Return to Transcripts main page


New Clashes in Jerusalem; NYPD Investigating Assault of Jewish Man; Filibustering the Commission Legislation; DOJ Obtained Records on CNN Reporter. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 21, 2021 - 09:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


Well, a fragile cease-fire, for now, but this morning new clashes in Jerusalem just hours after that cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas ended their most deadly conflict in years. The underlying issues that gave rise to this violence, though, conflicts over land rights and tension over holy sites remain unsolved this morning. Critically, again, even with this cease-fire, there is no peace process in sight. Eleven days of deadly rocket attacks and air strikes leaving more than 250 people dead in the region, including more than 60 children.

SCIUTTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken set to visit the Middle East in the coming days. He will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. This as President Biden praises the cease-fire deal, taking credit after tough talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biden now pledging to work on sustaining peace in the Middle East.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy. My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress, and I have committed to working for it.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Nic Robertson following the latest from Israel. You have these new clashes, really within hours of the start of the

cease-fire taking place in what is the third holiest site in the Muslim faith, or at least outside it. Significant enough to disrupt the cease-fire, do you believe?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: At the moment, it seems not. The potential exists because these were the flash points and trigger points that Hamas had warned the Israeli government about not putting their hand, if you will, on these areas. That was how they said it two weeks ago now and then they began the shelling on Jerusalem 11, well, 12 days ago now.

So, yes, it is a potential flash point. And the police say that after prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, at the Haram al Sharif on the -- on Temple Mount, after that, there were rocks, Molotov cocktails thrown at the police. And the police engaged the protesters with rubber coated bullets.

So it's been a really tense scene and it's not clear how it's going to play out. To give you a sense of what's happening here close to the border and what the -- the direction that the government seems to think this is going, and I'll just pull back a little bit here, you can see these heavy artillery and infantry transporter vehicles here that have been arrayed out on the hillside. Now, they're lining up. They're getting ready, it looks like, to move out of here, waiting for orders. Do they sit tight? Do they go back to base?

The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been defending his decision to have this cease-fire. He said that they've killed 25 Hamas commanders, 200 Hamas fighters taken out, more than 60 miles of tunnel. So he's defending his position.

But I've been out and about talking to people today and a lot of people have concerns. One is that this isn't -- the cease-fire isn't the pathway to a durable peace. But, number two, a lot of people have been telling me, quite frankly, they think the government should have continued on and even sent tanks into Gaza and just dealt Hamas a much bigger blow.

So this is not a shining moment domestically, politically, if you will, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We haven't seen anyone on the streets here celebrating. And now you have a potential flash point in Jerusalem. This is, of course, through the rest of the day is going to be carefully watched and a point of concern, Jim.

HARLOW: Nic Robertson, thank you very much for that reporting there right by the Gaza border.

Also right now, here in New York City, the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force is investigating a gang assault of a Jewish man last night in Times Square. This as protests broke out in New York City shortly after the Middle East cease-fire announcement.

SCIUTTO: We do want to be clear, we do not know if the individuals involved were part of those protests.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is following this.

Brynn, what are police saying? What have they learned about this?


Just to be clear, there have been protests going on in New York City really for the last week, ever since that conflict started in the Middle East, but they certainly sort of raised intensity last night as we're being alerted to a number of incidents that happened here in New York City, right here in Times Square, and really just blocks from it.


But let me point to the one you guys just referenced, that the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is now looking into. That was of a 23-year-old Jewish man who they say is a Jewish man who was beaten to the ground. Some did come to his aid. Others just were hitting him with what looked like possibly signs and we're learning -- trying to learn more about that investigation. But, like you said, we're not clear yet if that was part of the protests or if this was a separate incident. But it's something that they are looking into.

But something that -- else that they are investigating happened just a few blocks from that incident around the time these protests broke out. And that was, according to sources, a group of pro-Palestinian convoy of cars was going down 47th Street, which is the Diamond District of New York City, and fireworks were thrown from that group of cars, hitting actually one woman. She is said to be OK. Went to the hospital, was treated and released.

But, again, this is just more and more intensity that we're seeing pouring on to the streets of New York City that police are investigating as we're seeing again these incidents just go up, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We know the NYPD follow these very closely.

Brynn Gingras, there in Times Square, thanks very much.

It is beginning to look less and less likely that lawmakers will create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection, though that commission was negotiated in a bipartisan way. They came to a deal, just got rejected. Senate Republicans are now poised to block the legislation from even being debated as many of their colleagues in the House work to dismiss, downplay the January 6th attack. Lie about it.

HARLOW: Our Lauren Fox joins us this morning on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, what do you think? I mean you've covered so many of these sort of tight wire votes. Is this thing dead on arrival in the Senate?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, I don't see where you're going to get these ten Republican votes to actually move onto debate this bill. And like Jim was saying, this is going to be legislation that really stops before it even gets underway as a debated item in the U.S. Senate.

Now, one of the things we saw yesterday was people like Senator Richard Burr. He is a member who voted to convict the former president, Donald Trump, in the last impeachment trial. He might be somebody you would look to as a possible contender of someone who might support this commission. He came out yesterday and said he's opposed.

And I think that that is very, very emblematic of what we are seeing across the spectrum of Republican senators, many of whom say they have concerns about the way the bill is structured, including Senator Susan Collins. She's another one who voted to convict the former president just a few months ago after that January 6th attack.

You know, one of the underlying issues here is that Republican leaders are arguing behind the scenes and really publicly at this point that they believe there are already several investigations underway, both at the Department of Justice with arrests that they have seen over the last several months, as well as right here in the U.S. Senate.

We expect a report to be due out from both the Rules Committee and the Homeland Committee the week of June 6th. And I think a lot of senators are pointing to that as the potential way to figure out how to bolster security up here on Capitol Hill, arguing this commission isn't necessary.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Although their leadership instructed one of their members to negotiate the rules of that commission. They made demands for how it was composed.

So, anyway, that's where we are.

Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

Joining us now to discuss, Ryan Lizza, senior CNN political analyst, chief Washington correspondent for "Politico."

So, Ryan, you know, I'm just trying to look big picture here. You know, if Republicans, 83 percent of them in the House and the vast majority in the Senate, will reject a bipartisan commission, negotiated by Republicans and Democrats, at the behest of the House GOP leader. He gave them a list, a menu of things to negotiate for. They got a lot of them. Don Bacon, Republican who voted for this commission, said that -- said as much, you know, yesterday.

How is it possible there's any bipartisan interest in a deal, say, on infrastructure, on police reform? I mean, I just don't see practically, you know, where things go from here.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that is an excellent, overlooked point when people are talking about other bipartisan legislation. And I know from my own reporting that that informs the views of a lot of Democrats in the House and Senate and a lot of folks in the White House who point to this kind of thing and say, yes, bipartisanship would be great, but if the Republicans can't even come to a deal on an investigation of something like what happened on January 6th, that's not -- there's no -- their argument is there's no negotiating partner, right?

You've seen a lot of progressives point to this kind of thing to warn Joe Biden to pull the plug on the infrastructure negotiations. So I agree with you, these are not necessarily separate things. One infects the other.


HARLOW: Ryan, you know, the fact that they're not even -- it looks like, right, from Lauren's reporting, they're not even going to debate it, you know.


LIZZA: Uh-huh.

HARLOW: It's not even debating whether -- you know, how we should vote on this. We're just not even going to talk about it, right, on the floor. And I wonder what you think this means for re-elevating the conversation about the filibuster.

LIZZA: Well, two things. One is, you know, even prominent Republicans who were sympathetic to the -- in the Senate, who were sympathetic to the impeachment vote, but in the end didn't actually vote that way, famously, Mitch McConnell, when he gave that floor speech, what did he talk about? He said this is not the last opportunity to hold Donald Trump accountable for what happened on January 6th. Now he's pulled the plug on this and he's going to enforce and whip a filibuster against it in the Senate. So, so much for the accountability that Mitch McConnell believed in back during impeachment.

And, absolutely, every major filibuster of a major Democratic or bipartisan priority is going to reignite the conversation among progressives to pull the plug on the filibuster.


LIZZA: And we almost saw it with the hate crimes legislation, but the pressure actually got Republicans to back down from that filibuster threat. That's clearly not going to happen here. And you're going to -- you know, there's activist groups out there that are well-funded. There's going to be a lot of pressure on Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden to reconsider getting rid of the filibuster.


LIZZA: Because Democrats see this as a priority that needs to be like one official documentation of what happened that day.


LIZZA: Especially what the president did in the afternoon, which has never been reported, solved. We don't know what Trump was doing in the White House as this was going on.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, there are real questions to be answered.

And, by the way, good for you for noting that Mitch McConnell, in giving that floor speech said, hey, there will be other times to dig into this and now has taken one of those out.

I wonder where the politic goes from here. I spoke to a Democrat yesterday who said they still hope to work in some sort of bipartisan fashion here. But are we heading towards a Benghazi-like path where you just have House Democrats do their own investigation and carry this forward?

LIZZA: Yes, you'll have -- you will have committees of jurisdiction who are authorized to look into this. And sometimes those reports can be quite good. But the idea here was to model something on the 9/11 Commission, get buy-in from both parties, and try and do it in the same way that the 9/11 Commission was done.

And a lot of people on the left said, well, that's a terrible idea because actually what you're doing is you're -- one of the -- one of the parties was essentially behind this. The president's party was sympathetic and the president himself instigated some of the actions that day. So some people said having it as bipartisan doesn't really make sense. I think they made the right decision to try and make it bipartisan because, as you know with the Benghazi example, work of partisan committees often is just dismissed by, you know, people on the other side.

HARLOW: Ryan, so good to have you on all of this stuff. Thanks again.

LIZZA: Good to see you all again (ph).

HARLOW: Still to come, the Trump administration secretly obtained phone and email records of our CNN colleague Barbara Starr, including her personal email accounts. Why?

SCIUTTO: Plus, the all too familiar story sparking new outrage this morning. Disturb video, another black man dying after being, in his case, Tased, kicked and dragged by police. The victim's mother and sister speaking out. They say the police lied.

And Prince William and Prince Harry are blasting the BBC after a new report finds deceitful methods were used to secure a famous interview with their late mother, Princess Diana. You'll want to hear this. We're going to be live from London.



HARLOW: This morning, CNN is requesting a meeting with the Justice Department and officials there after learning the Trump administration secretly obtained phone and email records from our colleague, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

SCIUTTO: CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now. She's been following this.

So the DOJ obtained these communications last summer. They say, a spokesperson for the DOJ, says that this was in connection to a leak investigation that, in effect, the target was the leaker, not the reporter.

What do we know about the status of that investigation, how far it went and how common this is?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, I mean, the point is here, we actually don't know much because this was all in secret. We know that, you know, the DOJ obtained these records in 2020. There were two months' worth of phone and email records from our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. The records span from June 2017 to the end of July 2017.

Now these records, they weren't content. They were only about who -- what phone numbers and when, but not the actual content of the conversations or the emails.

And we really don't know why they obtained these records. You know, it may have been this leak investigation. You know, but a justice official does tell me that Starr was not the target of the investigation.

But, guys, this is really significant because, Jim, as you mentioned, how prevalent is this? Well, this is the second time in just a few weeks that it's been revealed reporters' records were obtained by the Trump Justice Department. We learned earlier this month it was three reporters from "The Washington Post."


They had their phone records obtained. And it all stemmed from the Trump administration, which, of course, repeatedly railed against these two organizations that we now know were targeted, "The Washington Post" and CNN. And as I mentioned, it was all done in secret.

The attorney general at the time, William Barr, he had to approve the pursuit of these records. But then when it came to the court proceedings, which gave the green light for the receipt of the phone and email records, that was all sealed. Meaning, you know, they were and will be kept secret.

So I've reached out to the former attorney general, Barr, for comment. He has not responded.

The current Justice Department is responding to this, and they're making clear this was all done under the Trump administration. And, guys, they say that the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, he is committed to press freedom, something he has stressed and that he will -- he plans to meet with reporters to hear their concerns about these recent revelations.

But the thing is here, this was very secretive, and we really don't know all of the details of what case they made to the judge to actually get these records in secret and not notify Barbara Starr until just last week.


SCIUTTO: We should note the Obama administration sought reporters' records, both, I think, AP reporters and the records of a Fox reporter also in leak investigations. So it didn't start just in the last few years.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

HARLOW: Jess, thank you for the reporting.

So let's bring in former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, good morning to you.

I mean, as Jess brought up, you have to go to a judge to get permission to do this. And the bar is really high, right? The DOJ has strict regulations that were made more strict in 2015 about when you can go to a judge for this, what you need to be able to get a yes, right?

What are your red flag legal questions this morning on all of this?

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, this could be one of two things, Poppy. It could be a legitimate exercise of the Department of Justice's authority if you really had a high-ranking DOD employee, for example, who was leaking classified information that is national security related, that's important.

But the problem here is, we have a pattern of behavior on the part of the Barr Justice Department where they're abusing their authority. They're using the levers of power of DOJ to do things that are political for the president, not really involving what they're supposed to be doing, which is fighting crime.

So, you know, it raises red flags for me in the sense of, which of these two possibilities was this? And the problem with regulations being the only check on this is that that's really internal to DOJ. You know, they are the ones who interpret those and implement those. It's not a federal law. It's not constitutionally based. And so if you have an actor who is acting in bad faith, there's no -- there's no really good check on that. The judge in a secret proceeding is not a good enough check on that.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, the background is important because there are other cases of where it appeared the Trump administration was using the Justice Department for personal sort of vendettas. I mean challenging, for instance, the AT&T acquisition of Time Warner at the time, you know, was (ph) a kind of merger the Justice Department had not challenged before. They did. It got approved eventually, but there was, you know, talk of what drove that.

But to be fair, this kind of thing did not begin with the Trump administration. As I noted, the Obama administration sought phone records of journalists, AP reporters, a Fox reporter. And their explanation was, this was about prosecuting the leaker, not the reporter. And I wonder, is that a fair, legal argument and how those two things -- they're coming into conflict, right, you have freedom of the press but a national security interest here -- how those two things balance out in cases like this?

RODGERS: So, you know, listen, I know reporters hate this, but there has to be an ability on the part of law enforcement to enforce the laws about classified information when it's a true national security issue. And there -- it's really an extraordinary case, like it's supposed to be in the regulations.

You know, the problem is when it's not in good faith, when it's not that. You have to find a way to determine which of these it is. But the truth is, you know, if there really is a legitimate national security need to find out who's talking to a reporter because information is coming out that could harm the nation, law enforcement does have to be able to do that.

The problem is, it doesn't look like that's what this is here. And that's why I think we do need, not stricter regulations, frankly, the regulations are about as strict as they can get, but there can be federal legislation on this. This has been proposed before. If I were representing media organizations, I would be pushing for federal legislation to impose external controls on what DOJ could do in these sorts of cases to protect these intrusions from happening again.

HARLOW: And what would that -- what would that change, Jennifer, if there were that federal push and actual law?

RODGERS: So it's actually been proposed before, I think in 2017. So, you know, I would want to look back and see what they proposed. But just thinking about it here, I would think you would want more external oversight. So not just going to a court for the purpose of keeping it hidden or secret from the reporter, but going to a court for evaluating it in the first place to determine whether it's really extraordinary, whether it really involves a national security interest, whether it really involves imminent harm.


You know, those are things that a judge can consider just as easily as the prosecutors can. They do it all the time in the case of search warrants. So you could say that in these cases where you are intruding on the freedom of the press, you have that sort of internal check on subpoenas, not just warrants if it's this sort of situation.

SCIUTTO: Makes sense. And we've seen the need for sort of outside vetting of these things in multiple instances.

Jennifer Rodgers, thanks very much.

RODGERS: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Ahead, conflicting reports about the death of a black man in police custody. Ronald Greene's mother accusing the Louisiana State Police of murdering her son and lying about the circumstances. We're going to have a live report, next.