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Biden Says, Trump and MAGA Extremism is a Threat to Democracy; Today, Ex-Trump White House Lawyers Appear Before January 6th Grand Jury; Committee Wants to Speak with Gingrich Over Coup Plot Emails. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 02, 2022 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

And the president delivered a blistering rebuke of his predecessor, saying the GOP is dominated and intimidated by Trump and his MAGA allies.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It was a prime time speech in the shadow of Philadelphia's Independence Hall, the president flanked by Marines urging Americans to fight for the soul of the nation. White House officials insist the speech was not political. Here are some of the highlights.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault. We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.

Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.

They promote authoritarian leaders and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.

MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards, backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.

Not every Republican, not even a majority of Republicans are MAGA Republicans, but there's no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.

History tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.

I will not the will of the American people be overturned by wild conspiracy theories and baseless evidence claims of fraud. I will not stand by and watch elections in this country stolen by people who simply refuse to accept that they lost.

Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election, either they win or they were cheated. And that's where the MAGA Republicans are today.

I believe America is at an inflection point. One of those moments that determine the shape of everything that's to come after and now America must choose to move forward or to move backwards.


BERMAN: So how is that message being received by members of Congress?

CNN's Jessica Dean who is here with me this morning was with one of the more powerful members of Congress yesterday, Kevin McCarthy.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Looking to become more powerful, of course, the GOP wants to take back the House so he can become speaker. He was just outside of Scranton yesterday. Of course, that's President Biden's hometown, no accident there. He's also been on a tour of several states, some 21 states across the country, as he really tries to pitch the GOP to voters for the midterms.

And, look, he wanted to get out ahead of this. He spoke before the president did really laying out what we are going to hear from the GOP as they head into the midterms. And he really said a number of things. He talked about crime, inflation, issues that the GOP wants to be talking about. He also had this to say about President Biden's comments from last week. Take a listen.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): When the president speaks tonight at Independence Hall, the first lines out of his mouth should be to apologize for slandering tens of millions of Americans as fascists.


DEAN: And he's referring to those comments that President Biden made to some donors several days ago, saying that the underpinnings of this philosophy surrounding former President Trump and those who have stood by him are rooted in semi-fascism.

He also made the case that last night's speech was divisive, trying to convince Americans that President Biden is being more of a divisive president than a unifying president and trying to really make that seminal case that we hear from the party that's out of control and wants to be in control, are you better off two years in?

So, we also heard from Senator Lindsey Graham, of course, a staunch supporter of the former president in the Senate. He was saying, with all due respect, there's nothing wrong with America's soul. And then we went back to -- he went back to those key election issues, inflation, crime, immigration, that's what we're going to hear from the GOP as we head into the fall. And then, of course, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is hoping to kind of stave off this big win by the GOP and the House, saying that Biden made crystal clear that our rights, our freedom, our democracy are on the line.

But, again, the bottom line here, John, is this was a preview of what we're about to hear for several months and it's going to be up to voters to decide who they believe and who they want to side with.

BERMAN: I heard from a Democratic strategist after the speech last night, somewhat involved with electing Democrats to office who was pleased with what he heard because he thinks it helps Democratic candidates go after independents.


He thought this speech was for independents to sort of segregate and isolate a certain wing of Republican Party.

DEAN: Right, and that's the hope for Democrats. They really want to turn the focus on to that, right, and really make this a referendum on this ultra MAGA Republican and really make the case for the Democrats, they want to make the case that if they are in control, this is what you're going to get more of. And, again, that is really an issue that they think that independents are really going to be listening for.

It's worth noting, too, that as we head into the fall, Roe and the abortion issue have really energized Democratic voters and independent voters. And House Republicans were widely expected to have this huge victory in November and now we still expect to see them take back control but it might be a much smaller margin and that might be a really interesting dynamic for Kevin McCarthy.

BERMAN: Jessica Dean, thank you so much for stopping by on your tour of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states.

DEAN: Thrilled to be here.

BERMAN: We'll see you in D.C. tomorrow. I appreciate it. Brianna.

KEILAR: So, we've talked a lot about the substance of Biden's speech this morning but the optics of the speech, specifically the two Marines positioned behind him during it are raising questions about whether the military was being unnecessarily politicized here.

Joining me now is Allison Jaslow. She's the former executive director of the DCCC, which is the campaign arm of House Democrats. She's also an Iraq war veteran. Allison, thank you so much for getting up early, early with us this morning from Colorado.

And, first off, I just -- visuals aside, we will talk about the Marines in just a moment, what did you think about the substance of the speech?

ALLISON JASLOW, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I mean, the substance of the speech is -- I mean, I agree more with the president in the sense that we are at an inflection point in this country and it's something that I care deeply about, you know, as somebody who has served this country not only in uniform but tried to do good ever since, you know, being out in the social sector ever since taking the uniform off. So, I couldn't agree more with sort of his sentiment and where he felt the country is and also the message he was trying to drive home to the American people.

KEILAR: So, there is a lot of people, Biden supporters, including some vets, who look at that picture with the Marines behind him and they don't see it as problematic, that they are in the frame there. There are a lot of people who do, though, including yourself. Why is that?

JASLOW: Yes, Brianna. I'm sure your Twitter feed looks a lot like mine right now.

KEILAR: It does.

JASLOW: There are a lot of people who are taking issue with us just raising this point. Listen, you know, there are Marines that could have organically showed up in some frame, sure. Those were obviously men that were put there and they're different than volunteers that would fill up a stage at a campaign event or even an official event that is put together.

And I think -- you know, I wasn't looking for attention when I commented on your point that the military was being unnecessarily politicized in this instance, but it's true. Somebody made a decision to put those Marines in the shot and the reality is those Marines didn't have a choice whether to be there or not.

So, they could be like myself who, if I was in the military still, would have agreed with the president and would have welcomed being at the event yesterday, but we don't know that that's true. And the reality is that like we need to make sure that our military is as removed from politics as possible. And it's not right if a Democrat uses the military as a political pawn and it's not right if the Republican Party does it as well. None of our politicians or elected leaders should do that and I think it's important to speak up and say so when it's done.

KEILAR: Yes. We saw this happen in the last administration big time, right? Former President Trump, he politicized the military so much. He sent the Guard to the border when it's not in their purview to be domestic law enforcement, same issue using the military in Washington during protests there and having the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, being there for that infamous photo op near Lafayette Square.

I mean, this isn't on the same scale as that, but what is the responsibility, as you see it, of President Biden to adhere to norms, especially as they had been so eroded by Trump and you also have Biden talking in this speech about the importance of respecting institutions?

JASLOW: Yes. I mean, I think the president has a real opportunity or has in his entire administration for a reset, to your point. You even had General Milley saying that he, as a general officer, should have chosen differently in that moment when he walked across, you know, from the White House to the plaza, I forget what it's called, you know, in that moment.


Like he -- and the reality is that rank and file members of the military really don't feel like they have even that ability to say no. But, you know, I think it doesn't do us any favors as a country if we're not -- you can't criticize a prior administration and not also hold yourself to a much higher standard, you know? And that's just the facts.

And so some people might see this as like small ball but it really -- it is important. And if you don't want the so-called MAGA Republicans or any Republicans to be politicizing the military, of which many administrations have done, then you shouldn't do it yourself, you know?

And so I think it's a fair criticism and I'm sorry if my friends at the White House, you know, take issue with it, but they should choose differently next time.

KEILAR: Their push back is, look, this isn't a partisan issue, this wasn't a political speech. Do you think it was a political speech?

JASLOW: Listen, the president would be the first elected official to use an official event for political purposes. So, the fact that this just wasn't a campaign event doesn't mean it wasn't a political speech. I think it's very clear that a political message was being elevated through this event.

Again, I will say what I said at the beginning here, like I agree with the president's message and I'm glad that he is speaking up in this way. That doesn't make it right that they picked, you know, window dressing for their event and included Marines in it.

KEILAR: It's a nuanced conversation and it's one that I think is so important to have, Allison, and I appreciate you being with us for it this morning. Allison Jaslow, thanks.

BERMAN: This morning, former Trump White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin are set to appear before the federal grand jury investigating the January 6th attack. Both men were key witnesses to former President Trump's actions in the last days of his presidency.

CNN's Kara Scannell, who is covering a number of facets this morning, joins me with the latest on this. Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, a source telling CNN that former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy, Pat Philbin, will appear before a federal grand jury today in Washington, D.C. And this grand jury is the one investigating the issues of possible election interference and that vein of the whole January 6th investigation. Now, Cipollone and Philbin -- remember, Cipollone's testimony was aired publicly by the House select committee investigating January 6th, he is someone that was pushing back against the actions of the former president and his inner circle in the waning days of his time in office after the election. When Trump was trying to replace the Justice Department attorneys, he pushed back and said, we would resign if you did that. So, he is certainly someone that has a lot of information, a lot of direct information with the former president and his top aides.

We had previously reported that there were questions about whether executive privilege, again, could become an issue here. Now, in order to get him before the grand jury, it appears that they worked out some parameters of this. And even if Philbin and Cipollone don't discuss their direct communication was Trump, which is what executive privilege could govern, they were certainly in the room when there was a lot of other conversations taking place and conversations with other allies. So, it could be very informative to the Justice Department and the grand jury investigating this of what they knew, what they saw and what they heard.

BERMAN: It will be interesting to see if they're willing to answer more from a federal grand jury or before a grand jury than they were to the January 6th committee. I suppose we don't know the answer to that yet.

I will let you put on your other hat, which is the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation. And we are just waiting at this point for a judge to issue the ruling about whether there will be a special master to go through these documents. Any sense when that will come?

SCANNELL: I mean, if you remember she initially signaled last weekend that she had a preliminary interest in granting this request for a special master. Since then, there were a lot of filings, DOJ, you know, giving this big filing on, I think it was Wednesday night or Tuesday night, laying out their case, Trump's teams responded. Yesterday, they were in court for just under two hours.

And at the start of that hearing, the judge said, I have read every brief, I'm fully read in. She made it clear that she was very up on the issue. I think she just wanted to hear them in court and be able to pepper them with questions. She indicated at the end of the hearing that she's not going to rule from the bench but the decision would come in due course. So, we're all watching the docket.

BERMAN: Is today due course? That's the question. I know that's why you will be at your desk most of the day. Kara Scannell, thanks so much for being with us.

KEILAR: Meanwhile, the January 6th committee wants to talk to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich about his role in promoting false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is here with more on this. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. Gingrich is, of course, a very close Trump ally and the committee here wants him to sit for a voluntary transcribed interview.


They believe that Gingrich pushed messages explicitly designed to incite anger among voters. And, specifically, they want to learn more about communications that Gingrich had with senior advisers in the Trump White House about T.V. ads that relied on false claims about election.

And they point specifically to an email that Gingrich sent to Jared Kushner and Jason Miller on December 8th, 2020. This is in response to a proposed script for a T.V. ad about the election fraud. And in that email, Gingrich says, quote, the goal is to arouse the country's anger through new verifiable information the American people have never seen before. If we inform the American people in a way that they find convincing and it arouses their anger, they will then bring pressure on legislators and governors. And the panel said that this shows that Gingrich did not only seek to persuade and they want him to sit for an interview at the week of September 18th, Brianna, and no response yet from Gingrich.

KEILAR: Interesting. So, we're also learning that Ginni Thomas pressed to overturn election results in Wisconsin too.

SERFATY: That's right. This is significant. She, of course, is the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And we previously knew that she had pressed to overturn election results in Arizona. But now, we are learning she did the same thing in Wisconsin too. And this is new information that was shared with CNN from a public records request and it shows that she effectively asked lawmakers in that state to reverse then-President Donald Trump's election loss to Biden.

And she says in this form email, quote, that's why I'm writing today to urge you to do our constitutional duty. Please stand strong in the face of political and media pressure. Please reflect on the awesome authority granted to you by our Constitution and then please take action to ensure that a clean slate of electors is chosen for our state. And, of course, the January 6th committee really wants to speak with her and are considering a subpoena as well.

KEILAR: Yes. They still haven't spoken to her after all this have involvement here. Sunlen, thank you so much for that report.

BERMAN: All right. I want to bring in CNN Political Commentator S.E. Cupp and CNN Political Commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush Scott Jennings. We were together like three hours ago.


BERMAN: I do want to ask about Newt Gingrich, because this came out overnight. And, S.E., you were watching that, it jumped out to you. The comment was from Gingrich in this note about an ad he was supporting. The goal is to arouse the country's anger.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm just so disappointed because -- I know Newt. I shared an office with Newt here at CNN. We had a show could get, Crossfire. He is so smart, like one of the smartest people I have ever met. And to choose to foment the anger of people intentionally, especially about something that is not true, and Newt is so smart, he knows it's not true, there is no way he believed that the election was actually rigged, it's just awful and indefensible.

That was always Donald Trump's project to turn Americans against Americans from the beginning. And it became the project of almost everyone in his orbit over time. And, clearly, it became Newt's project, too, to use his influence and position to make people angry. That's not what politics should be about. That's not the function of politics. It should be to solve problems and hopefully bring people together.

BERMAN: And just what struck me about this is you forget so many of the details between -- of that three-month period. This was an ad campaign after an election.

CUPP: Yes.

BERMAN: You just don't see that very often.

JENNINGS: Yes. The thing that strikes me about some of these communications that we've seen that happened between Election Day and then January 6 is that, obviously, people did not understand the project and what it could turn into.

I mean, you know, what I would like to hear about from Newt Gingrich or anyone else from that period is if you had known January 6 was going to happen or if you had known what you were working on could lead to this, would you have done it and do you regret it? Because at that time, remember, Trump was using the courts, he was trying to avail himself of the legal mechanisms that are available to any candidate after an election, but, obviously, everything that was being done and said culminated in a terrible day.

And so if there's anything I would want to know about, it's that. It's, do you regret this, because people obviously took this so seriously that they did something very terrible.

BERMAN: It's a fair question.

CUPP: Yes.

BERMAN: There would be no legal ramifications of it. It might just be a good learning moment as they say for the country.

Ginni Thomas, The Washington Post article?

CUPP: Virginia Lamp Thomas.

BERMAN: What do you think about that? Do you think this adds fuel to the fire of those saying that if there's anything that comes up regarding January 6, Clarence Thomas would need to recuse?


CUPP: I think we need to investigate that. I don't think we've made the connection yet but I think we need to look at that. That's important. But it's not there yet for me.

JENNINGS: Yes. Look, I think since Clarence Thomas first became a figure in Washington, Democrats have been desperate to discredit him and to call his ethics into question for any number of reasons. I think they've always failed. A lot of people have spouses that have ideas that they probably don't agree with, it doesn't make Clarence Thomas a bad person and it doesn't mean he has done a thing wrong.

And I want to be clear, I think what Ginni Thomas was asking these people to do is wrong. I mean, this was not. But a lot of people during that time were having a lot of bad ideas. It absolutely doesn't mean Clarence Thomas has done anything untoward at all but the impulse of liberals is to go after Clarence Thomas, so here you go.

BERMAN: Well, the question would need to be, would it make him an impartial jurist. It's not an issue of did he do anything wrong, it's can he be impartial if his wife was involved.

JENNINGS: I mean, my view is all of these Supreme Court justices have spouses and family members that have opinions that may differ from their own. And I trust them all. These are some of the most trusted people in our government, liberal or conservative. They are all confirmed by the Senate. They all know the rules they have to live about. And I've never seen any evidence whatsoever that Clarence Thomas has ever been influenced by anything other than his own views and jurisprudence.

BERMAN: All right. Rick Scott, who is the chair of the campaign committee for Republican senators, and Mitch McConnell, who is the Republican leader of the Senate, whom you know, Scott, pretty well, there seems to be something between them right now, some bad blood.

Rick Scott writes an op-ed, Mitch McConnell previously had questioned the quality of some of the candidates running, indirectly but pretty directly.

CUPP: Senate candidates, yes.

BERMAN: Senate candidates running, let's be honest. And so Rick Scott, who was in charge largely of fielding these candidates, says, many of the very people responsible for losing the Senate last cycle are now trying to stop us from winning the majority this time by trash-talking our Republican candidates. It's an amazing act of cowardice and, ultimately, it's treasonous to the conservative cause.

JENNINGS: Treasonous? I mean, if you want to talk about who cost Republicans the Senate in 2020, let's talk about Donald Trump saying to Georgia Republicans, hey, all of these votes are rigged and your vote doesn't count, because that's what happened. And the policy consequences that have followed have been disastrous.

Look, you said earlier you talked to a Democrat strategist about Biden's speech and then this idea of separating out some Republicans from the other. Democrats want Republicans to fight with each other. And so if I were running the Senate committee, like Rick Scott is, I wouldn't be writing an op-ed playing into that hand. I think this was a dumb idea and --

CUPP: Of Rick Scott.

JENNINGS: Yes. And I think that -- I think that what Mitch McConnell said ultimately about candidates is not controversial. I mean, what matters in an election? Where are you running, what kind of a candidate are you and how much money do you have? I mean, that's all he was referencing. It's a close race out there and some of these candidates do need to be better than they have been on some of those metrics, whether it's fundraising or what have you.

CUPP: I just think two things can be true. Mitch McConnell is 100 percent right that the quality of the Senate candidates is questionable and Rick Scott is 100 percent right that Mitch McConnell should keep that to himself.

BERMAN: Really?

CUPP: Yes. Yes. It's not helpful. It's not helpful.

JENNINGS: Let me ask you --

CUPP: His job is to win back the Senate majority. That's his job.

JENNINGS: But isn't his job also to sometimes give people a little nudge -- I mean, look --

CUPP: Privately. Does he have a phone?

JENNINGS: I mean, we've got people out there who are just candidly raising so little money that the avalanche that they are facing is possibly insurmountable. And so at some juncture, isn't the job of Republican Party leaders to say, hey, get your act together?

CUPP: You have diagnosed a correct problem. I just disagree with the solution.

BERMAN: You're saying it's tough love, you're saying tough love should be private?

CUPP: Yea, I don't think it's helpful. And he is not wrong. I agree completely with Mitch McConnell, the quality is terrible. I'm thinking of like Herschel Walker, for example. But your job is to win back the majority, and you don't do that by picking fights with your own candidates in your own party.

BERMAN: S.E. Cupp, Scott Jennings, great to see you. Have a wonderful holiday weekend.

CUPP: You too.

BERMAN: See you gain. So, how did a missing voting machine in Michigan end up being sold on eBay? A new CNN investigative report ahead.

COVID booster shots targeting the omicron subvariant coming to pharmacies nationwide. Is it right for you? The U.S. surgeon general joins us ahead.

KEILAR: And disturbing body camera video shows police in Columbus, Ohio, fatally shooting an unarmed black man in his bed. We have new details ahead.



KEILAR: Police in Columbus, Ohio, have released body cam video that shows a police officer fatally shooting an unarmed 20-year-old black man in his bed. His name was Donovan Lewis. Officers announced themselves and knocked outside the apartment for several minutes. And on the video, they can be heard giving warnings after entering the apartment before the moment of the shooting. We do want to warn you, this video is very disturbing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to send that dog in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got something in his hand, something in his hand.


KEILAR: Now, after Lewis was handcuffed, officers are seen providing medical aid. Columbus police say the officer opened fire because it appeared that Lewis was holding something in his hand. A vape pen was later found next to Lewis on the bed.

Joining us now is the president of the Columbus, Ohio, Urban League, Stephanie Hightower. Stephanie, that -- I mean, the video is just so incredibly difficult to watch as we see how quickly this unfolds. As you're watching this video what do you see? What stands out to you?

STEPHANIE HIGHTOWER, PRESIDENT, COLUMBUS OHIO URBAN LEAGUE: Good morning. And, you know, we are in mourning here again in Columbus, Ohio.


The video is gut-wrenching. And, you know, when you look at it, you think to yourself, where is the human dignity?