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Biden Makes First Visit to NATO as U.S. President; Democrats Demand Testimony from Trump Officials Over Subpoenas; Supreme Court Unanimously Rules that Recent Sentencing Reforms Don't Apply to Low- Level Crack-Cocaine Offenses. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 14, 2021 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

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

Comforting allies, confronting adversaries, President Biden facing crucial test this week on the global stage. Right now, the president is taking part in his first NATO Summit as commander-in-chief, this in Brussels. Minutes from now, he will be face-to-face in a high-stakes meeting with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, both leaders hoping to improve an increasingly strained relationship. It could be tense after Biden officially recognized the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as a genocide, something that Turkey vehemently opposed.

Also this morning, officials tell CNN that when President Biden is not in summit meetings, he is in intense preparations for his talks face- to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva. We will have more on that in a moment.

We're covering a lot of stories this morning. Let's begin with CNN's Jeff Zeleny, he is in Brussels.

Jeff, the Biden administration really attempting to undo what they see as the damage of the Trump administration in terms of undermining that alliance, what's the message but also what are the concrete changes that Biden is proposing here?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, there is no question that President Biden has been trying to strengthen that alliance and reaffirm the commitment of the U.S. to the military alliance here. And all these meetings are going on behind me here in NATO headquarters here in Brussels.

And President Biden made very clear from the opening moment he arrived here earlier this morning. He said, I want Europe to know that the U.S. will be there. That was his message to European leaders here, some 30 nations or so, leaders of which are meeting. They each only get about five minutes to have a presentation. But it's the even more important are the conversations going on between leaders. And, Jim, I can tell you that summit on Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin front and center in most of these conversations. But it is the different spirit of the attitude that the president is bringing here that really is, you know, the talk of the town here at NATO. You know, there is not a sense of attention like there was when President Trump is here, when he threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO.

But this is what President Biden said about what's on his agenda and, again, talking about Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have new challenges, and we have Russia that is not acting in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped, and as well as China.

I want to make it clear, NATO is critically important for U.S. interests in and of itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: This, of course, is something that President Biden has long believed through his travels around the world, the most traveled American president. He believes in alliances, so that's what this trip is intended to do.

But, Jim, you mentioned that meeting that he'll be having later today with the Turkish president, Afghanistan also front and center in that discussion. Of course, President Biden has announced plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11th. So that is controversial in some parts here, and it will be the essential item of discussion there.

So, all of this again is, really, the prelude for that meeting on Wednesday in Geneva. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny in Brussels there. Minutes from now, President Biden will meet face-to-face with another ally, the one where relationships have been strained in recent years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. CNN's Melissa Bell joins me now from Brussels.

And, Melissa, very public, substantial disagreements between the U.S. and Turkey in recent years under Obama, Trump, and now Biden. I mean, Turkey is up and buying Russian missile systems, right, in violation of the NATO alliance. Is this going to be a glad-handing meeting or a substantive one?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's more likely to be a sort of no doubt frustrating change, but one designed to help them overcome some of that animosity, some of that concrete tension that you mentioned, Jim, over, for instance, the purchase of that missile system but also more recently, you mentioned a moment ago, the recognition by Joe Biden of the Armenian genocide, which is a real soft spot for the Turkish president and one that will, of course, cause him a great deal of anger.

So it will be about taking away some of that anger, some of that venom out of the relationship. No huge breakthroughs are expected. We understand that the two men had some time to speak on the sidelines of the main meeting that's going on even now. But, of course, that bilateral crucial.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, another man who's had a great deal of tension with the Turkish president recently, also spoke with him this morning. And, of course, the disagreements are huge.

Listen, this is the only Muslim member of NATO. And over the course of the last few years, whether it's been over Syria, whether it's been over Libya, whether it's been over the Eastern Mediterranean, it has been at odds, and not only with its European partners but with American partners, as well, with its NATO partners. So these are going to be very importance conversations.

And they really go to the heart of what the French president reminded everyone about as they began to gather here in Brussels for this meeting, that an alliance needs to be just that. It is about information sharing, sharing information, it is about respect of deals that have been made, it is about people keeping people informed and living up to the expectations that we have set as an alliance.

[10:05:07]

And, of course, there was also within that a dig at the Americans because there's a great deal of upset amongst some NATO members over the manner and the announcement of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. So a small barb towards the United States.

What you were saying a moment ago is absolutely right, Joe Biden is here to remind the world that America is back, that it's going to be dealing with things differently, but it has a lot of catching up to do and on a number of issues, not least, of course, the fact that here at NATO, where so many European nations are represented, the E.U. is wanting to show that it is a strong presence at the table now too, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's a great point about Afghanistan because, I mean, it shows that there is still real divisions there, not all things are warm and fuzzy now. Melissa Bell in Brussels, thanks very much.

Let's bring in CNN Contributor and Staff Writer for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos, he's also the author of, The Biography, Joe Biden, the Life, the Run, and What Matters Now. Evan, good to have you on.

And I wonder substantively what and how much has changed? I mean, Trump literally and figuratively elbowed aside the alliance during his meetings there. I mean, you remember that famous thing of like elbowing his way to the front of the photo but substantive challenges to the very essence of the NATO treaty, which Biden is turning on its said, saying we're back, we're committed. But I wonder how lasting do NATO allies view that commitment? Do they look forward to the next election with a little trepidation and say, well, for now all good, but who knows what happens next?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. These wounds don't heal immediately. I mean, people in Europe, in the G7, they remember very distinctly the sense because it felt like an earthquake, the idea of the United States beginning to challenge something as fundamental as the NATO relationship, that doesn't get forgotten. But in the same way that the tone and the spirit of those meetings could -- were so destructive, the tone and spirit of these meetings matter a great deal.

And you've heard already President Biden doing everything he can to try to signal that this is a case where the United States is back both in spirit and in practice, to try to say, let's figure out actually some fundamental policy ideas that can try to, as he put it, rally democracies.

What I think is the key message that's beginning to come clear from this trip is the idea, as he put it in his press conference yesterday, that we are in a contest with autocracy. That's sort of the beginning of a bigger idea in which he believes that the countries like the G7 and NATO stand to play a role in fortifying the case for democracy against the alternative.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned autocracy. On Wednesday, he's going to meet face-to-face with an autocrat in Putin and approach him very differently than Trump did. There won't be a Helsinki moment, right, when we go to Geneva on Wednesday.

However, has the Biden administration shown that it has a plan to stand up to Russian aggression in a different way, right? Because they're saying the right things, but what pressure points, what forms of deterrents, what things beyond economic sanctions do they have on the menu here to turn things around?

OSNOS: Well, as you know, they have a very chilly personal relationship. It's worth reminding folks that they go back a long way, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, and it's never been particularly friendly. So neither one in that sense is coming in with any illusions, and that sets the table for a frank conversation.

I think what you're likely to hear, whether you hear it explicitly in their public statements afterwards, is the United States has a very clear case to make to the Russians, which is you've been conducting cyberattacks on our soil, you've been allowing criminal gangs to conduct ransomware attacks, like the one on our pipeline this spring, we can do much of the same things back.

There is an argument here that often goes sort of unstated explicitly in moments like this, which is that there has to be for every action an equal and opposite reaction. What the United States is trying to do is keep it stable, not escalate it but make clear that the goal is deterrence and containment, to use a word we don't hear as much anymore.

SCIUTTO: Yes, exactly. And to your point, I mean, chilly relationship, you've noted that he told Putin in 2011, I don't think you have a soul. I mean, to which Putin replied, we understand each other, sort of owning it in a way. I want to talk about China because not only have you and I spent a lot of time there, but that is a focus of Biden in these meetings, trying to get Europe together with the U.S. to stand up to various Chinese behaviors. But there's been pushback from some European leaders in that they don't want it to escalate too far. And I wonder in the announcements you've seen this week, did you see any sort of balancing of that? I mean, did Biden get anywhere on China with the European allies?

OSNOS: That's a fascinating one, Jim. I see this as sort of China is the one character that's looming in the background of these meetings without actually being present. I mean, what's running so clearly through the statements that you heard out of the G7 was the idea that it's important for the west to come up with an affirmative alternative, things like an answer to the fact that China is going around the world with its belt and road initiative, offering infrastructure to other countries.

[10:10:04]

You heard the very beginning of the process of countries in the G7 saying, you know, maybe we can come up from a green belt and road or the idea of something that is an alternative.

But there's a lot of disagreement. Germany sells a lot of Volkswagens and BMWs to China. There's a lot of concern about the revival of cold war language. The Europeans were trapped in the middle of that the last time. They don't want to be trapped in the middle again.

So, Biden has a lot of work ahead of him in terms of shoring up and beginning to create a meaningful, cohesive response to the Chinese option.

SCIUTTO: And it's a big test because, you know, his innovation was going to be, we will challenge China too but in conjunction with allies as opposed to against them. Evan Osnos, always good to have you on.

OSNOS: My pleasure. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: One of the issues we expect President Biden to address with Vladimir Putin is the freedom of imprisoned U.S. Marine Veteran Trevor Reed. Reed has been in a Russian jail since 2019 when he was sentenced to nine years for endangering, the Russian court said, the life and health of Russian police officers in an altercation. Reed and his family have denied those charges. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan called reed's trial, quote, theater of the absurd.

Now, Reed is speaking out in a letter that he sent to his family from the hospital while sick there with coronavirus, the letter dated June 7th, prison authorities forced him to write it in Russian even though he doesn't speak it fluently. It says in part, we are quoting, I have not received any other letters. I don't know whether you will receive this letter from me or not. He also notes he tested positive for COVID again, writing, I've got pain in my lungs. Also I suffer from cough from time to time. I have lost a few kilograms in weight. He also asked, does the embassy and the state department in Washington know about me? Remarkable.

Reed's parents spoke exclusively with CNN this morning. They say they are hopeful that President Biden can negotiate their son's release when he meets with President Putin this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our hope obviously is that they can come to some agreement that will let our son come home. I guess Putin is open to a prisoner exchange.

I really don't care how my son gets home. I just want him to get home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make the trade. And, again, we're very happy to hear Putin say that he's open to a trade, and we hope that that will happen immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: It's a tactic Russia has used before. Capture someone over there, an American, so they can trade for a Russian here. The U.S. embassy in Moscow has called for more access to Reed and his medical records in the meantime.

Still to come, new questions in an exploding scandal. Former President Trump's Justice Department seized the personal communications of political rivals, journalists, even we now know his White House Counsel, Don McGhan. Democratic lawmakers are demanding answers. Will they get them?

Plus, the start of what law enforcement fears will be a bloody summer. More than 270 mass shootings across the country this year with at least eight just since Friday. We're going to be live.

And CNN finds a direct link between vaccination rates and the state you live in. And it notably comes down to which party is in charge in your state. We're going to break those numbers down just ahead.

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[10:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Democrats are now demanding to hear from former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr and others under oath. This as we learn that former President Trump's Department of Justice secretly obtained communications records belonging to journalists, Democratic lawmakers, also Trump's own White House Counsel, Don McGhan, and his wife.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joins me now from Capitol Hill. Manu, i've heard a lot of Republicans in the wake of this say, well, it's a leak investigation, all is fine. Are you hearing any Republican criticism of the depth and breadth of this?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the moment, really none. I mean, the top two Republicans in Congress, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, have been quiet about this. A key Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, said in a statement that this is a leak investigation, it's normal course of action. He didn't raise any concerns of two Democratic critics of the former president being the target of these subpoenas. And his, Chuck Grassley's, support for a subpoena is important because what the Democratic Judiciary Committee chairman, Dick Durbin, wants to do is bring forward former Attorney General Bill Barr, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and others, and have them testify under oath.

And in order to get a subpoena in the Senate, you need bipartisan support to do that. So if Grassley and other Republicans oppose it, presumably, they would not even be able to issue a subpoena. The House side is different. The House does have its rules that a majority basis they can issue a subpoena. And yesterday Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, made very clear she does want to hear from those two individuals in particular under oath. So watch for that push to intensify.

But this comes as a lot of questions about why exactly these subpoenas were issued. There are so many questions here, but the pattern here suggests that the president, former president, was going after potentially his critics, news organizations he frequently targeted, as well as two Democratic congressmen, Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell.

And then we learned over the weekend, Don McGhan, his former White House Counsel, who we do know he tried to get him to fire Bob Mueller, the then-special counsel, then he tried to get McGhan to lie about it. We don't know why exactly McGhan was targeted. But all of this came to light over the last month or so when Apple began to notify these people that their records had been seized, and then, as a result, some of this became public.

[10:20:04]

But there are so much unknown here, Jim, namely because Merrick Garland, the attorney general, has not provided the information that Democratic lawmakers have been seeking, and we'll see if that relationship breaks down at all here, if Democrats are going to push to get Garland to testify. That's a big question as lawmakers return to town this week, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And we've seen congressional subpoenas get ignored in the past. Manu, thanks very much -- or at least challenged.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Republicans to stand with Democrats in demanding answers from former Trump officials. As Manu was just saying there, not a lot of Republicans calling out.

CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood joins me now from Washington. John, I mean, what -- we've seen this before, right, legitimate questions, but Congress' ability to subpoena, either it breaks down because of partisan division or gets delayed in court.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And, remember, it was just last week that we got the testimony from Don McGhan, the former Trump White House Counsel, that had been sought for such a long time affirming what he had told Bob Mueller in the investigation of the interactions between Trump and Russia. And what Don McGhan told us, of course, was that Trump, as Democrats suspect happened in the case of these subpoenas, that Trump had corrupted the processes of government by asking McGhan to fire Mueller and then subsequently directing him to create a record indicating that Trump had not asked him to do that.

So there are many ways in which the executive branch, if it wants to, and certainly the Trump executive branch did want to, can drag out, delay, and, in effect, nullify congressional oversight by doing so because you can -- there's a clock and you can run it out.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we've seen it. John Harwood at the White House, thank you so much. A shame because there are questions to be answered here.

Another story we're following this morning, America's gun epidemic. Since Friday alone, the nation has seen eight mass shootings in six different states. What can be done? Will it? We're going to be live, next.

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[10:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Breaking news from the Supreme Court, this gets to sentencing, particularly following the 2018 sentencing reform law passed. CNN's Jessica Schneider has been following this decision. What did the court decide?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we're in the final stretch of the Supreme Court's term, just about two weeks left until they usually wrap up at the end of June. So the Supreme Court this morning talking about a low-level crack offender, saying that those low-level offenders are ineligible to seek a reduced sentence under the First Step Act.

Of course, you'll remember the first step act, it was signed into law in 2018 by President Trump. The effect was to cut unnecessarily long federal sentences. And this allowed the release of many nonviolent offenders, in particular, people who had been imprisoned for drug offenses.

But in this case, the defendant here, he pleaded guilty to a very small amount of crack, cocaine with intent to distribute here. But the courts saying that he is not eligible under the First Step Act to get a reduction in that sentence.

But, of course, this opinion just one of the many that we are waiting for as we approach the end of June, Jim. We are waiting for decisions in the Affordable Care Act case, also a case on voting rights and religious liberties.

And at the same time, Jim, this morning, the Supreme Court really signaling that they might be interested in taking an affirmative action case, potentially next term if not the one after. This is a case regarding a challenge to Harvard's admission policies on behalf of Asian-American students. This has been working its way through the lower courts since 2014. And the Supreme Court this morning, rather than denying or saying, yes, we'll take the case, they actually asked for more information, in a sense. They asked for another brief from the Biden administration on their views here.

So, affirmative action, we know, a hot topic. The Supreme Court hasn't weighted into it since 2016, of course, the make-up of the court changing drastically since then. So a little bit of intrigue from the Supreme Court this morning, Jim, on whether or not they might take an affirmative action case potentially next term or the one after. So, a lot going on as we await the end of the term here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Add it to the list of major issues that this court will weigh in on both this term and next. I mean, Affordable Care Act, but also gun issues --

SCHNEIDER: Yes, and abortion, as well, the big one.

SCIUTTO: Abortion, and this with affirmative action. And as you note, with a 6-3 very strong conservative majority, lots of implications there. Jessica Schneider, thank, so much.

Well, this morning, two teenagers are in custody for their alleged involvement in a shooting at an Atlanta mall on Sunday. The shooting left a security guard in serious condition. It is just the latest in what's been an unrelenting surge of gun violence across the U.S.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been more than 270 mass shootings. CNN defines that as a shooting in which four or more people are shot or killed except for the shooter. Nearly 9,000 people have died from gun violence so far this year. This weekend alone, there were at least eight mass shootings in six states leaving at least nine people dead, several others wounded. You have a couple of things going on here, gun violence, a rise in violent crime, so many factors.

[10:30:01]

CNN's Omar Jimenez following this. Tell us what law enforcement is telling you about the multiple factors behind this spike in crime.