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G7 Summit; Did Trump DOJ Target Political Enemies?. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired June 11, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Top of the hour. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: And I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Major revelations now coming out of former President Trump's Department of Justice. The DOJ inspector general just announced that that office will investigate whether the Trump administration abused its power to go after Donald Trump's perceived enemies. Now, we know that not only did the DOJ collect data from reporters, but also on Democratic members of Congress and their staffers and their families.

CAMEROTA: Here's what we know at this hour.

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

Prosecutors also obtained a gag order so Apple could not disclose this, and it was renewed three times before Trump left office. Apple was only able to notify the people involved in May.

BLACKWELL: Now, this was all part of an effort by President Trump to find who was behind the reports of contacts between Trump associates and Russia. And two top Senate Democrats are now calling on Trump's former A.G.s, Bill Barr and Jeff sessions, to testify about this.

And some House Dems are asking Apple to disclose who else was targeted.

Congressman Mike Quigley just told CNN's Manu Raju this. Listen to this: "I assumed a hostile government would do something like this. I just didn't think it would be our own hostile government."

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now.

So, A.G. Garland, considering all that has happened over the last 12 hours, last 24 hours, he didn't address this in a speech he just gave. What is happening at the DOJ?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's surprising, Victor, because, Merrick Garland, he did speak this afternoon, just about 2:00. We expected that he would address this issue to talk maybe more about what the Department of Justice is doing in light of the revelations of these secret subpoenas.

But in his about-a-half-hour remarks on voting rights, either during it, before or after, Merrick Garland made no mention of all of these revelations. But what we do know is that a list of investigations are being lined up, so the Justice Department's inspector general announcing they will look into these subpoenas that were used to obtain records from not only members of Congress, but also members of the media that we have previously reported had their phone and e-mail records obtained, including our own Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

So, this I.Q. investigation, it will dig into these issues about whether DOJ, under Attorney General Sessions or Attorney General Barr, whether it complied with its own policies and procedures. So there's that on the DOJ side.

And then on the other side, on -- in Congress, top Democrats Chuck Schumer, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin announcing today they are asking former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr to testify under oath.

So, they issued this statement with strong words. They said: "Former Attorneys General Barr and Sessions and other officials who were involved must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath. If they refuse, they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath. In addition, the Justice Department must provide information and answers to the Judiciary Committee, which will vigorously investigate this abuse of power."

We have reached out to former Attorneys General Barr and Sessions. We have not heard back. But, guys, a source has told us that Jeff Sessions was not involved in any of these subpoenas related to the House Intelligence Committee. And, of course, that's because, as you will remember, he made a broad recusal from the Russia investigation.

And because this investigation of the House Intelligence Committee members or staff or even their family members, this was all related to any possible leaks related to Trump aide contacts with Russian officials. So, Jeff Sessions, a source that is familiar with this says that he was recused from this and not involved, but a lot still to uncover, as we see from these multiple investigations being announced or even requested from lawmakers -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Let's bring it out Jennifer Rodgers and Shan Wu, both CNN legal analyst, both former federal prosecutors. Also with us, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, you got the news of the moment, a response from the former A.G., Bill Barr. What is he saying?


And in this article, he said that he was not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case. He added to Politico that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of Trump's push to unmask leakers, also said that the former President Trump "was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases. I never discussed leak cases with Trump. He didn't really ask me any of the specifics."


So he's trying to distance himself and the former president from what we now know appear to be unprecedented cases where the Justice Department went in and got records from these members of Congress. It's one thing, of course, for the former attorney general to say that to a news organization. We would welcome him to come on this one as well.

But as you just heard from Jessica, the members of Congress who are very upset about this and want to do their oversight want him to come and do it under oath.

CAMEROTA: Shan, you worked for an attorney general. Is that plausible, what Bill Barr has just said to Politico, that he had no idea that any Congress -- or Democrats' records would be collected?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, that's completely implausible.

And as Dana just said, it's one thing to say that to the media. It's another to say it under oath. When I worked for Ms. Reno, anything that was sensitive like that, lawmakers, reporters, it has to be run up the chain to the highest levels. And, in addition to that, at every level, it would have been met with skepticism and rigorous scrutiny, because this is exactly the kind of thing you want to guard against, is even the appearance of the department being used as a political weapon.

BLACKWELL: So, Jennifer, to you, does this sound like the Donald Trump that we know, that Donald Trump would have never asked Bill Barr about these investigations? And we remember the testimony from James Comey about asking about some of these investigations.

What do you hear in this response from Bill Barr?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Victor, I would agree that it doesn't sound very Donald Trump-like to stay out of it.

On the other hand, there was no secret, what he wanted to happen. I mean, Bill Barr didn't have to have an explicit conversation with the president to know that he would be in favor of and encouraging of seeking records against his political enemies.

And so maybe it was unspoken, but we all know what Donald Trump wanted his Department of Justice to do. And it sounds like, in this instance, Bill Barr's, Department of Justice was willing to do that.

CAMEROTA: Dana, we just played in the last hour that moment between Bill Barr and then Senator Kamala Harris, where it was at the Senate Judiciary Committee. She asked him, has anybody ever asked you to open an investigation into someone?

He stammered and stumbled and look like a deer in the headlights through the entire answer and never said no, asked her to repeat it.

BLACKWELL: What does suggested mean?

CAMEROTA: Said he didn't know what suggested means.

And now it's just you see it in a totally new light. I mean, he couldn't say no to that under oath.

BASH: It's so true. We knew it was a moment at the time because of the strong questioning and, more importantly, because he didn't give a straight answer at all.

And now it appears we know why, despite the fact that, in this new Politico interview, the former attorney general is claiming he didn't know anything about this. I obviously defer to the experts on our panel, who actually have the experience being in Justice Departments where sensitive notions like investigating members of Congress or maybe even seizing the records that they have and those of their children, including a minor child -- I mean, how do you not do that?

The only potential answer is to have deniability, but even that is hard to swallow.

BLACKWELL: And, Shan, Merrick Garland just spoke in the last hour about a very important topic, protecting voting rights. But considering all that is happening in and around his department, the coverage of it, he didn't say anything about this. No comment at all.

Are you surprised by that?

WU: I am surprised by that. And I have great respect for Attorney General Garland, as well as his staff, including Lisa Monaco, that I worked with.

But they need to step forward on this. They need to make a statement that, at the very least, they're going to vigorously support the inspector general investigation, which has limits, Victor. He can only compel current employees. So they can look at policies, talk to current employees.

But the big fish, Barr himself, that can't come from OIG. It's got to come from Congress or potential criminal investigation with the grand jury.

CAMEROTA: And what does that mean, Jennifer? What does that mean? If people want to get Barr again under oath, which is where he fumbled through that question from Kamala Harris, how will that happen now?

RODGERS: Well, Shan's right, because the OIG can't do it. It's going to have to be Congress.

I mean, we all know how ineffectual Congress was during the last administration in terms of getting people to comply with their subpoenas and before that their requests to testify. But if they want to know the answer to this, if we all want to know the answer to this, they're going to have to stand firm. They're going to have to subpoena him and fight it in court, if they need to, to get him in that chair to answer those questions under oath.



CAMEROTA: But can he say that these are privileged conversations; I had conversations with the president, and I don't need to disclose those?

RODGERS: Well, he can try. He can try for an executive privilege type of -- but, remember, he said that there weren't any conversations, even though that wasn't under oath. So it's going to be hard for him to take that line here.

I would expect him to continue the attack he's taken, which is to say they didn't discuss it and try to weasel around in what context they did or didn't come up with something similar to that topic.

BLACKWELL: Dana, congressional Republicans have tried to perpetuate this line of deep state inside the Department of Justice, that even former President Obama was using the Department of Justice to go after Republicans.

After this reporting, we're not hearing anything from top Republicans.

BASH: We are. we're hearing the sound of silence, Victor.


BASH: And it is deafening.

BLACKWELL: That's something. Silence is an answer in some cases.

BASH: Exactly.

It is deafening, because, no matter how under the spell or desperate for the need for approval from the former president, because they need his supporters in order to get reelected, some of these Republicans are, that form of hypocrisy is just too overwhelming to ignore.

CAMEROTA: Surely, Rand Paul -- I mean, he hates surveillance. I'm sure he's incensed today. Hasn't Congressmen (sic) Rand Paul put out a strongly worded statement, Dana?

BASH: I haven't seen one. I haven't seen one from the senator.

But, in all fairness, I can see some somebody like him, who tends to be -- despite his very close relationship with the former president, he tends to be pretty consistent on these issues. It's a really good question, when he's going to put out a statement.

BLACKWELL: So, Jennifer, I'm considering trying to think of being a member on Capitol Hill only for this example, for this question.

CAMEROTA: OK, good, good. Keep -- stay at this job.

BLACKWELL: Going to stay right here in this seat.


BLACKWELL: But to now know that Swalwell and Schiff were -- their information was sought, there was this gag order. And now members want to know, from Apple, who else was covered by this? Could there be more gag orders out there that have not yet expired?

RODGERS: Oh, of course.

I mean, I think, in some ways, we're still at the tip of the iceberg in terms of abuses of the Trump administration that are just being uncovered, as these things expire, as the Biden administration is taking a look at them and seeing whether they want to renew them.

And the Biden administration and A.G. Garland are not just going to come out and sua sponte start telling us all about these investigations, confidential investigations, that were going on. There has to be some precipitating factor. And in this case, of course, it was the expiration of the gag order.

So I think there are going to be more things like this that keep coming out. We're going to learn more and more about, unfortunately, the abuses of authority that happened in the last administration.

CAMEROTA: Jennifer Rodgers, Shan Wu, Dana Bash, thank you all very much for helping us try to understand what's happening here.

OK, still ahead, we will speak to President Nixon's White House counsel about today's breaking news and how he thinks it compares to Watergate.

BLACKWELL: But, first, we are live in England, as President Biden attends the first full day of the G7 summit. How global leaders will tackle economic recovery, also the rise of Russia and China.

Stay with us.



CAMEROTA: President Joe Biden is looking to turn the page from the Trump era with global leaders today and restore ties with traditional U.S. allies at the G7 summit.

He joined leaders of the G7 and Queen Elizabeth, as you can see, for a socially distanced family photo, as it's called.

BLACKWELL: Very distant. I think it's more than six feet.

The gathering is part of President Biden's first foreign trip as commander in chief and a chance to reassert America's place as leader and defend our democracy on the international stage.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is covering the G7 summit for us in England. Also joining us, Josh Rogin, CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post."

Clarissa, up to you first.

Listen, these leaders just spent a term with the president who didn't like these multilateral organizations and meetings, didn't think they got much done. They now have an American president who likes them, who wants to be there. Now to the second part. Can they get something done?


I mean, there is no questioning the difference in the mood. You see these leaders visibly much more relaxed around each other. There's more of a convivial atmosphere. This isn't just about the legacy of former President Trump. This is about a year-and-a-half of Zoom diplomacy and the limitations of communicating only virtually.

Now they're able to actually stand. We saw them elbow-bumping each other. But, also, we saw Emmanuel Macron, the French president, putting his arm around President Biden. These are the kinds of moments, these are the small details of body language that really facilitate an environment in which diplomacy can be done.

They have made some commitments already, talking about one billion COVID-19 vaccines to grow -- be given out across poorer countries in the world, but there is still a lot of tricky and thorny issues ahead. They're navigating a huge amount of complex topics, climate change, and, of course, most potently, the rising threat of autocracies, Russia, China, how the G7 can still be relevant as a voice and a bulwark against authoritarianism.


CAMEROTA: But, Josh, I have got to say these photos are not as interesting without President Trump.

I mean, remember that photo of him sitting at the table with his arms crossed in sort of a petulant stance, and Angela Merkel sort of leaning over him? I mean, he kept it interesting at some of these meetings, I must say.

But I want to ask you not about the photo optics, but about the Biden- Putin meeting. Some Washington insiders thought it was perhaps even ill-advised for President Biden to sit down with Putin, but you say all eyes on Syria. What do you think might come out of this?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, Alisyn, on your first point, I was there in Biarritz for the last G7. And, yes, it was not boring. But that was not a good thing, all right? Everyone there was walking on eggshells, waiting for Trump to do something crazy. And he did something crazy about every single time he opened his mouth.

And it affected the stock markets and diplomatic issues in several countries. So, I think all of them are happy with a little bit of boring diplomacy, after four years of that. It wasn't good for America. It wasn't good for the G7. I was there. I'm telling you, it was crazy. And -- but, like, this is actually much better.

But when Biden does sit down with Vladimir Putin next week in Geneva, Syria will be on the agenda. Lots of things will be on the agenda. And while we're here focused on ransomware and our own politics, there's a lot of things going on in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

And what I say is that, if they can make progress on Syria, that would be a good thing, and that we need a complex U.S.-Russia policy, where we stand up to the things that they do bad, but also negotiate with them where we have a shared interest.

And millions of Syrians are suffering because Russia is about to cut off all of the aid routes, right? They want to cut off the aid to starving people in Syria. And the only person who can really solve that is Joe Biden. So it'll be on the agenda. Let's hope that they come to some agreement, because we get -- we have to both be tough with Russia, but also work with them sometimes.

And that's another thing that we had trouble doing over the last four years. But, hopefully, that will change now.

BLACKWELL: And, Clarissa, one topic, maybe one of many, that the Kremlin says will not be on the table, opposition leader Alexei Navalny. They say that that will not be something that they are willing to discuss, that President Putin will discuss with President Biden.

We know that's something the White House wants to discuss. Can progress be made?

WARD: I wouldn't be too optimistic about progress being made.

But I would be certain that President Biden will raise the issue of Alexei Navalny, will raise the issue of human rights, will raise the issue of Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, because he has made such a commitment to try to reinstate international norms and reinstate these traditional liberal democratic values.

Now, the Russians have been very clear about it. They're not interested in having a conversation about anything that they regard as being kind of under the purview of internal domestic affairs. And we heard that echoed again today.

CNN's Matthew Chance sat down with Dmitry Peskov, who is Putin's spokesperson. He said again that there was nothing to talk about. He doesn't say Navalny's name. They never say Navalny's name. But there's nothing to talk about the prisoner because it doesn't concern the U.S.

But he did also say -- Peskov, this is, sitting down with CNN's Matthew Chance -- that this is important that this conversation takes place, because the relationship is so poor, that, potentially, even if there aren't any substantial deliverables as a result of this summit, at least, potentially, it could prevent a further degradation of the relationship.

And this is one area where I do think that President Biden and perhaps President Putin have a similar strategic objective. They would like to find some common areas. And maybe Josh is right. Perhaps Syria could be one of them. Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing? But some common areas where the two leaders can try to work together to keep the relationship on the tracks.

BLACKWELL: Or maybe bringing home those two Americans, Paul Whelan, Trevor Reed, who have been on CNN talking about their loved ones who are detained in Russia.

Clarissa Ward, Josh Rogin, thank you both.

ROGIN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right, we're pushing forward on the breaking news, the developments around Donald Trump's Justice Department and accessing phone records, not just of journalists, but also members of Congress, their staffs, their families.

An investigation has been launched into that. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean talks with his live about it.

CAMEROTA: Plus, the controversy at the New York mayoral debate, after one candidate said she could not answer whether the NYPD should keep their guns. How she is trying to clarify today.



BLACKWELL: More now on the breaking story.

President Trump's Justice Department secretly seized private records of sitting members of Congress, their staffs, their families, all in an effort to track down leakers. It's shocking, but not surprising. The former president made no secret about his obsession with leaks.

CAMEROTA: You will remember, disgraced former President Richard Nixon was also obsessed with leaks. It led to the Watergate hearings and Nixon's eventual resignation in 1974.

Joining us now, someone who remembers that scandal well, CNN contributor John Dean. He was President Nixon's White House counsel. Also with us, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

John and Gloria, great to see you.