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Source Says, Trump Listening to the Bottom of the Bottom of the Crazies in the Barrel; Big Roadblocks Remain in Bipartisan Infrastructure Talks; Sources Say, Feds Investigating Obstruction as Part of Gaetz Probe. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 3, 2021 - 13:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We will see how this one goes.

[13:00:01]

Thanks for spending your time with us today. We'll see you back here, we hope, this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, a busy news day. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello on this Thursday, thank you for being with me, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

The bottom of the bottom of the crazies in the barrel, my colleague, Dana Bash, reporting that that is exactly who former President Donald Trump is listening to right now, the bottom of the bottom of the crazies in the barrel. It's dangerous.

And the things he is saying are frankly delusional. For example, he is telling people that he can be reinstated as president by August. He can't. He still thinks the election was stolen. It wasn't. Countless recounts, audits, Republican election officials and judges, including those appointed by him, have made that clear.

Some of his own advisers want him to drop this too and move on but he won't. Sources say he is now more obsessed with his big lie than ever before. And soon that obsession hits the road. He is planning summer rallies. And here's what's chilling. Some of his supporters right now think that more violence, a coup, could be the answer. And he's not publicly speaking out against that.

So who is the president listening to? Who is he ignoring? And will Republicans in Congress keep supporting him as he heads further down a dangerous path?

We begin this hour with CNN Political Analyst and White House Reporter for The Washington Post Josh Dawsey. Josh, you have new reporting on the who, who is the bottom of the barrel, what exactly are they telling the former president to do?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are folks like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and OAN anchors and others in the Mike Flynn, Sidney Powell orbit who are telling the president that these audits in Arizona, potentially an audit in Georgia and other states could lead to his reinstatement, at least some of those folks are saying that. And that's something that the president has been musing about to a number of allies that we spoke to.

Could this actually happen, could I come back to the Oval Office, the answer is very clearly no, and most of the people around him even think that. But he's going to, I guess, grasp onto hope from some of these kind of fringe figures. A lot of folks in the former president's orbit do not particularly like that he associates with some of these people but he continues to do so because they tell him much of what he wants to hear.

So you have Arizona where there's an audit now that he's obsessed with, and he's increasingly fixated on Georgia and looking into other states, such as New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, looking for any shred of evidence that gives him a modicum of vindication, I guess, in his mind would be the right word.

CABRERA: And you just said that there are some people who don't like this. You report that actually some of his advisers have been pushing back, asking him to drop this. Who are those advisers? And what do they want him to be doing instead?

DAWSEY: Well, those advisers want him to be taking the case against Biden to be talking about his own accomplishments, to be promoting the Republicans ahead of the midterm elections next year. He will speak on Saturday at the North Carolina Republican Party Convention. And then he will do a number of rallies this summer. In the running remarks that are focused more on his time in office, the problems that they view with the Biden administration.

But this previously, you know, has not gone so well, needless to say, I mean, there is remarks written for him in that vein when he spoke to donors in Florida earlier this spring. And when he walked up on stage, he ripped the remarks up and said, I'm not going to be giving this boring speech. So --

CABRERA: You said that, almost unanimously, the former president's 2020 campaign advisers say they view his obsession with the last election as a waste of time. That's almost unanimous among those who actually helped him run his 2020 campaign.

DAWSEY: Yes. Anyone who was in his campaign orbit in 2020, maybe with the exception of one or two people. But, you know, I talked to dozens of folks who worked on the campaign and so did my colleagues. And you cannot find many people who believe this is a good use of time or that it's a helpful cause for him.

CABRERA: And yet some Trump supporters are now actually calling for a coup. I mean, Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appeared to tell supporters that a Myanmar-style coup was possible in the U.S. and then he tried to walk it back.

Listen to how Michael Fanone, a Capitol officer who was brutally assaulted while protecting and defending the Capitol building on January 6th, is now responding to this nonsense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL FANONE, DEFENDED CAPITOL ON JANUARY 6: It's insane to hear that type of rhetoric being used, you know, not six months out from the insurrection at the Capitol.

[13:05:03]

This is the exact type of rhetoric which were ultimately resulted in, you know, the attempted insurrection, at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: And, Josh, I guess what is extra worrisome, if people like these insurrectionists think Trump is still encouraging this, I mean, what is he going to say at his upcoming rallies, and what happens next?

DAWSEY: It's a good question. If I knew, I would be reporting it. I guess it will depend on what is on his mind. I mean, every time he's spoken publicly or privately in the last few months, he's fanned these flames of fraud, you know, these false claims of fraud, often in granular detail, going state by state.

One of the things that is a bit, I guess, concerning about what he's doing is that, you know, a number of polls show 70 percent -- 65-70 percent of the Republicans believe the election was stolen. You have a lot of these states that are now taking measures largely because of his rhetoric and what he's been doing and saying.

So, even short of, you know, January 6th and the unfortunate things that happened that day, there are some palpable real world consequences to what the former president is doing.

CABRERA: And that's why it's important that we talk about it to try to set the record straight. Josh Dawsey, I appreciate your reporting, thanks for joining us.

DAWSEY: Thank you for having me.

CABRERA: Now to President Biden and a key agenda item in peril, his effort to fix the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Biden once again offering to drop his top dollar amount, he is now signaling he could be open to a $1 trillion plan, that number closer to what Republicans have been asking for, but big roadblocks remain on how they would pay for all of this.

CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins and CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny are both with us now.

Kaitlan, first to you, what are their roadblocks currently and what is the latest on the president's timing here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest so far is that, of course, he sat down with Senator Capito in the Oval Office yesterday and we are now being told by sources that during that meeting, he said he would come down to $1 trillion in new spending. Of course, that is all three times as high as that latest Republican counteroffer but it is significant, where we initially were with President Biden's first proposal to now we are at about $1.4 trillion total with $1 trillion in new spending.

But, of course, the gap is still not only what they want to spend on new spending when it comes to infrastructure but also how they are going to pay for it. Because before there had been this proposal, part of this proposal from President Biden that they would lower -- or raise, excuse me, the corporate tax rate, that is something that Republicans said was essentially a red line for them.

They weren't interested in revisiting the 2017 Trump tax cuts. That's the tax cuts that lowered that corporate tax rate. But we are told that in this meeting yesterday, President Biden did float the idea of potentially not making any immediate changes to those 2017 tax cuts.

Now, the question is, how are Republicans going to respond to this? And we are expecting them to make some kind of counteroffer to the president tomorrow. He's, of course, in Delaware right now. He'll be back here at the White House tomorrow. But we know this is all ahead of that Monday deadline that the White House has essentially set for any kind of major breakthroughs on these talks. That's when they are wanting to see progress.

And you heard the commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, say on CNN earlier they had already given Republicans more time, she said, after they asked for it around that initial Memorial Day deadline. And so she says they don't think that they're going to want to be negotiating much longer. The question is, how all of this ends up and, Ana, it still remains far from certain.

CABRERA: The fact they're coming back together tomorrow suggests that this is moving forward, or at least they both feel a sense of urgency.

Jeff, if President Biden can't get Republicans on board, the options he has moving forward really rely on one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, right? Where is Manchin's head right now in all of this?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Ana. The 50/50 split in the Senate is critical to all of this, and this is why. To get all Democrats on board, particularly Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and a few others, they want to see a bipartisan effort at least made at trying to reach a deal on infrastructure.

So this is more than just your normal Washington political theater, this is a key part of the process here. To get Joe Manchin eventually on board, he has to see that the White House and President Biden is serious about these bipartisan negotiations. Many of these Democrats are serious about, you know, the fact that Washington simply hasn't worked for so long and they want to see bipartisanship, if not on roads and bridges and other pieces of infrastructure, where could it be? So this is a critical part of this. But the question here, as Kaitlan pointed out, yes, the president is absolutely making big concessions to this bill, without a doubt. The sticking point still remains over how to pay for it. But one interesting tidbit here, the president also, we are told, in the meeting yesterday, talked about increasing IRS investigations, and clawing back some unpaid tacks from corporations.

[13:10:03]

That is a key issue of Joe Manchin and many other senators. So he is looking for other different pieces of revenue, potentially, to pay for this bill.

So all of this is going on, there are still -- essentially, President Biden is making it much harder for Republicans to walk away from this deal. They still could walk away from the deal but it's making it much more complicated for that.

So we'll see what type of counteroffer comes tomorrow. But you get the sense, Ana, that time is running out at the White House. The House next week is going to start marking up the bill, that means really putting the pieces together and adding up the numbers. So this is a critical, I would say, 48 hours for this infrastructure bill, at least in a bipartisan way, and if not, Democrats will try and do it on their own.

CABRERA: Democrats and Republican voters all want infrastructure and investment in that department. Kaitlan Collins and Jeff Zeleny, thank you both for your reporting.

Just in to CNN, we are just learning the Justice Department is investigating campaign contributions made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's employees from his former business, so CNN's Kristen Holmes is going to be joining us now to tell us more about this. Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. So this comes after reports last fall that cited largely anonymous former employees of DeJoy's who said, working for him, they were urged and sometimes even pressured to make campaign contributions to Republican candidates. And following that, that if they did make those contributions, that they were, many of the time, reimbursed in terms of bonuses.

Now, I do want to note, CNN has not verified that reporting, but now, that seems to be the center of this investigation. I want to read you a statement from DeJoy's spokesperson that says, Mr. DeJoy has learned that the Department of Justice is investigating campaign contributions made by employees who worked for him when he was in the private sector. He has always been scrupulous in his adherence to campaign contribution laws and never knowingly violated them.

Big thing to point out here, this is a man whose tenure, he was appointed by Donald Trump, he was a big Republican fundraiser as well as a big Trump fundraiser, has been largely mired in controversy. He was accused by Democrats of tampering with the election because of his closeness to Trump and Trump's rhetoric around mail-in voting. So this is just yet another part of that, a twist here, but it is a formal investigation, Ana.

CABRERA: And these allegations, according to The Washington Post, date way back to as early as 2000, so pre-Trump as well. Kristen Holmes, thanks, we know you're staying on top of this.

There's new trouble for Congressman Matt Gaetz today. The feds are now looking into whether the Florida congressman obstructed justice, as they investigate his alleged relationship with a minor.

Plus, where is Congressman Mo Brooks? Representative Eric Swalwell is trying to sue him in connection to the Capitol riot. There's just one problem, Swalwell can't find him.

And how do a couple of kids know how to assemble an AK-47? A Florida sheriff now asking that very question after that horrific shootout with a 12-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl.

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[13:15:00]

CABRERA: Federal authorities investigating Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz are casting a wider net. The DOJ already looking into an alleged sexual relationship with a minor and sex trafficking, also eyeing potential obstruction of justice. Sources tell CNN investigators want to determine if Gaetz attempted to interfere with the probe by trying to talk to an ex-girlfriend about it. Now, this is the same ex-girlfriend who we previously reported has said to cooperate with the feds.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us. Paula, this is becoming a very complicated game of kind of connect the dots. Break it down for us in terms of this latest development and where it fits in.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is complicated. And what's so interesting about this aspect, obstruction of justice, is that investigators had concerns about possible efforts to obstruct this investigation almost as soon as it began. We know the investigation into the congressman began in the final months of the Trump administration, and now some contacts that the congressman and his associates allegedly had with key witnesses in the case are now under scrutiny.

We know one of these instances occurred the first week of October, where Gaetz and an associate talked about meeting with an ex- girlfriend of the congressman. Now, Ana, nothing wrong with reaching out to an old flame, but in this context, investigators have been provided with materials that suggest they tried to influence that ex- girlfriend who's a key witness in this case.

Now, to be clear this ex-girlfriend is not the minor who the congressman allegedly had sexual contact with but this woman was linked to the congressman in the summer of 2017 and that's a key time period, because that's when he allegedly had contact, sexual contact, with a woman who was just 17 at the time. Now, Politico was first to report the obstruction investigation late last night, and they also add that investigators are also looking at a phone call between the ex-girlfriend and a witness where the congress,an, at some point, joined and investigators are also scrutinizing that interaction.

CABRERA: And what is Gaetz saying about all of this?

REID: Well, in a statement, his spokesman said that the congressman pursues justice, he doesn't obstruct it. After two months, there is not a single on-record accusation of misconduct, and now the story is changing yet again. We know the story, the story hasn't changed at all.

What we've learned from our reporting is that the investigation has expanded. What started with questions about sexual contact with a minor, possible sex trafficking, has expanded to investigate possible public corruption and now obstruction.

[13:20:02]

CABRERA: Paula reid, thank you.

For more on this, and other big legal headlines, let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst, former Federal Prosecutor Elliot Williams. And, Elliot, you worked at the Justice Department, how serious is this obstruction development?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, obstruction of justice is one of the most serious crimes there is because it strikes at the very core of having a free and fair justice system, if you can't bring cases without people obstructing them, the whole system sort of falls apart.

And so, you know, look, the statute, the obstruction of justice statute is quite broad, Ana, even talking to someone to try to get their story straight can be a federal offense, urging someone to lie can be a federal offense. And, you know, as Paula had said, merely connecting with exes is not a bad thing, frankly, therapists would probably say it's a healthy thing, but if one of those people happens to be a witness in a potential sex crime investigation, you've got to be very careful about what you're saying to them.

And so, yes, there are a number of legal minefields here for the congressman.

CABRERA: This potential obstruction was taking place prior to any public knowledge of the investigation into Gaetz. What do you make of that timeline?

WILLIAMS: Right. He's making it sound -- look, he has a name to clear. He's making it sound that new information is coming out in this investigation of him. It sounds from the reporting like this information was out there a year ago. Investigations take a long time to build. These things aren't created in a vacuum and don't come out of nowhere. And so it sounds like the prosecutors or investigators heard something from a witness some time ago and had been trying to run down the information, and we're just learning about it today.

CABRERA: Yet another piece of the puzzle coming together today.

Let's turn to another story now, this one involving a couple of congress members. Congressman Eric Swalwell is suing Congressman Mo Brooks, saying he helped incite the January 6th insurrection. Remember when he told the crowd that day, quote, today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.

Well, the thing is Swalwell has now hired a private investigator just to try to serve Brooks with this suit because they apparently can't find him. How has the sitting congressman managed to be so elusive? Have you ever seen this before?

WILLIAMS: I have not. This is a crazy story and it's madness. Look, people think about service of process like it is in the movies, like the movie, Pineapple Express, where the guy pretends to be a pizza delivery guy and shows up at your house and hands you legal documents. But it's actually quite mundane and very important aspect of the legal system. People need to know that they're sued and have an opportunity to respond.

The problem here is that Representative Brooks is just trying to avoid the lawsuit all together. And it sort of flows if the same pattern of conduct that got us to January 6th in the first place, which is that when you don't like something in the law, you simply defy it and pretend it doesn't exist.

At the end of the day, Congressman Brooks is going to be sued and he is going to receive process. He's a public figure. He will do a public event, and someone will hand him the documents.

Again, you know, Ana, the big tragedy here is that this is a political matter for him. And simply saying this is a deep state conspiracy, and I don't have to follow this sort of helps him and his supporters. And as a member of Congress, it's quite disgraceful that he's not adhering to the legal process that, frankly, he represents.

And, look, frankly, if he wishes to challenge this lawsuit, there's a lawful way to do it. You go into court and tell the judge, I think this is frivolous. And if a judge wants to dismiss it, it's not for you to decide.

CABRERA: And that's what other members who have faced the same suits from Congressman Swalwell have done. They've gone the legal route in terms of rejecting, trying to dismiss his claims.

Just a button on that real fast before I move on to the next question is, if he does manage to, you know, keep pushing this off and evading the people trying to put -- serve him these papers, the suit, like what happens? Because I know there's a deadline on it. If he is able to escape it up until that deadline, does a judge just extend the deadline or what happens?

WILLIAMS: Yes, it's just not going to happen. I mean, I hate to say that, Ana, it's just not going to happen, particularly as a public figure, like at some point someone is going to be able to hand him a document. It's a little complicated now for Congressman Swalwell because Congress, the buildings are locked because of January 6th. You can't get in there right now, so no one can just go in and stick it under his office door, which would be the normal way you could serve process on someone. This will play out. It's sort of political silly season now but he will be a party to this lawsuit.

CABRERA: Also regarding the insurrection, a man who entered the Senate chamber on January 6th who's in the Senate chamber, you can see the pictures here of him, he's the guy carrying the Trump flag there, he's the second rioter to enter a guilty plea. He is expected to face 15 to 21 months in prison.

[13:25:00]

And this is a guy, again, who was caught on video in the Senate chamber. What kind of precedent could his case and his plea deal set for others?

WILLIAMS: Yes. You know, it's important to note that not -- people think of cooperation, or pleading guilty, that it always has to lead to something else. If a guy pleads guilty, then, necessarily, he's giving testimony that's going to implicate somebody else or somebody higher up the chain. The simple fact is, this guy probably didn't have much to give. He knew, if he'd gone to trial, he would have been convicted. Prosecutors knew it wasn't a good use of their resources to try to bring him to trial. He's guilty of the one felony he was charged with.

The other -- if you notice, the other charges that got dropped were all the misdemeanors, and so, yes, this could set the stage for a number of the defendants who aren't charged with more serious things. Some of them -- a lot of people were just charged with acts of trespass but not charged with obstructing acts of Congress based on what you have. You know, some people aren't on video, some people didn't actually destroy property. And so, you know, we'll see how he's sentenced.

You know, it was a little cute for him to define himself as an eagle scout, and someone who, you know, engaged in an act of insurrection. So we'll see.

CABRERA: We'll see. And the context there also being he's not somebody who is charged with doing anything violent as far as, you know, all the assaults we saw against police officers, for example. Elliot Williams, I appreciate your time and your expertise. Thank you, sir.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: A horrific new twist in an already disturbing story, a Florida sheriff now telling CNN that the two kids who shot at deputies with stolen guns after allegedly breaking into a house, they may have found the AK-47 they used disassembled.

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