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The Situation Room
Biden Warns Americans Of Dangerous Summer Crime Spike As He Unveils To Combat Gun Violence Epidemic; Ex-White House Officials Say, Ivanka, Kushner Distancing Themselves From Trump Amid His Constant Complaints About Stolen Election; Delta Variant Doubles In Two Weeks, Now 20 Percent Of U.S. Cases; Oath Keeper To Plead Guilty In First Among Major Capitol Riot Conspiracy Cases; Prison Sentences Spike For Ethnic Muslim Uyghurs As China is Accused Of Human Rights Abuses In Xinjiang Region. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 23, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Our coverage continues right now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, he is, believe it or not, right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, President Biden just announced the strategy to tackle the spike in crime and the gun violence epidemic warning law breaking gun dealers, and he says these words, warning gun dealers, lawbreaking gun dealers we will find you. We'll break it down in the exclusive interview with the president's domestic policy chief, Ambassador Susan Rice.
Also tonight, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that the delta variant is the greatest threat to defeating COVID-19 here in the United States as new cases are dangerous strain are doubling every two weeks.
And CNN has learned that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are now distancing themselves from her father, driven away by the former president's constant and bogus complaints that the 2020 election was stolen.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And let's begin with the President's anti-crime strategy. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is standing by. Kaitlan, the president warned Americans that crime is on the rise right now and may get even worse this summer.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. He noted that, typically, there's a spike in crime in the summer but he's saying now that the summer is happening as so many state are emerging from this COVID-19 lockdowns, it could be even worse this summer than we've seen in previous ones.
And so he dedicated an entire day's events to this today, talking about how to he wants to address this rise in violence by tightening gun regulations, boosting police departments all in an effort, Wolf, to curb this violence.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Enough.
COLLINS (voice over): With violent crime surging, President Biden is putting himself at the center of the contentious debate on how to solve it.
BIDEN: Folks, this shouldn't be a red or blue issue. It's an American issue. We are not changing the Constitution, we're enforcing it, being reasonable.
COLLINS: Biden focusing on curbing gun violence after sitting down with the attorney general and mayors of major cities.
BIDEN: We have an opportunity to come together now as Democrats and Republicans, as fellow Americans, to fulfill the first responsibility of government in the democracy to keep each others safe.
COLLINS: The president allowing cities and states to use COVID-19 funds to staff police departments while also directing a federal agency to revoke licenses for gun dealers who fail to run background checks.
BIDEN: My message to you is this. We'll find you and we will seek your license to sell guns. We'll make sure you can't sell death and mayhem on our streets.
COLLINS: A new report shows dozens of cities and counties saw an increase in homicides and aggravated assaults in the first three months of 2021 compared to the same time last year. Law enforcement officials fear the trend could continue.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We absolutely are concerned about the rise in violent crimes, specifically the most dangerous type namely the homicide rates all over the country.
COLLINS: The uptick in crime also proving to be a delicate issue for Democrats pushing police reform as Republicans are tying the increase in crime to calls to defund the police.
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): We need more cops. We shouldn't be defunding the police. We shouldn't be targeting the police.
COLLINS: On the campaign trail, Biden made clear he opposed defunding police departments.
BIDEN: I'm totally opposed to defunding the police officers.
COLLINS: But he does bring his own political baggage to the current conversation. He stood behind President Bill Clinton as a senator in 1994 while Clinton signed into law a crime bill that Biden helped write. The year before, Senator Biden boasted of his role in getting crime bills passed. BIDEN: The truth is, every major crime bill since 1976 that's come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill has had the name of the Democratic senator from the state of Delaware, Joe Biden.
COLLINS: He often sought to reject the notion that Democrats were soft on crime.
BIDEN: Every time Richard Nixon, when I was running in 1972, would say, law and order. The Democratic mantra, the response was law and order with justice, whatever that meant. And I'd say lock the SOBs up.
COLLINS: Now, nearly 30 years later, Biden has been forced to confront those positions.
BIDEN: This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration.
COLLINS (on camera): Now, Wolf, moving on to the other issue on Capitol Hill, that emerging infrastructure deal that is bipartisan right now, as he was leaving the room earlier tonight, President Biden was asked if he supports, that he said he hasn't seen the final numbers but he expects to see them tonight.
That speaks to just be ongoing nature of the negotiations.
But we should note the Senator Joe Manchin said he believes they have to come to some kind of agreement by tomorrow because, of course, after that the Senate is gone on a two week recess. So, clearly there's a new deadline in town and, Wolf, it could be as soon as tomorrow.
BLITZER: Yes, it could be a huge, huge day. All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins, over at the White House.
Joining us now, the director of the White House domestic policy council, Susan Rice. She's a former national security adviser and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Rise, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome back to our SITUATION ROOM.
As you know, big cities saw a 30 percent rise in homicide back in 2020. And just look at these numbers. This year could be even worse so far. How far will the president's measures, the new measures the president announced today go and actually bring down these numbers?
SUSAN RICE, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY COUNCIL: Well, it's good to be with you again, Wolf. Thanks for having me on the show. President Biden today outlined a comprehensive gun crime prevention strategy. It has many elements to it that are mutually reinforcing. You heard some of them in the spot that Kaitlan just outlined.
First of all, making clear that there is zero tolerance for rogue gun dealers who willfully violate law and regulations, selling guns, for example, to people without conducting background checks or refusing to accept inspections from the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms.
He also announced that the Justice Department will be putting in place multi-jurisdictional federal task forces to go after those networks of gun dealers that run guns in corridors into our major cities. And he announced five strike forces that will be employed in major cities across the country to ensure that you can't bring a gun, say, from Virginia into Baltimore and commit a crime there without accountability.
But beyond those measures, he made it very clear that there are billions of dollars that the American Rescue plan, which President Biden and Vice President Harris got passed through Congress in the first 100 days, that are going out to states and localities that can and should be used to prevent and respond to crime.
So, for example, the money going to state and localities can be used now by police forces to hire back officers that may have been lost during the pandemic, to pay overtime, to put in place shot detection equipment.
But it also can be used for important strategies to tackle crime at its root causes, employment, training, apprenticeships, mental health, substance abuse disorder support, social workers, community violence intervention programs, which we learned again today are so impactful and can reduce violent crime up to 60 percent.
So these are resources that have been delivered to the states with more to come. That are -- can and should be used to prevent gun violence. This is not defunding our communities. It is investing in them for crime prevention and for community building and social services.
BLITZER: Which is so important obviously given what's going on in our country right now. Even President Biden's deputy attorney general, a woman you know, Lisa Monaco, we know her well, she calls this trend, what we're seeing in our country right now staggering and says this is, quote, really bad trajectory of what's going on. Do you agree with that characterization about this trend right now?
RICE: It is a trend that we are deeply concerned about, which is why since the president has taken office, he's announced a series of steps, including regulating ghost guns, making sure that we have real data about where guns are being utilized and how they're being trafficked. And today, he outlined a very comprehensive strategy to tackle this wave of gun violence and crime.
You know, what we have learned is that coinciding with the pandemic, there has been a spike in gun violence and violent crime. People have purchased guns at extraordinary rates, I believe, 40 percent more in 2020 than had been the case in prior years. So we have got a convergence of an increase in the number of guns on the street and a rise in crime. And these are things that we have to tackle comprehensively. Now, an important part of this, Wolf, is of course, legislation that's pending right now before the Senate to ensure that we close the loopholes in background checks, and that we have an assault weapons ban and many other things that are common sense gun safety measures, which have languished for years and that are so urgent.
BLITZER: Republicans argue the spike in violence, deadly violence, as a result of what they describe as anti-police messaging and police budget cuts in some Democratic-led cities.
Have either of those issues influenced the crime rate based on what you're seeing?
RICE: It's hard to disaggregate the factors, but what we think is driving this to a substantial extent, given the correlation between the pandemic and the spike in violent crime and gun crime is that the stress, the loss of jobs, the various factors of, you know, not being able to have the court systems and our police function as normally given the pandemic. All of these things, perhaps, have combined to contribute to this.
But the point is, President Biden's approach is not to defund the police. He has been very explicit in opposing that. He wants to invest in our communities and in safety. That includes investing in public safety and giving police and police forces the resources they need. But it's much broader than that, because you can't just deal with this problem through law enforcement.
You need to deal with its root causes. You need to help those who need help to find jobs, to find housing. You need to be able to successfully reintegrate those who are emerging from prison so that they have an opportunity to leave a life of crime. You need to invest in our young people so they have jobs and training and apprenticeship.
So there's many aspects to this and the resources that the president's putting forward go to all of those aspects of the challenge, not just one dimension only.
BLITZER: Before I let you go, Ambassador Rice, I want to get your thoughts on a separate issue. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, forcefully rejected criticism from Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz today on the U.S. military's efforts to deal with the issue of diversity. I want you to watch and listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I want to understand white rage and I'm white and I want to understand it. So what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America?
I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our commissioned, non-commissioned of being, quote, woke. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what is your reaction when you hear that?
RICE: Well, I'm hearing this out of context, Wolf, for one thing. But I think what General Milley is saying, and I have spoken to him about this issue, is that, you know, we have to stand up for our Constitution and for the basic principles of our democracy. That's what our men and women in the military have sworn to do and that's what we expect of our elected officials.
And when we have such outrages as an insurrection and assault on our Capitol, on our very democracy at its most sacred moment when it's certifying the validity of an election, when we have law enforcement officers, Capitol Police, who are assaulted and die and members of Congress aren't willing to express concern or condolences or condemn that, that's of grave concern.
And I without the benefit of hearing the entirety of his statement on this I believe that's what General Milley was saying.
BLITZER: It certainly was. Ambassador Susan Rice, thanks so much for joining us.
RICE: Thank you, Wolf, great to be with you again.
BLITZER: Thank you. And we hope you'll come back soon.
I want to get some more right now. Our Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former Philadelphia police commissioner, Charles Ramsay is with us. Also with us, our Political Director David Chalian and our Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip.
You know, Abby, let's talk a little bit about what we just heard from the President of the United States. He wants to show the American public he is taking this issue very, very seriously, even as he's dealing with a bunch of other critically important issues.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, public safety is -- it's one of those bread and butter political issues. It's at the heart of what people express day-to-day in their communities and I think there are a couple of things that the White House is weighing here.
One, it's that there is political peril for Democrats if at the end of the day they're seen to ignore an issue of rising crime and then on the backend tough on crime, you know, lawmakers or mayors or governors come into power and undermine some of the policies that they care about, policing reform among them.
But the second thing is changing the narrative around why this is happening. Republican are saying, it's because of the defund the police rhetoric. And as you heard from Ambassador Rice she is listing a whole lot of other factors. Chief among them is the dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
BLITZER: Yes, which is a huge issue, obviously.
Chief Ramsey, you were the Police chief here in Washington D.C. and the police commissioner in Philadelphia. I want to get your reaction to the specifics we heard from the president just a little while ago.
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, actually, I think it was pretty comprehensive. I listened to his entire speech and I think he covered a lot of bases.
He certainly expanded and made clear some of the responsibilities he's given the ATF, which, by the way, in order for them to carry that out, which is going to be an enormous task, it is time that they confirm David Chipman as the new Director of ATF. They need solid, permanent leadership in that agency, which they haven't had in a long time.
But the one area that I think still has to be addressed, and this isn't a federal issue, but state and local prosecutors have to be on board, particularly these county prosecutors. Because I know that in many instances, people are being arrested for illegally carrying a gun, using a gun to commit a crime and there's very little in terms of consequences. They are not being held. And there are some people that do need to be incarcerated, period.
So we certainly need to have alternatives to incarceration. And I didn't hear anything about that. With that funding, hopefully, mayors and others will use that funding to -- for the people who don't need to be incarcerated, to be able to keep tabs and be able to monitor what they're doing.
But some of this that's happening out here is just repeat offenders, you know, today's offenders, tomorrow's victim and it just goes on and on. It will be a bloody summer because this news conference today, it was very good, but if I'm police chief today I'm concerned about getting through this week and this weekend without a lot of homicides and shootings.
BLITZER: Yes, it's so awful what's going on, hard to believe here in the United States.
You know, David Chalian, the Republicans are seizing on what some Democrats are proposing is defund the police. President Biden rejects that. You heard Ambassador Susan Rice, she rejects that. But it's going to have political fallout.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is. By the way, he doesn't just reject it now, right? He rejected it through the Democratic primary that he'd won, and he's the guy that ends up in the Oval Office. So it clearly is approving a successful political line yet.
But you heard Ambassador Rice, and you heard the president, his remarks, and the attorney general, all try to walk this line. Joe Biden today as President, did not sound like Joe Biden on the Senate floor, in Kaitlan's piece, where he was really dong a much more tough on crime approach. BLITZER: That was 25 years ago.
CHALIAN: Exactly. And he is learning from that and the -- his party is in a different place. And so he was walking on a finer political line here to make sure that the emphasis is on the investment in community, that it is not just about tough on crime, that is it about smarter, better policing not just more policing.
All of that lessons learned from the 90s, he faced criticism throughout the campaign. And I think you see him applying to today's world and, quite frankly, today's Democratic Party because I think he is also aware of the potential political blowback from his left, not just from the Republican Party.
BLITZER: Absolutely right. David, Abby and Chief Ramsey, thanks to all of you.
Just ahead, former President Trump's daughter and son-in-law said to be distancing themselves from him. We have exclusive new reporting on what appears to be driving them away.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Now, a CNN exclusive. Tonight, we are learning that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, have been distancing themselves from the former President Trump. The couple apparently driven away by his ongoing complaints and lies about a stolen election that removed him from the White House.
Let's go to our White House Correspondent Kate Bennett, has got some exclusive reporting for us. Kate, thanks so much for joining.
As you are getting new information from multiple sources, tell our viewers what's happening behind the scenes.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, my colleague, Gabby Orr, and I spoke to many people who said that the relationship between Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, which, as we know during the Trump administration, was just about as close as it could get.
These were two advisers to then-President Trump who were involved in every aspect of policy, of messaging, of just certainly being there in the moment in the west wing with the president are now no longer a part of that political apparatus.
Part of that has to do with as you said the continued harping on by the former president of the 2020 election, continuing to sort of not be able to let go of what happened, of his loss, and also surrounding himself with a more interesting and farfetched, in their theory, cast of characters if you will, people that sort of buy into his lies that the election -- that he was supposed to have won the election. Now, Ivanka and Jared have determined that that is not a world they want to be part of. This is not a political apparatus that they want or need to be around. And, therefore, they have seen the former president very little. And, again, this is not just a former boss, it's a father-in-law and it's a father.
But, you know, Jared's camp will say that this is something that's natural, that there is no policy going on and, therefore, he shouldn't be involved but there are rallies being planned, there are endorsements of other candidates being planned, there is a super PAC.
So, certainly, it is interesting that in this next phase of former President Trump's political cycle, if you will, that his two chief most ubiquitous advisers, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, are not around and making it very clear that they're not part of this next phase of former President Trump's political apparatus.
BLITZER: Yes, I have noticed these last several weeks and months, they've sort of been invisible. They're trying to be invisible as much as they possibly can. Excellent reporting, Kate, thank you very, very much, Kate Bennett reporting from the White House.
Let's get some analysis right now from our Chief Domestic Correspondent, Jim Acosta. He spent many years covering the White House when you were a Chief White House Correspondent. What is your reaction when you see that report?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it is interesting that Jared and Ivanka are trying to distance themselves from Donald Trump because he could use a family intervention right now with all the crazy conspiracy theories that he has been glomming on to, like he is going to be reinstated in August and so on.
I mean, Wolf, think about all of the different projects that Jared Kushner was in charge of when he was at the White House. I brought a list, the coronavirus pandemic, Middle East peace, criminal justice reform, immigration, including the border wall, he was going to navigate the politics of putting a wall on the border, modernizing the government in addition to a campaign adviser.
It's a little hard to separate themselves now from the former president when they were so intimately involved throughout the entire administration.
I talked to one former Senior White House Official who said, when Trump was in office, that Jared and Ivanka were the Chief of Staff. So it's -- this sounds like a rehab tour on the part of Jared and Ivanka. They want it rehabilitate their image somewhat because, as you and I both know, they're just not as welcomed in polite society as they once were.
BLITZER: And as this is going on, we are not paying a full lot of attention to it, but Trump keeps issuing this very, very weird statements that he really won the election and all that kind of stuff. ACOSTA: Right. He continues to that. Just yesterday, he put out a statement saying that, you know, he's going to be back 2024 or before is the way that the statement ended. So he is continuing to stoke this idea that he could somehow be reinstated in August.
Wolf, I will tell you, I talked to one of the origins, originators, you might say, of the August reinstatement theory, Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, talked to him earlier today. According to Lindell, this reinstatement may slide a little bit because they don't exactly have all the ducks in a row.
Lindell said that they're going to have some sort of symposium in August. And after that symposium comes, where they were lay out all of these evidence, he predicts the Supreme Court will rule 9-0 that Donald Trump should be reinstated as president of the United States.
That is where the former president is getting this kind of nonsense. And it is just nothing but nonsense. And it's scary that the former president --
BLITZER: It's not just nonsense. It is potential very dangerous because he's got a huge following out there that believes all this.
ACOSTA: It's potentially very dangerous, Wolf, because obviously we saw what happened on January 6. And if Trump is going to go out there, as he's supposed to this weekend, he has scheduled to have a rally in Ohio this weekend, he's going to be going on this revenge tour, he's going after Republicans who voted to impeach him during the impeachment saga. He wants to take those Republicans out and he wants new candidates to go in, Trumpist candidates to go in. He's going to be doing that in Ohio this weekend.
If he's revving up the crowds once again with this insane conspiracy theories about January 6 and being reinstated and so on, of course, Wolf, people might get hurt, potentially journalists who are covering these events, people who just getting in the way of some of this rabid MAGA Trump supporters who think that somehow Donald Trump will magically be reinstated as president of the United States. It's nonsense. It's never going to happen.
BLITZER: And that helps explain why Ivanka and Jared are beginning to move away at least publicly right now.
ACOSTA: It makes perfect sense but it's impossible to do for both of them. They were there all four years. They were there for the ugly end to it all. After January 6, where are Jared and Ivanka now to say that what happened on January 6 was an absolute disaster for this country? We haven't heard them do that. And until they say those sorts of things, how can they possibly separate themselves from the former president.
BLITZER: All right, Jim. Thank you very much for coming in. Jim Acosta helping us, I appreciate what's going on.
Coming up, Dr. Anthony Fauci sounds the alarm on what he calls, and I'm quoting now, the greatest threat to eradicating COVID-19 in the United States. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Top U.S. health officials are now sounding the alarm over the Delta coronavirus variant that was first detected in India.
CNN National Correspondent Erica Hill reports is now posing a growing threat here in the United States.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Two weeks ago, we have about 10 percent of the virus strain being the delta variant and now more recently about 20 percent of our strains here in the United States are the delta variant.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A rapid increase for this more transmissible, potentially more dangerous strain of coronavirus, and a warning.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It will be the dominant strain among those areas, those regions of the country where the vaccination rate is lower than we would like.
HILL: These four states have the lowest vaccination rates for adults in the country. Among those 18 and older, less than half have at least one shot, compared that to Vermont where nearly 85 percent have at least one dose and 75 percent are fully vaccinated. Yet even in areas doing well the push continues.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): We are going to keep innovating new ways to get people the vaccine, new ways to make it work for them.
HILL: More companies requiring shots, a source tells CNN employees and guests entering the Morgan Stanley's New York offices next month must be vaccinated. In Texas, 153 employees at Houston Methodist who refused to get a shot have now resigned or been fired.
Despite a drop in COVID deaths thanks to the vaccines, a new CNN analysis of CDC data finds those dying are now younger and disproportionately black.
WALENSKY: Nearly every death due to COVID-19 is particularly tragic because nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is at this point entirely preventable.
HILL: As the delta variant spreads, concern also growing for kids especially those 11 and younger who aren't eligible for the vaccine.
FAUCI: The best way to protect the children is to bring the level of virus circulation in the community down. The best way to do that is that those i.e. adults who are eligible for vaccination to get vaccinated. (END VIDEOTAPE)
HILL (on camera): And, Wolf, speaking of younger people following a meeting earlier today to discuss some of these cases of mild heart inflammation after receiving the vaccination this cases in young people, well, top health officials said that that is actually extremely rare as a side effect and they noted you're at far greater risk from not getting the vaccine, going on to state once again the vaccines are safe, Wolf, and effective.
BLITZER: Yes. People should get the vaccination. All right, Erica, thank you very, very much.
Let's get some more in all of these. Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting Director of the CDC is joining us. Dr. Besser, thanks so much for joining us.
A new poll, by the way, finds that 21 percent of Americans now say they likely will never get vaccinated. How concerning, Dr. Besser, is that as this more transmissible delta variant seems to be gaining steam?
DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Well it is concerning Wolf. But I would focus less on the group of 20 percent and more on the group that is still on the fence because that group is still sizable. If we can reach those individuals, I think that some of that 20 percent will change as they know friends and family members who have been vaccinated.
You know, we're so used to seeing the massive outpouring of interest in vaccination. The next phase of this will continue to be the slow increase in numbers who are vaccinated across the country as people get more experience with this.
BLITZER: This new delta variant clearly poses a huge risk to those who are not vaccinated, but what kind of risk does it post to people who are fully vaccinated?
BESSER: Well, I mean, the good news, Wolf, is that the vaccine seem to be very effective against the delta variant. So those people who been vaccinated, they're either covered not just against the delta variant but the other variants that have been circulating.
Those people who've decided at this point not to get vaccinated, the risk goes up because this variant spreads much more easily. And as Dr. Fauci was saying, one of the reasons now that we get vaccinated is to protect children and to protect people who have immune problems where the vaccines didn't work or they couldn't get vaccinated. That's one of the things that we can do for our friends, for our family, for our community.
BLITZER: Bottom line, get the vaccination. All right, Dr. Besser, thank you so much for joining us.
BESSER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a first in the sprawling Capitol insurrection probe, a member of the Oath Keepers agrees to pleads guilty and cooperate with federal investigators.
BLITZER: Right now, we are following two key milestones in this sprawling Capitol insurrection investigation. A member of what's called the Oath Keepers has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with federal investigators, and in a separate case a woman who spent ten minutes inside the building has been sentenced to probation.
Let's discuss this and more with Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Of course, nice to be back.
BLITZER: You're a former prosecutor yourself. So what do you make of this first plea deal?
SWALWELL: Well, it is the largest investigation ever in the history of criminal prosecutions. Nearly 500 individuals you know, charged, plea deals starting to co me in. It certainly tells me that this was not just a typical tour at the U.S. Capitol, as some of my Republican colleagues suggests.
BLITZER: This was described today as an act of domestic terrorism.
SWALWELL: Yes, that's right. There's going to be more pleas to come. I mean, there's really no defense to be on the Capitol without permission to committing violence against police officers. And so, my goal, as someone who is there that day, is to make sure that we honor the police officers who fought to defend the Capitol and that everyday Americans recognize that we are very vulnerable to this happening again, that this is not a 500-year flood. All the circumstances that led to this happening in January 6 still exist right now.
BLITZER: CNN has learned that the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to appoint what's described as a select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Is that what needs to happen right now to get to the bottom of all of this?
SWALWELL: Well, I was in two meetings with her yesterday as a member of the leadership team. She feels the urgency of now, she still wants to see if there's any hope of a January 6 commission.
BLITZER: Is there any hope of that, as it was rejected?
SWALWELL: Look, if you think Antifa or the FBI were behind this, then you should want this commission to happen, because that could root that out. If you think that this was caused by President Trump, then you should want to see if that was the case. The only reason you would not want that, I believe, is if you're afraid of your own culpability or your party's culpability. So I know she is determined.
BLITZER: So do you think there will be a select committee?
SWALWELL: Yes. I don't know if it's a select committee. I know she's looking at all the options but she recognizes we have to do something soon.
BLITZER: if it's a select committee will be in chaired by Democrats. The Democrats will be -- won't that convince a whole bunch of people out there, Republicans and others, it's not really a fair investigation?
SWALWELL: They had a shot there. That was so frustrating is they proposed to the speaker some changes in her initial plan. She accepted them and then they walked away from it. And so, yes, a select committee is not the best way to do this. The best way would be like September 11, bipartisan independent and way far away from the Capitol building, that's the best way to enact policies to make sure this never happens again.
A select committee though, would have subpoena power, so you've still answer a lot of questions about who was financing this, what did the president do on the day of why was the National Guard not dispatched sooner? And so we'll still get answers to all those questions.
BLITZER: CNN has learned that the Trump Justice Department's sweeping subpoenas that involved you at one point, as well Adam Schiff, the Chairman of House Intelligence Committee. But it really stemmed from an investigation into a committee staffer. Can you update our viewers on what was going on, why were you dragged into this, why was Adam Schiff dragged into this and why was -- what was the staffer supposedly doing that created this investigation?
SWALWELL: Yes. I would like to know that, too, Wolf, and the attorney general called me last week and told me he wants to understand that as well.
BLITZER: The current attorney general?
SWALWELL: Yeah, Attorney General Merrick Garland. And he has, you know, invoked an inspector general investigation in Congress, on the Judiciary Committee, we're looking at that.
But, look, Adam Schiff and I were the only two members of the Intelligence Committee who had their devices looked at so I don't buy necessarily this argument of a staffer and we got swept into it.
Why was it the two most vocal critics of the president that just happened to be swept into? So, there's a lot more, you know, questions. And, Wolf, my real fear is that presidents set the tone. And so, if Donald Trump was willing to have or direct or weaponize law enforcement against the political enemies, what happens when a mayor thinks it's okay to do that or a governor? So, I don't want to allow this, you know, to persist in other state or local government.
BLITZER: Do you know who the staffer was?
SWALWELL: I don't know.
BLITZER: That's what everybody keeps saying.
All right. Congressman Swalwell --
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
BLITZER: -- thanks for coming in. A lot going on right now. Appreciate it very much.
We're going to be following the U.S. Supreme Court, high school cheerleader and free speech advocate details of an unusual but significant case that was decided today. The justices made it pretty clear where they stand.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're following a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling with major First Amendment implications for some 50 million public school students here in the United States.
CNN's Brian Todd has details for us.
Brian, this was a very, very closely watched case.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many, many people have their eyes on this case, Wolf, as you mentioned the free speech inch cases are critical but many people couldn't believe that a cheerleader's obscene rant went all the way to the Supreme Court.
TODD (voice-over): She didn't make the varsity cheerleading team, and she was furious. F school, F softball, F cheer, F everything, the then 14-year-old posted on Snapchat, flashing a middle finger for effect. Even though Levy posted that while she was off campus on a weekend, her school, Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania, disciplined her, suspending her from the jayvee cheerleading team for violating school rules.
BRANDI LEVY, SUSPENDED FROM CHEERLEADING FOR VULGAR POST: I feel like I shouldn't have been only because it wasn't on school grounds and I wasn't in any school attire. In the rules, it did not have anything about what I can and can't say out of school and out of my uniform.
TODD: Levy's family sued the school for violating her rights for free speech. The cheerleader's case went to the Supreme Court, and tonight, the now 18-year-old college student is victorious. The court ruling 8- 1 that the school's punishment violated Brandi Levy's First Amendment rights.
SARA ROSE, ATTORNEY FOR BRANDI LEVY: The school was asking for 24/7 ability to decide what was appropriate for kids to say and, you know, we felt that went way too far and was not permissible under the First Amendment.
TODD: Lawyers for the school district argue that line shouldn't be drawn on where the cheerleader made the vulgar comments but on whether the remarks caused a substantial disruption to the school.
MALCOLM STEWART, DEPUTY U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Off campus speech has a much greater tendency now than it did then to affect the operations of the school, simply because it can be made available to a vast audience.
TODD: Justice Steven Breyer who wrote the Supreme Court's majority opinion acknowledged that Levy's language was, quote, unattractive but said he didn't see much evidence that her Snapchat post caused a material and substantial disruption to the school.
Breyer also discussed how teenagers often swear when they're off campus and if they're all were disciplined for that.
JUSTICE STEPHEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT: My goodness, every school in the country would be doing nothing but punishing.
TODD: One analyst says students, teachers and school officials across the U.S. had been waiting for the court to clarify the limits on school's authority.
PROF. STEPHEN VLADECK, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS LAW SCHOOL: To clarify off campus social media is not beyond the reach of school districts but the school needs a good reason before it's going to discipline students for things they say off campus on social media.
TODD (on camera): Professor Stephen Vladeck says the cheerleader won in this case, it's now incumbent on students, parents, teachers and school officials to figure out where to draw the line, the line between a silly rant that can be protected under free speech and a message that could be disruptive to schools or even threatening to schools -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you very much.
Tonight, CNN is covering alleged human rights abuses by China in depth. There is growing concern right now about a spike in prison sentences targeting ethnic Muslim minorities for crimes that defendants say they did not commit. CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson has our report.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Newlyweds in love, scenes from the 2016 wedding of Mehray Mezensof and Mirzat Taher. She calls him pumpkin. He calls her his monkey.
MEHRAY MEZENSOF, WIFE OF DETAINED UYGHUR: It's pretty much like love at first sight.
WATSON: The couple met online. Mehray was born in Australia and Mirzat is an ethnic from China's Xinjiang region where he worked in his father's restaurant. After their wedding in Xinjiang, the newlyweds enjoyed eight blissful months together until Australia granted Mirzat a spouse visa. Mirzat plans to immigrate with Mehray to Australia in April 2017.
But two days before their flight from Xinjiang, Chinese police showed up at their house.
MEZENSOF: He gave them their passport and they confiscated it right then and there.
WATSON: That night the police detained Mirzat.
MEZENSOF: You know, you just merely married and getting ready to start your life together and then it just gets completely thrown upside down and then the next thing you know, your husband is in a detention center and you can't see him. You can't even communicate with him.
WATSON: Mehray says that marked the start of a four-year ordeal. She says Mirzat was detained in interment camps for months at a time on three separate occasions while never facing any formal charges. That is until April 1st, 2021 when Mirzat's parents were summoned to a detention center and informed their son have been found guilty of the crime of separatism.
MEZENSOF: That was when I received the news that sentenced my husband to 25 years.
WATSON: Twenty-five years in prison.
MEZENSOF: I was like no, no, that's not happening. I was like that can't happen. They can't do that.
WATSON: Mehray believes her husband is imprisoned here in a fortified facility that has grown substantially over the last eight years. One of dozens of high security camps that have been expanded in Xinjiang, according to analysis by the Australian think tank, ASPI.
Chinese government statistics first compiled by Human Rights Watch also show that the number of people sentenced to prison in Xinjiang spiked dramatically, jumping approximately six times between 2014 and 2018.
WATSON: Some experts believe they are transitioning the mass detention of Muslim minorities from internment camps to formal prisons. A policy more and more people claim is ripping their families apart.
Nyrola Elima, a Uyghur from Xinjiang now living in Sweden, has spent the last three years lobbying for the release of her cousin, Mayila Yakufu, a Mandarin language teacher and mother of three first detained in 2018 accused of financing terrorism.
Then in February, Nyrola got this video call from her mother in Xinjiang with a devastating update on her cousin.
NYROLA ELIMA, COUSIN OF DETAINED UYGHUR: They sentenced her six years and six months.
WATSON: How is your family handling this conviction?
ELIMA: I think they're dead inside.
WATSON: The family shared this letter from Mayila, written in detention, in which she claims she was forced to sign a confession. I don't have the strength to resist such power, she writes.
The Chinese government has gone from initially denying the mass detention policy to now defending the crackdown, arguing it's battling against Islamist extremism.
This state TV documentary released in April claims there is a fifth column of government officials who secretly plotted to turn Xinjiang into an independent homeland for Uyghurs. It accuses this man, Ablimit Ababakri and his brother of paying to send Uyghur teenagers overseas or some allegedly then join the Islamic State.
How did you react when you saw your father?
DILSAR ABLIMIT, DAUGHTER OF DETAINED UYGHUR: I couldn't even recognize him. I was refused to believe that was my father.
WATSON: The accused man's daughter, Dilsar Ablimit, is a 21-year-old university student studying abroad in Turkey. She says her father went missing four years ago in Xinjiang until he suddenly appeared in this Chinese documentary.
ABLIMIT: My father and uncle are neither a terrorist or a separatist.
WATSON: The documentary didn't say if the brothers had been charged with a crime.
CNN has asked the Chinese government about their status and that of the others in our report and pushed for answers on why so many Uyghurs are being thrown in jail.
In Australia, Mehray Mezensof clings to a letter from her husband which was smuggled out of detention three years ago. She's also clinging to hope after learning her husband will spend the next 25 years behind bars.
MEZENSOF: I have to fight for him. I have to be strong for him. I have to do something. I can't just keep sitting and, you know, being silent about this.
WATSON: Do you think you'll see your husband again?
MEZENSOF: I really hope so. I can't imagine not seeing him again.
WATSON: Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.
BLITZER: Heartbreaking, indeed.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.