January 6. What we know now is that there are direct talks happening between Donald Trump's legal team and Justice Department prosecutors out of the U.S. attorney's office in D.C.
What we also know is that prosecutors have been interested in getting grand jury testimony of what was happening in the west wing before and on January 6th. We know that they have gone to people from the vice president's office, top advisers there. We also know that they've subpoenaed to the grand jury two people from the White House Counsel's Office including the white house counsel himself.
But what is standing in the way of getting all of the information that prosecutors want are claims that Donald Trump is trying to make about executive privilege, where he's trying to protect statements that were made to him or that he said on these crucial days that are being investigated.
So, those claims of executive privilege, that's potentially leading to a court fight where the Justice Department will try to get access to those statements through these witnesses and that's what these talks are about, lining up the Justice Department team and Trump's team, talking to one another, potentially they could be pitted against each other if this does go to court.
But the big picture here is that criminal prosecutors right now are definitely interested in doing fact-finding and locking down what they can about what was said in the White House either by Trump or to him on those crucial days, right around January 6th.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Gabby, how is the Trump team reacting here?
GABBY ORR, CNN REPORTER: Well, our sources tell us that former President Trump himself has been very skeptical that he will, in fact, be indicted in any of these ongoing investigations, Brianna. He's been asking his attorneys in these meetings, do you really think I'm going to be indicted, really grilling them on his potential legal defense strategy, but also whether they think he's in criminal jeopardy.
The former president has also been ignoring advice from those same attorneys. We've been told that he was advised by his attorneys to strictly stop contacting folks who have been wrapped up in the January 6th investigation and also the ongoing Justice Department criminal probe into January 6, and that includes his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
This is somebody who has become deeply entangled in these investigations and who Trump has refused to stop talking to. Our sources tell us that they have been in contact over the summer, that they've been talking by phone and he's done that ignoring -- explicitly ignoring the advice of his attorneys who say that you really don't want to be talking to folks who could potentially be indicted themselves. Brianna?
KEILAR: Yes. This is kind of boilerplate advice that he's getting and not heeding here. Gabby, thank you so much. Katelyn, thank you for the reporting.
AVLON: All right. Joining us now is Alberto Gonzalez, he's the former attorney general and former counsel to President George W. Bush. General Gonzalez, great to see you, sir.
As you heard, Trump's lawyers reportedly believe that there will be indictments in this case but you have voiced skepticism at the idea of Trump being indicted. Hold on. So, I'm just asking, have any of the latest developments changed your mind around that?
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, listen, I voiced skepticism because we simply don't know what kind of evidence the department is going to be successful in presenting before a jury. It's one thing to make the decisions that with respect to criminality of Donald Trump based upon the January 6th committee, it's quite another to actually convict him in a court of law. And so we have a rule of law in this country and I think the Department of Justice is doing what they should be doing, gathering up evidence and the attorney general is going to make a calculated decision as to whether or not to move forward with an indictment and a future prosecution.
You know, this has never been done before where a former president has been indicted, charged and prosecuted for actions committed while actually in office. So, if you are going to do this, you better be pretty sure you're going to be successful, because if you indict him and you are not successful in prosecuting him, that's going to embolden future -- such like future conduct, it's going to inspire his supporters and so, you know, you want to be very, very careful about this.
Listen, if the evidence is there, I have every belief and confidence that General Garland is going to move forward with the prosecution because that is his obligation. And I know some people were concerned as to whether or not this is going to divert the attention of lawmakers for several months, whether a criminal trial will divert the attention of the American people for a long period of time.
I think general garland doesn't take that into consideration making this decision. If in fact the nation should be spared from a long criminal trial, that's a decision for the president. President Biden could issue a pardon, for example, much like President Ford did in the Nixon case.
AVLON: Obviously a ton of differences, but I want to zero in on something you said. You know, your confidence that Attorney General Garland, if the facts are there, would move forward with a prosecution. If the facts were there and you were attorney general, is that the decision you would make?
GONZALES: Yes, I think so. That would be my job as the attorney general.
And the other thing that I would emphasize is that this is a decision to be made within the Department of Justice. I would not anticipate that there would be communications with the White House about this. In fact, General Garland may make the announcement or make the decision to move forward without informing the White House because we have to have confidence, particularly with respect to Trump's supporters.
This is not a political decision involving the White House, this was made based upon the evidence, based upon the professional judgment of prosecutors within the Department of Justice. They will make this decision and they will act on that decision and then the White House will accept that decision.
AVLON: It's vitally important that justice be nonpartisan. I think people have gotten jaundiced around that.
Let's go to the question of executive privilege, because that is something you have unique insight into as a former White House Counsel. Nixon versus the United States seemed to set aside or clearly delineate the lines, right? Executive privilege doesn't extend to potential criminal conduct. So, how do you see this playing out?
GONZALES: I think, obviously, it's not surprising that the notion of executive privilege is an issue that's now being debated. But you are absolutely right with respect to the Nixon case. It's quite clear that the privilege is not absolute. It's not going to shield criminal conduct, certainly if there is no other way to get the information that's important for a criminal prosecution.
And the other thing to remember is that it's a privilege that belongs in essence to the office of the president. The views of the sitting president carry much more weight in the courts in connection with the examination of executive privilege than a former president. And so the fact that President Biden hasn't asserted privilege I think it's going to carry some additional weight.
So, all the considerations and factors that the court would typically consider in whether or not to, you know, reward or approve of executive privilege simply don't exist here in the favor of President Trump.
AVLON: Alberto Gonzales, you have been in the room where it happens and we thank you for your insights, sir. Be well.
GONZALES: Thanks, John.
KEILAR: New this morning, Russia says it is now willing to discuss a prisoner exchange with the U.S. This comes less than 24 hours after a court near Moscow sentenced WNBA Superstar Brittney Griner to nine years behind bars for having cannabis oil, a small amount, in her luggage.
Joining us now is someone who knows exactly what Griner is facing right now, one of the few people, Trevor Reed. He returned to the United States in April after being imprisoned in Russia for almost three years. Trevor, thanks for being with us this morning.
TREVOR REED, RELEASED IN APRIL AFTER SERVING NEARLY THREE YEARS IN RUSSIAN PRISON: Sure, thanks for having me.
KEILAR: Were you at all surprised by this sentence when you heard the amount of time?
REED: No, absolutely not. I was expecting them to give her, you know, the maximum or close to the maximum, which is what they -- what they did.
KEILAR: Does it feel like what happened to you?
REED: Yes, absolutely. So, for Brittney's classification of crime, which actually I don't think should even be under that classification, but they have, you know, I believe it's zero to ten years and they gave her nine. So, people in Russia who are convicted and sentenced under that article in the Russian Federation usually receive about a year, two years maybe. Nine is unheard of. I never saw that the entire time I was there, and as well as in my case. I received nine and that was actually the largest sentence ever handed down for that criminal article in Russia ever.
So, yes, I wasn't surprised by that and, you know, regardless of how you feel about Brittney Griner's case, that sentence is clearly political. There's no denying that. KEILAR: Logistically, Trevor, walk us through what happens now for her, because you've been through this, as she is transported, as she arrives, wherever she may be.
REED: Yes. So, once you're convicted in Russian court, you do have a chance to go to appeals and appeal that decision to another kangaroo court in Moscow. So, after that trial, you know, depending on Brittney's decision on whether she wants to appeal or not, she may stay in Moscow at the detention facility that she's already at until her appeals are completed or if she chooses not to go to appeals, they may transfer her to a forced labor camp.
And considering the fact that the Russian government is considering exchanging her, they may also decide to leave her in Moscow to make it easier for her to be returned to the United States.
KEILAR: Because in your case, where you were, was several hours from Moscow, right? Describe for us what that prison was like or that forced labor camp was like.
REED: Yes. There is -- it's terrible sometimes that it could be just some fish bones or broth of fish bones, you know, potato soup with -- it's mostly water. You know, there's feral cats that wander around there on the prison grounds, on the prison compound, dilapidated buildings. Solitary confinement there is basically consists of just a concrete room with a hole in the floor for a toilet, just really middle-aged looking stuff.
KEILAR: And, look, we were talking when you were there with your parents, they were so worried about your health. You understand why when you describe the conditions. Are you worried about her health? Are you worried about her safety?
REED: Yes, sure. Anyone who is in a forced labor camp in Russia is obviously, you know, facing serious threats to their health because of malnutrition, you know, there's little to no medical attention there whatsoever. Tuberculosis runs rampant in Russian prisons. You know, there's diseases that they have there in Russia which are largely extinct in the United States now.
So, it's definitely a concern for her health. Paul Whelan, obviously, has been in a forced labor camp for a very long time. It's definitely a dangerous place to be.
KEILAR: What are your worries for them, Trevor, for Brittney and for Paul?
REED: I mean, right now, I'm trying not to focus on that. I'm hoping that, you know, there will be an exchange that we're able to get them home, so I'm hoping for the best in that.
KEILAR: I think we are all hoping for that. Trevor, thank you so much, as always, for talking to us. I know it must be tough for talking about your experience, but you're always willing to do it as you try to raise awareness for Brittney Griner and for Paul and for other detained Americans, and we appreciate it. Thank you.
REED: Thank you.
KEILAR: A major legislative victory for the Biden administration may have just been reached. Senator Kyrsten Sinema says that she is on board with the sweeping economic plan, so we're going to break down the changes that she is calling for.
Plus, a prominent election denier wins in Arizona.
AVLON: And we will speak to one of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, which may have just cost him his job. Congressman Peter Meijer joins us next.
KEILAR: Democratic leaders have reached an agreement with the lone holdout, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, which is clearing the way for their sweeping economic legislation to finally pass in the Senate.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill. Sunlen?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this is certainly a major breakthrough on Capitol Hill and Democrats in the White House breathing a huge sigh of relief. Senator Sinema saying that she will move forward with the bill, meaning that Democrats now very likely have the votes that they need to get this passed through on Capitol Hill. And this is certainly a major, major moment for the Biden legislative agenda, huge pieces of his domestic agenda, economic bill focusing on investments in climate, energy, health care, and tax reform.
Now, it was on those tax provisions that we've heard Senator Sinema in recent days express a lot of concern on this bill and its revisions to the tax portions of this bill that ultimately was able to get her on board, Democrats making changes in the bill, dropping $14 billion of the carried interest tax provision of the bill, also paring back how companies can deduct depreciated assets from their taxes, those two things Senator Sinema pushing hard for over the last 24 hours.
What happens now is Senate Democrats will have to wait for a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian. That is a very important moment. They will really scrub through the details of the plan making sure that they meet the very strict budget requirements that is required for them to be able to pass this through, through a party line vote, through reconciliation, only Senate Democrats. That is an important moment we will be looking out for.
And, certainly, this weekend will be a busy one up here on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats, they have scheduled a procedural vote to happen over the weekend setting up the final vote in the Senate shortly after and then potentially move to final passage in the House later next week. Back to you.
KEILAR: All right. Sunlen live on the Hill for us, thank you.
AVLON: CNN projecting Kari Lake will win the Republican nomination for Arizona governor. Lake, the former television journalist who was endorsed by former President Trump, has defeated Karrin Taylor Robson who had the backing of former Vice President Mike Pence.
Lake becomes the fourth Republican who has pushed Trump's election lies to win a major nomination in Arizona, including for the U.S. Senate, secretary of state and attorney general.
Republican Congressman Peter Meijer of Michigan congratulating Trump- backed opponent John Gibbs, who narrowly defeated him in this week's Republican primary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER MEIHER (R-MI): This was -- this was a hard-fought race, decided by less than 4,000 votes out of over 100,000 cast. You know, it was, you know, a long race, but a race that John ran very well.
I just want to now officially introduce, send my congratulations and wishing you the best of luck in all that is to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Meijer was one of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump and his opponent received a major fundraising boost from Democrats.
Joining us now for his first television since the primary is Republican Congressman Peter Meijer of Michigan. Congressman Meijer, you fought the good fight. You represented your constituents and your conscience and defended democracy but you came up short in this partisan primary. It was close, less than 4,000 vote margin separated you from your opponent. So, do you think that the Democratic Congressional Committee's major ad buy in the last week of the campaign made the decisive difference in your primary?
MEIJER: Good morning, John. And I will be honest, it's impossible to know. I can Monday morning quarterback all day long. I'm not here to whine about the DCCC coming in and meddling, but just to point out that any party that pretends to have a set of principles, any party that pretends to have a set of values and that comes in and boosts exactly the same type of candidate that they claim is a fear to -- a threat to democracy, don't expect to be able to hold on to that sense of self-righteousness and sanctimony, don't expect to have Republicans who will look at that and say, I know I'm going to get heat from my own side, I never expected the other side too as well double down in a cynical ploy to put forward the candidate they think is less electable.
I think the challenge in this moment, and this is not why I want to complain about my own defeat, I lost, that's on me, but it is to say what type of a system are we going to have if candidates step forward and realize they can just be ejected by both sides of the aisle, that there is no incentive to try to be a productive member, that you will never find any semblance of comfort or safety in doing the job, that it all will come down to partisan benefit no matter what the consequence?
AVLON: What's the point I really want to get to today because, you know, voters want government to work, but these partisan extremes don't, and there's a contradiction there. But just for clarification, because we played your comments to -- your gracious comments to your opponent at the top. He promoted not only Trump's lies but a boat load of conspiracy theories. Was this just good sportsmanship on your part or is it an outright endorsement?
MEIJER: I hold the seat that Gerald Ford held from 1949 to 1973, and I think what would Ford have done in these circumstances. And I find it ironic that many on the anti-Trump side of the aisle are frustrated that I didn't act like Donald Trump and that I conceded the election, that I wasn't a sore loser, that I congratulated my opponent. To me, that is just being a civil, courteous person and should be the bare minimum we expect of those who are in our political environment rather than acting exactly like the type of politics that I frankly stand against.
AVLON: Well, civility is something we all need to see more of, and I think you've represented that time and again.
I want to talk about that -- the political incentive structure that you called out and talk about how to confront it. But, first, I want you to take us behind the scenes, right? You were one of ten lonely House Republicans who voted your conscience and the partisan primary structure is set up against you in some way. But I wonder, take us behind the scenes. How often do you hear your congressional colleagues privately say that they know Donald Trump is lying, they know he lost the election, but they are afraid to say so for their political career or their personal safety? How often do you hear that?
MEIJER: Well, I'm not the first to have said it, but if we had secret ballots in Congress more often, I think you would be surprised by what the results would show, and I think that's part of the problem. And, frankly, that's the case on both sides of the aisle. We can talk about Donald Trump and the need to impeach on the one hand, we can talk about support for Nancy Pelosi or just belief in some of the more extreme progressive policies on the other.
The average member of Congress is trapped between their partisan priorities of their party or kind of dominant officials within it and then what signal that sends to the most passionate pluralities of their primary voters, torn between that and actually trying to accomplish their jobs.
And I think I've seen so many officials in Congress, I think of Kurt Schrader in Oregon, who has tried to moderate and, frankly, tried to prevent some of the excesses of his party, trying to prevent some of his colleagues to walk the plank on unpopular pieces of legislation that are not going to pass, he was primaried.
And just like in my case, where once the incumbent is primaried, the seat tilts or changes that likelihood of flipping, you know, he had a toss-up seat that went lean D. I had a toss-up seat that went lean D. I think both parties are playing the role of trying to eject some of the members who are best capable of holding on to their seats. And that is just going to lead to slimmer majorities. It's going to lead to more flipping between extremes and frankly more partisan chaos.
AVLON: Look, given that there are more independents self-identified than Democrats or Republicans, that moderates make up a plurality of voters, but those voters feel politically homeless. Do you feel politically homeless? And what do you think can be done to bridge these gaps?
MEIJER: John, I am a Republican. I have been a Republican. I will be a Republican and my motto going in was with my shield on it, not compromising on values, not compromising on principles and understanding that that could have a very severe political cost, a political cost which I paid.
I think at the end of the day, it's important to try to work within the parties that we have. That doesn't mean there aren't larger structural reforms that would allow parties to try to have a bigger tent. I've talked to a lot of candidates running for office who say, I consider myself a Republican but if I down the laundry list of things that I need to recite in order to not get eviscerated in a primary, I am not willing to do that.
So, there is urgent need to undertake some of that structural reform. Look at the three Republicans who right now are on track to win reelection who voted to impeach. They are all in either jungle or top two primary states, right? There's a lot of ways in which how our candidates are chosen that I think we need to be looking at and understanding how to appeal to the broadest swath of the electorate so that we have representatives who are truly representing the people they serve.
AVLON: Couldn't agree more. Look, you put country over party. You voted to impeach President Trump. So, if there is a 2024 rematch between Biden and Trump, would you vote for President Biden over Trump?
MEIJER: I've said it before. I think if in 2024 we're back to a Biden/Trump dynamic, it will be a pretty sad commentary on where our country is. We have young, fresh, rising leaders on both sides of the aisle and that symptom of just defaulting to the choice that frankly not a lot of people want, but they feel, you know, well, if there's anybody who can -- put it this way. I mean, Biden has beaten Trump. So, there is a Democratic argument that if Trump is put forward, Biden can beat him despite Biden already being the oldest president we have had in office.
And Trump -- well, basically anyone on the Republican side could probably beat Biden. Like that is a very messed up and frustrating and depressing dynamic where we're just settling for the lowest common acceptable denominator rather than advocating for folks that make people passionate, excited and thrilled about what the future may bring.
AVLON: So, I'm hearing you not answer the question directly but what I'm also hearing is you would write in somebody else and support somebody else, you would choose none of the above, fair? Yes or no?
MEIJER: I don't want that match up in 2024.
AVLON: You don't want that matchup.
One final yes or no before we go. You fought the good fight, you lost the battle. Are you keeping the door open to running for office again?
MEIJER: Absolutely. I'm not on the ballot in 2022. I'm not campaigning in 2022. But I plan to stay very engaged in politics and frankly trying to continue to make an impact probably more at the local level within West Michigan, but certainly wanting to influence the national dialogue as well.
AVLON: Congressman Peter Meijer, thank you very much for joining us on New Day.
MEIJER: Thank you, John.
AVLON: All right. Let's bring in CNN Political Commentator Extraordinary S.E. Cupp.
S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks. Great interview.
AVLON: You're welcome. What did you make of Peter Meijer's comments?
CUPP: I'm so sad because he's exactly the kind of politician we need right now. And for four or five years, I listened to Democrats, rightly, admonish Republicans for putting party over country, for putting Trump over country, and I watched them beg for more Peter Meijers and Adam Kinzingers and Liz Cheneys. And it's not just the blood money that they're putting behind folks like Peter Meijer's opponents, it's like redrawing Adam Kinzinger's district so that he effectively couldn't win. Congratulations, you just got the last remaining stop gaps out of Congress.