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Soon, President Biden Speaks Following Critical NATO Meetings; Attorney General Orders Investigation into How DOJ Obtained Congressional Records; . Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 14, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I appreciate you joining us today on Inside Politics. I hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. A busy news day, including the president on stage at the NATO Summit. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York, thanks so much for being with me.

A critical day of meetings with NATO leaders and a very clear message from the president of the United States.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I want to make it clear. NATO is critically important for U.S. interests, in and of itself. If there weren't one, we'd have to invent one. I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there. The United States is there.


CABRERA: A major departure from former President Trump's America First rallying cry.

Now, today is about uniting on key issues and putting Russia and China on notice. And while these world leaders covered serious ground today, President Biden's face-to-face with Russia's Vladimir Putin just two days from now is proving to be a major distraction, Putin saying U.S. relations at its lowest point in years, set the stage for what could be a very fence showdown.

We have every angle covered with CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly, CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward, Max Boot, the senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he's also a Washington Post Columnist, and our very own Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is standing by as well.

Let me start with you, Clarissa. What are you hearing from America's allies? CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, what a very different tone we are hearing now as Spanish prime minister is calling President Biden's election an inspiration, saying that he was delivering on some of the promises in that meeting today. Stoltenberg, the head of NATO, saying that it is different with, I think, what we can call characteristic Norwegian understatement with Biden at the helm of these meetings as opposed to President Trump.

And, essentially, all of these different NATO member states, 30 of them, coming out with a communique that makes it clear China is a challenge, and this is the first time NATO has mentioned China in its communique, but Russia is the threat, Russia absolutely first and foremost on everybody's minds here.

It's no secret that some NATO members were not entirely comfortable with President Biden taking the decision to sit down with President Putin. President Biden has been trying to sort assuage or alleviate those concerns, making it clear that he intends to deliver a very stern message to the Russian president and that certainly appears to have been appreciated by those other member states, Ana.

CABRERA: And, Max, to Clarissa's point, China and Russia at the forefront of the talks today and the language that NATO uses in its communique to describe them is interesting. The communique describes the, quote, threat of Russia and the, quote, challenges of China. What should we make of that distinction?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think it's just simply a clear indication that, obviously, Russia is seen as a bigger threat by our European allies because it is such a closer danger to them than China. But it also, I think, indicates that there is not a consensus within the Atlantic alliance about China.

President Biden is trying to mobilize our allies to take a tougher stance on China and, to some extent, they're stepping forward, for example, by not completing the investment accord with China that they signed at the very end of the Trump administration.

But, in general, most of our European allies don't want to confront China so the same extent we want to. And so it's going to be a challenge to bring them along. But I think it is a very good thing that you finally have a president who is trusted by our allies, and, therefore, they will listen to what he has to say and take it seriously and not question his motives as was so often the case with Trump.

CABRERA: And so, Gloria, as Biden sets the tone for next few years, at least, of his presidency, was he successful?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, in one way, Ana, he had them at hello, right? He was just there saying, I approve of NATO, I want to be a part of NATO, I want to be a part of the G7, I want to be a part of the world community.

And he welcomed them, seeking their advice, for example, on, well, what do you want me to say to Putin when I meet with Putin, talking to them about the differences in approach to China, as you were just talking about, where America stands, you know, not calling them a bunch of free loaders.

I think that Biden was trying to set a different tone, which it's very clear to me that he has done, and then also to say to people, look, there are -- we do have certain differences about our different approaches, for example, to China, but let's try and see where we can come up with some middle ground on that. And I think that's what they are -- what they are working on.

But his major goal, which I think he, you know, set forth very clearly, was to prove to the world community that this is a different president in charge with a different attitude towards the rest of the world.


CABRERA: Hanging over this meeting is President Biden's sit-down with Russia's Putin. So, Phil, you are learning more about how the president is preparing for that meeting. Fill us in.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. Look, it's been something that's been ongoing for weeks now, the president behind closed doors with his advisers trying to figure out the approach, how they want to address President Putin behind closed tours, willing to acknowledge and, I think, very cognizant of the fact that in closed door meetings, President Putin is often an unpredictable individual to speak with, somebody who can often hijack conversations or perhaps take them in a completely different direction than his counterpart was planning on taking when they start.

So I think that's been the preparation, but also laying out a clear agenda for what the president wants to talk about, obviously, areas where the U.S. wants to lay down guardrails or red lines, whether it's on cybersecurity, political prisoners, things of that nature, but also areas where President Biden believes that there is not just a hope but a need for cooperation when it comes to the U.S. pullout in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal being two of those primary issues.

I think one of the interesting elements, and Clarissa got at this a little bit, is this meeting today when the president spoke behind closed tours to the 30 leaders that were gathered, Russia was a significant component of those remarks but also his private meetings over the course of this entire day, meeting with the leaders of the Baltic states, meeting with leaders of Poland and Romania, making very clear that he wants their advice, he wants to know what their agenda would be in this sit-down with President Putin as well.

The idea it being here that the NATO and the meeting with Putin are not done in isolation. They are being done together from the U.S. kind of perspective of things. And the president wants to go into that meeting in Geneva with the kind of wind at its back, from the G7 Summit, from the NATO Summit, and he wants to make clear to those leaders in some of the countries that are closest to Russia, or might be most under threat, most acute by Russia, that he is hearing their voices, he will present their voices, kind of this idea of having a united front, kind of a synergistic view on things heading into the meeting, hoping that that will give him perhaps some leverage, but more than anything else, making sure that allies are assured that he is going to be taking their thoughts, their ideas, their perspectives into that meeting, underscoring kind of that this is not just the U.S. and Russia, this is the kind of western alliance and Russia. Ana?

CABRERA: And the president right now is meeting with the leader of Turkey. And we have some new video of that meeting with President Biden and the Turkish prime minister, Prime Minister Erdogan. And there you see them doing a little bit of a fist bump ahead of the president's remarks here any moment now, he's going to be holding a press conference following his meetings with Erdogan of Turkey.

Let me ask you, Clarissa, ahead of the meeting with Putin, I know Putin has been speaking out today. What is he saying and what does it mean as far as the expectations that he's trying to set before he meets with Biden?

WARD: Yes. So, Ana, we're learning more about what President Putin told Keir Simmons of NBC News during the course of their 90-minute interview together on Friday. A lot of it very much to be expected, President Putin really deflecting from a lot of accusations, returning with questions such as, how do you know that, how can you prove that.

At one point, he said in sort of exasperation, I bet you would hold me responsible for the Black Lives Matter movement as well, denying essentially having anything to do with the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny, Russia's leading opposition leader, who was poisoned with Novichok back in August.

He also though refused to commit to ensuring that Navalny would not be killed in prison, saying that there are some things the president is simply not in charge of but, that, quote, he won't be treated any worse than anybody else. And that, of course, is unlikely to comfort anyone.

But he did talk about potential areas of cooperation as well, cybercriminals, also talked about being open to the idea of some kind of a prisoner swap. Obviously, there are two U.S. citizens being held in prison in Russia. And as Phil said, there are other potential areas of cooperation as well, Afghanistan, Iran, but also President Biden mentioning yesterday potentially Libya and Syria.

So, a fairly typical, I would say, of what we've seen from President Putin before, a lot of deflection, a lot of whataboutism, and not much in the way of substantive answers but interesting to see as well that Russian state television has been promoting this interview quite heavily. So they obviously feel that this is something of a public relations coup for them as well and is an important part of President Putin setting the agenda from Russia's perspective ahead of that summit.

CABRERA: And I realize I misspoke and called Erdogan Prime Minister. He's the president of Turkey. I just wanted to clear that up.

Max, what are some of the potential pitfalls with Putin that president Biden needs to avoid?


BOOT: Well, obviously, the big danger is you don't want seeming to elevate Putin in the eyes of the world because he is not the equivalent of the president of the United States. A, he's not democratically elected, and, B, Russia is simply not the same level as the United States. It's an economic pygmy compared to us. They're basically equal to us or close to us in nuclear weapons and that's about it. So I think we have to deal with them.

But we have to be clear that we are not going to allow Putin to hijack the summit for his personal self-promotion, which is what he did so successfully with Trump. And I think it's a smart thing that Biden is doing by not holding a joint press availability afterwards, with Putin.

Because, of course, we all remember what happened in Helsinki in 2018, which was one of the low points of the Trump administration, where, you know, Trump seemed to kowtow and simper to Putin as they were standing side by side in Helsinki. Clearly, Biden does not want that image.

I mean, there's no doubt that simply meeting with the U.S. president is going to elevate him to some extent but I think, you know, avoid giving him any other unearned P.R. benefits is going to be a key part of the administration's strategy and also to raise these difficult questions that, you know, Trump never raised, including we were just talking about Alexei Navalny.

I mean, Biden needs to go in there and say, Mr. Putin, let Alexei Navalny go. He needs to make that a key part of his message. There is no excuse to holding him in this horrible prison, the leading opposition leader in Russia. That is a crime. That is a violation of human rights. And those are the kind of things that Trump would have never in a million years brought up with Putin but I am confident that Biden will do so.

And, you know, I think we just need to temper our expectations and not look for a lot of compromise or a lot of common ground because, you know, there just isn't a lot with Russia. Their interests are very different from ours on most issues and they're not going to be helpful to us.

But I think it is useful to, you know, look Putin in the eye and say your free ride is over, you're not going to run over this president the way you ran over the last one, the U.S. is going to stand up to you, and watch your step. And, you know, we have ways of retaliating against your aggression, and you will feel the pain if you continue acting what you have been acting.

CABRERA: So, Gloria, real quick, I do want to bring up another comparison to what we experienced under President Trump in Helsinki that, I think, you know, stood out to a lot of people and that was that Trump met with Putin without anybody else around, not even note takers. And our reporting is that there are still details being worked out as to who would be part of not just Biden and Putin's meeting but also additional meetings there might be between the U.S. and Russian officials there.

But it still, I guess, is up in the air at this point, according to our reporting, over whether there will be a note taker in this meeting between Biden and Putin. Can you think of any good reason to not have note takers present?

BORGER: No. I think for historical purposes, there always should be a record of a meeting like this, which is obviously going to be consequential. The question is, will it be the two of them? And Phil can talk about this because he's covering it day-to-day. You know, a small group of aides, just the two of them, a note taker, whatever, I believe there always is somebody.

I think, look, this is such an important meeting, and it's going to be very different because these men know each other and they have no illusions about how they feel about each other. And Jen Psaki said last week, well, Navalny may not be on Putin's agenda but he's going to be on Biden's agenda. And I think you can be sure that Biden will be direct about that.

Yes, they have to figure out a way to work together on all kinds of things, like cybercriminals and swapping prisoners, et cetera, et cetera, Afghanistan, Syria, you know, but I do think that Biden is very clear about what he's going in there with and what he needs to say. And he's not going to come out like Donald Trump did in Helsinki, you mentioned, saying, oh, yes, well he said Russia didn't meddle in the election and I have no reason, you know, not to believe him.

So I think it's going to be a very different feel and I hope for history's sake there is some kind of a record made of it.

CABRERA: Well, we will listen for any additional remarks and any additional clues that the president can give us as far as his thinking going into that meeting with Putin as he is set to address the press within the next half an hour or so.

Thank you all for being with us, Phil Mattingly, Clarissa Ward, Max Boot and Gloria Borger.

It is a busy day of news. We are following new developments in a shocking secret leak investigation.


Attorney General Merrick Garland is speaking out today on the Trump Justice Department's secret subpoenas involving the data of journalists, lawmakers and even Trump's own White House lawyer. Just ahead, how the new A.G. is attempting to clean up after his predecessors.

Plus, anti-vaxxers denied, the first federal ruling on a vaccine mandate at a Texas hospital system.

And no end in sight, another deadly weekend of gun violence in America, and our leaders are missing in action.


CABRERA: Welcome back. Hours before his meetings to discuss secret subpoenas issued by Trump's Justice Department, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a statement on the investigation, and let me read part of it to you.


It reads, there are important questions that must be resolved in connection with an effort by the department to obtain records related to members of Congress and congressional staff. I have accordingly directed that the matter be referred to the inspector general and have full confidence that he will conduct a thorough and independent investigation. If at any time, as the investigation proceeds, action related to the matter in question is warranted, I will not hesitate to move swiftly.

Those words come as the list of DOJ targets expands. Just added, former white House Lawyer Don McGahn and his wife, they received disclosures from Apple that the DOJ sought their account records while McGahn was still the top lawyer representing the presidency. And this all comes as A.G. Garland is meeting with leaders from CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post today to discuss the seizing of journalists' data.

CNN Law Enforcement Correspondent Whitney Wild joins us now. Whitney, what do we expect from this meeting today?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to say what Merrick Garland is going to say, but what I can tell you is that the news outlets are going to try to impress upon him the importance of having a free press. So they're going in there hoping to convince him to not just, you know, send a memo. What they'd like to do is actually have DOJ create a policy that would tamp down these leak investigations, guarantee freedom of the press beyond the Merrick Garland administration, and moving forward.

So our executives are prepared to do that. They're going into this meeting this afternoon. Here is a little piece of video from one of our executives, Michael Bass.

Do we have that sound bite? Maybe we don't.

Well, it doesn't sound like we do have that sound bite. But I will take the liberty of summarizing one of the executive's words. The point is that what they really want to do is make sure there is a guarantee of freedom of the press. Merrick Garland has suggested that he is open to trying to figure out how these leak investigations happened and ensure that the press has the ability to do our job. And this comes just about 40 years, I think, almost to the day -- it might have been yesterday -- that the Pentagon papers were released.

So, Ana, the point here is that they want to make sure this freedom lasts beyond when Merrick Garland holds office, Ana. CABRERA: Okay. Thank you so much, Whitney Wild. And tell us a little bit more about what we've learned about Don McGahn's Apple account and this portion of the apparent leak investigation.

WILD: Well, we still don't know that much. So, here's the big question. Were these people actually targeted or were they somehow swept up in, you know, leak investigations that were extraordinarily broad but only focused on one person? In other words, was there one central person who was the target and then all these other people sort of got pinged as they did this really broad sweep? That included, as we know, members of Congress, their family members, including a minor.

So we know at this point very little about the Don McGahn data sweep, although we know that it included his records as well as his wife's. So another example, Ana, of these investigations veering from public, the public work of these officials, into their private lives.

And that, you know, for people at CNN whose, you know, personal -- specifically Barbara Starr, her personal email being swept up in some of these data sweeps, it's really the veering into the personal lives that is so alarming and something that surely will come up in this meeting later with Merrick Garland later today, Ana.

CABRERA: And like you said, there is a significance to today's date because it is the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon papers, in 1971.

WILD: I'm sorry, I said 40th. Thank you for correcting me.

CABRERA: You've been up a long time. I know you were with us on the New Day show.

WILD: I'm sorry, I need another coffee. But, yes, the 50th.

CABRERA: We appreciate you. You've been doing an excellent job keeping things straight, Whitney. Thanks.

Let's get some more perspective on this. We are joined by CNN Legal and National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero. Formerly, she held various positions at both the Department of Justice and the Office of National Intelligence. So you're the perfect person to have this conversation with, Carrie.

This is a new level of wow, what we are learning. First, it was members of the media, then it was these Democratic lawmakers, and now White House Counsel reportedly at a time when Trump was unhappy with Don McGahn. What does this signal to you?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, as a former national security lawyer, Ana, I do think about these different cases differently. I don't lump them all together. So if the Justice Department is conducting a national security investigation, those are the highest sensitivities of investigations.

If something involves members of the press, if it involves members of Congress, if it involves the White House Counsel, those are the types of things that, as a matter of Justice Department policy, we want to go way up high in the chain of command at the Justice Department, even up to the attorney general, to approve it and to be knowledgeable about it.


And in these different cases, the questions that I have are, were they specific, and targeted, and limited? So, for example, in some of the reporter subpoenas, the reporters have provided information in their write-ups of these subpoenas that they think they were tied to a particular article that they wrote. So that means that there was a particular investigation of unauthorized disclosure of classified information in the Justice Department was conducting, that then led them to those reporters.

In the case of the members of Congress and the staff on the House Intelligence Committee, that is one where it looks like the request for data returned this high volume of information about members, and staff, and Congress.

And so the questions that I have are, what kind of approvals were going on within the Justice Department? Who was knowledgeable about these different cases? And was this a controlled environment or was it not controlled? Was leadership not aware what was going on? Were people not understanding the gravity of the investigations they were conducting?

CABRERA: So, we know Sessions and Barr and former, you know, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, they've all said they were not aware of the subpoenas related to those Congress members. Do you buy that?

CORDERO: So, from the perspective of what should happen in the Justice Department, it is hard to understand how an attorney general wouldn't know. Now, the specific House Intelligence subpoena, according to the news reports, was issued in early 2018. Attorney General Bill Barr was not there until 2019. So there is a legitimate reason why he would not have approved it at the front end because he wasn't there.

But this does raise questions about just the leadership of the department under the Trump administration generally, and whether they were adequately briefing things as different leaders came into play.

And I think what we might find from this story, Ana, is that it may turn out that part of the chaos that President Trump created in the department, from forcing out his attorney general, from having acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker in between Sessions and Barr, from having different leadership people a long time until they had a Senate-confirmed assistant attorney general for national security, all of these different moves in leadership were people briefed as they were coming in, so that then they could go to Congress and say, hey, this is what happened in the past. We want you to know, before they find out three years later from a notification from a provider.

CABRERA: And a quick answer, if you will, but I do want to ask you about the part of Merrick Garland's statement that you said specifically stood out to you in which he writes that he instructed the deputy A.G., who was already working on surfacing potentially problematic matters, deserving high-level review to evaluate and strengthen the department's existing policies and procedures for obtaining records of the legislative branch. Why does that stand out to you?

CORDERO: So, that stands out to me because I think what the attorney general is communicating is we know we have a lot to unpack here. And I've already tasked the -- I, the attorney general, have already tasked the deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, to unearth problems. That's the key part, is he says that they are trying to surface potentially problematic matters. And so what they know is that she has probably put out some kind of call saying, if there's something we should know, bring it to us so that we can deal with it.

For the new attorney general, the worst scenario that they could encounter is this one where members of Congress found out their information was caught up in an investigation, and they found out from Apple as opposed to being notified by the Justice Department.

CABRERA: Carrie Cordero, I really appreciate your expertise and insights here. Good to see you.

CORDERO: Thanks, Ana, you too.

A new warning today for the unvaccinated, how the more dangerous coronavirus variant first discovered in India poses a growing threat here in the U.S.