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CNN Live Event/Special

1/6 Cmte Chair: "Its Time" To Talk To Wife Of Justice Clarence Thomas; Soon: Third 1/6 Hearing To Focus On Trump's Attempts To Pressure Pence; NYT: Trump Lawyer Cited "Heated Right" Among Justices Over Election. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 16, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And I am Jake Tapper, when the hearing begins approximately an hour from now, the panel will lay out they say, evidence of then President Trump's reluctance push for then Vice President Pence.

Two, refuse to count lawful legal electoral votes. They will argue that Trump put the vice president's life in danger, even as Pence aids warn that Trump's demand was illegal and unconstitutional. Committee aides say Pence is former chief legal counsel Greg Jacob will testify live. Jacob is one of the key figures who helped convince the vice president at the time that he had no authority to single handedly throw in election results.

Conservative former Judge J. Michael Luttig held a similar view, and he is said to, if you're live before the committee today, he will condemn not only what happened January 6, but the larger war that Trump is waging on democracy in his view. We expect the panel to show recorded testimony by former Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short, who was with Vice President Pence on January 6, was a firsthand witness to Trump's pressure campaign in the days leading up to it.

We're told House investigators will try to make the case that Trump's pressure on Pence directly contributed to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the continuing ongoing threat to the rule of law and democracy in the United States. Committee aides are promising new information about what the vice president was doing during the riot, and where he was hiding as that mob chanted, hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence.

The panel also will focus on the role of conservative lawyer John Eastman in pushing the bogus unconstitutional theory that Pence somehow had the power to invalidate legal lawful electoral votes. Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar of California will lead much of the committee's presentation in the hours ahead.

But let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill right now, because Ryan, the chairman of the Select Committee, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, he just shared a blockbuster new information about a potential witness that he wants to call the testify. Tell us more. RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. And that is Virginia Thomas, who is of course, the wife of sitting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And we've known for some time that the committee has been in possession of communication between Ginni Thomas, and some of the people directly involved in the effort to overturn the election results, among them, the former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows.

But the new development in the last 12 hours is that we have learned that the committee is also in possession of email exchanges between Thomas and John Eastman, who is, of course going to feature in a very big way in today's hearing.

He's, of course, that conservative lawyer who was behind the legal theories that laid out the plan to have the former Vice President Mike Pence stand in the way of the certification of the election. And Thomas, telling reporters today that he or Thompson, I should say, is telling reporters today that he does believe it is time for Ginni Thomas to come before the committee and speak to them about what she knows.

Now, it doesn't seem as though they're considering her as a live witness at this point. But this is more likely a closed-door deposition that will take place sometime in the near future. Thompson told reporters that he wants that to happen soon.

Jake, how that applies to today's hearing is that I'm told it is unlikely that Ginni Thomas will be brought up as a topic in today's hearing, despite her new connection that was just discovered to John Eastman. These emails that the committee is now in possession of were part of a court battle. These tranches of emails have been slowly trickling into the committee.

They just were able to get them in their possession relatively soon, not enough time for them to process them and make them a part of today's hearing. But Jake, it does seem as though the committee is now ready to at least turn a bit of its focus of its investigation into the wife of a sitting Supreme Court Justice. Jake?

TAPPER: Ryan, thank you so much. Shocking news. Manu Raju also is on Capitol Hill today. Manu, you're learning about the video testimony that the panel will share today that they feel it is dramatic and will be effective. Tell us more.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They're trying to show that Donald Trump's actions and words contributed directly to the potential violence that Mike Pence faced on January 6. I am told that they have video testimony of the rioters who breached this building, who are directing anger at Mike Pence and who believed they were acting at Donald Trump's direction.

And we have seen through the course of these hearings so far. They have had some witness testimony from those rioters who are part of the more than 1000 witnesses that this committee has interviewed, and they will also have these rioters who will contend that it was Donald Trump. The reason why they were in this building, say go and try to find Mike Pence was because of what Donald Trump said.

Now, you mentioned Marc Short. He is the former Mike Pence's chief of staff. He is expected to feature prominently in this hearing via video, even though you will not be a live witness. We have learned that reportedly he was concerned too of Mike Pence's safety, raise concerns about Pence being in danger. So, we'll see how that comes out today.


But undoubtedly, the committee is trying to make a direct link between Donald Trump's words and the danger Mike Pence's fear that they face that day and try to put in the middle of that those rioters video testimony from those rioters, drawing a connection between those two events.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much. I want to get to that stunning news that Ryan gave us. Before I do that, Jamie Gangel, I know that you have some reporting on the information that the testimony that J. Michael Luttig is going to give. What can you tell us about that?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Luttig statement which CNN obtained exclusively is really a bombshell because even though he may not be a household name, he is an icon in legal conservative circles. He is a conservative-conservative. This statement shows in effect that he is standing shoulder to shoulder with Liz Cheney. It is a full-throated condemnation of both Donald Trump and the Republicans who've supported him.

And just to read you one part, he holds Trump responsible. He uses the word instigated. And he goes on to say January 6 was, "the execution of a well-developed plan by the former president to overturn the 2020 presidential election at any cost, so that he could cling to power that the American people have decided to confer upon his successor." And just as reminder, John Eastman, who is very much a part of that is his former law clerk.

TAPPER: Yes. And while we're talking about what we just learned, John King, let me just go to you. Ginni Thomas the wife of Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, has long been known as a very conservative activist. And if you follow her Facebook feed, you will see that she dabbles in some of the more unhinged memes and allegations out there and has been for some time.

But the idea that she played a role in trying to get people to come to the Capitol on January 6, but also in the larger plot to undo a democratic election is staggering, given the fact - especially given the fact that her husband was voting on relevant cases.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Staggering for a number of reasons. Look, she has every right to have her political views. But she also has to understand what her husband does for a living. So, number one, the big question here is what was she involved in? Number two is, will the Supreme Court ever develop a public transparent, set of ethics standards, for not only for the members, but for the spouses of the members.

But let's focus on her. She was a tea party activist. She used to work on Capitol Hill among House Republicans. She's been pushing this, but you could tell from the Mark Meadows texts, and now emails with John Eastman, that she was saying be more aggressive, do more, push, push, push, trying to get them to be more aggressive to challenge the election.

So, you have her role. Number one, it shows you that every time somebody normal, said no to Donald Trump. He kept looking for other people to help him. Just kept looking. Every time he was defeated in the recounts, defeated in courts, defeated by people on his own team saying, we're done, sir, we have no more recourse, but he kept looking for somebody else.

It's John Eastman, with the help of Ginni Thomas, people out there. So that's one big question, her role. But it does just get into this idea that as Judge Luttig says, this attack on democracy, to reboot this to recreate the faith in the institutions, you need transparency, what does Clarence Thomas know? There are decisions coming his way, could come his way on these issues. Where's the transparency? And do you need explicit clear rules for the Supreme Court?

Now Justice Thomas might push back and say, I had nothing to do with this. That's fine. He's on the highest court in the land. Some of these decisions are going to come their way. The American people deserve to know.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, in that group of texts, revealed by Jamie Gangel on Mark Meadows phone, you know, you have Ginni Thomas saying how mad she is at Vice President Pence. So, she is mad. You know, she is communicating with the White House chief of staff, taking aside on this issue, saying she's mad at Pence because he's not doing the right thing.

And here she is, knowing full well, you have to believe that. Knowing full well that this is something that could wind up before the Supreme Court. Knowing full well what (crosstalk), right? So, she's texting about the vice president, which is remark.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And it is that - I'm sorry, Jamie. It isn't just that they wanted it to appear before the Supreme Court. According to the reporting that's been coming out about Eastman's emails, the plan was to create an environment in which the court would be forced to rule on this issue. So, the court was at the heart of the plan here.

They wanted to create according to these emails, a wild environment on January 6, that would force the courts hand. So, it's not incidental to this whole thing that they maybe they hoped, as Clarence Thomas would raise his hand. They wanted to make sure that the court had no choice.


TAPPER: And on that point, what you're talking about Maggie Haberman has reporting in the New York Times, and I know she's going to talk to Wolf in a few minutes about that reporting. But one of the things that she discloses in her New York Times report is the fact that some of these fringe lawyers who were not fringe at that point because they had access to the president of the United States. But John Eastman, and this other gentleman Chesebro - that they were talking about insights that they supposedly had into fierce fights going on in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now look, I have no idea where they got that information from. But if a Supreme Court spouse is out there, doing things and I think it's fair to say we're irresponsible and inappropriate for anyone, let alone a Supreme Court spouse. You have to ask, well, if she was part of their plot, was she the one giving information?

PHILLIP: I mean, the committee has to look into it.

GANGEL: It's also a Meadows text message where Ginni Thomas says, my best friend, which friends of the Thomas's say is exactly how they refer to each other. I know someone who's known them for 40 years, who says there is no daylight between them.

TAPPER: So, she was referring to my best friend says such and such.

GANGEL: Exactly.

TAPPER: We have much more ahead in our special coverage. Up next. We're going to talk to New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman about her new reporting that pro Trump lawyer's Chesebro and Eastman hoped to convince the Supreme Court that there would be chaos on January 6, if they did not weigh in on the election before then. Stay with us.




WOLF BLITZER, CNN REPORTER: We're awaiting the start of today's hearing by the January 6 Select Committee. The primary focus will be on then President Trump's attempts to pressure his Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes in a last ditch bid to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

As we stand by for today's testimony, there is very disturbing new reporting on communications between pro Trump lawyers who were pushing for the Supreme Court to hear arguments about the president's bid to overturn his election defeat. We're joined right now by the New York Times Washington correspondent Maggie Haberman. She's also a CNN political analyst. Maggie, tell us about your new reporting. It's very significant.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, thanks so much. My colleague, Luke Broadwater and I discovered that there are emails that existed on December 24, Christmas Eve of 20-25 days after President Trump at the time tweeted, be there, will be wild about his "protest on January 6."

In these emails, John Eastman, one of the lawyers who was working with President Trump at that point, suggested that he had some insight into a "heated fight" that was going on among justices, about whether to hear cases related to the election. Now, again, not clear at all what he was basing that on, if he actually had any information at all.

From there, another lawyer Ken Chesebro from Wisconsin, replied that essentially it would be good if the justices had a "fear" of "wild chaos" taking place on January 6, to try to get them to hear this argument. They were talking about creating pressure on the justices. And you had Eastman, making this claim, again, have no idea whether he actually had information or not. Eastman is a former clerk to Justice Thomas, claiming that he had some visibility into what the court was discussing.

BLITZER: How much of all of this do you think, Maggie, we could expect to hear in the hearings today?

HABERMAN: I do think John Eastman is going to be a factor in the hearings today. Well, because he was a big part of the pressure campaign against Mike Pence, culminating in this key meeting on January 4, between Eastman, Mike Pence, other president and Greg Jacob, who is going to be testifying today Pence's former chief counsel. Whether these specific pieces come up remains to be seen, but Eastman will be a star figure.

BLITZER: Let's say, I'm going to discuss all this. And Maggie, thank you very much. We'll get back to you. George Conway, what do you make of these developments? Very significant what we just heard from Maggie.

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: Well, before I say what I think, I'm going to point out that I think that John Eastman is appalling, his emails here that are described are just incredibly objectionable, that he should be disbarred and that he should be prosecuted. All that said, I think he's full of it here with this. Because if you remember him go back to the chronology of what had happened in the Supreme Court before December 24, the date of these emails, basically all the litigation that could possibly have mattered was done.

The Supreme Court had rejected the crazy Texas case that Attorney General Paxton had brought. It had denied an application for emergency relief in the Pennsylvania case that presented, the closest thing they might have had to a legal issue. There was really nothing of any significance at the court at the time, maybe they had something cooking up. But that's the reason why we ended up with the desperate attempt to stop, physically stop the counting of electoral votes on January 6, is because they had basically run out of their legal option.

BLITZER: Supreme Court didn't even want to hear these argued.

CONWAY: They weren't, the Supreme Court didn't give them the time of day. So, I just think, I mean, I just have to say, I think this just as another, I mean, John Eastman is a man with very little credibility, and I think he was blowing. He's smoking some of these emails, but the content is appalling. To suggest that the Supreme Court is going to that people should riot to intimidate the Supreme Court and get it to act is just insane.


LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think what's interesting, particularly is on the very first day of the hearings, remember Congresswoman Liz Cheney pointed out and may much ado about the notion that even John Eastman did not believe in the memo that he ultimately sent over to Mike Pence, is the notion of being sort of a blowhard about these issues is certainly not novel.

But what is striking to me in particular is the idea that they were hoping to motivate the Supreme Court of the United States, not by the law, not by the constitution, because there was nothing there to support it, but motivated by fear. Think about the backdrop in which we are right now. Where you have a Supreme Court justice, who had an assassination attempt, just a week or more ago.

You have a new legislative act, trying to protect these justices, because there is the perception that people will in some way react viscerally and violently, their rulings. Here, they believed that was going to be a catalyst for what they wanted to actually happen. That really speaks volumes. And it's so striking, given where we are right now.

BLITZER: What do you make of this announcement from the chairman of this select committee that they're going to invite, asked Ginni Thomas, the wife of a Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to come and answer questions.

CONWAY: Well, it was headed this way. I mean, these, you know, the fact that she chose to involve herself in this appalling attempt to overturn an election, you know, was deeply problematic, for her husband deeply problematic for the Supreme Court. And the more that comes out that she was doing it, even if she was kind of throwing stuff in from the peanut gallery, it just raises too many questions that deserve answers.

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we should point out Jenny Thomas, we now know, was involved in email sending emails to the chief of staff to the president Mark Meadows to Arizona legislators saying, file an alternative slate of electors. And now to John Eastman, who was pushing this theory that Mike Pence had the ability to actually rule on the validity of some of the electors in January.

I mean, the constitution, the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution and the 1887 Electoral Act are very clear that the vice president's function at the January 6 is to basically open the envelope and preside over the counting of the electors. I mean, the last thing that the founders ever would have dreamed of is the idea that the vice president, this relatively minor figure in the government was going to be able to rule on the validity or not of the slates of electors that the states were sending. So, the idea that was being advanced by Eastman and by Trump was that no, the vice president can sit there and say, well, the Arizona slate that is voting for Joe Biden, because he won the state. We're going to rule that out, we'll send it back to the state, or maybe there just won't be enough 270 electoral votes, and then we'll have the state's each vote as in separate delegation for who the president should be.

I mean, this is what Mike Pence said in his speech eventually, as he said, the idea that the vice president that any single person would be able to overturn the will of 150 million Americans was, as he put it on America.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Although in a way, we're here because the law is not clear enough. And that's why there's efforts underway right now to reform it. There is even people like Luttig, who are talking about what needs to be done, so that this is not a place of vulnerability in terms of the transfer of power.

And to step back a little more broadly, Trump has a track record of using investigative bodies or the idea of investigations to validate his own claims, right, whether it's Comey or Zelensky, or now what we're hearing what happened with Eastman and the justice department. The idea is, and we heard it in a quote from his December call, you know, you just say you're investigating, we'll take care of the rest.

There's a reason why the committee is spending so much time, kind of underscoring what happened in the justice department. And I think it's worth pointing out because it's going to feel like a billion names coming at, you're watching this today. You're going to be like, why do I care about this lawyer or that lawyer? The point is, what they're trying to show is, if the president knew he couldn't accomplish what he wanted. What are the other levers he used to try and get that to validate that in the public's mind?

BLITZER: Yes. It's dramatic, all of it. And the testimony we're going to hear today, we've seen some of that in some advanced texts that have been released is very powerful, very, very dramatic. Yesterday, I had a chance to interview Mike Pence, his former White House Chief of Staff, Marc Short, who were expecting to hear from on videotape at today's hearing about concerns that he actually raised on January 5, about the vice president's security. Listen to this?


BLITZER: You spoke to the secret service. What was your point?

MARC SHORT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: That point it became clear that the disagreements that had been discussed, I think---

BLITZER: Between the president and the vice president.


SHORT: And the staffs who are about to become far more public. And I think with thousands of people descending upon Washington with hopes of a different outcome. I just thought it was important that they be alerted to that.

BLITZER: You were concerned about his security.

SHORT: Well, I mean, I wouldn't have said something otherwise, right?

BLITZER: And I just want to be specific. You were concerned about the vice president's security because of what the president was saying?

SHORT: Because it was about to become a much more public occasion. And I knew that the president was about to express that in a more public manner. That again, I'm not sure the consequences of that were thought through by people around the president, with thousands of people coming to Washington.


BLITZER: I remember, he was concerned, you know, George, about the vice president's security. He was afraid of what was going to happen. This is before we saw the gallows that were built up on Capitol Hill and hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence, those chants that developed.

CONWAY: Yes, absolutely. And I think, I mean, Mike Pence deserves a lot of credit for what he did that day. He obeyed his constitutional duty, in spite of tremendous pressure from the president, in spite of the physical intimidation of the crowd. He knew what he had to do, and he did it.

And it was a difficult thing for him to do, in some sense, because he, you know, he kind of - he submitted himself to the president for four years like that, and it was a hard habit to break, I'm sure. But he understood that the constitution required, it was unquestionable what the constitution the Twelfth Amendment and Electoral Count Act of 1887 provided, and he stuck to the law.

WALLACE: Let's take a slightly wider. Look, what happens is that John Eastman is very conservative lawyer. You know, as the president isn't hearing what he wants from various members, he goes into various parts of this administration. He gets in contact with John Eastman, and Eastman is presenting this idea that despite the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, despite the Electoral Count Act that in fact, Pence has these enormous powers.

Well, Pence goes to a variety, I think he knew. His face was - it was unconstitutional and illegal. But he goes to Judge Luttig, who we've talked about, who is this hero of the right. He goes to his own Chief Counsel, Greg Jacob. He even goes to former vice president Dan Quayle and says, do I have this right? And they all told me, oh, of course, you don't have this right.

The reason that Marc Short is concerned is because Pence and Trump have a series of meetings. And Trump keeps telling Pence, you got to do this. And Pence says, no, I'm not going to do it. And now Marc Short is worried that Trump is going to as he did on January 6, come out publicly against Pence. And that's why he goes to Pence's secret service, head of detail and says, we don't have to worry about the security of the vice president. BLITZER: Which was smart on his part?

CORNISH: Right. And this is also about interfering with kind of lawful actions of the government, right? And I'll let the lizard legal folks on the panel talk about that. But I know it's not sexy, but it's important this Electoral Count Act, because this was such a place of vulnerability. This shopping around of lawyers to say, hey, what actually should be the rules? What are not? Now people are saying, there are aspects of it that, you know, maybe are not constitutional.

And I think what's interesting is you are going to see an effort to reform this law. And that is something people aren't talking about, because we're so focused on like, the ratings of this thing. And will there be charges? Fundamentally, Congress needs to get its house in order about how it conducts this ceremonial, you know, process in some aspect, but quite serious and others because this has proven that there can be trouble if someone wants it bad enough.

BLITZER: Absolutely. Still ahead, two veteran Pence insiders will share their insights into Trump's pressure campaign against the then vice president of the United States. And the threat to Mike Pence's own life on January 6. First, a quick break.