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CNN Live Event/Special

Interview With Rob Rosenstein, Former Trump Deputy Attorney General; January 6 Committee Refers Trump To DOJ On Four Criminal Charges; Current And Former Police Officers React To Trump Criminal Referrals. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 19, 2022 - 15:30   ET



ROD ROSENSTEIN, FORMER TRUMP DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: And they're really unlikely be influenced by the opinion of members of Congress. Now if there's new evidence in the Congressional report, obviously, that's the sort of thing that the Department of Justice would look to. But they're not going to be deferring to Congress on the decision on whether or not to bring charges.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Just to give a taste -- they don't lay it all out here, but there is going to be new evidence, right? The transcripts. The transcripts that Bennie Thompson up to this point has refused to provide them to the Department of Justice, even though they wanted them. A lot of those are going to be coming out. You know, today in the Bill Stepien transcript, the former campaign manager, you know, we learn of him locking his office with a glass door against Rudy Giuliani trying to come in and get him to say that the election was stolen. Little nuggets like that, there's going to be more in those transcripts. How significant do you think they'll be?

ROSENSTEIN: Well, it really depends upon what the Department of Justice already knows and obviously that's somewhat of a black box to us. We don't know what these witnesses are saying who have been interviewed by the Department and witnesses that have been before the grand jury. So, we don't know if the department already has this information or whether they're hearing it from the first time. Obviously, if they are hearing it for the first time, you can anticipate that federal prosecutors and agents will be following up on that.

BURNETT: So, do you think at this point, that Trump should be charged specifically with any of these?

ROSENSTEIN: Erin, I don't want to make any suppositions based on what I'm reading in the media. These decisions are made by federal prosecutors who are trained to evaluate this evidence objectively. They're following department policies. They're making sure they have a case that they can prove in court, that they can convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and that they think can be upheld on appeal. So, I really don't think we're in a good position outside the department to be --

BURNETT: Even though, I mean -- and I guess it depends how you print this, but anywhere between, you know, 85 and 161 pages, they're laying out, but you're saying you don't see it in what the committee's provided at this point?

ROSENSTEIN: No, what I'm suggesting is simply I wouldn't make a decision based solely on the committee's referral. I would like at all the evidence that's in the possession of the Department of Justice.

BURNETT: All right, so where do you think they are then on making a decision? I know that a couple of weeks ago you were skeptical of the need for a special counsel on this -- which is obviously significant given, you know, your history. You've supported a special counsel in the Department of Justice Russia investigation, but you don't think they needed Jack Smith now. Do you still think that?

ROSENSTEIN: Well, I think whether they have Jack Smith or not is really going to be irrelevant to the final determination. What you have here is a team of federal prosecutors and agents that have been working on this investigation for some time. They'll be making a recommendation. Jack smith will be either adopting or overruling the recommendation, and ultimately the Attorney General will be making the decision whether to go forward in this case. So, I don't think that's changed with the appointment of the special counsel.

BURNETT: There's the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation. There's the January 6th criminal investigation, both of which the DOJ has been looking into. Do you expect that they will make a decision on indicting at the same time, and are we at the doorstep of that? Is that going to be soon?

ROSENSTEIN: You know, it's impossible to tell, Erin. Obviously, we would hope that they make a decision quickly. The longer this goes on, the more you get into the campaign season. The more significant the implications may be, but it's a complicated investigation, and the department, again, in addition to looking at the incriminating evidence, they have to consider and weigh any potentially exculpatory evidence as well. And they need to evaluate what defense the president would raise if this case were brought in court. So, I'm really not in a position to evaluate where they are. I just hope they move as quickly as they can.

BURNETT: All right, Rod Rosenstein, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

And still ahead, four officers who risked their lives to defend the Capitol on January 6th, react to the historic criminal referrals against the former president. They'll join us live.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: At the U.S. Capitol, the January 6th Select House Committee just made the case for the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump for the violence that played out on the Capitol nearly two years ago, laying most of the blame for the insurrection on Donald Trump. We're joined now by four of the heroes of January 6th, four of the

officers who fought back against the mob. They were injured while defending the Capitol. They attended the Select Committee's final meeting. DC Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, former U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, former NPD Officer Michael Fanone and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn.

Let me first just get your responses, and I'll start with you, Officer Hodges and then we'll just go down the line. Donald Trump has now been criminally referred to the Department of Justice for obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement, and perhaps most significantly, inciting, assisting, or aiding, comforting an insurrection. Nothing like this has ever happened before. What's your response? Does this make you feel better at all given what you went through?

DANIEL HODGES, DC METROPOLITAN POLICE: I think it's entirely appropriate. I don't think it's anything that's really surprising about the charges. What I heard in chatter was, whether it would be meaningful at all for the committee to make these referrals, and I think it is. Even if it's just symbolic, symbols have meaning. Symbols have power, and, you know, future generations will look back and say that, you know, this branch of Congress, this branch of the government did the best they could to make accountability happen.

TAPPER: Officer Fanone, what do you think?

MICHAEL FANONE, FORMER METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: I think it was appropriate having sat through each and every one of the committee's hearings. I think this was the inevitable outcome. Again, you know, it is symbolic, and it's up to the Department of Justice ultimately to seek criminal accountability for those responsible for the January 6th insurrection.

TAPPER: What do you think Officer Gonell?


TAPPER: Former Officer Gonell. But I called him officer too and he's a former too. I always just keep it going.


GONELL: Formalities. Well, I think it's appropriate like my former colleagues also say. It's been very meaningful to have that coming from the department -- from Congress, given the amount of evidence that they uncovered and it's appropriate.

TAPPER: Officer Dunn, what if they don't actually prosecute? What if the Justice Department doesn't actually bring charges forward? Will -- what would your response be then? I don't know what they're going to do.

OFC. HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: Yikes, let's hope that's not the case. To piggyback, I'm just glad that they did it. But respectfully to the January 6 committee, I'm appreciative of their work but it's been two years. Like, we knew that what they announced today, we knew that on January 7, 2021. I really appreciate all the work that they've done and they're continuing to do and the Justice Department is doing. But I don't even want to get into the what ifs if they don't. Let's not put that negative juju out in the atmosphere right now. They have a job to do, and they need to do their job respectfully.

TAPPER: And one of the most serious allegations against the president was made repeatedly, because also specifically today by Vice Chair Liz Cheney, talking about what Donald Trump did not do in her view, his dereliction of duty. You were all being attacked, you and dozens of others of men and women in blue, being attacked. Some of you being injured for the rest of your lives. Some of you ultimately so wounded that lives were lost, and Donald Trump just sat there and watched. Take a listen to Liz Cheney from earlier today.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Among the most shameful of this committee's findings was that President Trump sat in the dining room off the Oval Office, watching the violent riot at the Capitol on television. For hours, he would not issue a public statement, instructing his supporters to disperse. During this time, law enforcement agents were attacked and seriously injured. The Capitol was invaded. The electoral count was halted, and the lives of those in the Capitol were put at risk. This was an utter moral failure, and a clear dereliction of duty.


TAPPER: What do you think?

FANONE: Yes, no. I mean, it was clear on January 7th that Donald Trump was morally and ethically responsible for what happened on January 6th, and the committee laid out evidence to the overt actions that he committed in his attempt to defraud the American people. But just as important were the -- his inaction or his failure to act, and as the commander in chief, as the president of the United States, he has a duty like all government officials and law enforcement officials, to act. And he failed to do so in those key 187 minutes where myself, Gonell, Dunn and Hodges were fighting our asses off along on the Capitol grounds along with hundreds of other police officers.

TAPPER: What's been your response to the blowback you've gotten on Fox News? People mocked your testimony. A lot of Republicans who normally say they back the blue, a lot of Republican officials haven't been backing you four and your brothers and sisters on Capitol Hill that day. What's that been like?

HODGES: A lot of the criticism comes from people who are not coming from a place of intellectual honesty, so debating them is kind of meaningless. They're just there to get clicks and views and make a buck because they know that people follow their politics more than the facts. And as long as they appeal to those politics, they'll get their payday. And because there is no viable argument for what President Trump did. No legal, no moral reason for his actions and inactions. So, any criticism that I've seen or heard is completely invalid. TAPPER: Thank you once again to all four of you for what you did that

day, and what you did as police officers and continue to do in two cases as police officers. I appreciate it very much, and I know I speak for a lot of our viewers when we say, thank you for what you do.

DUNN: Real quick if I may, Donald Trump tweeted out the day after, never forget this day. And I promise you, we won't.

GONELL: The same thing goes for me. I mean, it has come at a great personal cost, both mentally, physically, and emotionally as well. There's a lot of things that, like, the former vice president today he tweeted about the former president being reckless. How more reckless that he needed Donald Trump to be. Should we the police officers who led them -- let those people go in so he could find out how reckless that former president or criminal, his boss wanted to be that day? That's on him.


TAPPER: Coming up, how the actions of the January 6th Committee will be seen through the lens of history. John Dean, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein join us next. Stay with us.


BURNETT: History unfolding at the U.S. Capitol today with the January 6 Select Committee's announcement of four criminal referrals against Donald Trump. The panel arguing Trump should never be allowed to serve in position of authority again. But in a new clip played by the committee, Trump's longtime aide and confidant Hope Hicks made it clear that Trump's primary goal has always been winning at the expense of anything else.


Listen to her describe a conversation she had with Trump about his claims of voter fraud.


HOPE HICKS, FORMER COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Saying evidence of fraud on a scale that would have impacted the outcome of the election. And I was becoming increasingly concerned that we were damaging -- we were damaging his legacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, was there any response to what you just described?

HICKS: He said something along the lines of, you know, nobody will care about my legacy, if I lose. So that won't matter. The only thing that matters is winning.


BURNETT: All right, so let's put some perspective and context on this with our team of veterans from the Watergate era, the legendary journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean. John, you know, she said all he cares about is winning and if he didn't win, you'd no legacy. Of course, now he does have a legacy. So, what stands out to you with the most from what she said and what we've learned today?

JOHN DEAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, what she said he's going to have the wrong legacy. A legacy of a loser and that's not a legacy he can handle. What stood out to me was the very beginning, the chairman in a passing remark said what we're sending to the Department of Justice is a road map. Well, that just clicked right way, because during Watergate, it was just the reverse.

The special prosecutors sent the Congress a road map. So, I think that's the way they envision this document and this material, because they've been here, much longer than the Department of Justice. They've been looking at this evidence. So, I'm sure they're quite familiar where with where the roads go.

BURNETT: With where they go, right, and all the transcripts and backup information that they have, they haven't given to the Department of Justice yet. What do you think is the most important thing from what you've now seen?

BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, you know, there are four referrals here. And I think the one that's important is the one that says it is a crime to subvert a lawful function of government. And the lawful function of government is where, according to the 12th Amendment of the Constitution, the president of the Senate, who in this case, Vice President Pence, oversees the counting of the votes.

And I think the part of the evidence that is most significant legally and most reprehensible is when Trump was pressuring Pence. Here's Trump, the boss, the subordinate, and he's saying you're not going to be my friend. You're a wimp. You're betraying us. And that, in the normal case, with the boss putting that kind of pressure on a subordinate is almost a crime in itself.

BURNETT: And, of course, once, you know, you prove one of these, they each come with multiple year sentences. But anything would be hugely significant. I mean, just to state the obvious.

WOODWARD: Yes, but I think for -- people are going to have to sort this out, just like the Justice Department. What's important, what's not important. And I think this is the one. And I quite frankly think it will resonate, and it does resonate with people. I mean, what's the president of the United States talking to the vice president -- I'm not going to be your friend. We joke that it's as if Trump was saying to Pence, next year, I'm not going to invite you to my birthday party at Mar-a-Lago.

BURNETT: People can understand that pressure. It makes sense. To your point if you're going to go ahead with charges, to go with what people can truly understand. In part, this is a document to convince the public. Carl, John Eastman, the lawyer, along with Donald J. Trump is who the

committee is referring for both obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Presumably also for the insurrection and conspiracy charges but these and the others there if so. He has just responded saying this is yet another partisan and political stunt. That's the first response that we have.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: To be expected. He is a principal conspirator. In what today was outlined as an absolutely stunning conspiracy to defraud the United States to prevent free election of the president of the United States the transfer power. You know, we started this by talking about history.

And one of the things we've been asking, is there another John Dean as in Watergate, somebody who can bring the house down? And the answer is potentially yes. And we got a hint of it today.


Pat Cipollone, he is the counsel to the president of the United States, who in the hearings we could see him hem and haw as he took various privileges. However, he knows everything. Absolutely everything. There is indications he is cooperating with the Justice Department. That those privileges might not apply. So, I think we better keep our eye on that substantively because it is really significant.

And I will just leave us on that. To say the committee believes that the White House counsel Pat Cipollone gave a particularly important account of the event. They are patting him on the back making it clear that he was helpful.

Thank you all so much for your perspective. And Jake continues our coverage on "THE LEAD." I'll see will you tonight. Jake's next.