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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) Ousted from GOP Leadership Post over Trump Criticism; House Oversight Committee Hearing on Questions Surrounding Capitol Attack; Former Acting Defense Secretary Testifies on Pentagon's Response to January 6 Capitol Riot. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2021 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Last build up to a major war between Israel and Gaza.

[10:00:04]

It took weeks. This has basically just taken days starting from about late Monday evening, and here we are in Jerusalem Wednesday afternoon. Jim, Poppy?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem, thank you. We're watching this very closely.

SCIUTTO: A very good and newsy Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow.

Breaking news this hour, we're watching two major events unfolding right now on Capitol Hill. Any moment, former Trump officials will testify before lawmakers. They are expected to defend their department's actions leading up to and during the insurrection on January 6th. Former President Trump's former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller will say that he did not send U.S. troops in to defend the Capitol because he was worried about the appearance of a, quote, military coup. Many more answers to come from him when this hearing starts at any moment.

SCIUTTO: Yes, well, he didn't admit any responsibility.

The other breaking news we were following, just moments ago, one of the few Republicans in Congress, among leadership, in particular, to speak out against former President Trump's continuing election lies, has now been ousted from her leadership role. House Republicans pushed out Congresswoman Liz Cheney as the number three ranked member of GOP leadership. According to a member in the room, as the vote happened, Cheney was booed when she criticized the former president in her opening remarks. Afterwards, Cheney remained defiant after her colleagues endorsed a falsehood over truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office. We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution, and I think it's very important that we make sure, whomever we elect, is somebody who will be faithful to the Constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Keep in mind, the former number three in the House GOP leadership saying that the party is not protecting or defending the Constitution.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju following developments on Capitol Hill. Manu, you had the vote here. The outcome of the vote was not unexpected, but the way the vote was conducted, I mean, no names, not even a number attached to the vote. Was GOP leadership hiding behind this result?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we expected the vote to happen and happen overwhelmingly against her. So even if there were a secret ballot vote, she was almost certainly going to lose by a lop side of number.

This was a painful episode for a lot of members and they wanted this to be done quickly and Liz Cheney, recognizing that, also didn't push to this have vote in a secret ballot vote. So, as a result, it happened in a blink of an eye, within 20 minutes, even though in February when she fended off a separate challenge to her leadership, that lasted more than four hours of debate, this time, much quicker.

What happened in the room, she defended her remarks. She said she was not going to follow the path of the destructive lies that Donald Trump has chosen. She said that if party leaders wanted to do it, that will be their legacy.

And then after that, Virginia Fox, a North Carolina Republican, offered a motion to oust her from the leadership. Kevin McCarthy spoke briefly. He also backed that. There was a voice vote and it was over. And after the meeting, Adam Kinzinger, who has been one of the few who have come to Cheney's defense publicly detailed how quick things happened inside the room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: What did McCarthy say?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Basically, it's time to move on from her. He said, we have to be unified continue with this unity thing. And, look, I'm all for unity. I'm all for unity and truth. Truth cannot co- exist with lies. Truth cannot co-exist with falsehoods. You cannot unify with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, the question is who will replace her. And all indications are that it will be Elise Stefanik of New York. She is someone who has actually had a more moderate voting record than Liz Cheney. But she has allied herself very closely with the former president during his 2019 impeachment ever since and backed his efforts to overturn the electoral results.

She also has been moving behind the scenes to shore up support. She does have the backing of the former president as well as the top Republican leaders. But there is still pushback among some conservatives worried about her voting record. The House Freedom Caucus, that outspoken faction of right-wing members will have a meeting with her tonight.

But, guys, I am told that she's made clear to her conservative members that she will not buck the party on key votes. She will toe the line on key votes. So perhaps that will be enough to sway the members as they move to vote for her as soon as Friday. Guys.

HARLOW: All right. Manu, thank you very much, on Capitol Hill.

Now, to the hearing about to begin on the insurrection and the response. Our Whitney Wild is with us again this hour. Whitney, good morning to you.

[10:05:01]

You've got these three key witnesses testifying today before the House Oversight Committee. For our viewers, this is the first time we're going to hear from all of them on the record, under oath. We did hear from Christopher Wray but this the first for all of them. What do people need to know about what's about to happen?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So I just want to make one correction. This is not the first time we're hearing on the record from Metropolitan Police Chief Contee. We've heard from him in past testimonies. But this is very critical because this is the first time we're hearing from Defense Secretary Christopher Miller as well as former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Their testimonies are so critical for a number of reasons, not the least of which is they had a front row seat to the White House's thinking leading up to and on the day of January 6th. This is going to be a key part of Defense Secretary Christopher Miller's testimony. Here is a quote from his prepared remarks.

SCIUTTO: I just don't know why we don't have --

WILD: I am unaware of any briefing or any other discussions the president may have had with other government officials or his advisers regarding law enforcement preparations for January 6th. My recollection is that a White House personnel including White House counsel and chief of staff, but not the president, participated in some of the multiagency calls on January 6th convened to organize and coordinate the response to the events at the Capitol after the mob entered the Capitol building. This is on its face a fact-finding mission. They are trying to figure out in what way the thinking from the White House might have affected the preparations leading up to January 6th and then the response. This is also happening on a tremendous day on Capitol Hill. Of course, we've heard so much about this this morning, minutes after House Republicans oust Liz Cheney for her telling the truth about the big lie.

They are going to want to know what the observations were from the secretary of defense, as well as the former acting attorney general about the White House's thinking and feeling on that day. So this is a tremendous day. Make no mistake, it could end up being highly partisan throughout this hearing, Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: Thanks, Whitney. Joining us now is Andrew McCabe, former Deputy Director of the FBI, and Terrance Gainer, former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms and former U.S. Capitol Police Chief. Also with us as we wait for this hearing to begin, Charles Ramsey, former Philadelphia Police Commissioner and former D.C. Police Chief. Good morning, everyone.

Andy McCabe, let me begin with you on what we do know that Christopher Miller is going to testify, and he's going to testify about talking to the president the day before the insurrection very briefly, being in a meeting with the president three days before the insurrection, but then not speaking with the president on the day of the insurrection. What would you ask him?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, good morning. And I think you've hit on the key issue here, Poppy, and that is issues of leadership and command and control. It's almost unthinkable that the leader of our military services would have no conversations whatsoever with the commander-in-chief as the Capitol is under attack.

I understand, very familiar with my experience helping to protect the Capitol during numerous inaugurations and national security special events. I know there are processes and procedures to go through to deploy the National Guard and military and resources and law enforcement, but this was an attack on the Capitol. This wasn't the time for that sort of connection to respond quickly, I don't know what would have been. So I'm really interested to hear what the former secretary has to say about that.

SCIUTTO: Terrance Gainer, it really is an open question at this point because we haven't gotten straight answers about what the communications were between, for instance, the Pentagon and the White House and others. What did the president know? What did they ask the president for? What did the White House perhaps say no to in terms of help and aid? How key is that question being answered in this hearing here? Will they give those answers? I mean, that's an open question at this point. And how central is that to the investigation?

TERRANCE GAINER, FORMER SENATE SERGEANT-AT-ARMS: Well, it's very important. There's a lot of things we don't know. I applaud the various congressional committees having these attempts to get answered. But it's really kind of a haphazard way to do it. Having spent a long time in homicide in my earlier career, you would not conduct a fact-finding investigation as they're doing it. So I don't think anybody is surprised that we're not going to have the smoking gun talked about from the lips of these people.

Now, Chief Contee will have a good sense of what he knew and how the department would have prepared and reacted.

HARLOW: Terrance, sorry to jump in here, but I do want to get to this hearing. It's just getting under way. We have live pictures of it right here. Let's listen in.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D-NY): -- minimize background noise and feedback.

Third, I will recognize members verbally, but members retain the right to seek recognition verbally in regular order. Members will be recognized in seniority order for questions.

Lastly, if you want to be recognized outside of regular order, you may identify that in several ways.

[10:10:01]

You may use the chat function to send a request. You may send an email to the majority staff or you may unmute your mic to seek recognition.

We will begin the hearing in just a moment when we are told whether they are ready to begin the live stream.

HARLOW: Okay. That was Carolyn Maloney chairing this hearing. We're going to get back to it in just a moment.

But, Charles Ramsey, to you, there are so many answers hopefully that we'll get here in this hearing. I wonder what you think the most important thing is to get a consensus on, right, instead of finger- pointing but to get real clarity for the American people to protect against future violence.

Can you hear me, Commissioner Ramsey?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Oh, I didn't realize that was for me. Well, there were numerous breakdowns throughout January 6th. And it's important to find out exactly what went wrong so that you can fix it. That's why it's so important they eventually have --

SCIUTTO: Charles, sincerest apologies, hard to follow these hearings, they stop and start, but the hearing is back on. Let's listen in.

MALONEY: -- since the civil war. It was harrowing and heartbreaking. We watched as the temple of our democracy, a building whereas familiar with as our own homes, was overrun by a mob bent on murdering the vice president and members of Congress. The mobs goal was clear, they were trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to the newly elected president by halting the counting of electoral votes. This insurrection failed, but not before police officers were attacked and had to use deadly force to protect members of Congress. Shots were fire near feet from the House floor. Because of this horrific attack, four private citizens died, three police officers lost their lives. Had it not been for the heroic men and women of law enforcement who faced down the mob, there would have been even more bloodshed that day.

We know who provoked this attack. That is why 17 House and Senate Republicans joined all congressional Democrats in the bipartisan effort to impeach and convict, and I quote, inciting violence against the government of the United States, end quote.

To quote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, quote, there is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events that day, end quote. But the failures of January 6th go beyond the craven lies and provocations of one man. The federal government was unprepared for this insurrection even though it was planned in plain sight on social media for the world to see.

And despite all the military and law enforcement resources our government can call upon in a crisis, security collapsed in the face of the mob and reinforcements were delayed for hours as the Capitol was overrun.

It is our duty to understand what went wrong that day, to seek accountability and to take action to prevent this from ever happening again.

We are joined by the chief of D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, Robert Contee. On January 6th, Chief Contee and his officers did not hesitate to answer the call. Over 800 D.C. Police officers voluntarily rushed to the aid of the Capitol.

D.C. Police stood side by side with the Capitol Police and displayed tremendous heroic actions. Chief Contee, we are in your debt.

We also have with us two cabinet heads from the Trump administration who led key federal agencies on January 6th. Neither has publicly testified about their roles in these events, and I appreciate their willingness to testify here today.

Former Acting General Jeffrey Rosen led the Department of Justice, which was reportedly designated as the lead federal agency for coordinating security in Washington on January 6th.

The potential for violence that day was clear. In December, the New York Police Department warned the FBI that certain protesters viewed that January 6th as an opportunity for a violent revolt.

[10:15:00]

Then again on January 5th, the FBI office in Norfolk, Virginia, warned extremists were discussing, quote, specific calls for violence against Congress on January 6th, end quote. Including a message to, quote, go there ready for war, end quote.

The Justice Department and the FBI have a special duty to warn of domestic terrorist threats. Yet it's clear that despite all of this intelligence, the federal government was not prepared. Today, more than four months later, we're still in the dark about exactly what went wrong.

Did the Trump administration fail to adequately prepare for violence because it had a blind spot for right-wing domestic terrorism? As the lead agency on January 6th, why did the department -- the Justice Department fail to coordinate an effective and timely response to the attack on the Capitol?

We simply do not know. In part, that is because neither DOJ nor the FBI have produced a single piece of paper in response to the requests sent by six House committees, including this one in March, not a single piece of paper, not a single document. This is completely unacceptable.

I was hoping to have FBI Director Christopher Wray here today to address the unanswered questions about the FBI's actions. I sent him multiple invitations and even rescheduled this hearing twice, but he declined to appear. However, I am pleased to announce that Director Wray has agreed to appear before this committee in June, and I look forward to his testimony then.

Our final witness today is former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who led the Department of Defense on January 6th. When the Capitol came under siege, the Capitol Police were badly outnumbered.

The world looked to the Department of Defense to protect our government from attack. Yet DOD did not authorize the deployment of D.C. National Guard troops to the Capitol until nearly four hours, four hours after local officials first pled for help. Even though we were under full-scale assault, DOD hesitated until Vice President Pence -- not President Trump -- gave the order to, quote, clear the Capitol, end quote.

DOD's explanations of its own actions have failed to address critical questions. Why did military leaders place unusual restrictions on commanders on the ground? Mr. Miller says that he first learned that the mob had entered the Capitol between 1:00 P.M. and 1:30 P.M. So why did the Defense Department wait until after 5:00 P.M. before sending the National Guard to the Capitol?

Today's hearing will not be the end of our investigation. This committee, along with other committees in the House, will continue to seek a full accounting of this attack. Even today, our colleagues in the House Administration Committee are asking tough questions of the inspector general for the architect of the Capitol.

This oversight is essential, but we also need an independent bipartisan commission focused on investigating the root causes of this insurrection. The 9/11 commission has taught us that, even in our most difficult moments, we can come together as one and answer hard questions, as we did as a Congress after 9/11.

The 9/11 commission made dozens of recommendations to overhaul our nation's security and intelligence operations, and Congress followed through in a bipartisan way passing legislation to implement most of the commission's bipartisan proposals. We need that same determination, that same resolve and action today.

This nation stands at crossroads, and the path we choose will define American democracy for generations to come. We must reject President Trump's big lie and the violent insurrection it inspired.

[10:20:04]

No member of Congress, whether a freshman representative or House conference chair should face punishment for speaking the truth about what happened that day. As Congresswoman Cheney said last night, and I quote, remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. We must speak the truth. Our election was not stolen and America has not failed, end quote.

It is time for the American people and this Congress to look at the events of January 6th and say, never again.

I now recognized the distinguished ranking member, Mr. Comer, for an opening statement, and I yield back.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Thank you, Madam Chair. What happened on January 6th at the U.S. Capitol is unaccepted. Those who committed crimes and violence on January 6th must be held accountable. And the Justice Department is actively working to do just that.

As of April 16th, 410 defendants have been arrested. Their names, the charges and place of arrest are all listed on DOJ's website. The charges include assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or employees, some of which include a deadly or dangerous weapon, some have been charged with conspiracy, others have been charged with trespassing on federal property.

The FBI continues to seek perpetrators of crimes committed on January 6th. The FBI's website is filled with pictures, 866 photos and videos of individuals being sought in connection with the events on January 6th.

Less than a week after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, I joined ranking members Rodney Davis and John Katko in introducing a bill to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the facts and circumstances related to the attack. The commission would also identify, review and evaluate lessons learned in order to detect, prevent and respond to such kinds of attacks in the future.

But instead of seeking to examine the facts in a bipartisan fashion, Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats have politicized the January 6th attack. Until last week, Speaker Pelosi refused to entertain an even split on the panel. For three months, she dragged her feet and failed to build consensus. Meanwhile, the Senate engaged in bipartisan constructive problem solving. Instead of looking at what we can control, the security at the Capitol, Speaker Pelosi, Chairwoman Maloney and other Democrats have wrongly targeted perceived conservative technology companies for the role they may have played in this violence. Well, Chairwoman Maloney looked into this issue, and guess what? There was nothing there. That's why you haven't heard anything about it, because there was nothing there.

If looking at the fact, it's clear Facebook, Twitter and other big tech company's platforms were used to organize this violence. The FBI and Department of Justice have laid out their roles very clearly in their criminal complaints and indictments, but the Democrats refused to investigate those companies or even ask tough questions of them. I guess the Democrats just don't want to bite the hand that feeds them.

Additionally, Democrats to continue to demonize tens of millions of Americans who support President Trump and have legitimate questions about the integrity of the election. Expressing concern over election integrity is not a seditious act. Plenty of my Democrat colleagues expressed concern in past elections. What is wrong is when individuals take to crime, violence and mob tactics. This was wrong on January 6th and this was wrong last summer when several cities across the country were attacked by rioters.

The political violence that resulted in the burning of our post offices, destruction of other federal buildings, mob attacks on live television, violence on the streets of Portland, Minneapolis and other cities, businesses boarded up with graffitis sprayed everywhere, commerce, even here in D.C., ground to a halt.

It's hypocritical that Speaker Pelosi and Democrats refuse to examine the political violence Americans witnessed on television every night last summer.

[10:25:00]

According to one report, 25 Americans died during these violent political protests in the summer and fall of 2020. Many Americans' property and lively Hollywood were destroyed. Instead of condemning this violence, many Democrats supported and encouraged it. Kamala Harris even contributed to bail out some of the rioters.

Many Democrats continued to engage in such dangerous rhetoric. Democrat Chairwoman Maxine Water recently called on the public to, quote, get more confrontational if there was a verdict of not guilty in the case in Minneapolis.

No wonder America thinks Congress is broken. We can't ignore acts of violence and then use others for political gain, which is what we're doing here today. This is unbecoming of Americans' elected representatives in Congress. The justice system must work its course to hold violent offenders accountable. Congress must examine both the January 6th attack and the violence we witnessed last summer to prevent it from happening.

We owe it to the American people to address these acts of violence. The American people deserve better from their elected representatives.

I look forward to a constructive examination of missteps that occurred on January 6th and strategies regarding against these errors in the future.

Finally, Madam Chairwoman, I want to tell the families of those who died in the wake of these events that my prayers have been with them over the course of the past several months. Our law enforcement who put their lives on the line for us each and every day deserve better from their leaders. They deserve strong and decisive leadership.

I'll close now by thanking them and remembering the fallen. May God bless them and their families. And with that, I yield back.

MALONEY: The gentleman now yields back.

I would now like to introduce the witnesses that will be testifying today. Our first witness today is Christopher Miller, who is the former acting secretary of defense and who served in that role on January 6th.

Then we will hear from Jeffrey Rosen, who is the former acting attorney general. He also served in that role on January 6th.

Finally, we will hear from Robert Contee, who is the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in the District of Columbia.

The witnesses will be unmated so we can swear them in. Please raise your right hand. Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

MALONEY: Let the record show the witnesses answered in the affirmative. Thank you. And without objection, your written statements will be made part of the record. With that, Mr. Miller, you are now recognized for your testimony. Mr. Miller.

CHRISTOPHER MILLER, FORMER ACTING DEFENSE SECRETARY: Chairwoman Maloney and members of this committee, the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol was unconscionable. I'm grateful for the opportunity to provide needed context and insights to this committee about the events of that day and what I believe was your military's appropriate response. This is long overdue.

I'd first like to express my thanks to the first responders who tried to contain the mob and defend the Capitol complex and individuals there. They are true heroes. And that word is overused oftentimes, but definitely not in this case. As we assess the response, we should not lose sight of their brave actions that day.

I served as the acting secretary of defense that day. And such, I was ultimately responsible for Department of Defense for the local and federal law enforcement agencies who held primary responsibility for safeguarding the vice president, the members of Congress and the Capitol complex.

My background is summarized in my written statement, but I served in the army for over 30 years, including in the District of Columbia Army National Guard and in units with responsibility to protecting Washington, D.C. I have personally led our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines in combat in urban environments.

Following my retirement from the Army as a full colonel, I resumed government service in a variety of positions in the prior administration, including the National Security Council, where I focused on defeating Al Qaeda and retooling the government to address the challenge of domestic terrorism.

I was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to serve as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. On November 9, 2020, I was designated as the acting secretary of defense and served in that position until the new administration took office. I'm now a private citizen but I remain focused on supporting the members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families.

[10:30:03]

As to the events leading up January 6th, on December 31st, 2020, Washington, D.C.