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Investigating Gaetz for Obstruction; Trump's Listening to Crazies; Fauci Keeps Open Mind over COVID Origin; Netanyahu could be Ousted from Power. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 3, 2021 - 09:00   ET



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


We begin with this, Congressman Matt Gaetz's legal troubles may have just gotten a lot worse. The Department of Justice is now investigating the Florida Republican for a potential attempt to obstruct justice. Sources tell CNN that investigators were told Gaetz and an associate discussed a plan to talk to Gaetz's ex-girlfriend about the federal sex crimes investigation.

SCIUTTO: She's a potential key witness in this. CBS -- CNN has previously reported that Gaetz is under investigation for sex trafficking and prostitution tied to an alleged sexual relationship with a minor. Gaetz has strongly denied having sex with a 17-year-old and has not yet been charged with any wrongdoing.

Let's get right to CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

And, Paula, on this obstruction issue, is the allegation here that there was an attempt or discussion of influence -- influencing testimony of this witness or just contacting this witness or both?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: There's multiple instances here. Look, I've been reporting on this for a few months. I think it's important for people to remember that aside from allegations of sex and drugs, at the heart of this investigation is a group of very young women. Many of them are vulnerable.

I've spoken to many of them. And many of them have said they're scared to be part of a federal investigation. And they are especially susceptible to any influence, especially from powerful men. And now we've learned that the Justice Department is looking at whether the congressman or any of his associates have tried to influence these witnesses.

Now, what's also so interesting is in our reporting we learned this isn't new. Investigators have actually been worried about attempts at obstruction since last fall, around the time that this sex trafficking investigation into the congressman began.

Now, among the incidents under scrutiny by federal investigators we know last October, October 2020, early in the month, the congressman and an associate discussed taking a trip to visit his ex-girlfriend, who is a key witness in the case.

Now, to be clear, this ex-girlfriend is not the minor he allegedly had sexual contact with. But she's key to this investigation because this ex-girlfriend was linked to the congressman in the summer of 2017 and that's the time period where he allegedly had contact with a minor. And that's why she's of particular interest to investigators.

Now, "Politico" was first to report the obstruction investigation late last night and they say that investigators are also looking at a call between the ex-girlfriend and a witness that the congressman was eventually patched into. Now, important to note, the congressman has not been charged with any wrongdoing and his spokesman issued a statement saying, Congressman Gaetz pursues justice, he does not obstruct it. After two months there is not a single on-record accusation of misconduct and now the story is changing yet again.

But, Jim and Poppy, the story is not changing at all. Our reporting is that this investigation is expanding. It started out with allegations of possible sexual contact with a minor, sex trafficking, public corruption and now obstruction.



HARLOW: Paula, two points. One, I'm -- you're so right that the center of this is young girls, young women, right? So thank you for pointing that out.

The other question, just for clarification, that I have for me and for our viewers is, is the allegation here that Gaetz and an associate talked about a plan to talk to the ex-girlfriend and maybe try to sway anything she might say or that they actually talked to that ex- girlfriend?

REID: That's what investigators are looking into. Did they make the trip? Did they go through an intermediary?


REID: That's what they're trying to figure out. Did they go and what did they say? There's nothing wrong with visiting someone, asking if they've talked to investigators.

HARLOW: Right.

REID: They're trying to figure out, how far did they go?

HARLOW: OK, thank you, Paula, for your reporting as always on this. Let's talk more about the legal aspects here with senior legal analyst Elie Honig, who is, I should note, a former federal and state prosecutor.

Elie, it's a big deal if there was obstruction here because they can use that to show a consciousness of guilt, right?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Poppy, this is bad news for Matt Gaetz on two levels really. First of all, it is a federal crime, and a serious one, to obstruct justice. People get charged with obstruction of justice all the time.

People go to jail simply for obstruction of justice commonly. And beyond that, obstruction enables prosecutors to argue to a jury what we call consciousness of guilt, meaning, the really very simple, logical idea that you don't obstruct justice unless you have a reason. You don't try to get people to change or alter their testimony unless there's something that you're trying to hide. That can be a really powerful argument.

SCIUTTO: To Paula's point, this investigation is expanding. It's not shrinking. It's been a couple of weeks now since Gaetz's associate, Joel Goldberg (ph), made a deal with prosecutors. And at the time you and I, we discussed this as also bad news for Gaetz because to get such a deal he would often have to promise cooperation regarding other witnesses, right?

I just wonder what the timeline is given your experience as a federal prosecutor. It has been an investigation that's existed for months.


Still no charges. Does that indicate anything to you?

HONIG: Yes, Jim, so on the one hand, if you look at the plea papers for Joel Greenberg, they're really detailed. Prosecutors are making clear in those papers they have a lot of evidence. They cite texts. They cite financial records. When you look at that in a vacuum, you think they're pretty far along. They have to be pretty close to next steps.

On the other hand, the nature of investigations is they tend to go off in different routes, in unexpected directions. And I think we're seeing that here. Paula said, this is an expansion of this investigation. That happens all the time. You talk to one witness, they lead you to another witness. We know they're talking to the ex- girlfriend. Well, maybe the ex-girlfriend will know things that the first witness didn't know, and that will lead you down another road.

So, as a prosecutor, you're trying to strike the balance between moving as quickly as possible but also developing all the key facts of your case.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

HARLOW: OK. Elie Honig, thank you, on all of it.

HONIG: Thanks.

HARLOW: Now this, Michael Fanone, a D.C. metropolitan police officer who, as you know, was brutally assaulted defending the Capitol on January 6th, tells CNN he is, in his words, absolutely sickened when it comes to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's efforts to block the bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection.



MICHAEL FANONE, DC POLICE OFFICER WHO DEFENDED CAPITOL ON JANUARY 6: Here I am escorting the mother of a dead policeman while she and myself advocate for, you know, the formation of a commission to investigate the circumstances which resulted in her son's death. And you have the -- you know, a leader on Capitol Hill who's making phone calls asking for personal favors and doling out political capital to push for, you know, a no vote on that commission. It was absolutely disgraceful.


SCIUTTO: If you haven't seen the video of how Fanone was treated that day, you really should watch it. He was on the front lines of this.

While you have his warning, our Dana Bash reports that several former advisers and allies still close to the former president say he's more obsessed than ever with the 2020 election and continuing to push the big lie. One former adviser says he is listening to, quote, the bottom of the bottom of the crazies in the panel (ph).

Joining us now to discuss, Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."

Jackie, listen, it's not new because the fact is, you know, the former president started pushing the big lie before the election, right?


SCIUTTO: I mean he was setting this up saying, if I lose, it's false, right? If he loses, can't accept that and now continues to press this. Trouble is, most Republicans, according to polling, believe that lie.

What is the answer from Republicans you talk to as to what they're going to do about that, or have they just stuck with the plan that, well, we hope over time that fades away.

KUCINICH: I mean right now they're not doing much to combat it. They're just sort of pushing on with, you know, what they're doing in Congress and what they're doing to try to get re-elected and trying just not to get in the former president's way or attract his ire in any way, which is why a lot of them, if you ask them, you know, behind closed doors, voted against that January 6th commission. That -- it was much more about politics than it was about the actual policies that would have created that independent commission.

And -- I mean that -- because former President Trump is not going to stop. He's going to continue going on right-wing media and pushing the big lie because it is advantageous for him and fundraise off of it for him. That's not going to stop. So they're just, you know, trying to push on with their own stuff and not get in his way.

HARLOW: So, Jackie, we just got news that this Senate report is going to come out next week that is going to --


HARLOW: You know about it, but our viewers might not, but it's going to basically detail more about the insurrection ahead of a funding vote for securing the Capitol. But here -- here's what's notable about it. It's going to stop short of examining former President Trump's role in the insurrection and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said, look, this is not a replacement for what we're talking about here with the bipartisan commission.

What is this going to mean next week when this comes out? Yes, there were Democrats and Republicans in the Senate forming this and coming out with this report, but if it stops short of the president's role, it lacks a lot of answers.

KUCINICH: Well, right. And this was much more about the, you know, security failings in the Capitol and what needs to be done to secure that building and secure the people in it.

HARLOW: Right.

KUCINICH: Rather than the causes that led up to it, which is why an independent commission would be a completely different animal. It would have much more of a 360 view of this.

Now, Republicans were saying when they were saying -- explaining why they were voting against the commission, one of the reasons they gave is that there were other reports coming out and in progress in the Senate.


This was one of those reports and has nothing to do with the causes leading -- as far as we know has nothing to do with the causes leading up to this, which will not satisfy a lot of people on the other side of the aisle and a lot of Americans who do have questions about what happened and how to prevent this and for people who were victimized by the people that stormed the Capitol.

So this really will be unsatisfying for those looking for answers at how to prevent this in the future because -- because of the former president's rhetoric, it is not -- it's not outside of the imagination that this could happen again.

SCIUTTO: But isn't the president's role that day central to the question of security failures, right? KUCINICH: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Because it's not just his comments leading up to it. It is what his response was, right?


SCIUTTO: What was his answer? What did he ask the Pentagon to do or not to do in terms of mobilizing the National Guard. I mean can senators claim this addresses as the security failures if they don't answer that question as to what the president was doing or not doing that day?

KUCINICH: Absolutely. And having not seen the report yet, I don't know what exactly is in it. But if it's not addressing what was being done inside that White House, which we still do not have a full picture of, I might add, it's not going to, you know, answer the questions and fully address the concerns about how to prevent this from happening again, which is what everyone wants.

HARLOW: By the way, part and parcel in all of this is the -- is the continuation of propagation of the big lie --


HARLOW: Which is continuing in full swing in Arizona with this sham so-called audit. And now we learned that three state lawmakers from Pennsylvania went to Arizona yesterday to see about it. And here's what one of them said. This is Pennsylvania Republican State Senator Doug Mastriano. Quote, we'll bring the information back to senator leadership. We'll back-brief them on the way ahead and hopefully we can come up with an approach here to make sure that every person in Pennsylvania can rest assured they have one vote and it counts.

So is what's going on in Arizona now to come to Pennsylvania and beyond?

KUCINICH: This just spreads. It isn't going away. And it is coming from the person that they look to, and that is former President Trump. And he is listening to people that the president -- the former president loves yes men. We know that.

He loved them in the White House. But there's fewer and fewer of them on this -- on this issue of stealing the election. And now this August date that Maggie Haberman reported on Monday, "The Daily Beast" reported today, came from Mike Lindell. By Mike Lindell's own admission, he just kind of made up August as a time when the president would be reinstated. And then, you know, you have the president talking about it with advisers.

HARLOW: From who?

KUCINICH: Mike Lindell, the pillow guy.

HARLOW: The pillow guy?

SCIUTTO: Pillow guy.

KUCINICH: The pillow guy. You know, he said -- he told our (INAUDIBLE) that if the president is saying August, he probably heard it from me. That is where we're at. And it's -- it's ludicrous but it's not ludicrous ha, ha, it's ludicrous uh-oh, because this is going out into the president's supporters, into the bloodstream, fueling these recounts, as they call them, and continuing the misinformation that is infecting a lot of people in this country.

SCIUTTO: And to groups that have shown their willingness to use violence to act on those lies.

KUCINICH: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: And this is the thing and yet still being ignored at the Capitol.

Jackie Kucinich, thanks very much.

KUCINICH: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, Dr. Fauci tells CNN this morning his thoughts on the origins of COVID-19. He says he has an open mind as to where this leaked from but requires more investigation. His emails from the early days of the pandemic have now been released under the Freedom of Information Act.

HARLOW: Plus, huge news overnight that affects the world, the Middle East, U.S./Israeli relations. Could Israel's longest serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, be on his way out? It looks very likely this morning.

And newly uncovered documents from Buckingham Palace adding more fuel to allegations of racism. We're live in London.



HARLOW: This morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci is speaking out after thousands of his emails were released through the Freedom of Information Act, a request made that way. He is responding to some criticism he's received, particularly after one email that became public. This email was sent to Fauci and it suggested that Fauci had said in the beginning of the pandemic that COVID-19 came from an animal, not the Wuhan lab. Well, listen to his response this morning on CNN with John Berman.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I still believe the most likely origin is from an animal species to a human. But I keep an absolutely open mind that if there may be other origins of that, there may be another reason. It could have been a lab leak.

I'm keeping an open mind that it might be a lab leak. HARLOW: Let's bring in our medical analyst and emergency physician Dr.

Leana Wen.

Good morning, Dr. Wen.

This actually ties to what I found to be a really important piece that you wrote for "The Washington Post" about the origins, right, because that's what we're talking about now. And here's what you wrote. You wrote, quote, as a physician, I believe it is crucial to understand the origin of the pandemic to prevent future ones. As a Chinese- American, I worry that unproven speculation could increase racist attacks against Chinese people and further fuel anti-Asian hate.


You go on to write that you've experienced an uptick in racist hate mail above the steady baseline levels you've received, you know, ever since the beginning of the pandemic.

Can you speak to this on both fronts?

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: Poppy, I definitely think it's important for us to get to the bottom of how we got coronavirus. How we got COVID-19. And a lot of scientists don't believe in the animal spillover theory only because there have been so many other diseases that came from animals to humans, including SARS and MERS, two other coronaviruses that evolved from the bat coronavirus to an intermediate animal to humans. And so that still is the most likely, I think, for many people, the hypothesis.

But we are scientists. We keep an open mind. And it is really important to investigate the possibility of there being a lab leak or some other hypotheses. The issue though is we have to -- the way that we speak about this is really important because since the beginning of the pandemic there have been over 6,600 cases of documented anti-Asian racism here in the U.S. And many of these cases involved someone directly blaming an individual who looks like they're Chinese-American and saying that they caused coronavirus.

And so all I'm saying here is, we should do the investigation, but let's be very careful about our wording. So please do not use words like "China virus." If we're criticizing the Chinese government, say that.

HARLOW: Right.

WEN: Don't say "the Chinese." And also I think we should acknowledge that people are justifiably angry about the global pandemic, but that anger should not be taken out on innocent people.

HARLOW: I encourage everyone to read it because it's really powerful.

Let's move on to something else that Dr. Fauci said, a question that a lot of us as parents, you included, have about our kids and masks. So Dr. Fauci recommending kids do wear masks, obviously, especially in high infection -- sort of potential high infection settings when they can't be vaccinated. Here's his exchange this morning.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: If you're a parent of a 12-year-old, or someone 12 or younger right now, how hopeful should you be that they will get a vaccine dose before say Thanksgiving?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: You know, I'm cautiously optimistic about that. We hope that as we approach the end of this calendar year we'll have enough information to vaccinate children of any age. So I'm cautiously optimistic we might be there by the end of the year.


HARLOW: That's a big deal of any age. You know, less than a year from now.

WEN: That's fantastic. I mean, I have an almost four-year-old and a one-year-old. I cannot wait until they're eligible to receive the vaccine. I think until then mask wearing for kids, especially if we are living in high transmission areas, is still going to be important.

And I know that's something that people don't always want to hear. We want to hear that it's the end of the pandemic and we can throw away masks, but unvaccinated people are still at high risk. And I would just urge some patience here. Definitely the best thing that we can do for our children in the meantime is for adults and all those people who are eligible to be vaccinated to get their shots.

HARLOW: Dr. Wen, thank you very, very much.

WEN: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Israel's longest serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, closer than ever to being ousted by really an unusual team of rivals. Ahead, what this could mean for U.S./Israel relations, including the Iran nuclear deal.

HARLOW: We're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. futures pointing lower this morning. This comes as we learn, though, that first-time unemployment benefits actually fell below 400,000 for the first time since March of 2020. Of course, everyone's really waiting on pins and needles for the jobs report, the monthly jobs report. That comes tomorrow after the big disappointment in it last month.

We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: Overnight, just a huge shake-up in Middle East politics. Israeli opposition parties, a really remarkable collection of them, struck a deal to form a new government which would push, if it holds together, Benjamin Netanyahu out as prime minister, an office he has held for 12 years straight, longer than any other person, more years if you add them all up.

HARLOW: It's a huge (INAUDIBLE).

And our Hadas Gold is live in Jerusalem for us.

Hadas, you've got -- I mean the fact you've got Benjamin Netanyahu's response and clearly he's going to try to break this up in the next seven days before the Knesset has to -- has to, you know, finalize it, where does this leave Israel and what does it mean globally?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, history was made yesterday when 38 minutes before that midnight deadline these opposition coalition managed to present themselves to the Israeli president, said that they had managed to pull together a coalition government.

Now, as you noted, it's a very interesting, what they're calling a unity government. It's a wide swath of political parties, eight of them, ranging from the far left Meretz party, through the center, to the far right Yamina party, and in an historic move, actually, the first Arab-Israeli party will be part of a coalition.

This is the United Arab List. Never before has an Arab-Israeli party been a signatory as part of a government coalition. And so that just goes to show you've got the United Arab List sitting with the right wing Yamina party, sitting with the far left Meretz party.