Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Special Master Orders Trump To Prove Claim Of FBI Planting Evidence; Intel Captures Russian Generals Arguing, Complaining About Putin; GOP Candidate Accused Of Seizing Voting Machines; Alex Jones Takes The Stand In Second Defamation Trial. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 22, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He is demanding the former president's lawyers offer proof, if they have it, of Trump's public claim that the FBI planted evidence at Trump's home.
Also tonight, division and dissent inside the Russian military as Vladimir Putin calls up hundreds of thousands of reservists and struggles with losses in Ukraine. New intel capturing generals arguing and complaining about Putin, this as anti-war protests are spreading in the streets of Russia.
And CNN investigates a Republican candidate for Michigan attorney general accused but so far not charged with seizing voting machines. He's dodging correspondent's questions as we obtained an email showing he tried to get hold of sealed ballots.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin this hour with a slew of legal setbacks for former President Trump, including the new orders by the special master he requested.
Let's go right to our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider. Jessica, the special master is calling out Trump's public claim that the FBI planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf. And now that special master actually wants Trump's teams to back up those out- of-court claims that the FBI planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago, and he wants it in a sworn declaration by the end of this month. It's an accusation that Trump and his allies have repeatedly made and now the special master wants proof.
Plus, the special master is saying he may end up calling witnesses at some point to explain what certain documents are if there's a dispute. All of this as the Justice Department notched a big win in the ongoing court fight over classified documents.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): The Justice Department is once again digging into 100 classified documents that FBI agents seized from Mar-a-Lago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they want to move forward very, very quickly.
SCHNEIDER: A three-judge panel including two Trump appointees unanimously ruling that DOJ can resume reviewing the classified material as part of its criminal probe into alleged obstruction and unlawful retention of documents, saying the hold that lower court Judge Aileen Cannon put in place caused a real and significant harm on the United States and the public.
DOJ says its investigators and the FBI agents need to work hand in hand with officials assessing the national security risks of those documents remaining unsecured at Mar-a-Lago.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It's boxes and boxes of pictures, newspaper articles.
SCHNEIDER: In an interview last night, the former president said he didn't know exactly what was in the documents and that he had blanket authority to declassify anything.
TRUMP: If you are the president, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking about it.
SCHNEIDER: But even Trump's allies on Capitol Hill questioning that logic.
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): Up here, we take it very seriously. People can get hurt. People can get killed if it's not stored correctly.
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): There's a process for declassifying documents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a process that one must go through.
SCHNEIDER: The judges on the 11th Circuit also blasting Trump's unsubstantiated claims of declassification, writing, the record contains no evidence that any of these documents were declassified. And before the special master, plaintiff resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents.
The judges went on to say that even if Trump had declassified, he still wouldn't have had claim on the documents as personal records.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The U.S. government has every right to look at its own classified documents. Trump derived no right to do that just because he took them to Mar-a-Lago.
SCHNEIDER: The ruling also prohibits Trump's legal team and the special master from reviewing any of the classified documents. It was an about face from what Judge Aileen Cannon had allowed and she was forced to amend her order. The special master will now move forward reviewing only the 11,000
documents that aren't classified.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): And as Trump's team decides whether to appeal to the Supreme Court, a source is telling our Jamie Gangel that the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, Ginni Thomas, has agreed to an interview with the January 6th select committee. And, Wolf, this committee has a lot of questions for Ginni Thomas, first of all, about the text messages she sent Mark Meadows about overturning the elections, and then there were emails as well that she sent to state lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin, encouraging them to overturn the results.
We've heard from Ginni Thomas's lawyer and he says that she is ready for an interview and pleased it do it.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's see what happens on that front. Thanks very much, Jessica. Don't go too far away.
I want to bring in CNN's Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller along CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson and Defense Attorney Shan Wu.
Shan, let's begin with the special master, Judge Raymond Dearie now open to hearing witness testimony about the Mar-a-Lago search. How much of an impact could that have on the Trump legal team's claims?
SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It could really put their claims to the test. And it's rather ironic, Wolf, because the only coherent strategy we can see from the team was simply trying to delay the criminal investigation, and now just the opposite. They have the special master actually conducting parts of the investigation, asking for witness testimony, putting to the test their claims about such wild things, like FBI agents planted evidence. So, it's kind of, I think, just the opposite of what they were hoping to get.
BLITZER: You know, John, the judge, Judge Dearie, the special master, he's also requiring the Trump team back up its claims that the FBI might have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago. They have until this point provided absolutely no evidence of that claim. Is the special master calling their bluff?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: You know, the special master, Judge Ray Dearie, was one of the names that the Trump defense team submitted to the government as somebody that they would like to see in that job. I am most certain they are rethinking that these days because, as Shan said, he has sped up the process and he's cut out the nonsense.
The Trump team has always operated on things they would say outside of court to the media and things that they would say as officers of the court inside, and Judge Dearie is calling them on it as the special master, not only saying show me evidence but submit sworn documents under oath with that evidence, which comes with the penalty of perjury, the risk to your law license. So, he's swept away a lot of the nonsense and said we're going to get down to business here. BLITZER: I think you're right. Joey, Judge Dearie has now also tapped a retired federal judge from the Eastern District of New York, Judge James Orenstein, to serve as his deputy. What does that tell you about how he's approaching this new role?
JOE JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think, Wolf, it tells you that you have to get to the nitty-gritty of what issues, if any, are in dispute, right? You have a search warrant that's executed. You have a variety of documents that are unearthed as a result of that. There are claims as to privilege, right? There are claims as to fairness or the lack thereof, go through those documents and establish whether or not those claims are relevant, factual or they're just predicated upon hyperbole.
We know, Wolf, that there's two courts, right, the one of public opinion and then there's the court of law. And inside the court of law, it's about evidence, it's about facts, it's about details. You can say anything you want to reporters. You can say anything you want to supporters. But at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding of what they show. And so I think this appointment demonstrates a commitment to look through the materials, establish with some efficiency what's in them and otherwise hear both lawyers' sides and determine exactly what's going on.
BLITZER: Yes, good point.
Jessica, when you look at the series of decisions coming from the special master today, what does that signal about what we should expect as this review moves forward?
SCHNEIDER: Well, Wolf, we've seen this consistently from the special master here. He's laid it out in his hearing. Now, he's laying it out in his order. I mean, he means business. He's going point by point, laying out exact dates when things need to be accomplished. And what he's signaling here is that he's not taking any nonsense from anybody, whether it's the government or Trump's team.
I thought it was very interesting that at one part of the order, he talked about that retired judge who he's going to bring on to assist him. And he laid out, he said we're going to have a monthly statement, the bills need to be paid, he's going to be paid $500 an hour. This goes to maybe Trump's reputation for not paying his legal team, and the judge saying, I'm not going to take that. You have to pay or else you'll be sanctioned by this court.
BLITZER: Good point.
Shan, you just heard Jessica report that the appeals court ruling that the Justice Department can resume its probe for classified documents found in Mar-a-Lago. Just how big of a win is this for the Justice Department?
WU: It's a really important win. It's so critical for the criminal investigation to be able to access those documents, of course. I also think it's very much of a moral win for Garland's approach. He's very modest. They took a very sharp, scaled back approach. They didn't engage in hyperbole. They didn't engage in a full frontal attack and it certainly did not work with Judge Cannon.
But with these appellate judges, and Garland himself, former appeals judge, a bit of a judge's judge talking to them, and that approach seems to have worked very well and resonated with the 11th Circuit.
BLITZER: You know, John Miller, we all just heard the former president of the United States claim he could declassify top secret documents simply by thinking about it, his quote, by thinking about it. That's not how the declassification process clearly works, is it?
MILLER: No. As a former Deputy Assistant Director of National Intelligence where, you know, we looked at classifications, categories, where we looked over an army of classification officers who examined every document for how it should be classified, confidential, secret, top secret, top secret SCI, it's a process, as everyone in Congress said today, that has parts to it.
And the president can order the declassification, but he has to order someone to do it. And there's no record of that happening. So, just thinking it, wishing it is not a process.
BLITZER: Yes, good point.
Jessica, Ginni Thomas, the wife of the U.S. Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, as you know, has agreed to be interviewed by the House January 6th select committee in the coming weeks. Why is her testimony important to the committee?
SCHNEIDER: The committee's trying to overturn every stone here and find out everything that led up to this Capitol attack. And they've uncovered these text messages that she had with Mark Meadows before January 6th talking about overturning the election. They also have emails that she sent to state legislators in Arizona, in Wisconsin, encouraging them to overturn what were the results in favor of Joe Biden.
So, the committee wants to get everything out there, and because this is outstanding, they want to make sure that they get Ginni Thomas in. And at this point, she's agreed and it will happen at some point in the next several weeks.
BLITZER: We will find out fairly soon. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, can former President Trump's powerful grip on his party impact the outcome of the 2024 presidential race? We'll speak to the authors of an explosive brand-new book, The Divider, to get their insights.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[18:15:00] BLITZER: Former President Trump is getting hammered this week by a string of legal rebukes in both criminal and civil investigations unfolding around him. We should note, he's not been charged with any crimes and he insists he's done nothing wrong, but if he ultimately loses any, any of the cases against him, it could threaten his lifelong ability to evade any real consequences for his alleged actions.
And joining us now, Susan Glasser and Peter Baker, they're the co- authors of the brand-new book entitled -- there you see the cover -- The Divider, Trump in the White House, an amazing, wonderful new book. Guys, thanks so much for writing it.
Susan, as you know well, there's a very serious criminal investigation into the former president of the United States, but I just want to play, once again, how he's talking about the classification of highly sensitive documents. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking about it, because you're sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you're sending it.
When you send it, it's declassified. We -- I declassified everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You conducted, Susan, you and Peter, nearly 300 interviews to chronicle Trump's time in office for your new book. Does he think he can just wave a magic wand and make his problems go away?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Wolf, the list of things Donald Trump believes he had the absolute right, quote/unquote, to do when he was the president of the United States was a very, very long list. Now, that interview with Sean Hannity, he added to it with the mental telepathy version of declassification. That was a new one even for Donald Trump.
But I think that, more seriously, it underscores just how divorced Donald Trump was from the reality of our constitutional system of government. His view of what the powers of the president of the United States were was not supported obviously in facts, law or history. And you're seeing him challenge basically to stretch the limits of human credibility with the excuses for why he had these classified documents with him at Mar-a-Lago. I don't think that telepathy theory is going to fly in the court of law, though, I admit to not being a lawyer.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right. Peter, there's a major theme that emerges from your new book on Trump's many enablers and loyalists. Do these mounting legal problems right now, the multiple investigations, the lawsuits, will they have an impact on his ability to find what we're calling enablers?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, it's a great question because, you know, he had burned through so many lawyers alone the last four, five, six years, people who defended him vigorously and now don't have anything to do with him, because they don't want to get in trouble themselves. Many of them have hired their own lawyers because they have encountered troubles because of the things he asked him to do or they themselves have grown disenchanted with him. So, he's run out of basically the high-level, well-known Republican lawyers in the sort of on the third, fourth, fifth generation of them.
And I think it's true too for potential policy aides and other aides as well. A lot of people who worked for that first White House, if he were to come back, would never work with the second one. And I think that may be what he wants. He wants people who will only do what he wants and not people that he believes are resisting him.
BLITZER: Susan, you write in your new book, The Divider, and I'm quoting now, this line jumped out, and this is a quote, a senior national security official who regularly observed Trump in the Oval Office compared him to the Velociraptors in the movie, Jurassic Park, that probed capable of learning while hunting their prey, making them infinitely, potentially more dangerous, closed quote. What did the official mean and what is Trump learning from this experience now?
GLASSER: Yes, it really is a chilling image, isn't it? I mean, we can all remember that moment in the movie where the Velociraptor has learned how to open the door and chases the children into the kitchen. And it's that sort of visceral moment of understanding.
And I think what the official meant is that, you know, Donald Trump, at the end of four years in office, was different in that he had adapted, he had seen over time, he had gotten rid of so many officials again and again in this search for personal loyalty, which is really what he placed a premium on, and in the search for people who would be not just enablers but facilitators of some of his more radical and dangerous ideas.
Donald Trump did not want staffers who said no to him. Over time, he learned to shut it.
He came into office very ignorant about government. He was the only president in American history who never served a single day in government or in the military. He came into office. He didn't even know that Congress, according to one of his aides, was a body that was responsible for declaring war. And yet at the end of four years, I think he had understood better what it took to get the kinds of aides that he wanted and to enact his agenda.
And I think for that reason, if he were elected to a second term, it would be very different in many ways than the first term because you wouldn't have to take three years to figure out that he wanted Mark Meadows as his chief of staff and not someone like John Kelly.
BLITZER: Susan Glasser, Peter Baker, thanks to both of you for joining us. More importantly, thanks so much for writing this new book, The Divider. Thanks so much for joining us.
BAKER: Thank you, Wolf.
GLASSER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, dissent against Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine is intensifying in Russia with growing public protests and private division within the Russian military. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Tonight, sources are revealing to CNN the extent of the division within the Russian military, with generals complaining about Vladimir Putin and setbacks in Putin's war against Ukraine. Public and private dissent growing right now after Putin ordered the call-up of 300,000 Russian reservists to support the war effort.
CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground for us in Ukraine. He's following all of these dramatic developments. Nick, what's the latest you could tell us on this mobilization?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, Wolf, it's been startlingly fast with scenes across Russia, I would say, predominantly in some of its poorer areas of calls-ups, individuals being moved, at times, it seems, hundreds of them in one area, towards a large transport aircraft.
And not entirely always it seems the case that those reservists, veterans or people with specialized military skills are being called up. This does seem to be significantly wider and still protests across the country. You can get 50 years for unauthorized protest in Russia.
So, this is significant, I should point out, too, that we've seen sporadic protests since the war began, but the people saying no to war at this stage are essentially spurred on the probability that someone they know, someone they love may be sent to the frontline.
At the same time, sources familiar with U.S. intelligence are telling my colleagues that there are signs of division in the Russian military. The generals are perhaps unhappy with how this war is being conducted, divided amongst themselves, and that Vladimir Putin appears to be giving direct orders to the field. His direct involvement in this war has been something that's been speculated on over the past months, but the continual change, it seems, of top generals in the higher ranks will clearly be having an impact.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has seized upon these protests to deliver a stark message to those going into frontline for Russia, saying you can basically survive if you surrender, if you protest or if you run. Here's also what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Russia's decision on mobilization is a frank admission that their regular army, which has been prepared for decades to take over a foreign country, did not stand and crumbled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALSH: Now, there's a key question here as to how quickly can these thousands of individuals who have been essentially pressed down, it seems, in some degree, be sent to the frontline, how can they be equipped, given training, if they haven't actually got military experience, and how can Russia overcome the problem it's had since the beginning of this war of supplying, properly commanding, strategically using their troops on the front line at a time when they're losing.
I should say to you, Wolf, we were at the frontline, a recently liberated area in Donetsk just today, and Ukrainian troops there not remotely troubled by this new mobilization. They are moving forward. Their morale is high because they know what they're fighting for and they feel a sense of victory here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Kramatorsk, in Ukraine, thanks very much, stay safe over there.
Let's get some more on all of these dramatic developments. Joining us now, CNN Military Analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto and CNN National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood, she's joining us from outside the United Nations.
Colonel Leighton, as you heard, things have gotten so bad that Putin is actually giving directions to generals themselves. So, is this mobilization likely to make any real difference on the battlefield?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't think so, Wolf. And I think the real problem that the Russians are going to have here is what Nick alluded to in his reporting, they are going to have a heck of a time training these people. It seems as if the volume, the sheer volume new recruits, i.e., conscripts in this case, is going to overwhelm the Russian system. So, they won't be fully trained, they won't be fully equipped, and in essence, they are just going to be cannon fodder for the Ukrainians, and that's going to be a real sorry state of affairs for the Russian army and, frankly, for the Russian people.
BLITZER: Yes, good point.
Jim, how much is the backlash to the mobilization across Russia right now actually raise pressure on the Russian leader, Putin?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: With questions about public opposition to Putin, there's always an unknowable factor. One, he has an iron grip over country and its security services, the prices for dissent and opposition are extremely high, even perhaps death, certainly imprisonment, and it's difficult to measure accurately Russian public opinion.
That said, I spoke, for instance, yesterday, to the Estonian prime minister, watches Russia very closely, says that they are noting more severe internal opposition to the Russian president than they've seen in the past.
I spoke to a member, as it were, of the Russian opposition today, a member of the group, the art collective, Pussy Riot, who were jailed themselves for singing an anti-Putin song a number of years ago, who said that she is seeing and hearing more opposition than she has in the past.
How far that goes, it is hard to know, right? And until it reaches some sort of tipping point, his grip is very, very strong there. The penalty for dissent is very high. So, it's difficult to get to a point from what we're seeing today to something that genuinely threatens his power, but I know that people are watching very closely.
BLITZER: They certainly are.
Kylie, and all of this is also playing out where you are at the United Nations. What can you tell us?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Today, there was a U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine sovereignty. The Russian foreign minister only came in to deliver his remarks and then he left after he delivered his remarks. And a U.S. official said they believed he was in the room for that short period of time because he couldn't bear the condemnation that the Russian government was receiving from all around the room.
And a senior State Department official brought us inside the room today describing the fact that Lavrov's deputy, who was sitting in that chair for most of the time was stone faced throughout the meeting, and saying that the other diplomats in the room had faces of incredulity as they were listening to Lavrov, make erroneous claims about neo-Nazis in Ukraine and a number of other statements that just were outside the bounds of what anyone else in that room was saying.
BLITZER: Good point.
Colonel Leighton, if Putin is actually feeling cornered right now, how worried should U.S. officials be about the risk of what's described as accidental escalation?
LEIGHTON: Well, the escalation, you know, from his perspective might not be that accidental, Wolf. I think we should be very worried that that is something that Putin would do. We see what is going on in Zaporizhzhia at the nuclear power plant there, and, of course, the Southern Ukraine power plant, the other one that has been shelled. All of these things, you know, could be turned against the Ukrainians because of the danger of radiation from a radiation leak, if one of those plants were struck in the right way. So, that's one possibility.
The other thing, of course, is statements by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev saying that they will use be strategic nuclear weapons if Russian territory were threatened, and by that, they mean, of course, territory that they've just recently taken from Ukraine.
So, this is a very dangerous time, and I think we should be very careful looking at this because the Russians will try to pull something out of the box and try to use that against the Ukrainians and possibly against other nations as well.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Jim, President Zelenskyy directly addressed Russians in their own language in his nightly speech tonight warning them about what's happened to Kremlin fighters on the battlefield. Does that resonate within Russia?
SCIUTTO: Yes, it's interesting to watch. It's sort of a Ukrainian version of Tokyo Rose, right, broadcasting to the opposing army. Here's the thing. The question is how far, how wide is it heard in Russia. Russians, despite censorship, have a way to get news, not from official state channels, telegram channels, satellite television, et cetera. So, they have ways to find this. The question is how far and wide does it go.
But I will say this, that when you see those flights crowded leaving the country and the prices of air tickets jumping for people trying to leave, and also border crossings at places like Kazakhstan or Finland, of people trying to drive out of the country, people vote with their feet often. And that is a signal here that the messages whether from Zelenskyy or elsewhere of how badly this war is going, it's getting through to a lot of people inside that country.
BLITZER: Good point.
Kylie, at this point, are leaders where you are at the U.N. bracing for this grinding war to continue?
ATWOOD: they are. I mean, you hate to say it, Wolf, but there were frankly no leaders who, over the course of the past few days, were hopeful about this coming to a close any time soon with this war in Ukraine, and with Russia announcing this partial mobilization of additional troops headed to the battlefield. You had the U.N. secretary general calling this moment a moment of peril and saying that everyone should prepare for a winter of discontent.
BLITZER: Kylie Atwood, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, Colonel Leighton, guys, thank you to you as well.
Just ahead, CNN investigates a Republican candidate seeking to become Michigan's top law enforcement official and an alleged scheme to break into voting machines. Stand by for details on the new information we have just obtained here at CNN.
BLITZER: In Michigan, the Republican candidate for state attorney general is under investigation accused of seizing voting machines across the state. He has not been charged. But tonight, CNN has learned he also requested sealed ballots in order to open them. CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin has an in-depth look at the allegations.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This guy smiling for the pictures is running to be the top law enforcement official in the state of Michigan. So, why is he also running from us?
Mr. DePerno, we'd like to give you every opportunity to answer some questions.
Matt DePerno, the Republican candidate for Michigan's attorney general, is also under criminal investigation for a conspiracy to unlawfully obtain access to voting machines, though he hasn't been charged. He is also one of the main sources of the biggest lie surrounding the 2020 election, a debunked tale that Dominion Voting tabulators changed votes from Trump to Biden. His campaign manager initially told CNN DePerno would do an interview that. That didn't happen.
Mr. DePerno, can we just have a few minutes of your time? We've been trying to ask you questions for like a month-and-a-half. What were you trying to do with those tabulators? What were you trying prove?
DePerno and eight others tried to prove there was fraud in the 2020 election, according to the current state attorney general. They illegally seized voting machines and broke into the tabulators and performed tests on the equipment.
MATTHEW DEPERNO, GOP CANDIDATE FOR MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: We've been able to show through our case how the machines can actually manipulate votes.
GRIFFIN: It is simply nonsense. At one point, DePerno even posted a video of one of his so-called experts breaking into an actual voting machine, unintentionally proving how difficult it would be to manipulate votes. Every machine would have to be physically breached, which is a crime.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What needs to happen here is database modification commands.
GRIFFIN: Jocelyn Benson is Michigan's secretary of state.
That to me seems like a crime on video.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOCELYN BENSON (D-MI): It sure does to me, as well, yes. And as the state's chief election officer, my job is to report those potential crimes, which I did, and also ensure that any machines that were tampered with are decommissioned and replaced.
GRIFFIN: CNN has learned DePerno's so-called private investigation may have gone beyond tabulators and led to attempts to open sealed paper ballots. In an email to an attorney in March 2021, the clerk of Barry County, Michigan, says DePerno told her she would need to collect the ballots which are under seal and that DePerno said they will be opening the ballot bags and resealing them. The clerk refused. Michigan's results were not only certified, local audits and a state senate record led by Republicans found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The report is adopted.
GRIFFIN: What's so alarming is that DePerno's scheme in Michigan is linked to others, just like across the country. Authorities in multiple states are investigating voting machine breaches. In a Colorado case, two men who worked with DePerno were named on a warrant in a federal investigation for identity theft and intentional damage to a protected computer.
Also named, Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, who's been one of the most vocal spreaders of lies about voting machines.
And in Georgia, this surveillance video shows DePerno's I.T. expert, remember, the guy from that video, in a restricted area of an elections office where voting machines were breached, and another one of DePerno's I.T. experts, claims he looked at Dominion Democracy Suite voting systems in Arizona, Michigan, Colorado and Georgia.
Secretary of State Benson says her state gave information to the Department of Justice.
BENSON: I think we've seen on every level a lot of evidence that this is a nationally coordinated effort, whether it is to try to gain access to our voting machines, whether it is trying to run candidates who are spouting misinformation to become chief election officers.
GRIFFIN: In Michigan, not only is DePerno running for attorney general, the Republican nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state all say they believe the meritless claim that 2020 election was fraudulent. Should they win, they would control upcoming elections. In fact, 27 states have an election denier running for a position that could influence elections.
DAVID BECKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ELECTION INNOVATION AND RESEARCH: We're in a very dangerous movement right now. If people who are running on a platform of election denial telling their voters that they will, in fact, put their thumb on the scale to ensure that their candidates win, we could have a real problem with actual democracy in the United States.
GRIFFIN: Election System Adviser David Becker says the danger is not just if candidates win but also if they lose and refuse to accept the results.
BECKER: Imagine, we have dozens of January 6ths all over the country at different places and times.
GRIFFIN: Which is why the upcoming midterms are so consequential. In Michigan, voters will choose if election deniers will lead their state, including a potential attorney general under criminal investigation.
Are you worried you'll be indicted before the election, sir?
GRIFFIN (on camera): And it is a big question in Michigan, Wolf, what to do about a candidate for attorney general who may be indicted.
We just learned the decision on DePerno's case will not be soon. The special prosecutor in the case announcing that more investigative work needs to be done before he can decide on filing charges -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Excellent reporting. Drew Griffin, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones comes face to face with the judge he just publicly called a tyrant. We're going to break it all down for you, with all the latest information for the defamation trial. That's coming up.
BLITZER: A contentious first day on the witness stand for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, taking the stand in Connecticut.
The exchanges got so heated, the judge threatened all parties with a contempt hearing.
CNN's Brynn Gingras is joining us right now.
Brynn, what can you tell us?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Wolf, I mean, listen, Alex Jones was getting agitated with the line of questioning going on in this day one of his testimony. He was turning red in the face. He was yelling. But he wasn't the only one yelling. There was also the defense attorney, the plaintiff's attorney, and the judge having to settle everyone down.
I want to show you one of those exchanges that happened when the plaintiff's attorney pointed to all the families sitting in that courtroom who lost their loved ones in Sandy Hook and talking about how he has said they're not real, this is all a hoax. I want you to see what he says next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX JONES, HOST, INFOWARS: I already said I am sorry 100 times and I'm done saying I'm sorry. I didn't (INAUDIBLE) like this. I was the first person to say it. American donors (ph) may be to the blame for this as the left did so
we rejected it mainly and said it must be true. But I legitimately thought it might be staged. I stand by that and I don't apologize for it.
PLAINTIFFS' ATTORNEY: And don't apologize, Mr. Jones. Please don't apologize.
JONES: I've apologized to the parents over here. I don't apologize to you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Objection, objection. Objection, guys. Objection. Argumentative.
JONES: I don't apologize to you.
JUDGE BARBARA BELLIS, CONNECTICUT SUPERIOR COURT: You're in a court of law. You have to follow the rules. They are accountable to me.
However, while there are media in the room, this is my press conference. This is clearly not your show, and you need to respect the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRAS: You can hear the judge there admonishing Jones, telling him he needs to respect the process. Meanwhile, those parents and family members crying at times during his testimony.
As you mentioned, Wolf, the judge saying that I will hold all of you in contempt of court if you can't get this together by tomorrow. He is expected back on the stand tomorrow morning. The defense will begin the questioning.
But interesting to note, Wolf, every time he's left that courthouse -- he's never been in until today, but every time he's been around the courthouse, he's given a press conference. He did not today. Didn't say a single world.
We'll see how this continues tomorrow. But certainly that warning from the judge has been heard at least by Jones.
BLITZER: Brynn Gingras reporting for us, thank you, Brynn, very much.
Just ahead a troubling report from "The Washington Post" on discrimination against black NFL coaches. We'll take a closer look right after this quick break.
BLITZER: A new investigation from "The Washington Post" reveals a troubling trend inside the NFL. Black coaches denied top jobs within the league and fired more often despite similar performance to white coaches.
CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at the report.
Brian, what else can you tell us?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this report is damaging to the NFL, illustrating a real sense of hopelessness among prospective black coaches that they simply won't get a fair shake in the league.
TODD (voice-over): The words are emblazoned on the borders of several NFL end zones, end racism. But an explosive new investigation by "The Washington Post" finds black coaches in the NFL are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to getting hired as head coaches and keeping those jobs.
MICHAEL LEE, THE WASHINGTON POST: What we found is that, you know, it's very difficult for black coaches to get opportunities to be head man in the NFL.
TODD: In its report titled "How the NFL Blocks Black Coaches", "The Washington Post" found that Black coaches languish as assistants longer than their white counterparts, that Black men who became head coaches over the past decade, quote, on average they had spend more than nine years longer than their white counterparts in mid-level assistant jobs.
And then "The Post" found, Blacks are held to a different standard when they do get head coaching jobs.
LEE: When Black coaches do get this job and they do get the chance to lead 53 men, they're on much shorter leashes. And even if their production is on par with their peers or even better in some instances, they're still more likely to be fired.
TODD: In a league where the majority of players are Black, there are now only three black head coaches. That's the same number as in 2003 when the NFL introduced the Rooney Rule, which now requires teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for open head coaching positions.
But many argue that NFL teams have become adept at gaming that rule, interviewing Black candidates only as window dressing, then hiring the coach they really want.
Brian Flores, fired as the Miami Dolphins head coach after posting winning records in two of his three seasons, filed a lawsuit this year against the league and its teams. Flores accused the New York Giants and Denver Broncos of bringing him in for sham interviews. In the case of the Giants, for a head coaching job they had already decided to give to someone else.
BRIAN FLORES, FORMER NFL HEAD COACH: It was humiliating. To be quite honest, there was disbelief, there was anger. TODD: The NFL and the franchises named in Flores' suit have denied
wrongdoing. The NFL saying it's committed to equitable employment practices. Many argue this isn't so much an issue with the league itself.
DONTE STALLWORTH, FORMER NFL WIDE RECEIVER: At the end of the day, you know, it's really up to the owners.
TODD: But there, "The Post" cites a cultural disconnect. The NFL has 31 majority team owners, 29 of them are white.
LEE: I think that a lot of times just comes down to what you think a leader is, what a leader looks like, and how that's going to work for your franchise. For a lot of the owners when they do that equation, it doesn't add up to a black man being the guy.
TODD (on camera): The NFL hasn't responded to CNN's request for comment and didn't official comment on "The Post's" findings. But Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told "The Post" that the league has exhausted itself with programs to make sure the owners know who the candidates are, but that at the end of the day, Vincent said, the league itself doesn't make the hires -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very strong reporting from "The Washington Post" indeed. Brian Todd, thank you very, very much.
And to your viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. SITUATION ROOM is also available as a podcast wherever you get your podcast.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.