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The Biden Agenda; Trump DOJ Under Fire; President Biden Reaffirms Commitment to NATO. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 14, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us on NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.


Any moment now, we expect to hear from President Biden there at the NATO summit in Brussels. This is his first visit to the alliance's headquarters since taking office. Of course, we will bring you that press conference live as soon as it begins.

CAMEROTA: A short time ago, President Biden met with Turkish President Erdogan. President Biden called the meeting -- quote -- "very good."

He also met with other NATO leaders, who have largely voiced support for Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. They also issued a joint communique on the challenges posed by China and the threat presented by Russia.

BLACKWELL: So, this is a solid sign of unity ahead of the high-stakes meeting that the president will have on Wednesday, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the buildup is tense.

Joining us now live from Brussels, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, also chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward.

Kaitlan, first to you.

Any indications -- this was, we expected, to start maybe 10 minutes ago, but, as expected -- sometimes, these are running behind -- what we will hear from the president?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there are going to be a lot of questions, obviously, about that upcoming summit with the Russian president, because, really, there have been so many moments of this trip, his first trip abroad since taking office.

But that really is going to be the defining meeting. And the White House is fully aware of that. So I think what people are looking to is to what he thinks he's going to get out of that meeting with Putin, because they have already said they're not going to hold a joint press conference.

And he justified that by saying that he doesn't want the review of how this meeting goes to be based on how the press conference looks and whether or not one another -- one leader, Putin, tries to embarrass the other.

And so I think what you're seeing happening today, though, while he's meeting with these NATO allies, is not just that reassuring presence, that it's not Donald Trump or talking about China, but it's also to talk about what he plans to say to the Russian president in his meeting and in his sit-down, because there have been some NATO allies who have questioned why he is having this summit right now.

And so President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, says he was going to talk about what he intends to discuss with his Russian counterpart in these meetings that are happening right now. He also expects to solicit advice from them and get some input, including with the Turkish President Erdogan, who we just met with.

The White House did say they kind of expected them to compare notes on the Russian leader. So I think it remains to be seen what actually is going to come out of that meeting, of course, in Geneva. But, right now, what you are seeing is this meeting with the Turkish leader that just happened a few moments ago.

We should note, we didn't really get a lot of a readout of how that meeting went, because, after the press was allowed in, you only heard President Biden say that the meeting went well, but no details on what they discussed when it comes to Turkey's purchase of that Russian missile system, or, of course, the pull out of Afghanistan, several other topics that they had to discuss, including the fact that they have only talked once before the meeting that just happened.

So there are a lot of questions for President Biden when he does come out to this press conference any minute from now.

CAMEROTA: Clarissa, tell us a little bit more about that, about what would have been expected from the Erdogan meeting.

And it sounds as if Erdogan of Turkey has changed his tune and tone lately. So, why is he doing that?


I mean, just one month ago, President Erdogan was saying that President Biden had blood on his hands over weapon sales to Israel. President Biden has called Erdogan an autocrat in the past, which is obviously a big difference from President Trump, who welcomed him to the White House and called him a good friend and said he was doing a fantastic job.

But we're definitely seeing a different tone from the Turkish leader. And part of that is because the Turkish economy is in freefall, the lira is plummeting, and they desperately need to find some common areas with the U.S. that they can work on together.

So I think it was expected from both sides that there would be a more conciliatory tone struck between the two. You can be sure, though, that Erdogan will bring up the fact that the U.S. has decided to call Armenia a genocide. That is, of course, a very thorny topic.

And as Kaitlan mentioned as well, this issue of the S-400 Russian anti-aircraft missile defense system will also be on the cards, but definitely not expected to be a confrontational meeting. I think both sides wanted this to be a sort of matter of fact, finding areas of consensus where the two countries can work together moving forward.

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan, obviously, Turkey and Erdogan are let's call it unique figures in NATO because of that relationship with Russia, but also because of U.S. military resources in Turkey.


Talk more, if you would about the tone, about the U.S.' tone approaching Erdogan, as they prepare now for this meeting with Vladimir Putin.

COLLINS: Well, that's where they have a lot in common. And, actually, they could find some areas of potential agreement, because that has been a big question.

And the joint agreement that was issued earlier today by these 30 member nations of NATO talked about that, because one big part of that has been security at the Kabul Airport and how that's going to be conducted, given the Afghanistan pullout.

And so I think that's another topic that you see as another layer here added to their conversation about these areas where they disagree, obviously, on a lot of them, but, also, as Clarissa was noting, there are ports where Turkey needs America's help, and America wants to know what Turkey's intentions are when it comes to security for that airport, what the funding from that is going to look like.

And that's been something that you saw the secretary-general talking about earlier. You saw President Biden -- or you heard President Biden's top aides saying it was going to be something that they brought up in that meeting.

So we're waiting to get a readout of it to see or what President Biden says here at this press conference about what their determination of that was. But this has been broadly something that has been a concern for several world leaders here, because we do know they discussed Afghanistan earlier. We were told by administration officials that all the leaders agreed essentially on the final outcome of that, but the question of how to actually get there and withdraw forces is still a really big topic.

And not everyone was on page -- on the same page as President Biden when he announced that withdrawal and how it was going to be conducted. So, yes, you're seeing people welcome President Biden, the diplomatic touches that, of course, were not here when President Trump was an office, but there are still divisions beneath the surface there.

CAMEROTA: Yes, so, Clarissa, so let's talk about that.

I mean, there is so much focus on the Biden-Putin meeting, but just the G7 as a whole, the other things that they're dealing with, coronavirus, the global pandemic, Brexit, of course, NATO. Obviously, President Biden has a very different take on NATO than President Trump did.

WARD: He certainly does.

And that was reflected and felt very keenly today. The NATO secretary- general, Jens Stoltenberg, with perhaps characteristic Scandinavian understatement, said that it felt very different meeting with President Biden than it did with President Trump, of course, who sort of famously derided the Northern Atlantic alliance.

And, otherwise, we heard also from the Spanish prime minister, who called Biden's election an inspiration and said that he was seeing the beginnings of Biden beginning to deliver on some of the promises.

But, listen, Kaitlan's right. There is a lot of disagreement between member states about any number of issues, particularly on the issue of China. It was very interesting. This is the first time NATO has delivered a communique where they talk about China, where they identify China as a challenge, as a systemic challenge.

But there is still a lot of difference between different member states in terms of some states like the U.S. seeing China as more of as an adversary and others seeing China's still as an important partner for cooperation.

We did hear from Stoltenberg on that topic. He said that China does not share our values, singling out the crackdown on the protest movement in Hong Kong, aggressive surveillance procedures used by the Chinese, of course, also the targeting of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

So there are areas where they don't agree on everything. But, more broadly, I would say the one thing they clearly are united on is this sense that Russia poses a major threat to these 30 member states, and that great attention needs to be paid on working together to ensure not just in the run-up to the summit, but, in the future, that these countries are acting together in unison to form a robust defense, and that, again, Stoltenberg's words.

He talked about, we will respond to this threat with robust defense and dialogue.

BLACKWELL: Yes, certainly a different feel this year. We remember that President Trump in his first NATO meeting shoved the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way to get to the front of the pack. This one now calling this a crucial organization.

Clarissa Ward, Kaitlan Collins, thank you both.

All right, later this afternoon, Attorney General Merrick Garland will meet with senior executives from CNN, "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" to talk about the controversial seizure of data by the Trump administration's Justice Department.

The web continues to widen, though. We know now that Trump's DOJ secretly obtained communication records of journalists, Democratic lawmakers and Trump's own White House counsel, Don McGahn. This was in an effort to track down leaks.

CAMEROTA: So, today, A.G. Garland issued a statement saying the Justice Department will strengthen existing rules regarding seeking congressional records.

Democrats are now demanding that former Trump attorneys -- Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions testify under oath.


With us to talk about this is CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig. He's also a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

OK, Elie, let's just start with the beginning. And I mean the predicate. Do we know what the predicate was to begin these subpoenas and the gag orders and everything?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We do not know right now, Alisyn.

And there's so many questions here. The first question I would have is, what was the basis to start this investigation? As a prosecutor, you have virtually unlimited power to issue subpoenas. However, good, responsible prosecutors won't do that without what we call predication, meaning some basis in fact to indicate that a crime was committed.

And we need to know, was this investigation started because they had specific cause to think there was a crime? Were these members of Congress and the media sort of swept up in a larger case? Or were they targeted for political reasons? That is the very first thing we need an answer to.

BLACKWELL: And then, of course, the question of who gave the green light, right? If something this broad, you would expect that some people up the chain would know about this, right?

HONIG: Who knew? When did they know? How were they told, right?

Normally, in a case like this, Victor, you would have to notify the deputy attorney general, the attorney general. If I'm a prosecutor, and my case comes across members of the media, members of the Congress, you are required under DOJ policy to send notice up the chain of command as soon as possible.

Now, we know that Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Bill Barr have all said they didn't know anything about it. I find that hard to believe. We need to know, who did know how? High did this go in DOJ?

CAMEROTA: Why the gag orders? Are those commonplace? I mean, is that unusual to have a gag order and this level of secrecy?

HONIG: It is unusual, and it is alarming here. And it is the third thing that we need an answer to, why the secrecy here? To be clear, the reason we're finding out about this now is because it's been under seal.

It's been secret. The courts -- DOJ went to the courts and said, we have to make sure that the people whose records we subpoenaed, Barbara Starr, Eric Swalwell, Adam Schiff, they can't know about this. The phone companies, Apple, you can't tell them.

That requires a special court order. That requires DOJ to go into court and say, courts, please keep this secret. Why was that done? Why was that renewed for several years? That's the next big question.

BLACKWELL: And then, of course, as we learned, in addition to the journalists, then there were the members of Congress and their staffers and the families. And now we're learning about Don McGahn.

How broad is this, the things that we don't know?

HONIG: Yes, this is a question for Merrick Garland now. What other cases are out there?

For all we know, there could be many other cases that are still under those gag orders. We could have gag orders that expire in two weeks, in six months. If I'm in there meeting with Merrick Garland, I'm telling him, you need to do a review, you need to figure out all the gag orders that you have imposed in any case relating to the media or Congress, and you need to revisit those.

If the gag orders are no longer absolutely necessary, go back to the courts, ask the judge to lift those gag orders. We need to know what else is out there. We need to know quickly.

CAMEROTA: How do we get all of those answers?

HONIG: Yes, two ways, Alisyn.

First of all, the Justice Department inspector general has already announced that it will be opening an investigation. That's important. But, remember, the I.G., the inspector general, cannot force people who don't work there anymore to testify. Bill Barr Jeff Sessions, they can't force them to talk.

The bigger impetus to me really falls on Congress. And we have heard a lot of rhetoric from Chuck Schumer and other members of Congress about, we demand accountability. Well, let's see if Congress is willing and able to follow through.

Will they subpoena Bill Barr? Will they subpoena Jeff Sessions? And if they resist, will Congress go to courts? I think they need to, and they need to do it a heck of a lot quicker and more decisively than they did with Don McGahn, where it took us two years to get the testimony. Congress needs to play hardball here.

BLACKWELL: Barbara Starr, CNN's chief Pentagon correspondent, she wrote a really striking op-ed.

It's on I suggest you go and read it, about learning what had been executed to try to get information from her e-mails and from her phone logs as well. Let's listen to Barbara early today.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: As I stand here today, both CNN and myself, we have no idea why the Justice Department snuck into my life. They went out in secret court proceedings last year. They went after some 30,000 of my e-mails and phone records, and not just my work e-mail, my work phone, but they went after my personal accounts, my personal e-mail, and my personal phone.


BLACKWELL: We have talked about how rare this is really. But from a personal account, now to know that the government was searching through your accounts, it was striking to hear her describe after finding out.

HONIG: Barbara said it perfectly.

Look, this is why you have to be so careful as a prosecutor. These are real people with real personal and privacy interests that you have to respect, especially when that person is a member of the media.

CAMEROTA: And their families.



CAMEROTA: I mean, and their families. And to hear Barbara talk about the violation that this was, her personal accounts, and, by the way, Adam Schiff's family, Don McGahn, the White House counsel.


I mean, the scope of this, and to involve family members, even minor family members, that just feels like a violation.

HONIG: If I had one more question, Alisyn, it would be, why so broad, right? Why over 100 subpoenas for 100 different phone numbers and e- mail accounts? You're exactly right.

And all you have to do is think about what's in any of our cell phones, your parents' phone number, your siblings' phone number, your spouse's, your kids' phone number. So DOJ has a real cleanup job to do here.

BLACKWELL: We're hearing more about this every couple of days. And we will see what comes out this week.

Elie Honig, thanks so much.

HONIG: Thank you both.

BLACKWELL: Our special coverage of President Biden's overseas trip continues.

Of course, as you see on your screen, we're waiting for him to come out to speak at the NATO summit, but we will take a look at what's happening at the president's agenda -- or to it, the agenda at home as well, while he's preaching democracy overseas.

CAMEROTA: Plus, new concerns about that highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant -- when and where medical experts say it could cause outbreaks next.



BLACKWELL: President Biden is telling global allies that America is back at the table, but he's facing a partisan standoff back at home.

CAMEROTA: CNN political director David Chalian joins us now.

So, David, we're just weeks away from Congress going into summer recess. But, of course, there's still so much unresolved. So just take us through it.


And, obviously, presidents are hired to have full plates. Joe Biden certainly has that.

Let's take a look at that big infrastructure deal that is being sought by the administration and by some Republicans in Congress. Right now, 10 senators, Democrats and Republicans, are hovering around this $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal. This is about the way you think of infrastructure, physical infrastructure, roads, bridges, and the like.

What are the roadblocks to getting this done right now? Well, it's pretty clear the overall price tag is one roadblock. This is not as high as Joe Biden would like to see it. But that's one potential roadblock, but it's this. How do you pay for it? That seems to be where there is the largest gulf between Republicans and Democrats. And it's unclear if that can be bridged.

Listen to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today on the radio. He says there's a 50/50 chance but, again, he has very clear red lines,


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Maybe 50/50. Look, both sides would like to get an infrastructure bill. Here are the red lines on our side.

We're not going to reopen the 2017 tax bill. It was a major factor in bringing us the best economy in 50 years as of February 2020, before the pandemic hit. And we want it to be paid for. (END AUDIO CLIP)

CHALIAN: So he doesn't want to see any tax increases whatsoever to pay for it. That is clearly part of the Biden proposal. We will see if they can bridge that divide, Victor.

BLACKWELL: So, Democrats, David, are losing patience, more of them. Some started this by saying you shouldn't work with the Republicans because it's not going anywhere.

And they're now preparing this reconciliation bill on infrastructure. Will the party go that way? Can they do it that way? Do they have all the votes to pull it off?

CHALIAN: Well, it's a good question.

Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, has said he's working this dual path. They're going to try to see, can they get as much as possible in a bipartisan manner? And then everything else, the American Families Plan, more climate-related pieces of the American Jobs Plan, does that go into another spending bill that is just Democrats only through reconciliation?

If not, if they can't get this bipartisan bill, then it has to be all with Democrats only. And we know we have seen resistance from that from some moderate Democrats. Now take a look at some items on the agenda that can't use reconciliation at all, right, voting rights key among them, the For the People Act.

It's been passed by the House, but it is stuck in the Senate, the major roadblock there, Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia. Now, some other Democrats have some concerns about the bill. He's the only Democrat not to be a co-sponsor on the bill. He has stated his opposition. Until this roadblock is cleared, this bill will remain stuck in Congress.

Police reform, another item. Of course, the House Democrats have a bill that they have been working on. And right now, Karen Bass, House Democrat, Cory Booker, Senate Democrat, and Senate Republican Tim Scott continue to meet. They have set a deadline for the end of June.

The roadblock here, qualified immunity for police officers. This has been the sticking point all throughout on getting a bipartisan deal done on police reform. This sticking point still remains. We will see if they can get that done in the next couple of weeks.

Guns. We just got through another deadly weekend in America. The Biden administration, the president signed some executive actions. The House has passed two gun control bills. And they are, of course, stalled in the Senate. The Senate is a 50/50 divide right now. There simply aren't enough votes in the Senate right now to get the 60 needed to pass some of these gun control measures.

CAMEROTA: And then, David, the investigation into what happened on January 6. It is woefully incomplete. The Senate blocked that independent commission, as we know, but then they did release a committee report, more narrow, last week.

What are the Democrats' next moves?

CHALIAN: Yes. So Nancy Pelosi talked about this on "STATE OF THE UNION" yesterday with Dana Bash. And that's what we're waiting on here.

The options before Speaker Pelosi, she could continue to wait for the Senate to see if they will indeed revisit the notion of an independent commission. I don't think that's likely.


She could continue with the existing committees that exist in the House and have them each sort of take a piece of this investigation, or she could create a new select committee in the House that is focused solely on the January 6 insurrection, Alisyn.

And, yes, it would be partisan in the sense that it would be Democratic-led, but this would be a committee that's sole focus would be about getting an accounting for the insurrection. We wait to see if Speaker Pelosi will do that.

Again, on the Senate side, they could vote again. Chuck Schumer held open the notion that he could bring up a vote again on this independent commission, but we know of no change in votes yet, and they only had seven Republicans. They needed 10, the Democrats did, to join them. Those votes aren't there. So I doubt we're going to see this anytime soon, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, David Chalian, thank you for taking us through all of that.

BLACKWELL: So, Vice President Kamala Harris is kicking off a nationwide tour. She's out pushing the importance of vaccines and aiming to combat misinformation about their safety.