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Judge to Issue Sentence for Steve Bannon for Violating Congressional Subpoena; Grand Jury in Georgia Asking for Testimony from Trump Advisers and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham; House Republicans Indicate Reducing Aid to Ukraine after Possible GOP Victory in Midterms; U.K. to Have New Prime Minister in Days After Truss Leaves Office; Georgia County's Election Official Posts QAnon, Election Conspiracies Online; AJC Reports, Texts from Fmr. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) Shed Light on Jan. 6. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 21, 2022 - 08:00   ET



KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Punishment will be delivered to someone who was flouting a congressional subpoena. That is what happened to Steve Bannon. He was convicted of two charges in the federal court just a couple of months ago for failing to turn over documents and for failing to sit for testimony before Congress, the House Select Committee as they investigated January 6th and the attack on their own body.

So they have now come to court. They want the court to enforce this and provide some sort of sentence here. Going into this morning's proceedings, we know that the minimum sentence that Bannon will receive would be 30 days in jail, at the very least. It could go up much higher than that. The Justice Department would like it to be quite harsh, a six-month sentence in jail. They also want Bannon to be fined the maximum amount, $200,000, because wherever the court was doing their proceedings to try and figure out how much he could pay financially, he said, charge me the most. I was convicted, charge me the most. I'm not giving you my private, financial information.

So that's what the Justice Department wants. They also want punishment for Bannon's behavior. The trial was very simple. It was about, did he show up or did he not, wherever he was subpoenaed. Today is about how he has acted throughout this process of the congressional proceedings, of the court proceedings, and the Justice Department writes "Throughout the pendency of the case, the Defendant has exploited his notoriety to display to the public the source of his bad faith refusal to comply with the Committee's subpoena, a total disregard for government processes and the law."

We're going to have to see if the judge agrees with that argument today from the Justice Department. Bannon is obviously saying that he should be receiving a very lenient sentence. He was following the advice of his lawyer. And he's also asking the judge to put on hold any sentence so that he can appeal. So he hasn't arrived yet, but we are waiting. Brianna? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's going to be very interesting to

see what the message is that the judge is going to send, because, obviously, he's not the only one who has not complied with a congressional subpoena. You're awaiting his arrival. Do we have any idea when he's expected there, Katelyn?

POLANTZ: Well, the proceeding is set to start at 9:00 a.m., so he's going to need to get to the court 20 or so beforehand. He's going to have to get through security just like anybody entering the federal courthouse. There is a crowd already gathering on one side of the building, waiting to see if he's arriving. There's lots of media here as well watching, but he has not arrived as far as I know right now.

KEILAR: He normally does so in dramatic fashion, so we will see when he gets there. Katelyn Polantz at the courthouse here in Washington, thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now is former federal prosecutor and managing partner at the law firm Walden Macht & Haran, Jim Walden. Counselor, great to see you. Thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: What's the judge considering now? What do you think is going through the judge's mind?

WALDEN: So it's such a flagrant violation. And he has been playing the victim and fundraising off of this. This is pure Donald Trump organized crime family stuff. So the judge is going to weigh the flagrancy of his violation with the lack of remorse. He's proud of what he's done. He's touting this as his American duty to resist this politicized commission. And so the judge is going to weigh that against the fact that they're just misdemeanors and he's facing very little time.

So the commentator was right. It's a minimum of 30-day sentence. Technically, he could get two years. I think the DOJ played it safe by asking for six months so that they weren't asking for too much. And it looked like a win for Bannon. But I think this judge is probably going to go right down the middle.

BERMAN: What about the request to delay the imposition of this sentencing until after the appeal?

WALDEN: So that's very common. The law favors after someone is sentenced going to jail right away, but as a traditional matter, judges will let someone surrender some 30 days, 60 days, 90 days afterwards. Bannon's reason for doing it is not something that the law embraces. He has to show that there's a compelling appellate issue that he might get his conviction reversed. The chances of that happening here are slim to none. The evidence was compelling. The violation was flagrant. The jury convicted him in less than three hours. So I think that argument is going to go nowhere. But I do expect the judge, who's a Trump appointee, to give him some time to surrender.

BERMAN: But he could be in jail soonish.

WALDEN: Thirty to 60 days from now.

BERMAN: Kash Patel, who is a former Trump administration appointee, has been called before the grand jury investigating the Mar-a-Lago documents case. And just to remind people of what Patel said, he talked about Trump declassifying documents. Let's play that.


KASH PATEL, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF STAFF UNDER TRUMP: In December and January on the way out, I witnessed him declassify whole sets of documents.


BERMAN: So what does the grand jury want to know?


WALDEN: It's easy to say this stuff on TV. It's a little bit harder to say it under oath. And I think that the government has called him to the grand jury because they want to figure out whether or not, in fact, he did witness declassification. Remember, the former president said that he could declassify something by simply thinking about it. Patel claims that he saw Trump declassifying, but where's the evidence? We haven't seen a scintilla of evidence.

So my guess is this part of the investigation is getting serious. I don't think they're going to bring it as a standalone case, but they're coming closer to the finish line, and they're trying to figure out whether or not Patel has any evidence.

BERMAN: How specific will he get? Will they say, did he specifically, did you see Trump specifically declassify this document?

WALDEN: Absolutely. They will try to get him to be as specific as possible. And think about it. How could he testify, "I saw him declassify"? Was he sitting at his desk looking at a document with Patel and saying I hereby declassify this. This story doesn't have a lot of credibility to begin with.

BERMAN: And you point out, he said it on TV, but it's very different saying it under oath or answering those questions under oath.

WALDEN: You couldn't be anymore right, John, because this is exactly what's happening with the special master. The Trump team, it's almost like the blind leading the stupid. They say things on TV and in the public, they go into court and say the same thing and run into a buzzsaw with the judge. So Patel has to be very, very careful if he answered questions at all.

BERMAN: If. OK, go into that. What's the likelihood that he takes the Fifth?

WALDEN: That's also part of the Trump playbook, right? The president who famously said, anyone that invokes the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination must be a criminal. I disagree with that, but that was his statement before, and now person after person after person is invoking the Fifth. My guess is that's what he did.

BERMAN: The January 6th committee voted to subpoena the former president Donald Trump for his testimony and documents, hasn't issued yet. That could come today. They could issue the subpoena today. What are you looking for in the language here?

WALDEN: So I think it's going to be a subpoena that very much cleaves to the subpoenas that were issued before. I don't think that there's going to be a lot more fluff in there. I don't think the committee really thinks that they're going to be able to enforce. As I'm sure you saw, Trump hired a new lawyer that seems to be House counsel for the MAGA conspiracy to defend him, or represent him in connection with that. So they're doing the typical Trump dance, which is, delay, delay, delay. The commission couldn't even find a lawyer to serve the subpoena on.

BERMAN: This time, the delay, though, could put it past the congressional elections or January, in which case there will be a new Congress in place and there will be no January 6th committee. Jim Walden, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it, counselor.

WALDEN: Thanks.

KEILAR: First on CNN, the Georgia grand jury that is investigating interference in the 2020 election getting new testimony from former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and former Senator Kelly Loeffler. They both testified before the grand jury in recent months, but it's unclear what exactly prosecutors hope to learn. Cipollone was reportedly familiar with discussions about the Trump camp's efforts to push its voter fraud claims. In the meantime, hundreds of Loeffler's text messages have surfaced, revealing her correspondence about challenging the election in the months before and after the Capitol insurrection.

And it is looking like Senator Lindsey Graham will get a subpoena in the Georgia election case. A federal appeals court has rejected the South Carolina Republican's request to block a subpoena for his grand jury testimony. Prosecutors want to ask Graham about his phone calls with state officials, as Trump and his allies were trying to overturn his loss in Georgia. It's unclear if Graham will take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

BERMAN: This morning, the Russian ambassador to the United States is alleging that a direct channel between the White House and the Kremlin used to prevent nuclear conflict during the Cuban missile crisis is no longer up and running, but State Department officials say that's not true. CNN's Kylie Atwood live at the State Department with the latest here. What have you learned, Kylie?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so the ambassador gave an interview with "Newsweek" yesterday. And what he alleged is that this backchannel that was used in the 1960s to avoid a missile crisis during the Cuban missile crisis, a nuclear crisis, he said that that channel isn't up and running anymore.

And he talked about just how effective it was at the time. It was a channel that was used between then the attorney general, Robert Kennedy, who of course was the then President JFK's brother, and the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time. And I want to read to you what Ambassador Antonov, the Russian ambassador, said about this channel, saying, quote, "The undeniable advantage of that time was continuously operating confidential channel between Anatoly Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy. It allowed the Kremlin and the White House to relay information to each other in a timely manner, do appropriate analysis, and clarify positions of the two states."


Now, a State Department spokesperson was asked yesterday, is there no channel to reduce tensions at this time between the U.S. and Russia? And he definitively said no. We know that there is still a U.S. embassy in Moscow, diplomats are there, and we know that there are multiple channels between the U.S. military and the Russian military. Of course, the question is, would Russia answer the phone in a time of a crisis?

BERMAN: So there are channels at this point, or there are efforts to have some kind of communication?

ATWOOD: Yes, there are channels that are open, but I think it is an open question as to if the Biden administration would stand up a channel like was used in the 1960s that is this more quiet channel, that's secretive, that really brings to the fore an effort to get a diplomatic solution here. And so far, the State Department, the Secretary of State Tony Blinken has said that they have seen no indication that Russia is in a position to engage in serious diplomacy.

So what we have seen is that the Biden administration is really doing everything it can to support Ukraine during this time so that if Ukraine goes to the negotiating table, they are in a position where they would have their strongest hand on the table. But we should also think about the fact that if they want to set up a channel like this, would President Putin allow it? Presumably, if the Russian ambassador here to the United States is throwing this idea out there, he has some sort of sign-off from the Kremlin, but we would have to see who in the Biden administration would take up such an effort.

BERMAN: It is an interesting discussion. Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.

KEILAR: President Biden seizing on comments from several Republicans, including House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy. These are leaders who are threatening to cut aid to Ukraine if they win a majority in November. Biden said, "These guys don't get it. It's a lot bigger than Ukraine. It's eastern Europe, it's NATO, it's real serious, serious consequential outcomes. They have no sense of American foreign policy."

Joining us now is the former U.S. congresswoman Jane Harman. She is chair of Freedom House, President Emerita of the Wilson Center, and also the author of "The Insanity Defense, Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe." Thank you so much for being with us this morning. You've heard many Republicans, and Kevin McCarthy seeming to speak for a team of them, they don't want money necessarily going to Ukraine. They want it spent at home in America. What do you say to that?

JANE HARMAN, CHAIR, FREEDOM HOUSE BOARD OF TRUSTEES: Well, I say, just what President Biden said, that they don't get our foreign policy and the requirement for U.S. global leadership, because if we don't provide it, we are at risk. I've talked to a senior Republican official in the House who says that's just election noise, pre- election noise, and everyone will calm down after the election. I surely hope so. And I don't think the Senate is in the same place.

If we withdrew aid to Ukraine now, it would be catastrophic for the Ukrainians, but also it would violate yet again our pledges to NATO and the E.U. and our allies that we have reconnected to in Europe. I worry about this as well because of what's just happened in the U.K. The U.K. has been such a staunch ally of NATO. It still belongs to NATO. Brexit relates to the E.U. in providing aid to Ukraine. And if their economy, if their economy is in some sort of free fall, that aid might stop. So it's a precarious moment for Ukraine, and it is not a time to threaten U.S. withdrawal.

KEILAR: You have confidence that Kevin McCarthy could keep his Republicans in line to avoid pressure to bring something up for a vote?

HARMAN: Well, managing House members is tricky on both sides. I think Nancy Pelosi has been masterful in doing it, but both caucuses have extreme wings. And they are not quiet. And sadly, at least this is my view, maybe self-serving, but the center is shrinking in both parties. And if you're at the edges lobbing grenades at each other, you say crazy stuff. And I think that this is crazy stuff. And I think it is serious implications for U.S. security.

KEILAR: Ukrainians, of course, they are very surprised, because Kevin McCarthy, giving Ukrainian officials who recently visited affirmations that support would continue, but they're also looking, Ukrainians are, at this resignation of British Prime Minister Liz Truss and wondering what's the effect of this going to be? The allies of Ukraine are looking and wondering, well, what is the effect going to be on Ukraine?

HARMAN: Well, everybody is looking at this. I think the origin boneheaded decision was by David Cameron, who was five leaders ago, who put this issue up for a vote, Brexit. And the issue was, leave or remain? What a silly formulation. He was for remain, but the remain campaign was terrible. And so leave won.

The better idea at the time -- a little nuance matters in foreign policy, or policy, would have been, let's remain and let's reform the E.U. so that it is more fair to British enterprise, which was the issue. Leave and repair. And that didn't happen.


And for her five prime ministers, Britain has been struggling with coherent policy based on this. She, sadly, Liz Truss, was pretty hapless. She came in with a terrible economic idea, Reaganomics at a point where the economy was very fragile and it bombed and she bombed. But, hopefully, the conservative party will find somebody, and there are some competent people, including the person that she defeated for this position, who have economic chops and can be careful and steady and nuanced and bring Britain back.

But what I worry about, I said it just a few minutes ago, is the effect of this on Britain's robust support for Ukraine, which does depend on it being financially solvent.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You have some confidence that this is, as you said, before election noise, when it comes to Ukraine here in the U.S., what we're hearing from Kevin McCarthy and Republicans, but what does it mean now, just for there to be this uncertainty, for there to be this alarm from the Ukrainians, watching what is being said here?

HARMAN: It's terrible. I mean, this is a time when winter is coming, when gas to Europe has been cut off by Russia, when there are blackouts in Ukraine, because a lot of the infrastructure has recently been destroyed by these Iranian drones that Russia has bought, and people are going to be cold and miserable. And I think the timing stinks.

And, again, this election will mercifully be over, let's hope, please, in a few weeks, although that's a question too. What if all of these races are contested, at least in this country, and what if Britain can't fill somebody that really has the confidence of the British people?

One of the other issues there is they have a parliamentary system, not like ours. The party nominates its people.

KEILAR: That's right.

HARMAN: And they also have a fairly new rule where some outside activists get to choose. That was part of the problem in the Truss election. She was not popular with her peers. And so let's see if this thing gets adjusted a little bit. And let's understand how high the stakes are for the U.S., for Britain, and for the world. You know, freedom is at stake here.

KEILAR: Jane Harman, it's great to have you. Thank you so much.

HARMAN: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Coming up, we'll speak to the British ambassador to the United States about Liz Truss' early exit.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A Georgia county election official says he hangs his political hat at the door when he goes to work, but his social media posts tell something of a different story.



BERMAN: Early voting underway across the country. Millions have voted already. CNN has learned that some counties have election deniers in charge of the voting process and they are sowing doubts about the integrity of the system.

CNN's Drew Griffin joins us with the latest on this. Drew, what have you seen?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: These are the people that run the elections, that are still hanging on to the disproven myths of 2020, and the question is, John, can they run fair elections in 2022?


GRIFFIN (voice over): In meetings, the chair of the Spalding County, Georgia election board sounds like any other government official.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hang our political hats at the door when we come in and do the people's work. There ain't no room for politics in elections.

GRIFFIN: But County Elections Chairman Ben Johnson's actions online tell a far different story. Johnson is beyond partisan, a staunch election denier. On social media, he posted two fellow insurrectionists, and he posted Biden is an illegitimate president.

WILLIAM PERRY, GEORGIA ETHICS WATCHDOGS: I think the whole structure in Spalding County is an insider threat.

GRIFFIN: Last March, Johnson wrote, going to do anything about the 2020 election? The flow of data from the counties should not pass through a foreign country.

Which is one of the key fictitious complaints about Dominion Voting. So, he believes in this disproven theory.

PERRY: Yet, he is now running the elections of Spalding County, which also affect the entire state. It's a scary situation.

GRIFFIN: He has posted about QAnon more than a dozen times, including this supportive tweet. Hate to say it, but a hell lot of the information dropped by Q has turned out to be accurate. Red, white, and Q, he writes, and other nonsensical codes that are the hallmark of the conspiracy group.

Keep in mind, as chair of the election board, Johnson is in charge of the county's certification of election results. Dexter Wimbish, a Democrat who sits on the election board with Johnson says Johnson always acts professionally, but --

DEXTER WIMBISH, SPALDING COUNTY, GEORGIA BOARD OF ELECTIONS: The community has concerns about officials those who are in positions where they could potentially impact the outcome of an election.

GRIFFIN: Now, CNN has learned the Fulton County district attorney intends to subpoena Ben Johnson and two other Spalding County elections officials as part of the investigation into efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn Georgia's to 2020 presidential election.

WIMBISH: There is a concerted effort to suppress the vote of people in this country. There is an effort to make people believe that the government does not believe in democracy, and that's just not -- that's just not true.

GRIFFIN: Election deniers who are now in charge of elections across the country are a concern to pro-democracy groups nationwide. In one Nevada county, the new interim clerk in charge of elections was one of six so-called fake electors in Nevada. In Michigan, according to police, the clerk of Lake Township believes that the 2020 election was fraudulent and shared voting machine materials with someone allegedly involved in the breach of those machines. In Colorado, the sitting clerk of Elbert County spreads debunked conspiracies that voting machines contain hackable wireless devices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How am I supposed to know if anybody has used that wireless device to access our system?

LAWRENCE NORDEN, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: The danger is that these are people who may lie about election results, who are certainly likely to cast doubt about the trustworthiness of elections.

GRIFFIN: As for Ben Johnson and what he has to say about all of this, in a word, nothing.


He's refused to answer questions, in an email, accused CNN of being on a witch hunt. When we went to his Spalding County offices, we were told on the phone that he was in a meeting, but when we tried talking to him --

Hey, is Ben Johnson in?


GRIFFIN: Are you sure?

Spalding County early voting under the leadership of an election denier began this week.


GRIFFIN (on camera): Half a million voters in Georgia have already voted, and believe it or not, they found one fake ballot planted in the system, in Spalding County. The Secretary of State's Office has opened an investigation and does believe, John, that it was some kind of an election denier who slipped it in there. BERMAN: Drew Griffin, thank you so much for digging on this and showing us what's happening here with just a little over two weeks to go to vote. I appreciate it, Drew.

GRIFFIN: Thanks.

KEILAR: New reporting on former Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler's involvement in attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution citing a log of hundreds of text messages sent and received by Loeffler ahead of the Capitol riot describes ties to the Trump family in a scathing rebuke of Loeffler from Tricia Raffensperger, the wife of the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger.

CNN has been unable to independently verify these text messages, but according to the paper, Tricia Raffensperger wrote, quote, never did I think you were the kind of person to unleash such hate and fury on someone in political office of the same party. I hold you personally responsible for anything that happens to any of my family, for my husband, children, and grandchildren. You do not deserve to be in elected office.

Joining me now is CNN Anchor and Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt. Kasie, it's really an interesting look behind the curtain of what was going on, even inside sort of members of the Republican Party, as there was this struggle.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, and very, very emotional, right, I mean, when you stop to think about what was going on here. I mean, keep in mind, these kinds of political circles, they're very small, right? I mean, these people are members of the same party. Typically, they all operate on the same team. There's not a ton of elected -- you know, Brad Raffensperger is a statewide elected official in Georgia, Kelly Loeffler, at the time, David Perdue, the other senator from Georgia, statewide elected senators. I mean, it's a small group. And you can really see this fracture kind of breaking out into the open. I mean, it's really a fascinating window into the pressures that were on Republicans through this process.

KEILAR: When Karen Raffensperger texts then-Senator Kelly Loeffler, she's saying, basically, hello, this is Karen Raffensperger, we met at that Christmas Party. And then she just unleashes on her. But I just want to remind people, because Senator Loeffler was not in the Senate for all that long. She ended up losing that runoff election. But this is what she was promising as she was trying to win re-election or election, and this is what she was promising on January 4th of 2021, and afterwards, this is what she ended up doing later in the evening after the Capitol riot.


FMR. SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): On January 6th, I will object to the Electoral College vote. That's right.

But I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors. The violence, the lawlessness and siege of the halls of Congress are abhorrent and stand as a direct attack on the very institution my objection was intended to protect, the sanctity of the American democratic process.


KEILAR: It's important to note, she had lost at that point.

HUNT: A lot had happened to her in the time between those two sound bites.

KEILAR: She had the freedom to vote that way, but people who had political futures chose differently.

HUNT: Well, I mean -- and she -- you showed that she chose differently when she thought she had a political future.

KEILAR: That's right.

HUNT: When she was standing there with Donald Trump, she had already received that text from Tricia Raffensperger, we know, months earlier, and she had chosen to stand with Donald Trump anyway.

And what I find so fascinating about this, I mean, I spent the entire Trump administration on Capitol Hill trying to explain to viewers, to Americans, what was going on with Republicans when they saw the former president do something that seemed to go against traditional Republican values or seemed to raise -- you name the question, whether it was Lafayette Square or the Muslim ban, et cetera, et cetera, where Republicans were always incredibly reluctant to criticize the former president.

And you saw in those two sound bites why that was and how she evolved. I mean, the thing is, if she had won that election, first of all, I wonder what she would have said the night of January 6th. But, second of all, you know, we saw from people like Kevin McCarthy, who had a little bit of an evolution himself during this particular period as well, turn around just a couple of weeks later and fly back down to Mar-a-Lago and stand with Donald Trump again, because they realized that their own politics, you know, were hurt .