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Grand Jury to Consider Charges against Trump; Key Vote Tomorrow on January 6th Commission; Biden Signaled $1 Trillion Infrastructure; COVID-19 Vaccine Not Linked to Heart Problems in Kids. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 26, 2021 - 09:00   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Time to turn it over to Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto, who has seen many, many important films, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Not enough.

BERMAN: It's time for their show. You should all watch it now.

Now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

Back story there, no "Fast and Furious" for me.

There is a big and serious question this morning, could former President Trump be indicted on criminal charges? It's a serious question and there is movement. According to "The Washington Post," the Manhattan district attorney, who's been investigating Trump Organization for months, has convened a grand jury to hear evidence, and this is important, weighing potential charges against the former president, other executives at his company or the business itself. The move signifies the DA's investigation has reached an advanced stage after more than two years of this probe.

HARLOW: Remember, these prosecutors not only have a trove of tax documents and other records, they've also extensively interviewed Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, over the past two years, as Jim said, since, of course, he flipped. Remember, Cohen turned on Trump after pleading guilty to making hush money payments on the former president's behalf and lying under oath.

It comes as no surprise that former President Trump blasted the investigation as a witch hunt.

So how significant is this?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Where does it go from here?

Let's begin this hour with our senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

Paula, good morning.

Tell us what exactly convening this grand jury -- it's going to last a long time, six months -- what does this mean?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Maybe even longer than six months. There are -- there are ways to actually extend it.

Look, Poppy, this is not good news for the former president that after two years this investigation is entering this advanced stage, but it does not mean that he or anyone else will definitely be charged.

At the heart of this case are questions about whether the Trump Organization lied about its assets. The question is whether, when they went to banks, were they saying they had more than they actually did to help them secure loans? And when they talked to the government, were they actually devaluing their assets so they did not have to pay as much in taxes? The potential crime, of course, being fraud.

But in order to bring fraud charges, you need a lot of evidence. You need specific documents, you need witnesses. As you noted, they do have the president's tax returns after a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

But the fact that they've convened this grand jury, it does suggest that prosecutors believe they have evidence of a crime. And now they can use this grand jury to issue subpoenas to bring in the evidence they have to get more evidence and to really just test their case.

Now, of course, the former president has weighed in on this investigation. In a statement he said, this is, quote, purely political and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the presidential election, and it's being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors.

Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Paula Reid, thanks very much.

Former federal prosecutor Laura Coates joins us now.

Laura, there's that famous old saying that a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich if that's what prosecutors want here. But this is -- this is at an advanced stage because Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan DA, has been investigating for two years and he has an enormous amount of documents on hand, as well as potentially cooperative witnesses. Michael Cohen already shown that and targeting Allen Weisselberg, the longtime CFO of Trump Organization. Not clear if he -- if he will cooperate. But he's got a lot of things in his arsenal here. How serious does convening a grand jury, how serious is that in your

view?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's very serious. You don't just call a grand jury or a special grand jury to actually spin your wheels. And, again, the documents are important here. It's not as if you have to just rely on statements of people who can -- you know, obviously, to err is human.

You actually have documents that are going to speak for themselves. Either you signed something or you didn't. Either you inflated or you didn't. Either it was assessed equally and assessed objectively or it was not. That's a very big deal here talking about a grand jury. They're going to look at the documents and decide from there.

HARLOW: What are your biggest questions, Laura, on all of this, this morning because it does -- I mean the timing's just interesting, if not more, the fact that it comes, what, less than two weeks after we learn the AG, Letitia James' office, is partnering with the -- with the DA here.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COATES: Well, that's very specific in here, Poppy, because, think about that, you don't want to reinvent the wheel. They both, in their independent investigations, and mind you the overlap of the two in this way is actually quite rare, but the underlying facts overlapped in such a way we are seeing that they made best sense to actually come together.

So where one may have had interviews or depositions, the other actually has documents. You combine the two and the underlying thread here, if it's about the ideas of tax fraud, avoiding the payment of taxes, deflating or inflating assets accordingly or even things around the private estates, they're going to combine efforts, not duplicate them, with an eye towards indictment.

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Now, again, as Paula talked about, there is no guarantee. But, again, the idea of a specialized grand jury convening with the benefit of tax documents, the benefit of a documents related to allegations of fraud, any statements that are made, that is huge ammunition against the organization or anyone within it.

SCIUTTO: Trump famously said during the 2016 election in one of the debates, right, that he doesn't pay or reduces his taxes because he's smart, right? I mean the question is, did he get on the wrong side of the law here and the potential allegation is that he played both sides of the game, deflating income when it came to taxes, to reduce his liability, inflating the value of assets to get loans.

What laws would be broken here, potentially, if he went too far in either of those things?

COATES: Well, they're all the fraud-based allegations here. The notion here that, look, nothing is certain but death and taxes. And taxes seems to be even more certain most days.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

COATES: The idea here that you're not able to -- you can navigate the tax code but you can't break the tax code. And his own statements in the past may be used against him, if he, in fact, is the target here in this particular instance.

Remember, one of the things that he might have the benefit of here, Jim, is the idea of counsel, the advice of his tax preparers, the advice of his attorneys. We know that President Trump did not -- you know, infamously did not keep a lot of a paper trail in terms of text messaging or email and so he's got a little bit of removal there from the people who may have advised him.

Yet and still that's why someone like a Weisselberg is so important, somebody who would be able to have these personal conversations with the former president, somebody who would be able to unpack the intent or what was really intended and whether it was the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Laura Coates, thank you very much.

Let's talk about the political side of all of this. Toluse Olorunnipa, political investigations and enterprise reporter for "The Washington Post," the paper that broke the story, is with us, and Olivia Beaver is congressional reporter for "Politico."

It's great to have you both here.

So let's talk about the work, Toluse, that your paper did. What do you see in terms of the politics of this? We heard the president's response. I would assume he's going to be pressuring, you know, maybe publicly, if not behind the scenes, Republicans to rally in his defense here. And it puts Democrats in the position of having to, you know, talk about and address the past and not the future.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this is a headline that includes the words "Trump and" "indictment," "Trump" and "grand jury," potentially, "Trump" and "criminal charges." That's not a good set of headlines for the Republican Party. They want to be talking about -- if they're talking about Trump, they want to be talking about maybe the tax cuts that he passed or the fact that he was able to win in 2016 when it was a difficult year for Republicans.

But, instead, they're talking about all of the corruption that has swirled around his administration. And many Republicans want to move on beyond talking about Trump because under Trump they lost the White House, they lost the House and they lost the Senate. And it was in large part because of this scandal that was always swirling around him.

So it's a tough position for Republicans to be in. It does allow Democrats to go on the attack and it keeps Biden out of the headlines and instead we're talking about the former president.

SCIUTTO: Olivia, there is a point of view that this will make the president more likely to run in 2024 or at least keep that option open because then he sees it as allowing him to portray this as purely -- he's already portraying this as purely political but even more so because he will be a candidate for office.

One, is that likely, in your view? Is that what you're hearing on The Hill? And, you know, I suppose the other question is, how does the Republican Party receive that? Do they want a candidate who might be indicted as the standard bearer for the party going into 2024?

OLIVIA BEAVERS, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, so you bring up a great point, Jim. So Republicans -- we at least I have two sources close to the president who have said that they think Donald Trump -- he's at least expressing to allies that he plans to run again in 2024. And that's before this news even came down about the grand jury.

Now, when I was talking to these sources, they said, look, Donald Trump will say things and then he doesn't follow through. This might not be the first time. He's making the 2024 potential candidate field dance. He's making sure that people keep on kissing the ring so he can stay relevant. But, you know, certainly this would be a motivating factor if he thought that he would be protected from legal jeopardy if becoming a 2024 Republican candidate helped him -- shield him from this -- from this case.

But talking to Republicans on The Hill, I've been asking them this question. You get a mix of answers and a lot of them prefer to, you know, be private in some of their points.

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But some are saying, yes, we want Donald Trump to run again. That's the Jim Jordans and some of the Freedom Caucus members. Others are saying, maybe we should give others a chance. Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo, others who have been basically in the shadow of Donald Trump through his administration but not necessarily as plagued by scandal as he has been. And the points that they make are Donald Trump is a distraction, even though if we love his policies. And then some are saying, no, please don't have Donald Trump run again.

So getting a mix, but some are also saying it's too early to tell. And I think that they will certainly be watching how this case plays out.

HARLOW: Can we switch gears here, Toluse, and I just want to talk about Kevin McCarthy, you know, GOP House leadership now, five days later coming out and condemning unequivocally Marjorie Taylor Greene, comparing mask rules on Capitol Hill to the Holocaust and then you have other GOP leadership condemning it as well.

Jamie Gangel has interesting reporting that Republican donors and House members really put the pressure on them to do that. But it's done. They've done it. My question to you is, you've got Republicans in the House, like Adam

Kinzinger, saying, look, we can't stop Marjorie Taylor Greene from being a Republican, but we can stop her from caucusing with the GOP.

Is he on an island, and are there any next moves by Republican House leadership, whether it's a censure vote, what have you?

OLORUNNIPA: Representative Kinzinger is definitely on an island, and he's going to be there until such time that President Trump, former president, decides to speak out against Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. It's clear that Trump likes her. And as long as Trump likes her, it's going to be hard for Kevin McCarthy to do anything to cross her or to kick her out of the party.

President -- former President Trump has talked about how Republicans need to be tough and smart and stick together. He says Democrats stick together while Republicans are always fighting amongst themselves. So it's going to be very hard for McCarthy to do anything more aggressive in terms of kicking her out of the party or out of the caucus, in part because she has the support of President Trump and the support of a lot of his fans and a lot of his supporters if you look at her fundraising.

She is raising tons of money, in part because she is following the Trump playbook of creating outrage, getting backlash and then playing the victim and saying, you know, look at all these liberals that have been triggered by me and that are out to get me. Can you donate $5 to my campaign?

So as long as she's continuing to have that playbook and President Trump continues to support her, it's going to be hard for leadership to kick her out of the party.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. Listen, I mean, he may support her until she supplants him as a bigger social media voice, right? I mean she's following the playbook and his impact there declining.

Toluse Olorunnipa, lots to cover, Olivia Beavers, thanks so much to both of you.

BEAVERS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And still to come this hour, GOP senators want some big changes to the January 6th commission. A bipartisan proposal for it, by the way. Will Democratic senators make those changes or is it all but over?

And Chinese state-run media has a new target, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Why they're going after him and why the controversy over the origins of this virus is far from over, just ahead.

HARLOW: Plus, tonight, the first $1 million winner will be drawn for the Ohio COVID-19 vaccine lottery. Some people, really state lawmakers from both parties, aren't happy about it and want to stop the lottery.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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SCIUTTO: We do have some sad news to pass along this morning. Former Republican Senator John Warner has died. Warner was through the years a staple in Virginia and national politics. He served five terms in Congress from 1979 to 2009. Warner, well-respected on both sides of the aisle, Poppy.

HARLOW: For his bipartisan spirit, for his service to the country. He served in both World War II and the Korean War. He eventually became secretary of the Navy for the Nixon administration in the '70s. He died at the age of 94 surrounded by his family.

SCIUTTO: Well, the future of the January 6th commission and a bipartisan proposal for it hangs in the balance this week. Tomorrow, senators will hold a key vote to determine whether the bill can advance to a final vote.

I mean, Poppy, it's remarkable that the filibuster -- Republicans might very well filibuster this bipartisan plan.

HARLOW: That's exactly right. As it stands, it does not appear there's enough support to move this thing forward.

Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill for us this morning.

Lauren, good morning.

Will any concessions be made to bring over more GOP senators, or is this thing DOA?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially right now what you have, Poppy, is one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, making very public the changes that she wants to see to the bill that would establish the January 6th commission.

However, you have not seen any interest from Democratic leaders in making those changes. Chuck Schumer argued yesterday at his press conference that he viewed some of the suggested changes she wanted to make, especially on the staffing issue, as potentially problematic for the commission. Collins is arguing that she wants a guarantee in the way that this legislation is written that Republicans and Democrats would have an equal ability to get staff on the commission.

Right now the way that the bill is written is it would require that the chairman of the commission would select staff in consultation with the vice chair. Her argument is that there needs to be more of an actual agreement on staffing. And if that agreement could not be made, what she hopes would happen is each side would get to pick their own staff.

Now, Schumer's concern about that is you could potentially have warring staff on a commission that was supposed to be bipartisan, was supposed to be sort of at a different level than what lawmakers would be able to do up here on Capitol Hill.

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It is not likely that those changes would be made at this point. And you should keep in mind that even if you got Senator Susan Collins to support a bill that Romney and Murkowski have said they will support with Democrats, that is still just a handful of Republicans. That is not ten Republicans, which is what would be needed to get this bill across the finish line.

It should be noted that in the House you had 35 House Republicans willing to vote with Democrats to establish this commission.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Lauren, thank you very much.

We are just days away from the White House's Memorial Day deadline that they set for an infrastructure deal. Republican senators say President Biden has informed them or indicated to them that he would accept a much lower price tag on the package, about a trillion dollars. That is much less than the, obviously, original $2.3 trillion and then $1.7 trillion proposal.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Arlette Saenz joins us now from the White House.

Arlette, GOP senators, they're expected to make a counter offer to the counter offer to the counter offer but in that same price range of about a trillion dollars. I mean beyond the dollar figure, is there a meeting in the middle on the other key issues of disagreement, like, for instance, what you define infrastructure has? Does broadband come in there?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the devil will certainly be in the details, Jim and Poppy. And the White House has expressed that they are keeping an open mind as they are expecting the Republican senators to present this counterproposal when it comes to infrastructure.

Now, what we know so far is that this proposal will total somewhere around $1 trillion, which Republican senators are saying President Biden has suggested he would accept as a top line number. That is far less than the $2.25 trillion and then the $1.7 trillion that the president had previously proposed.

But so much of whether there will be an agreement will come to the actual details of these proposals. We are still waiting to hear a bit more of the contours of the GOP plan, but so far the Republican senators working on this have offered some clues about what they would be including. They have suggested that they might be paying for it by using unused COVID relief funding and that they would structure those payments to take course over the course of eight years.

Additionally, bottom line, they insist that they do not want to see changes made to the 2017 Trump tax cuts. That may not fly with this White House as they have proposed making slashes to the corporate tax rate in order to pay for this.

Now, while these -- this GOP proposal is still forthcoming, it's expected to come tomorrow, there is also a group of bipartisan senators working on a parallel track, putting together their own counter proposal that includes Senator Joe Manchin, who has insisted he wants to see real, meaningful bipartisan negotiation when it comes for -- to infrastructure. You also have Senator Susan Collins and Senator Mitt Romney that are part of that working group.

But really right now the clock is ticking. The president has set this soft deadline of having some contours of a deal by Memorial Day. That is very quickly approaching. And right now there is this wait and see period whether each -- whether both sides will be able to come to some type of agreement or if the president will decide to go it alone with just Democrats, which some of his colleagues up on Capitol Hill are already suggesting he take that route.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, listen, one of the pay-fors that is coming out of these bipartisan talks there, they have charging electric vehicle owners per mile driving. Hard to see how that gets Democratic votes. I mean a long way to go.

Arlette Saenz at the White House, thanks very much.

Ahead, new calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic after CNN learns that President Biden shut down an investigation started by the Trump administration. Did the president make a mistake there?

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures are pointing higher this morning as investor fears over inflation have eased slightly. San Francisco Federal Reserve officials say while the economy is strong, it's not the time to change policy. Stocks closed the day lower yesterday. We'll keep an eye on the markets as they open today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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HARLOW: Well, there is really important, new information this morning. So parents of teens, listen up. This will probably put you at ease when it comes to vaccinating your children.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

No question. Listen to this. The CDC says it investigated reports of a heart ailment among mostly teens and young adults who had received the COVID-19 vaccine, and it found no link between the vaccine and that heart condition. Still, there is concern among doctors that people will misinterpret the findings, might get scared off anyway. So to clear it up, give you the information you need for you and your children, Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

So, Elizabeth, in clearest terms possible, tell us what the CDC found here. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDIAL CORRESPONDENT: There is no link

between the COVID-19 vaccine and heart problems in teens and young adults. That is the easiest way to say it. And, Jim, you said it. I just said it. Let's give a few more details here.

What happens is that -- and this is a good thing -- doctors and patients are encouraged to report to this national reporting system when something goes wrong after a vaccine.

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