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G7 Summit; Interview With Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Did Trump DOJ Target Political Enemies?. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 11, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota. Thank you for joining us.

Any moment now, we expect Attorney General Merrick Garland to speak at the Department of Justice. He's under growing pressure to address the behavior of his predecessors, Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions, and the DOJ as a whole under Donald Trump, which used its power to go after President Trump's perceived enemies.

We now know that not only did the DOJ collect data from reporters, but also on Democrats and their families. The deputy A.G. is now asking the inspector general to investigate.

BLACKWELL: All right, here's what we know.

A source tells CNN the Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple in early 2018 for records of more than 100 accounts, now, among them, two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, Chairman Adam Schiff and Congressman Eric Swalwell, also their staff and their family members, including a minor.

Now, prosecutors also obtained a gag order, and it was renewed three times before President Trump left office. Apple was just able to notify the customers about this in May.

CAMEROTA: So, this was all part of an effort by President Trump to find out who was behind the reports of contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

Congressman Adam Schiff tells CNN the data did not tie his committee to any leaks.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I can't go into who received these subpoenas or whose records were sought. I can say that it was extraordinarily broad, people having nothing to do with the intelligence matters that are least being reported on.

It just shows what a broad fishing expedition it was.


CAMEROTA: OK, so two top Democrats are now calling on President Trump's former A.G.s., Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions, to testify about this.

CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez has been digging on this story.

So, what do we know at this point, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, part of what has now happened is that the attorney -- I'm sorry -- the inspector general here at the Justice Department just announced a few minutes ago that they have launched an investigation, that the office has launched an investigation into these subpoenas that targeted the lawmakers, but also to look into the seizure of phone records and e- mail records, not only of Barbara Starr, here at CNN, but also reporters at "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" recently and any other media organization that may have been targeted as part of these leak -- this leak hunt that was going on in the Trump administration.

And what you laid out, you and Victor laid out just a minute ago, is exactly what this was. It is essentially what appears to beat Trump's enemies list or his perceived enemies list that included not only these news organizations, but also prominent Democrats, Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff.

And I will go through just what the breadth of these requests were. It targeted not only these two Democrats, but also their staff, current and former staff, in the case of Adam Schiff, he says even his personal office, not anything to do with the intelligence community, as well as some family members. We're told that at least one teenager had their records also seized.

And, as you said, this began in February of 2018. It was under a gag order, and Apple was not able to notify its customers. The gag order was renewed three times, until finally it expired earlier this year. Curiously enough, Alisyn and Victor, it appears that a lot of this had died out during the -- the period that Jeff Sessions was leading the Justice Department.

We're told that he was not involved because he was recused from anything having to do with the Russia investigations, which is what was animating the president at the time. But then, when Bill Barr becomes the attorney general, he reinvigorates a lot of these leak investigations that had been ongoing that were kind of going nowhere.

And then, curiously enough, this appears to kind of dissipate when the Biden administration is about to take office. That's when, finally, Apple is able to notify its customers that their records had been seized.

BLACKWELL: All right, Evan Perez reporting on this force.

Evan, thank you so much. Let's stay on Bill Barr right now, because these revelations really

just the latest in a long list of let's call them unorthodox moves during the tenure of Bill Barr as attorney general. So ,we have learned that he also, as Evan mentioned, order the investigations into journalists from CNN and "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times."

Right before the Mueller report was released, you will remember that he put out a summary, his summary, many thought was aimed at clearing the former president of any wrongdoing.


Mueller expressed concern that the summary took his report out of context. And Barr got involved in the criminal cases of two Trump allies who were wrapped up in the Russia investigation, drastically reduced the amount of prison time recommended for Roger Stone after he was convicted for lying to Congress and witness tampering.

And then Barr also got into the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, completely dismissed even after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

CAMEROTA: So, as if undermining the conclusions of the Mueller probe was not enough, Barr also ordered an investigation into the investigators, you will remember, commissioning a report on the origins of the Russia probe and then releasing preliminary findings of that before it was done and, interestingly, right before the 2020 election.

And through it all, he repeatedly refused to testify before Congress about his norm-breaking behavior.

So let's bring in Judge Alberto Gonzales. He served as attorney general under President George W. Bush. He is now the dean of Belmont University College of law in Nashville.

Mr. Attorney General, always great to see you.

With this new news that has just -- we have just learned about it today, do you see any justification for why the Department of Justice under President Trump would secretly collect the phone data from Democratic senators who were on the Intel Committee and their staff and their family members?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Alisyn, it's good to be with you.

What we know certainly paints a damning picture of the Barr Department of Justice. But there's a lot we -- I suspect, we don't know. And that's why the inspector general is going to be doing investigation to get to the facts. I suspect there will be hearings before Congress to get to the facts.

And so we need to remember that. Having said that, I know that, based on experience and tradition, when you're talking about investigations or actions by the Department of Justice that involve the media or that involve members of a different branch of government, there's a heightened level of scrutiny and expectation that you have got to -- you have got to show a substantial need to be involved in looking or investigating or asking for information or documents with respect, saying this -- in this particular case, a member of Congress.

And so, again, it's disappointing, quite honestly, if, in fact, all the facts support the reality that the Department of Justice was politicized, weaponized in order to hurt President Trump's enemies. Again, we have a way to go before we can confirm all of that, but certainly what we know today, it paints a pretty disappointing and damning picture of actions during the Trump administration.

BLACKWELL: And, Judge Gonzales, we know that Leader Schumer and Senator Dick Durbin, they have insisted that former A.G.s Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr come and testify in front of Senate Judiciary.

You would encourage them to cooperate with those Senate investigations?

GONZALES: Well, I'm assuming, if they have nothing to hide, they're going to be very cooperative, because they will want to clear the name and obviously clear that reputation of the Department of Justice.

So I'd like to -- I hope, would be hopeful that they would be cooperative. There may be issues with respect of presidential privilege, if we're talking about direct conversations between the attorney general and the president of the United States. And so these are all going to be issues that are going to be, if not litigated, there's certainly going to be a lot of discussion about the sharing of information and what they feel comfortable disclosing to the Congress with respect to internal deliberations or discussions.

CAMEROTA: One of the things that CNN is reporting today and they have discovered is that, under Jeff Sessions, the DOJ launched this collection project and didn't find any tie to leaks, which was what they were supposedly looking for.

And then, when Bill Barr became the attorney general, he sent them back and said, keep looking. Does that sound like a fishing expedition?

GONZALES: That's a very damning piece of information, if, in fact, true. You typically would rely upon the career investigators and career prosecutors to give their best recommendation as to whether or not, is there a crime here that has been committed that they can successfully prosecute?

And the fact that he would order that the investigation continue, when there's so many other needs, so much drain on department resources to begin with, tells me that perhaps there may have been communication between the White House and the Department of Justice that this continue.

If, in fact, that occurred, that would be very, very unfortunate.

CAMEROTA: I mean, would it be beyond unfortunate Would it be just a completely...

GONZALES: It would be wrong.

And there are protocols in place that limit the level of contacts and communication between the White House the Department of Justice.


President Bush, for example, never would have told me or asked about a particular case. If in fact, there were stories about the Department of Justice when I was the attorney general looking into the media or members of Congress, what I would hear from probably, through the counsel of the president, who would express to me his concern: The president has asked questions about this. We're not saying do anything, do this or do that.

But we -- the president's curious about the motivation behind this, and what -- he wants to make sure you're staying on top of this.

So, again, the White House not directing the Department of Justice in terms of what to do with relating to an investigation, or prosecution, but gathering information. There's nothing wrong with that, so long as that's all it is, again, not directing the Department of Justice to do something.

This is one reason, quite frankly, why I was surprised by President Biden's comments about, we're not going to ever ask for or demand information from the media. The truth of the matter is, the better approach, respectfully -- the president course can do whatever he wants to -- would have been for the White House counsel to have a private conversation with the attorney general and, again, repeating the fact the president's concerned about these stories.

What -- tell me about that, and can you do an investigation and report back to me? And that way, I can inform the president about what's going on.

So, when you have the president directing the department to do anything, it always raises the possibility or accusations of possible politicization of the Department of Justice.

BLACKWELL: So, let me ask you how this gets started.

We have sources that are close to the former Attorney General Jeff sessions, who says that he was not personally involved with taking this to a grand jury for a subpoena, because -- part of his recusal from the Russia investigation.

How high in DOJ would this have to go to get the approval for something this broad?

GONZALES: Well, again, it's -- I believe it's going to different with every administration.

But, as a general rule, when you're talking about a subpoena for records in the possession of, say, the media or records with respect to a member of another branch of government, that's pretty serious. And I would -- I would expect that the deputy attorney general at least would be informed.

The investigators or prosecutors would come the deputy attorney general's office, lay out the case, and say, this is something that we have to do in order to gather information of a possible crime.

And at that point, the deputy attorney general may very well have a conversation with the attorney general as to whether or not the attorney general has any views on this.

CAMEROTA: What does Attorney General Merrick Garland need to do now, today?

GONZALES: I think what he needs to do, two things, I would say, that would be helpful.

One, he needs to have a clear communication within the department to make it clear, listen, we're not going to politicize the Department of Justice. If there was wrongdoing that occurred in the previous administration, we have an obligation to the American people to find out what it is and to make sure it doesn't happen again.

So, that communication is important, because it -- these kinds -- this kind of report is terrible for the morale of the department, for the career individuals. It's terrible.

The other thing that he might want to do, of course, is have some kind of public announcement or statement about his views about this, which I'm assuming, if true, he's going to condemn them. He's going to say that he's ordered -- through his deputy attorney general ordered an investigation as to what's going on here.

And to the extent that Congress is going to conduct an investigation, he will make resources at the Department of Justice available, so that Congress can get to the bottom of what happened here as well.

CAMEROTA: Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, thank you very much. Always great to have you on.

GONZALES: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Coming up, reaction from Capitol Hill about the weaponization of the power by the Department of Justice on sitting members of Congress. What will happen now?

BLACKWELL: Also, happening right now, G7 leaders are about to pose. I guess they're walking away. Maybe they just took that photograph, the photograph with the queen.

The group had a reception at the Eden Project. The leaders of the world's top economies have welcomed newcomer President Biden.

Will have more on the G7 in a moment.


CAMEROTA: President Biden meeting with world leaders today for one of the most consequential G7 summits in recent history. The gathering on the Cornish coast of England is the first time the leaders of the world's biggest economies have met since the coronavirus pandemic began.

BLACKWELL: It's a chance for the president to restore these traditional alliances and for the leaders to talk about how to fight the pandemic and rebuild the global economy and how to deal with Russia and China.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is covering the G7 summit for us. He's there in England.

A lot at stake here, Phil. What are you learning that's coming out of these meetings?


If you look at the agenda, you just realize how large the stakes actually are here. And I think that's been a big part of what the leaders have been talking about on this first day. Yes, there's warmth. Yes, there smiles. Yes, those things haven't necessarily existed in the past four years with the previous U.S. president.

But for all the theatrical efforts here to make clear that this is a united group, this group matters and they will be working together going forward, there's also a real need and a real desire for tangible results to come out of this group.


Obviously, guys, you saw the president yesterday announce that the U.S. would purchase and donate 500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Now the entire group leveraging up -- that up to about a total of one billion for lower- and middle-income countries.

So, on the coronavirus, that is a key element of it. But it's kind of all tied together in some sense.

Today, a lot of focus on the economic recovery post-pandemic, and I think that's a theme here that you continually hear from the leaders and their top advisers, that they want to be able to be leaders in the entire kind of global recovery as it comes out, hoping and I think, thinking that, in a period of time across the world where the world's largest democracies have been under pressure, have been since to some degree under attack, this can be a moment where they can kind of come together and validate the existence, validate a strength that they believe still exists.

Now, guys, you also know that the world leaders are now currently meeting with the queen of England. And it's the first time President Biden has met with the queen since he was a senator in 1982. He becomes the 13th president to meet with the queen. He will have a one- on-one meeting with the queen in a number of days.

But, tonight, it is a reception hosted by Prince Charles. And this will be another key agenda item for the group, yes, obviously, a lot of pomp and circumstance with the royals, but really a focus in this reception on climate change, another key agenda item.

So, kind of as you go up and down the list, you realize the stakes here are enormous. The issues that they're trying to grapple with are enormous. But the hope, when you talk to top advisers, at least to President Biden, is that they come out of this with tangible things to show, that, yes, they're unified, yes, they're back together the way they want to be, but, perhaps more importantly, they're rejuvenated and ready to take on some of these issues that the entire world is grappling with -- guys.

BLACKWELL: Yes, those important deliverables coming out of this summit.

Phil Mattingly there for us Falmouth, thanks so much.

And, as Phil said a few minutes ago, after wrapping up the first day of meetings here, Queen Elizabeth, you see here in the front and center, joined President Biden and the other G7 leaders at the summit, posed for this family photo with the leaders.

CAMEROTA: It's awfully formal for a family photo.

BLACKWELL: It is very formal.


BLACKWELL: My family photos never looked like this, hands on knees.


BLACKWELL: So we also know that the royal family will be hosting all of the G7 leaders for dinner.

CAMEROTA: And, earlier, first lady Jill Biden toured a school near the summit, she, of course, herself a schoolteacher.

She was with the duchess of Cambridge and participated in a roundtable discussion on early childhood education. Today's meetings with the royals is just a warmup for when the president and first lady meet with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle on Sunday.

So let's bring in Trisha Goddard. She's a British talk show host and journalist.

Great to see you, as always, Trisha.

Behind the photo-ops, what should we be looking for in terms of these meetings and the optics of it all?

TRISHA GODDARD, TALK SHOW HOST: I think what's really going to be interesting on Sunday, when the Bidens sit down with the queen, let's not forget that Jill Biden is very -- one of her causes are returned servicemen, which Harry, the queen's grandson, is also very interested in. After all, he is one.

And if you recall, the Bidens were very closely involved with the Invictus Games, which Prince Harry put together and is at the helm of. So, who knows. It could help build bridges even more between Harry and his grandmother, although I should say they still remain very, very close indeed.

And, of course, the Bidens were one of the first to extend their condolences after the death of Prince Philip, when he passed away recently. So I think they have started off on a really good foot. They have a lot of links.

BLACKWELL: So, Trisha you know the protocol far better than I.

This tea on Sunday, I'm told that it's rare. But what's the significance of this?

GODDARD: It's very cozy. It's very warm.

But there still is, as you say, protocol, as -- and President Trump perhaps didn't grasp all of those things. You don't shake hands with the queen, and nobody is shaking hands now because of COVID anyway. So it's about a curtsy and a bow.

But it is very personal. And it also marks the first major meeting, face-to-face meeting, that the queen has had completely on her own since the duke of Edinburgh passed away. So she may well be going about things in a different way.

And let's not forget she's 95 years of age. But those things, you usually don't discuss. When the queen invites you to tea, you don't go and talk about what the conversation was all about. It remains or should remain very, very private.

CAMEROTA: I mean, this is her 13th president that she has met.


CAMEROTA: That is just incredible to think.

BLACKWELL: Dating back to Eisenhower.

CAMEROTA: And I was -- I was wondering, Trisha, do you see this -- after all of the Harry and Meghan stuff, which was more than a blemish on the royal family, do you think this is rehabilitative, seeing them performing their kind of important protocol?


GODDARD: Well, I don't know.

Everybody talks about it being a blemish on the royal family. But then we forget, within the queen's lifetime -- as I say, she's 95 years of age -- there was the whole Wallis Simpson, thing and around Princess Margaret.

I like to remind people, just because she's 95 doesn't mean to say she's sort of silly or innocent. The royal family has gone through a lot of other crises. It's just that, these days, because of the press, because of online stuff, because of social media, we think, we think we know a lot more.

But, like any family, they have faced a lot of crises. I think, publicly, I think it sends out -- I hope it sends out a message to some of the more irresponsible press outlets that it's not full-on war with the royal family. I don't believe for a minute it is.

Families are families. They have differences of opinions. They have difficulties and what have you. And I think the queen, and especially the Bidens, have that in common, that they understand that families, no matter your role or your station in life, we go through things, but we come out the other side.


CAMEROTA: Trisha Goddard, thank you. Great to get your insight.

BLACKWELL: You know, I was having this conversation with my producer in my office that she -- her first prime minister was Winston Churchill.


BLACKWELL: Churchill and FDR signed that Atlantic Charter 80 years ago.

CAMEROTA: Right. And now there's the new one.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the new one.

CAMEROTA: And the queen is still alive and meeting with President Biden.

BLACKWELL: And still alive to meet the new president. That's just phenomenal. All right.

CAMEROTA: It is remarkable.

And I'm glad Trisha tells us to keep it all in perspective. She's seen a lot in those 95 years.

BLACKWELL: Yes, yes, yes.

Up next, back to that bombshell news we talked about at the top of the show. Donald Trump's Justice Department seized data from House Democrats and their families, including a minor. What, if anything, can be done to hold the DOJ accountable?

We have got reaction from Capitol Hill up next.