Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Interview With Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder; President Biden Begins First Foreign Trip; Trump Administration Pursued CNN Reporter's E-Mails. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 9, 2021 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00]

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: Let those peacocks be on their own.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: They're actually talking about banning feeding peacocks there.

Harry Enten, what is next? Always good to have you. Thank you.

ENTEN: Bye.

CABRERA: And we will end it there today. Thanks for being with us. See you back here tomorrow at 1:00 Eastern.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @AnaCabrera.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you for joining us. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

We do begin with breaking news about the Justice Department's aggressive efforts to obtain phone and e-mail records of a CNN reporter, Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

This started under then Attorney General Bill Barr and President Trump. This is information that is just being released at this hour.

So let's bring in CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez and CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.

Evan, let's just start with you. Give us your reporting. Take us through what happened here.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn and Victor, until now, we haven't been able to tell this story.

That's because, until just a short while ago, this has been sealed under a federal court order, preventing CNN lawyers from telling the story of what was a months-long, protracted legal fight with the Justice Department over their demands for months of the e-mail records belonging to CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Now, this is a fight that was going on, again, in secret over a period of months. And it continued even while a judge told the Justice Department that -- quote -- "their reasoning was speculative and unanchored from the facts."

Let's give -- let's go through a timeline of the legal fight, so you can see how many months the CNN legal team was fighting with the Justice Department. It begins in July of 2020, when the Justice Department -- when CNN's legal department receives an order from a judge from the Justice Department saying that they want two months of Barbara Starr's e-mail records from 2017.

Now, this includes at the time a gag order that prevented Dave Vigilante, our lawyer, from discussing any details of this with just a limited number of people. In September of 2020, CNN goes to the court and asks for this order to be narrowed, because the initial order was for tens of thousands of e-mails and included e-mail records that were internal, not having anything to do with any government official that may have been the subject of this leak investigation that this was all about.

In October, the federal judge, Theresa Buchanan, tells the Justice Department that they should narrow the order. A couple of days later, again in October, the Justice Department returns to the judge with secret information that CNN's lawyers could not even see and persuades the judge to reissue this demand for Barbara Starr's e-mail records.

In November, CNN appeals to another judge. And, in December, we finally get a different result from federal Judge Anthony Trenga, who sides with CNN's effort to narrow the scope of the Justice Department's request,

I will read you just a part of what the judge says. He says -- quote -- "The requested information, by its nature, is too attenuated and not sufficiently connected to any evidence relevant -- to any evidence, relevant material or useful to the government's ascribed investigation, particularly when considered in light of the First Amendment activities that it relates to."

In January of 2021 now -- we're in the last few days of the Trump administration -- the Justice Department goes back to the judge and ask for the judge to reconsider his order, because he is saying that CNN has a point, to narrow the scope of this request.

And then after Joe Biden becomes president on January 20, finally, the Justice Department sits down to CNN and hammers out an agreement, which is done on January 26. Under this deal, CNN was able to produce a limited number of e-mail records, essentially records that the government already had from its side of these communications.

And that's when that fight finally ended. In May, last month, is when the Justice Department finally informs Barbara Starr, who has been kept in the dark through this entire fight, by the way. Barbara Starr is finally notified that not only has the Justice Department obtained its CNN -- her CNN e-mail records, but they have also obtained records for her private and work cell phones, as well as her private e-mail.

This is something that CNN's legal team was completely in the dark about until this letter that was sent in mid-May to Barbara Starr. That's about the time that the Justice Department also informs reporters for "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" that their records had also been sealed, again, a very extraordinary legal fight that has been going on for months behind the scenes.

[14:05:06]

BLACKWELL: In secret, nearly a year long. Evan, thank you for that.

Let's bring in Brian Stelter now.

Stelter, so many questions, but let's start here, because we know that CNN is not the only news agency that has been the subject of these efforts from DOJ, right?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right.

We learned last Friday that "The New York Times" had also been placed under a gag order, that lawyers at "The Times" were in a similar situation, but for a shorter period of time. So now we're learning that CNN was also subject to a gag order, that our top lawyer was silenced, and for an even longer period of time.

This is a stunning revelation about the government spying on journalists, and trying to do it so that even the journalists and the bosses cannot know.

I mean, number one, spying on journalists is in front to the First Amendment. This has been a problem in the Obama years. It was a problem in the Trump years. Now President Biden is vowing this will end, because it's so embarrassing. But this has been a problem for years. That's true.

Now, number two, the idea that the journalist's lawyers can't even talk about the case, can't even inform the journalist, that is something extraordinary, incredibly unusual. I mean, let's just put it this way. The words gag order don't belong in the same sentence as the words news outlet, right?

Our job is the opposite of silence. Our job is to speak the truth and try to figure out what's going on, so we can tell the viewers at home. When these leak investigations end up going after our sources, our confidential records, and when these leak investigations end up gagging lawyers, I think everybody should be concerned about whether that's a Justice Department abuse of power.

And then I'm going to take it one step further, given what we experienced in the Trump years. "The New York Times," CNN and "The Washington Post" were the three outlets where there were these secret subpoenas trying to get ahold of journalists' records.

Those are three outlets that President Trump bashed at every turn, on every occasion. Is that a coincidence? Was he, was his administration targeting these news outlets? And is this the result?

I think, frankly, here we are in June of 2021. We're starting to learn what happened in the Trump years.

CAMEROTA: All fair questions.

So, Evan, I mean, since this has been going on so long, why are we just finding out about it right now at this hour?

PEREZ: Well, the Biden administration, the Justice Department under Merrick Garland said that they were doing a review of some of these cases. They knew there were a number of these.

And so, at the end of that, you finally saw just over the weekend them making an announcement that is saying that they're no longer going to be taking this extraordinary step in leak investigations. Leak investigations are still going to be going on. But this comes at the end of a review that they said they were doing.

BLACKWELL: Brian, you mentioned that the Biden administration says that they're not going to continue this.

Are we certain that this is now over?

STELTER: Well, one of the things, so, only in the last few weeks did President Biden say he put a stop to this. And that was only in response to a question from our colleague Kaitlan Collins, when the news about Barbara Starr initially came out that her records were seized.

Now we're learning even more about this gag order. And let me read from "The New York Times," the CNN story about this. The Trump administration's unwillingness to negotiate the total secrecy, this is something that media lawyers are going to be studying for a long time because it is so unusual.

So it's embarrassing for the government. It's a revelation that's going to have shockwaves. And now the Biden DOJ is going to be under pressure to put this into practice and to make this codified, so that it's not just the Biden DOJ vowing not to seize reporters' records, to go through their phone logs, trying to find their sources, but to put this into practice for future administrations.

Right now, this is just a Biden DOJ promise not to engage in this practice if journalists are gathering the news. And, of course, the Biden DOJ could find a way around that language as well. So there's a lot of concern in newsrooms that the Biden DOJ needs to show how they're going to live up to this promise.

And we do know that, next Monday, there is a meeting scheduled between Attorney General Merrick Garland and representatives of CNN, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," in an attempt to discuss this matter, and try to bring tensions down, because, listen, I have been talking to media rights lawyers, advocacy groups.

This is something that has been a deep concern in the last few days before we even knew there actually was a gag order involving CNN.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, Evan, as you were just saying, this -- Biden took office in January. Has the Biden Department of Justice moved with enough alacrity to resolve this?

PEREZ: I mean, this has been slow. And, again, the only reason why we're talking about this today is because a judge -- CNN went to a judge and asked the judge to lift the gag order that has been preventing David Vigilante, the CNN lawyer, from even being able to tell more people than just a very limited number of people.

And so it's been a very slow process. And Brian's right. This is a policy that is applying only to Merrick Garland's Justice Department. Once he leaves, you don't -- we don't know what the new rules will be. This is some that is, frankly, just for now.

[14:10:03]

And so the question that I think going forward is going to be, is there going to be long-term difference and long-term change in the way the Justice Department handles these things?

I can tell you real quick, the -- inside the Justice Department, there's a lot of anger at the Garland announcement that they were curtailing these types of seizures of journalists' records. National security officials there don't feel that this is a right step. They think that national security is going to suffer because of it.

But I think what they're failing to understand is just the fact that some of these lawyers that have been doing this did not use their own prosecutorial discretion to do the right things in these cases. The gag order is just extraordinary, especially when it comes to a media organization that exists to tell the people what's happening in their government.

BLACKWELL: Evan Perez, thanks for that breaking news. Brian Stelter, thank you as well.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's bring in the lawyer at the center of all this who we were just talking about, CNN general counsel David Vigilante.

David, it's been remarkable today to learn what you have been dealing with for these past many months. So how unusual -- just give us the context. How unusual is an attempt like this from any Department of Justice?

DAVID VIGILANTE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL COUNSEL FOR CNN: Well, for a news organization, it's incredibly unusual. It's never happened to us before.

There's a provision in the criminal law that allows for the issuance of these kinds of orders. They're called D orders. Typically, they go to phone providers and technological carriers of e-mail and things like that. To send one to a media organization and then to bind it to not be able to talk to its own journalists is really unprecedented.

BLACKWELL: So, David, when you receive this order, this was July 17 of 2020.

Did you immediately know the gravity of this order and what the DOJ wanted?

VIGILANTE: I understood the gravity order because I was familiar with them from some of our own coverage over the years.

Truthfully, I really did not have any idea of what the government wanted. And, candidly, to this day, I don't know, because it was such an opaque process.

CAMEROTA: But, David, I mean, it wasn't just that you had a gag order. You also weren't allowed to speak to Barbara Starr about it who is involved. You weren't allowed, as you say, to know what the government was investigating.

Can you just tell us what that was like to try to operate in this vacuum of information? And what would have happened if you had not complied with that gag order?

VIGILANTE: So, the penalties for noncompliance are, you can be held in contempt of court or you can even get prosecuted for felony obstruction of justice.

So it's kind of an intimidating thing to have hanging over your head for almost a year. It's also kind of unconscionable that, as a lawyer who's also ethically bound and takes an oath to practice my profession, that I cannot be relied upon to speak in confidence with a client, and that the rationale for that is that we can't be trusted.

It's kind of an offensive premise to begin any kind of professional interaction. We tried repeatedly with the DOJ to say, once we have secured all the evidence, and it's impossible for any of the evidence to be spoiled, I should then be able to confer with Barbara Starr. And the answer repeatedly was, no, you cannot. We will not consent to that.

BLACKWELL: I just want to point out that, as we describe all of this, David, and you tell us what happened over those 10 months, at no point did you know -- I want to highlight that you didn't know what they were looking for, that you couldn't even help them kind of narrow what to give them, even if you could, what they wanted.

VIGILANTE: No.

And I wrote about that in the piece I wrote today. And, typically, when you get a request like this -- and we do get requests like this, both in the form of subpoenas from the government and private litigation -- there's always a period of negotiation because they don't know exactly what to ask for and you don't know exactly what they want.

But, usually, through that -- it's called meet and confer. Through that process, you're able to significantly narrow it. And most of the time, you're able to resolve it without having to get the court involved. What was so unusual here is there was simply no interest whatsoever to

have any discussion the merits or any -- make any attempt that would allow us to narrow the scope of the request.

CAMEROTA: And, as you say, you wrote a piece about it. People can go to read more at CNN.com.

But how were you able to bring this to a resolution?

VIGILANTE: Well, we had to go back to court multiple times.

And I think, finally, when Judge Trenga issued his ruling, after a lot of foot-dragging, we were able to reach a resolution that allowed a very minimal production, but, also importantly, close the application of that order, so they could not go back to that order for authorization to seek more information.

And they're compelled to come to me first. And we have to try and do everything voluntarily. And that gives the opportunity for Barbara to be part of the conversation should some sort of follow-up occur, which I thought was absolutely critical.

BLACKWELL: And, initially, this was about e-mail correspondence, but it turns out that this was broader than that, broader than you even knew.

VIGILANTE: Yes, I mean, the scope of the order, because it was opaque to me, I had no idea that, at the same time we were going -- they were going after e-mails that we maintain on our servers, they were also going after communications associated or records associated with Barbara's other accounts.

[14:15:00]

That -- none of that was made known to us. And it stands to reason that she would have conducted some work conversations and communications on those platforms as well. And we were completely deprived of our right to defend ourselves and defend our content under the First Amendment and, frankly, due process.

CAMEROTA: All of it, I mean, just all of it is so upsetting to journalists in the field of journalism, and, obviously, the First Amendment.

So, this stretched, as Evan was telling us, into the Biden administration. And CNN is planning now to meet with the attorney general, Garland, on Monday. So what is this about? What do you want to hear from them?

VIGILANTE: Well, I think we're going to meet with my counterparts at "The Times" and "The Post," and, certainly, we want more understanding of what happened and what the bases were to issue these extraordinary orders.

I'm skeptical that the factual predicate was really met. I think I was pretty clear about that in what I wrote as well, especially given what the judge's remarks were. But I think, more importantly, it's about trying to speak to what Brian said in the earlier segment, to create some rules around this, so this situation is not repeated and we're not dependent on the good graces of whatever incumbent officeholder there is.

That's the whole idea of a country being a country of laws and not men. And so our hope is, we can speak to some of the things I raised today and come up some practical and pragmatic new guidelines that will protect this from repeating.

CAMEROTA: David Vigilante, it is nice to have you be able to speak about this finally. Thank you very much for all the information.

VIGILANTE: Thanks. Great to see you guys.

CAMEROTA: You too.

BLACKWELL: Thanks, David.

CAMEROTA: Our breaking news coverage continues, as President Biden lands in England for his first overseas trip, why his domestic agenda is looking less stable.

BLACKWELL: Plus, a warning just issued by Dr. Fauci: The U.S. cannot declare victory prematurely.

Concerns about new COVID variants -- still ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:21:11]

BLACKWELL: President Biden is about an hour from touching down in the U.K., his first foreign trip since taking office.

Now, over the next eight days, he will meet with global leaders across the continent including, most notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CAMEROTA: His stated goal is to reestablish America's role abroad, restore alliances and bolster democracy.

We begin in England, where the president is expected to land shortly.

And CNN's Jeff Zeleny has beat him there.

So, Jeff, we just got word about the first big step that President Biden is taking towards a global vaccination plan. What do we know about it?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, and Victor, we know that President Biden will be announcing here tomorrow at the Group of Seven summit that the U.S. will be purchasing 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and donating them to low- income countries around the world. This is in response to a really what has been some pretty sharp

criticism for the U.S. and some other wealthier nations in not contributing more vaccines to the world. So that is one of the things that President Biden is bringing here in his first trip overseas since taking office.

The U.S. will be purchasing 500 million doses. It's going to be split between the end of this year and then 300 million in the first part of 2022. That is one of the things that he will be announcing.

But this is, of course, coming on the heels of -- he's really trying to, as you said, extend the hand of the U.S., turn to page from the Trump era, talk about democracy, talk about strengthening alliances. He had this to say, what his objectives were before leaving Washington earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Strengthening the alliance and make it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight, and the G7 is going to move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So, of course, he will begin his weeklong journey here in England.

He will be having a meeting with a British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tomorrow, and then meetings throughout the weekend. But, first, he will be landing in the next hour and talking to U.S. Air Force personnel and their families here in England before arriving here for the summit -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jeff, thank you very much for the preview.

BLACKWELL: Our next guest is a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ambassador Ivo Daalder. He now serves as president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and is also the author of "The Empty Throne: America's Abdication of Global Leadership."

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for being with us.

Let's start here with the premise of your book and what we heard, that breaking news of the donation. Your reaction to now the 500 million doses being donated by the U.S., as the world has been calling for the U.S. to be more generous with those vaccine doses?

IVO DAALDER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, this is exactly what the United States used to do. Since the end of World War II, it has been a leader, a global leader around the world to try to use its unique capabilities, military, economic, political, social, cultural, even, to rally the world behind us in order to deal with common challenges and common threats.

And the pandemic, of course, was one of those threats that affected everyone in all places of the world. And what was lacking in 2020 was the American leadership. In fact, rather than leading at the World Health Organization or anywhere else, the United States withdrew from those organizations and focused only on the United States.

Here, President Biden will be coming in his first foreign trip to the G7 with the announcement that he will bring 500 million. That's about 1/14 of the total dosage that is necessary for -- to inoculate the entire world. That's a big number, 500 million dosage, to poor countries.

None too soon, but very well showing that the United States back to lead and to be part of the global effort with our friends and allies to address the common challenges we face, first of all, the COVID pandemic.

[14:25:12]

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what else is on his to do-list.

Is it overstating it to say that number one is save democracy, or at least shore up democracy? I mean, allies are skittish after how they feel they were treated for the past four years. And then, of course, at home, there's all sorts of challenges. We had an insurrection on the Capitol.

So is this the argument that President Biden is going to be making to allies, that democracy is still strong?

DAALDER: It is the argument. It is what he thinks is necessary, and I think he's right about this, to deal with the challenge posed by -- particularly by China and also by Russia.

It is to rally our democratic allies now in Europe -- he's done it already with meetings with the Japanese and the South Korean prime ministers in Washington before -- our allies in Europe, our allies in Asia, to work together to do two things, first to come up with common solutions to common challenges, COVID, climate change, and, indeed, the protection of democracy and human rights.

But, secondly, to demonstrate to our people, to the people who live in democracies, that democracies are still capable of finding a way to address their needs and address their wants, that, in fact, they are more capable than a country like China to provide for the interests and the wants of the people, so that people, again, believe in democracy.

And that means being clear at home that the defense of democracy in the United States is important, not just for the United States, but in order for us to achieve our objectives in competing with China and others around the world.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, there is that summit with Vladimir Putin that is coming up on this trip.

There's so much to discuss with Putin. What do you expect to come from that summit? Is this going to be a reset for the U.S. again with Putin? DAALDER: Well, what's interesting is that Joe Biden really is the

first president since the end of the Cold War who came to office not committed to a reset or a fundamental change in relation with the Russian president.

He is very clear about who Vladimir Putin is, whose goal is to disrupt democracy around the world, as he did with ours in 2016, and he's done in other places as well, to divide our alliances. So he's going to come to Geneva after meetings in the G7, after meetings at NATO and with the European Union, united to demonstrate that the West and Europe and the United States are ready to defend their interests, and, on that basis, to see if we can't address some of the common issues that we face, most of all, the issue of strategic stability and nuclear arms control.

It's an issue that the United States and Russia have been addressing now for many, many decades. And there is a common interest in making sure that nuclear weapons are controlled and minimized and levels of nuclear weapons are reduced on all sides.

So there are ways to work with Putin on issues that matter. But at the same time, I suspect that President Biden will have some choice words when it comes to issues like cyberattacks and Ukraine, as well as threats to the security in Europe.

CAMEROTA: Ambassador Daalder, thank you very much for all the insight.

DAALDER: My pleasure.

BLACKWELL: Our coverage of President Biden's first trip abroad continues. The White House is now shifting strategy as his domestic agenda seems to have stalled.

We will break down the challenges ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:00]