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Red-State Kansas Votes Overwhelmingly To Protect Abortion Rights; Ex-Trump White House Counsel And Deputy Subpoenaed In 1/6 Criminal Probe; New Fears Of Military Standoff With China After Pelosi's Taiwan Trip; Congress Warned Of Threats To Election Workers To Election Workers Ahead Of Midterms; Intense Heat & Power Outages Add To Misery In Kentucky Flood Zone. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 03, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage now continues with one Pamela Brown right next door in Wolf Blitzer's SITUATION ROOM.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, abortion rights advocates are celebrating a big win in the red state of Kansas, where voters overwhelmingly refused to clear the way for a state abortion ban. We'll break down the vote and what it could mean for the midterms.
Also this hour, CNN has learned that a second top lawyer in the Trump White House has been subpoenaed in the criminal investigation of January 6th. A federal grand jury summoning the ex-White House counsel and his former deputy to testify as the Justice Department sharpens its focus on the former president.
And China ramps up military drills and raises fears of a dangerous standoff with the U.S. after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wraps her risky visit to Taiwan.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Pamela Brown, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we begin with a powerful message sent by Kansas voters on the issue of abortion, with the critical midterm election around the corner.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports on the conservative state's surprising vote to protect abortion rights and other results from a big round of primaries.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A surge of Kansas voters sending an overwhelming message to protect abortion rights. It was the biggest sign yet of the backlash to the Supreme Court's decision to send the question of abortion back to the states. And here in conservative Kansas, voters delivered their answer loud and clear.
REP. SHARICE DAVIDS (D-KS): We don't want the government making our reproductive health care decisions for us.
ZELENY: Democratic Congresswoman Sharice Davids said Kansans have watched closely, as neighboring states have enacted abortion bans.
DAVIDS: I think we're trying to main taken our rights and that our children and grandchildren have as many rights as we've had.
ZELENY: The abortion measure drew historic turnout for an August election with more than 900,000 voters casting ballots, dramatically outpacing primaries in 2018 and 2020. It was a question of whether voters wanted to amend the Kansas Constitution to allow lawmakers to further restrict or ban abortion. A resounding 59 percent said no. 41 percent said yes. With a coalition of some independents and Republicans joining forces to preserve access to abortion.
Three months before the fall elections, the outcome in Kansas reverberated across the political landscape with Democrats expressing fresh hope that support for abortion rights could be a motivating force in November.
Across the country on Tuesday, more pieces of the midterm election puzzle fell into place with supporters of former President Donald Trump, who have embraced his false claims about the 2020 election, scoring wins at the ballot box. In Arizona, Trump-backed Kari Lake leading in a divisive Republican governor's race over Karrin Taylor- Robson who had the support of former Vice President Mike Pence.
GOV. CANDIDATE KARI LAKE (R-AZ): We won this race.
ZELENY: Arizona has been a hotbed of denialism about Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election with Mark Fincham winning the Republican nomination for secretary of state, the top election official in Arizona.
SENATE CANDIDATE BLAKE MASTERS (R-AZ): Arizona has sent a message loud and clear.
ZELENY: Blake Masters writing his Trump endorsement to becoming the party's Senate nominee, setting up one of the nation's most closely watched Senate contests against Democratic Senator Mark Kelly.
In Michigan, Conservative Commentator Tudor Dixon becoming the Republican-nominated to challenge Gretchen Whitmer.
GOV. CANDIDATE TUDOR DIXON (R-MI): Frankly, Michigan, we deserve better. ZELENY: Congressman Peter Meijer, one of ten Republicans voting to impeach President Trumpl, losing his primary to John Gibbs, a fervent election denier whose candidacy was boosted by Democrats with hundreds of thousands of dollars in T.V. ads.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you guys ready to take this country back?
ZELENY: And in Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt easily winning the Republican Senate contest, blocking a political comeback from former Governor Eric Greitens who resigned four years ago amid a sex scandal.
FMR. GOV. ERIC GREITENS (R-MO): God has a plan. It doesn't always work on our timeline.
ZELENY (on camera): So, abortion rights clearly a motivating force for so many voters here in Kansas. That was made clear by the results last night. Independents, Republicans, libertarians and Democrats joining together, again, an overwhelming outcome, some 20 percentage points difference.
The question though, Pamela, is whether this will overtake other issues in the midterm election campaign, like the economy, like inflation.
Republicans clearly want to keep the focus on that. But Democrats believe they have learned a lesson from here in Kansas and plan to implement it over the next three months. Pamela?
BROWN: Jeff, thank you for that report.
And let's get more on this with CNN Political Director David Chalian, CNN Senior Commentator John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio, and CNN National Politics Reporter Eva McKend.
David, I want to start with you. Let's begin with this surprising victory for abortion rights in Kansas. What are you taking away from this result?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I think the biggest surprise is the margin of victory, just how resounding a victory it was for abortion rights supporters and the overall turnout that you saw there, clearly, this is the first electoral proof point showing us what the polling has shown us about the response to Roe v. Wade being overturned, Pamela, which is that the Supreme Court made a widely unpopular decision. We had seen that in the polling. And last night, we actually saw that with voters who felt motivated to turn out in record numbers for an August primary day to make that point clear.
BROWN: Yes, because that was a big question. How many are really going to turn out on an August primary day, right, and they did turn out, Eva, in big numbers. I mean, this was the first time voters directly responded to Roe v. Wade being overturned.
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, it was remarkable to see more than 900,000 voters. Listen, Pamela, Kansas has always played a really significant role in this larger question over reproductive -- access to reproductive health care in this country. I'll never forget ten years ago when Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his church in Wichita. And I think that that moment really opened a new generation's eyes really to how dangerous that this work can be.
So, this is why this has become such a critical issue now that Roe was overturned and we're seeing Democrats seize on this in an effective way. It is hard to make the argument that it is doing anything but galvanizing Democratic voters and really become a winning issue for Democrats this cycle.
BROWN: And, Governor Kasich, on that note Senate Majority Leader Schumer says this result in Kansas shows, quote, the winds blowing in Democrats' direction ahead of the midterms. What do you say to that?
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, I have to somewhat disagree in terms of is this going to change the results in 2022. I think not. I think the number one issue on voters as they go in is going to be the issue of the economy, inflation, number one, but I will say that this issue is galvanizing.
Think of it a little further down the line in 2024. So, all of a sudden in states where they may have enacted certain abortion restrictions, there could be initiative petitions, referendum that would bring people out, drive a larger turnout. But I think in 2022, see, this was on the ballot. This is people went in to vote specifically on this. But that's not going to be the case in many of these elections across the country. It's just going to be the candidates. And I think most of the decisions will be made on the economy.
But you've got to keep your eyes open for what happens as we approach 2024 with more people wanting to generate bigger voter turnout on the basis of this issue. I think in the short-term not as much impact. In the longer term, it could have significant impact.
BROWN: David, Jeff laid it out nicely just all these candidates, these election deniers who won. And how big of a reaffirmation was last night in terms of Donald Trump's lasting hold on the Republican Party and the message that -- the lie that he has been putting out there that the 2020 election was stolen?
CHALIAN: Yes. Well, we saw Donald Trump's continued sway hold on the party in two different ways, Pamela. One, as Jeff put in his piece, right, Peter Meijer, the congressman from Michigan, losing his Republican primary. So, Republican primary voters in that district were willing to join Donald Trump on his revenge tour to get rid of these Republican -- ten Republicans who voted to impeach him in the aftermath of January 6th. John Gibbs the winner in that district with Trump's backing there.
And then the election denial piece that you've talked about, I mean, up and down the ballot in Arizona from the secretary of state's race to the Senate race, you see here, and Kari Lake, we should note, not yet a projected winner. She has a slight lead. We're still waiting for more vote in the gubernatorial primary, but this could be an entire slate of candidates where Donald Trump at odds with the establishment and supporting these election deniers, some of whom are in position to potentially be overseer of elections.
BROWN: Right. I mean, Governor Kasich, in four swing states, you have Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Republican election deniers could soon be overseeing elections.
I mean, just how dangerous would that be?
KASICH: It's very dangerous, and I hope they all lose. I mean, if you can't accept the result of this last election and you want to run, what's that going to do to the process? So, I hope they all lose. It's terrible that that happened.
By the way, interesting in Michigan, this guy, Gibbs, who beat Meijer, Meijer is the guy who voted to impeach Donald Trump. He lost the primary. Here is the interesting thing. The Democratic Party itself put money in, put money into the Gibbs campaign because they thought he'd be the weaker candidate and they were able to defeat Meijer, who actually stood up and voted to impeach Trump. Now, you go figure that one out. That's kind of wacky and that's not good for the future of the way we do elections in this country, believe me.
BROWN: It's a big risk. I mean, it's true, that the DCCC put all this money behind Meijer's opponent who won last night. I mean, how much of a sure bet is it that he would lose in the general?
MCKEND: It isn't a sure bet, Democrats have long made --
BROWN: Go ahead, Eva.
KASICH: Go ahead, I'm sorry.
MCKEND: Yes. So, it isn't a sure bet, and Democrats have long made the argument that democracy should be put over politics.
I'll also say that if Gibbs is ultimately successful in the fall, I think some of those Democrats are really going to regret it because they wish they would have had a Congressman Meijer, someone who has shown that he's willing to work across the aisle, right, someone who is independent-minded and actually willing to work with Democrats. So, they really may be shooting themselves in the foot here and it diminishes this argument that democracy supersedes political arguments.
BROWN: Go ahead, Governor.
KASICH: Eva's point is really important to be noted. But think about how wacky this is, okay? This is completely wacky. The Democrats who say they want reasonable Republicans in office then go and defeat the reasonable Republican and endorse somebody who is a Trumper. It's just crazy. Shame on them. That's not the way this should have worked.
CHALIAN: Deeply cynical and clearly hypocritical from what Democrats have been putting forth as a message.
BROWN: 100 percent.
John Kasich, David Chalian, Eva McKend --
MCKEND: They'll much prefer working, I think, with Meijer over Gibbs, I think, in the long run.
BROWN: Right, and that's why it's risky because, look, it's not a sure bet that Gibbs would lose in the midterms. Thanks so much to the three of you, great discussion.
Just ahead, increasing tension between the U.S. and China after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan. We'll talk about it with a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Chris Murphy is standing by to join us live.
BROWN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defending her controversial trip to Taiwan, the self-governing island claimed by China. Her visit raising concern about a new military stand-off between Washington and Beijing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Today our delegation, of which I'm very proud, came to Taiwan to make unequivocally clear we will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan and we are proud of our enduring friendship.
While China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating and going to certain meetings that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Let's get more with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the foreign relations committee. So, Senator Murphy, thanks for coming on.
Speaker Pelosi is gone, but this trip enraged China. And now Taiwan is left to deal with the consequences. What did the U.S. get out of this to justify potentially provoking a military conflict with China?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, listen, I think the basic premise here is sound. No country should be able to dictate where members of Congress and members of the Senate visit. And I think that Speaker Pelosi has made clear for a very long time that she is a defender of Taiwan and she is prepared to take steps to make sure that the United States continues its policy of helping Taiwan defend itself.
Now, listen, I don't think we should fall backwards into a change in U.S. policy. We have always stood for the right of Taiwan to defend itself and we have always left open this question of whether the United States would come to its defense in case it was invaded by China. I think that that policy, we call it strategic ambiguity, still makes sense to keep the Chinese guessing. And if we're going to change that policy, let's do it in a thoughtful way, but the speaker's trip, I think, simply stands for an idea which has stood the test of time. Members of Congress should be able to visit countries that they wish.
BROWN: And, of course, you've had President Biden say, I believe, on three occasions that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China attacked it militarily. And, of course, the administration then walked that back. So, you have that plus this trip from Nancy Pelosi, so that context is important. And I'm wondering, is the U.S. less safe now as a result of this trip?
MURPHY: Well, the United States is going to continue to supply Taiwan with the equipment it needs to defend itself. No doubt there's going to be a reaction to this trip from the Chinese. But we can't let China dictate U.S. foreign policy. We have long had a policy of helping Taiwan defend itself and defend its sovereignty. We will continue that policy.
The reality is China is exercising all sorts of increased aggression and aggressive behavior in the region, and the United States is going to have to adjust its own defense posture to meet those new challenges.
BROWN: I'm going to ask you about the U.S. strike that killed the leader of Al Qaeda. Last August, you praised President Biden's, quote, wisdom and courage in withdrawing from Afghanistan. The U.S. was able to take out this leader without boots on the ground. But isn't this a sign that Al Qaeda is regrouping right under the Taliban's watch?
MURPHY: Well, or is this a sign that, in fact, we still can find the leaders of Al Qaeda, hunt them down and kill them? I mean, let's be clear --
BROWN: And I pointed that out, that there was a precision strike that did take him out and that is to be noted. But the bottom line is, is there a broader concern that there are other Al Qaeda terrorists trying to attack America working out of Afghanistan now?
MURPHY: Well, there have been even during our occupation of Afghanistan. So, we were never able to fully rid Afghanistan of Al Qaeda. And I think right now we still believe that Al Qaeda is so damaged that they do not present an immediate threat to the United States. And we now know that we still have the ability to locate leaders of Al Qaeda and go after them inside Afghanistan.
So, it's still the right decision to leave. We couldn't stay there indefinitely and now we know we have the ability to find them and kill them even if they are inside a country that we no longer occupy. I think that's good news for American security. BROWN: I'm just getting news coming in. The Senate just ratified the expansion of the NATO alliance to include Finland and Sweden. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell calls this a, quote, slam dunk for national security. What do you think? Do you agree with him?
MURPHY: I do agree with him. This is yet more proof that Putin's invasion of Ukraine has been an unmitigated disaster. He now has the NATO alliance creeping closer to his border. He has the west, the United States and Europe more united than ever before.
This is going to be a significant addition to NATO's capabilities and another message to Putin that the west is not going to stand by while he continues to present threats in Ukraine and threats to the NATO alliance. And I was glad that we came together, Republicans and Democrats today, to support bringing both Sweden and Finland into NATO, still a lot of bipartisan consensus around national security issues.
BROWN: All right, Senator Chris Murphy, also we want to wish you a very happy birthday.
MURPHY: Thank you very much.
BROWN: Thank you for taking time out on your birthday to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MURPHY: I appreciate it.
BROWN: Well, Speaker Pelosi has ordered U.S. Capitol flags flown at half staff to honor Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski. These are some live pictures you're looking at right here. The Congresswoman died in a car accident in her home state along with two of her aides today. Walorski was a Republican who began serving in the House in 2013 and before that served in the Indiana Statehouse. She was the top GOP member on the House Ethics Committee and a rising star within the party. Congresswoman Jackie Walorski was 58 years old, very sad.
And coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the highest ranking former Trump administration officials to be subpoenaed so far in the criminal investigation of January 6th. What it tells us about the Justice Department's focus on the former president.
BROWN: First on CNN, another top Trump administration official is being ordered to testify in the criminal investigation of January 6th. Hours after we learned that a federal grand jury had subpoenaed the former White House counsel, sources tell me and my colleague, Katelyn Polantz, that his deputy is being subpoenaed as well.
CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider has the details.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Justice Department escalating its investigation into January 6th with CNN learning of two new key subpoenas to the former White House counsel and his deputy. Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin are the highest ranking White House officials to be subpoenaed so far.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): This is probably bad for former President Trump.
SCHNEIDER: prosecutors are already deep into their investigation of plans from Trump allies to overturn the 2020 election. Two top aides to Vice President Pence appeared before a grand jury last month. Subpoenas have already been served to several people who schemed to create fake slates of electors, saying Trump won the 2020 election in several swing states. And earlier this summer, FBI agents seized Lawyer John Eastman's phone and raided Jeffrey Clark's home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I call my lawyer?
KINZINGER: It shows that this is more than what did John Eastman do, the attorney that basically came up with that crazy scheme to overturn the election, and it probably has a very deep interest on what the president did.
SCHNEIDER: Cipollone's subpoena is significant because he was close to the president and in the west wing on January 6th.
PAT CIPOLLONE, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think I was pretty clear there needed to be an immediate and forceful response, statement, public statement that people need to leave the Capitol.
SCHNEIDER: Cipollone sat for several hours of a closed-door deposition with the January 6th select committee. Careful not to divulge any conversations directly with Trump, former Prosecutor Elie Honig said those could prove to be a hurdle for Justice Department prosecutors.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Donald Trump might try to step in and claim executive privilege in front of a grand jury. You can claim executive privilege. But there's a difference between claiming executive privilege and actually winning on executive privilege. This is actually exactly what happened in the Richard Nixon tapes case back in 1974.
SCHNEIDER: Nixon's tapes were ultimately ordered released by the Supreme Court.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): And as our team has reported, DOJ prosecutors are preparing to fight in court to force former White House officials to testify about Trump's conversations and actions around January 6th.
And, of course, Pam, this could really be why these subpoenas were served on Cipollone and Philbin to really force this issue into the courts and to litigate this executive privilege issue. BROWN: Yes, I was told by a source familiar with the DOJ investigation that that is part of the calculation, that, look, they know that time is of the essence and they want to go ahead and then have to force the issue.
Thank you so much, Jessica Schneider, we appreciate it.
Now, let's bring in CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Defense Attorney Shan Wu.
So, Jeff, just how bad could testimony from former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy, Patrick Philbin, his former deputy, although they work together now, how bad could that be for the former president?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, one thing we learned from Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony and at least part of Cipollone's testimony himself is that no one in the White House was closer to the president on the subject of what was appropriate to do in the period on January 6th and leading up to it, the fake electors scheme, the insurrection at the Capitol. So, if Cipollone actually is forced to testify about his conversations with Trump, then it could be very bad. But, legally, that's going to be a tough road for the Justice Department to hoe.
BROWN: And, Shan, Philbin and Cipollone both witnessed Trump's actions in the final days of his presidency, as Jeff alluded to there. I mean, they were right there in the thick of it. How essential could their information be in this investigation?
SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh, I agree with Jeff. It's very, very critical. I mean, the Justice Department is a little bit late to the dance here. But the good news is they found the correct dance hall. So, these are the right people, these are the right people to be talking to, absolutely.
There are legal fights, but I'm pretty optimistic that DOJ can win those. And, frankly, Merrick Garland was born for that legal right. I mean, he's basically spent his whole career as a court of appeals judge. So, he's the right guy to lead DOJ in a legal fight.
BROWN: Yes, that's --
TOOBIN: Pam, in 1998, Bruce Lindsey, who was the deputy White House counsel to Bill Clinton, was subpoenaed Ken Starr in the Lewinski investigation, and his case went to the D.C. Circuit. It's a very precisely analogous situation.
And the D.C. Circuit came up with an opinion that I would suggest is one of the most incomprehensible and unresolved opinions that I have ever read. It deals with executive privilege but attorney/client privilege, which exists to a certain extent with government lawyers.
So, the idea that this is somehow legally resolved I think is misleading, so this is going to be a major legal fight for the Justice Department to try to win.
BROWN: So, then, I mean, how do you think it's going to shake out, Jeffrey Toobin, when it comes to executive privilege issues?
TOOBIN: Well, I think they will -- the Justice Department will certainly get some testimony out of both of these former White House lawyers. The question that I can't really answer is how much they will be able to get about conversations with President Trump, which after all is the most important thing that they have to offer.
BROWN: Right. And how long do you think then, Shan, that a fight over executive privilege could be drawn out?
WU: It could be drawn out for quite some time. I mean, I think on the defense side, they're going want to first go to district court, court of appeals, Supreme Court. So, they'll try and drag it out. On the other hand, I don't think the Supreme Court will be unmindful that this is a criminal investigation. I don't think they're going to be putting it off a really long time. But we certainly could see a delay of months going on here.
And, you know, I agree with Jeff, it's not a slam dunk, but I do think that the law is good for DOJ. And holding aside the whole question of is there really a distinction for government attorneys between attorney/client privilege and executive privilege in these circumstances, and also keeping in mind the fact that the current district court judge had already found by preponderance that the crime fraud exception might likely apply, so all sorts of interesting legal situations on the horizon.
BROWN: Yes, certainly. Shan Wu, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.
And just ahead, the price of gas falling across the U.S. after months of record high prices. Just how low could it go?
Plus, a dramatic day in court, as jurors weigh how much conspiracy theorist Alex Jones should pay for his lies about the Sandy Hook school shooting.
BROWN: Some relief at the pump tonight. The national average price for regular gasoline has dropped again for the 50th day in a row following record highs that inflamed the pain of overall inflation.
CNN's Pete Muntean has the latest. So, Pete, how much have prices fallen and could they go down even further?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, most stations in the U.S. are now selling gasoline less than $4 a gallon. It's $3.99 here at the CITGO in northeast D.C. That's actually below the national average of $4.16, according to AAA.
Remember, prices peaked back on June 14th at $5.02, the all-time record. So, we've seen prices slide over the last 50 days by about 90 cents. All of this means that Americans in total are spending $340 million less per day on gasoline.
A lot of different factors here, still global recession fears even though we have not officially gone into a recession. Demand for gasoline has slipped because of those super high prices. And oil prices have also dropped.
Remember, prices really peaked because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But I want you to listen now to Patrick De Haan from GasBuddy. He says that prices will fall like a feather as gas stations really try to recoup their losses now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK DE HAAN, HEAD OF PETROLEUM ANALYSIS, GASBUDDY: We're not talking about stations making money hand over fist but they are passing along the lower prices slower to recoup the margins to sustain their business from when prices went up and they were caught on the wrong side of things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MUNTEAN: After President Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia, OPEC said it would increase oil production by 100,000 barrels a day, that really only represents about 0.1 percent of global demand for oil. One Biden administration official said it really won't amount to much for price relief here in the U.S. Another Biden administration official says it is still an all hands on deck situation at the White House to try to relieve these gas prices. We may see $3.99 as the national average by the end of the week. Pamela?
BROWN: All right. We'll see. Pete Muntean, thank you so much.
And jury deliberations have begun in the case of two Sandy Hook parents against Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist found liable of defaming them with his repeated lies that the school shooting was staged. The jury will determine exactly how much Jones will have to pay the parents.
CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin reports.
ALEX JONES, HOST, THE ALEX JONES SHOW: The whole thing is a giant hoax. The whole thing was fake.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Now in direct testimony an about-face, right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who, for years, repeatedly suggested that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax, now admitting the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP) JONES: I think sandy hook happened. I think it's a terrible event. I think we need to protect our children from mentally ill psychopaths. I think there was a cover-up because they had warnings, the FBI knew about it. They knew he was planning to attack the school. That's been in even The New York Times.
GRIFFIN: it is too late, though, for apologies or explanations as to why Jones perpetuated the lies. After four years of failing to comply with legal demands, Jones and his company were found liable. This case is about damages to the parents who, for years, begged Jones to stop and he refused.
NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF JESSE LEWIS: I can't even describe the last nine and a half years of the living hell that I and others have had to endure.
GRIFFIN: The parents of then-6-year-old Jesse Lewis told the jury that Jones, through his conspiratorial media organization, InfoWars, tarnished their son's legacy and tormented them for years. In a remarkable moment in court, Jesse Lewis' mom, Scarlett, spoke to Jones directly.
SCARLETT LEWIS, MOTHER OF JESSE LEWIS: Jesse was real. I am a real mom.
GRIFFIN: From the stand, JONES told the parents that he didn't intentionally try to hurt them. He testified that, quote, the internet had a lot of questions and so did he. But the tapes of InfoWars shows played in court reveal years of statements like this.
JONES: The official story of Sandy Hook has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.
GRIFFIN: even while this case has been going on, Jones has been on his show trashing the jury as blue collar no-nothings and absurdly trying to link the judge to pedophilia, setting up this awkward moment.
MARK BANKSTON, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: You're telling the world not to believe what happens in this courtroom because the judge worked with child protective services who you say is involved with pedophilia and child trafficking, correct?
JONES: I said I do not stand behind it. I need to see, not just five- second clips.
The judge is the fire burning lady liberty, it's not the judge -- the judge is consuming freedom.
GRIFFIN: In another awkward moment, Jones, who had told attorneys he had no texts involving the Sandy Hook case, was confronted with this.
BANKSTON: Your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cell phone with every text message you've sent for the past two years.
That is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn't have text messages about Sandy Hook.
GRIFFIN: That trove of text messages could prove harmful for Jones in an upcoming trial in Connecticut involving Sandy Hook parents but also in the congressional investigation of the January 6th committee, looking into Jones' role in the insurrection. Jones pled the Fifth to the committee.
For now, the jury is focused on money and damages. As CNN has reported, Jones' InfoWars conspiracy-based empire makes its money by selling supplements fueled by fear. Former workers have told CNN it's a QVC for the right wing. Court documents show a massive inflow of money, often hundreds of thousands of dollars per day, adding up to $165 million in revenue over a three-year period.
In court today, Jones has claimed his company is bankrupt, admitted some days he can pull in more than $800,000 in a single day.
BANKSTON: Some days, you're making $800,000, $745,000 a day, right?
JONES: This was CPAC. I remember these numbers.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Pamela, jurors are now being asked to decide if Jones should pay for the damage he inflicted on these parents. They are asking for $150 million.
And in what is described as a cynical move, Jones' company filed for bankruptcy just last week, complicating any recovery by Jesse Lewis' parents if, in fact, this jury decides he should pay -- Pamela.
CNN's Drew Griffin, thank you.
And be sure to join Drew for the CNN special report "Megaphone for Conspiracy: Alex Jones". That's this Friday at 11:00 Eastern, only on CNN.
And coming up, a top election official warning Congress that they are, quote, braced for the worst ahead of the 2022 vote. But can the FBI handle the staggering volume of threats? Details next.
BROWN: A stark warning from the head of the national election officials group telling Congress that the FBI lacks the full picture of reported threats to election workers, and she adds, quote, we were all braced for the worst.
CNN's senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI director Andrew McCabe joins us now.
So, Andrew, according to this testimony, a limited response from the FBI and law enforcement that has left some election workers feeling like it's just pointless to report threats. As the former FBI deputy director, how concerning is it to hear that?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Pamela, it's really concerning, and I can understand from the perspective of the broad and diverse election worker community across the country that they would see it that way. I think sometimes people don't understand the limited role that the bureau has in these situations. It's primarily first to be able to share intelligence or the FBI gets intelligence against threats or individuals or institutions and they have to be able to share that with them very quickly.
And secondly, the FBI is there to investigate acts of threats against election workers, at least those that reach the threshold of being federal criminal potential violations of federal criminal law.
So they're not really well-positioned to respond to every single threat that every election worker receives. That's, of course, the job for the local police who can respond much more quickly and actually protect people on scene. It's a complicated situation for those folks.
BROWN: Right, because, clearly, they feel like if it's the FBI or local police, they're not getting the response that they deserve to feel protected in their roles. And, you know, we heard from one former election worker during the January 6th hearings, you'll recall, and I want to remind our viewers how the threats impacted Ruby Freeman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUBY FREEMAN, FORMER FULTON C OUNTY, GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: Along the week of January 6th, the FBI informed me that I needed to leave my home for safety. And I left my home for safety around that time. I stayed away from my home for approximately two months. It was horrible. I felt homeless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: What will it mean for American democracy if more election workers are intimidated out of doing their jobs? For some of these people they're volunteers and for others they care about the job because they fear for democracy because if their life is threatened, how big of a concern is that?
MCCABE: It's a huge concern, Pam. This is the bedrock of our entire Democratic system. The willingness of normal American citizens to spend their time and their effort helping the rest of us vote, helping the voting process go through cleanly and in the way that it's supposed to go according to law.
And so, when we -- these -- this say typical situation where you have a small population of extremists, people who would resort to violence to pursue their own political goals or what have you, are going to have an outsized impact, their threats and their actions could have the effect of discouraging many, many, many people from participating in that system and then the whole thing falls apart. So it's a very serious problem and it's one that I think everyone in law enforcement and state and local government as well as the federal government needs to pay some attention to in order to keep this system stabilized.
BROWN: I couldn't agree with you more on that.
Andrew McCabe, thank you.
MCCABE: Thanks, Pam.
BROWN: And just ahead, we have new photos of the 8-year-old boy left paralyzed after the Highland Park parade shooting.
BROWN: Nearly a week after devastating flooding in eastern Kentucky, residents are facing more misery as they struggle with intense heat and power outages.
CNN national correspondent Dianne Gallagher is in the flood zone.
Dianne, I mean, they're really getting that double whammy. What are the conditions like where you are right now?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're hot, Pam, and that's really the biggest problem right now. We're looking at places where I am in Isom, Kentucky, right now. This IGA is the only grocery store here.
We can't go in at the moment because of health reasons. We went in earlier today with respirators on and with health officials. The smell, the rotting food, the spoiled food and it's so hard because this is the only grocery store here and there was a story like this in every town we go to. Whether it's the bank in Fleming-Neon, or it's the fire department down the road in Jeremiah.
The fire chief actually talked to us about how he survived the flood on top of that yellow tanker sitting out in front of his destroyed department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF WALLACE BOLLING JR., LETCHER COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: I reached for my pistol out of my backseat and I shot the window out of my Chevy and as the window was going out, I dived. I followed it out, jumped on the tanker, and I had a lot of time to think about a lot of things, you know and how quick that life can go by you, you know? The next day, I seen my kids and that made it worth it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GALLAGHER: The chief says that he feels lucky to survive and now he wants to make sure people don't forget about him and the rest of the people here in southeastern Kentucky, Pamela. He said they need money, they need donations and they need attention.
BROWN: And we will continue to cover this important story. Dianne Gallagher, thank you.
And finally, a hopeful moment after a horrific shooting. Take a look at these adorable photos of 8-year-old Cooper Roberts and his dog George. You may remember Cooper was left paralyzed by that parade attack in Highland park, Illinois. He's been transferred to a rehab facility after a month in pediatric intensive care.
After he regained consciousness Cooper asked to see his pet as well as his twin brother Luke who was injured in the shooting.
And, of course, we are thinking of Cooper and Luke tonight, and all the survivors and victims of gun violence.
Thank you very much for watching program. I'm Pamela Brown in THE SITUATION ROOM, in for Wolf Blitzer.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.