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Interview With Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA); Trump DOJ Under Fire; The Growing QAnon Threat?; Biden Set to Meet With Putin; President Biden Holds Press Conference. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 14, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, brand-new hour. And it's good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

President Biden is at the NATO summit in Brussels. And we do expect him to take questions from the press at any moment. We're told that he's been delayed because of several high-level meetings with other leaders.

BLACKWELL: Now, it has been a very busy day. President Biden met with his Turkish counterpart. And all sources tell CNN that the conversation eventually narrowed in on Russia and the threats that the Kremlin poses to all major world powers.

CAMEROTA: On Wednesday, Biden will meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And we now know more about how President Biden has been preparing for that high-stakes summit.

BLACKWELL: All right, so joining us now from Brussels, CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Phil, first, have you got any update on when this news conference is going to start?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, but if I did, I would be happy to share it. And if you guys hear anything, please let us know.

BLACKWELL: Will do. Will do.

MATTINGLY: We're more than an hour behind at this point.

And I think, but, as you guys know well, you cover these events, one session runs long -- the plenary session this morning ran a little bit long -- and all of a sudden everything gets off track. And so that's kind of where we are right now. It could be at any moment. But any moment could also be 30 minutes from now. We will have to see.

I know that makes your rundown a little more complicated for your show. But I think it also kind of underscores the dynamic of this NATO meeting generally. You have had a number of leaders who want to meet with President Biden. You have had President Biden soliciting those meetings with members, making very clear to the 30 members of NATO that that looming meeting with President Vladimir Putin, he wants their input.

He wants to know what they think, what their priorities, what their issues are. And he wants to be able to take them into that meeting, essentially try and have everybody in NATO, which, as you guys know well, was created in large parts of counter the Soviet Union, and has since been used as kind of a buffer, particularly for European countries that are within the sights of Russia.

He wants everybody to have a stake in this meeting. And if you think back to the G7, obviously into NATO, the U.S.-E.U. summit that's coming up as well, the president wants to be able to walk into that meeting in Geneva saying that: I'm not here alone. I'm not here in isolation. I'm here representing a unified kind of Western democratic alliance to some degree.

And I think one of the interesting parts about his preparation that we have been recording on is, one, it's been going on for weeks. Two, over the course of his trip earlier in Cornwall, now in Belgium, you have had pretty much a clear schedule in the morning, at least public schedule in the morning.

And that time has largely been reserved to prepare for this meeting, and for good reason. I think, when you listen to White House advisers, they acknowledge past meetings with past presidents have gone off track pretty quickly with President Putin. He's very willing to hijack meetings, kind of engage in whataboutism.

And I think the president wants to make very clear heading into this meeting he has an agenda. There are very specific issues he wants to raise and make clear there'll be repercussions if certain lines are crossed related to those issues, but also try and seek out areas where the U.S. and Russia can cooperate, can work together, whether it's on Afghanistan, whether it's on the Iran nuclear deal.

Syria was an issue the president raised yesterday as well. And I think how he kind of navigates that with President Putin and what I think U.S. officials expect President Putin to bring to that meeting will largely determine how this meeting ends up.

And it's worth making very clear U.S. officials do not have high expectations that there's going to be some big outcome here. But what they want more than anything else is some type of road map for a relationship that can only get better, based on where it stands right now -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Phil Mattingly for us in Brussels there.

Phil, thank you. And let me add to the list of issues that we know that President Biden

will confront Vladimir Putin about this, the two Americans imprisoned in Russia. One of them is a Marine veteran, Trevor Reed. He's been held there since 2019.


Now, a Russian court sentenced Reed to nine years in prison after an altercation with Russian police. Reed denies the charges.

CAMEROTA: And now we're hearing from Trevor Reed in his own voice.

CNN exclusively obtained a letter that he sent to his family from the hospital while sick with COVID. And it reads in part -- quote -- "I have got a little pain in my lungs. Also, I suffer from cough from time to time. I have lost a few kilograms in weight."

Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked about Reed's imprisonment. Here's what he said.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Your guy, the Marine, he's just a drunk and a troublemaker. As they say here, he got himself (AUDIO GAP) based on vodka and started a fight.

Among other things, he hit a cop.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Matthew Chance joins us live now.

So, Matthew, what will happen when President Biden meets with Putin? Is there any chance that he can secure Trevor Reed's release?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's a sensitive issue, but it's definitely an issue that is on the agenda for both presidents as they go into this meeting.

I mean, look, there's a whole list as long as your arm of things they need to talk about, whether it's election hacking, whether it's the threat against -- military threats by Russia against Ukraine, whether it's the crackdown on dissidents in Russia that the Kremlin is currently engaged in.

But this issue of prisoners being held in Russia, Americans in Russia, and also Russians in America as well, is something that I think there could be progress on. I think it's something they definitely both want to speak about, because you have got this issue of Trevor Reed, the former U.S. Marine who we have just been speaking about, and who Vladimir Putin referred to in, quite frankly, very disparaging terms during that interview he did.

There's another American as well, Paul Whelan. He was accused of and convicted of espionage, something that he says that he had nothing to do with whatsoever. He says he's innocent of any crimes. And he's serving 16 years in a Russian prison as well.

And so it's something that President Joe Biden is under a lot of pressure to try and get resolved. More pressure coming from the family of Trevor Reed earlier today, them issuing an emotional appeal on CNN for the two presidents, Biden and Putin, to come to some deal to get their son and Paul Whelan as well back home.

Take a listen.


JOEY REED, FATHER OF TREVOR REED: If that were true, why didn't he prove it? Why didn't his kangaroo court prove it? Anyone who was there instantly, news media, whoever attended, said this is a joke. This is -- the police keep changing their stories. It's not true.

So, yes, it's offensive.

PAULA REED, MOTHER OF TREVOR REED: 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. And I know some people say we shouldn't do a prisoner exchange because Paul and Trevor are innocent of the charges that gets them and the people that we would be trading are guilty criminals, but I really don't care how my son gets home. I just want him to get home.


CHANCE: Yes, Trevor Reed's mom there unfortunately hitting the nail on the head, because the people that Russia wants back in exchange for Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed are some pretty hardcore criminals that the U.S. doesn't really want to set free.

BLACKWELL: Matthew Chance in Geneva there for us.

Matthew, thanks so much.

Joining us now, Brett Bruen. He's the president of the Global Situation Room and the former director of global engagement in the Obama White House.

And, Brett, let me first say that, if we see the president come out there in Brussels, of course, we're going to take his remarks live.

But you say that the U.S. needs to get tougher, that the U.S. is too soft on Putin and Russia, not just the Biden administration, but even the Obama administration, where you worked. What are you calling for? And what would that look like?


There are several things I think we need to do. One is, we have got to increase the cost for what Russia has been doing up until now, whether it's meddling in our elections, hacking into government systems, and, obviously, the plight of both Americans, but also Russians like Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who currently sits in a Russian jail with trumped-up charges.

So we have to make clear that we're not just going to slap on a couple of sanctions, toss out a few more spies, but that we're going to really bring home to Vladimir Putin the cost of what he has been doing, and indicate that there is more to come if he doesn't change his behavior.

And I'm concerned that President Biden continues to seek a predictable, stable relationship with Russia that Putin just doesn't want.

CAMEROTA: But what kind of tough things should President Biden do?

BRUEN: I think there are a few that we can do.

One is, we certainly can put in place a number of more significant sanctions, sectoral sanctions. We can ban Aeroflot, the Russian state carrier, from flying directly to the U.S., as it does now.


But we also -- as we did when I was on the National Security Council under President Obama, look at selectively releasing intelligence that would send a very clear shot across the bow of the Kremlin, saying, we understand, domestically, you're already under scrutiny for corruption and mismanagement. We can make that situation a lot worse.

BLACKWELL: And CNN's reporting is that one of the potential goals is to exchange ambassadors again, Russian ambassador in Washington, U.S. ambassador there in Moscow.

Considering your get-tough stance, you think that's the right time for that?

BRUEN: I do.

Look, any time that we can have an ambassador on the ground, it is welcome. I think we need someone who can engage at high levels in Moscow with their counterparts. I think it's a shame, just mentioning ambassadors, that we currently don't have any ambassadors to NATO countries. We have got to get more ambassadors in the field.

And President Biden has certainly been slow in getting out those names to Congress and getting our people in the field.

CAMEROTA: You know, obviously, Vladimir Putin is famous for his whataboutism. And he just engaged in it again today.

He sat down with NBC, and he tried to say that Alexei Navalny, opposition leader who has been on a hunger strike, who's been jailed, poisoned, is the same as the insurrectionists who came to try to overthrow the election, the Trump supporters who were trying to overthrow the election and hang Mike Pence. And, I mean, anybody who deals in facts and nuance, it's laughable

with his whataboutism. But when he does that with President Biden, as he's wont to do, in a meeting, what's President Biden's reaction supposed to be?

BRUEN: Well, I ran the operations to counter Russian propaganda when they invaded Ukraine. And we saw this play out again and again, where Putin will say, the sky is purple, we will say it's not. We're still talking on his terms.

So I think what President Biden has to stay laser-focused on is our agenda, our issues, not let him divert and distract us. I think it's unfortunate we're not going to have a joint press conference,because what he says in public is as important as what he says in private. We need the world to know that we're holding him accountable, that we are going to take a tough message to Putin, and not just do so afterwards in a press conference to other members of the media.

CAMEROTA: So that's a mistake, you think, by President Biden?

BRUEN: I do. I think we want to have that debate publicly. I think we want to show that we're willing to stand at the same podium, and to deliver that message not just in private, but in public.

And I think it also would have a very powerful effect on the Russian people who are watching right now and trying to understand whether Putin is going to be able to pull another one over an American president. He's done this several times. I think Biden needs to come in and show that he is willing to both privately and publicly label Putin for what he is and indicate what the consequences will be if he doesn't change his behavior.

CAMEROTA: Brett Bruen, thank you very much. Great to get your expertise.

BLACKWELL: Thanks, Brett.

BRUEN: You bet.

CAMEROTA: OK, now, first on CNN: The FBI has warned lawmakers that the QAnon movement could be in danger, or I guess is threatening to shift offline from online to real-world violence.

BLACKWELL: So, CNN has obtained a copy of the FBI's threat assessment that mentions Democrats and other political opposition as potential targets.

Whitney Wild, CNN's law enforcement correspondent, is breaking this story.

So what have you learned from this assessment?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a great scoop by my colleague Zach Cohen.

And what the assessment says is that instead of convincing QAnon followers that the movement is bogus, as these posts start to disappear, and more and more people begin to talk about how QAnon is, in fact, not real, some members are seeing the sort of vacuum of QAnon content that they used to see online as an indication that, in fact, they need to start taking matters into their own hands.

So, for example, it's sort of a -- I guess, I would say, a lack of leadership that they think now these QAnon events that they thought were going to materialize, because they haven't materialized, now it's time to go further and dictate the future of the movement on their own, which is just so alarming, because you would think that, as more QAnon posts start to disappear from the Internet, as these events don't materialize, logically, you would assume that some people would believe that it's because QAnon is not real, that would be the final piece of proof that people were waiting for.

But, in fact, for some people, it is the opposite, which is just so shocking. This is coming after Senate Intelligence lawmakers had asked the FBI for a review into QAnon.


And here's just a little bit of the report that we had earlier. I think we have a quote coming up.

This is the quote from the report: "We assess that some domestic violent extremist adherents of QAnon will likely begin to believe they can no longer 'trust the plan' referenced in QAnon posts and that they have an obligation to change from serving as digital soldiers towards engaging in these real-world violent acts, including harming perceived members of the 'cabal,' such as Democrats and other political opposition, instead of continually awaiting for Q's promised actions, which have not occurred."

It's just shocking. This assessment is short, but it is direct, and it shows that, instead of being convinced the QAnon is not real, some militant observers of QAnon, some of these very strict adherents, may be compelled to commit acts of violence, emboldened as well by the January 6 riot -- back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: Just such a disturbing development.

Whitney Wild, thank you very much.

So, still ahead: new revelations that former White House counsel Don McGahn was among the people targeted with those secret subpoenas during the Trump era. And now Democratic leaders are demanding answers from Attorney General Garland and the DOJ.

We will speak to Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal about all of this.

BLACKWELL: And the pressure on Senator Joe Manchin to get on board with some of the Democratic priorities is increasing today. There is a march in his home state of West Virginia. One of the organizers will join me live next.


CAMEROTA: Attorney General Merrick Garland weighing in for the first time after revelations that the DOJ under former President Trump secretly seized phone and e-mail records of top Democrats, journalists and Trump's own White House counsel, Don McGahn.

Garland issuing a statement, saying the Justice Department will strengthen existing rules that deal with seeking congressional records.

Garland meeting with leaders from CNN, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" this afternoon. The news outlets are asking for safeguards to ensure the freedom of the press going forward.

Meanwhile, top Democrats are demanding former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions testify under oath about what they knew about these secret subpoenas.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): What the administration did, the Justice Department, the leadership of the former president goes even beyond Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon had an enemies list. This is about undermining the rule of law.

And for the attorneys general, Barr and Sessions, at least two, to say that they didn't know anything about it is beyond belief. So, we will have to have them come under oath to testify about that.


CAMEROTA: Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who sits on House Judiciary, joins us now.

Great to see you, Congresswoman.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Great to see you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I will let you answer that.


JAYAPAL: I'm not going to get it.



Let's start with what we're talking about. Do you believe that something, an operation of this scale, where journalists, Democrats on the Intel Committee, Don McGahn, that they're -- that they could have been secretly subpoenaed, there could have been a gag order, their families' metadata could have been swept up, and that Bill Barr would not know anything about it?

He told Politico last week: "I was not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case. Trump was not aware of who we were looking at in any case. I never discussed leak cases with Trump. He didn't really ask me any of the specifics."

JAYAPAL: Well, you see my eyebrows going up in disbelief.

You know I have had my own run-ins with Bill Barr in what he did and didn't know. I think it's highly unlikely, if not impossible, that he didn't know, that Attorney General Sessions didn't know.

And if, by any chance, that is true, Alisyn, then who are these people that are getting these records from journalists, on Congress members, and even on Don McGahn? We have to get to the bottom of it.

And I think the task that Attorney General Garland is going to have in front of him is, we can't just return the Department of Justice to the norms and standards that existed before. When those norms have been so publicly and destructively shattered by the former administration, the public demands accountability.

And that is what we have to have. We have to have transparency. We have to have accountability, because, without that, you will never restore the faith of the public in the Department of Justice. And I think the attorney general is going to have to contend with that and also message very publicly to the public that he understands what's at stake right now.

CAMEROTA: So, what are you calling on him to do?

Because he put out a statement today saying that he will strengthen existing policies for obtaining records from the legislative branch. Now, Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, who was one of the targets in this investigation, is calling for new protections to be codified.

What do you want the attorney general to do exactly?

JAYAPAL: Well, I think the first thing is, we need to know all of the information. And that involves not only the attorney general, this attorney general, taking steps to make sure we get all of that information, but, also, I agree with the speaker that we need to have Barr and Sessions come and testify before us again.


But, also, I think the attorney general is going to have to look at all of the ways very quickly that he can determine who was involved in this.

If there are people still within the Department of Justice, we need to get them out if they were any part of this. We need to not just strengthen the laws, but we actually need to have prohibitions in place so that this does not happen. And, finally, the attorney general has done a great job of challenging

many of the department's -- the previous administration's decisions in court. But there have been a couple of high-profile cases where he has continued what the Trump administration was doing, whether it was E. Jean Carroll or not fully releasing the Barr memo and challenging the judge's order on that.

And, Alisyn, I think that I understand the desire for continuance, but I think, at this point, there is so much there, that we need the attorney general to be as aggressive as he can in ferreting out all these things that the Trump administration did, and encountering them and fixing them for the future.

CAMEROTA: Beyond what the attorney general can do, when will Congress hold hearings about this?

JAYAPAL: Well, we're going to have a briefing on that tomorrow in the Judiciary Committee, I think, just with our members.

I think the speaker has clearly called for this. So I think we're going to try to work as expeditiously as possible to make sure that we do get the information we need. And then we look at all of the different ways in which we need to take legislative action to make sure these things don't happen.

It's going to be very difficult to unravel all of these pieces, though, I will say.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you well remember, when former Attorney General Bill Barr was called before Congress, he was less than forthcoming.

And so how will you get the truth out of him?

JAYAPAL: Well, I don't know that we will ever get the truth out of Bill Barr, because he lies all the time. And I think he lied to us under oath -- that's my belief -- on a number of occasions.

But I will say that, because we have a new attorney general who I have a lot of faith in, I think that we will get to the bottom of this. As I said, I think these revelations are just the tip of the iceberg. I think we are going to continue to find all the ways in which the Trump administration politicized and weaponized the Department of Justice against the American people, surveilling journalists, congress members, even his own legal counsel.

How many others are we going to find out that they surveilled secretly, and got gag orders to stop these companies from even telling us about it? It's--


CAMEROTA: Do you know of any other congresspeople?

JAYAPAL: Well, I can just tell you that we're all being asked to check all of our accounts, even accounts that we very rarely use. But it's a little bit like searching for a needle in a haystack, because the communications from the companies are very nondescript. So it's going to take a while for us, I think, to go through our own records, our own e-mails, find out if we were part of that.

And, of course, we would hope that the Justice Department demand -- I would say that the Justice Department now inform us as soon as they find out, which I think they will.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's move on, while we wait for that, more of that to develop, to infrastructure.

So, there's this bipartisan group, as you know, 10 senators, five Democrats, five Republicans. They say they have reached a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan. They say that it has some energy technology, as well as kind of traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges stuff.

But Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi says that it will be a hard sell. Why is $1.2 trillion not good enough?

JAYAPAL: Well, forgive my disbelief. I'm not sure it's $1.2 trillion.

You know every package we have gotten have said it's a big amount, and then you find out that a significant piece of that is just COVID relief funds that we already passed and have already been allocated for.

So, I'm waiting to see the package. But the reason she says that is what I have been saying for weeks. And I have said this to the speaker directly. We are not going to vote for a smaller package that leaves women out because it doesn't provide childcare, that leaves out a whole group of workers who desperately--

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman, I'm sorry to interrupt. We're seeing President Biden take the podium right now in Brussels.

We will listen in.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- today's meetings, I want to say a short word about our ongoing fight against COVID-19 at home.

We have made enormous progress in the United States. Much of the country is returning to normal. And our economic growth is leading the world, and the number of cases and deaths are dropping dramatically.

But there's still too many lives being lost. We're still averaging in the last seven days the loss of 370 deaths per day, 370 deaths. That's significantly lower than at the peak of this crisis, but it's still a real tragedy.