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Trump Pressured Attorney General to Back Fraudulent Election Claims; Biden Arrives in Geneva Ahead of Putin Summit Tomorrow. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In advance of the meeting many years ago, Biden called the Russian leader a killer. But in advance of this summit, he said he's a worthy adversary.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I believe that he has, in the past, essentially acknowledged that he was -- there are certain things he would do or did do.

And when you write treaties with your adversaries, you don't say, I trust you, you say, this is what I expect.


SCIUTTO: We begin with this meeting between Biden and Putin. CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Matthew Chance here with me this morning.

Natasha, let's begin with what the Biden administration's intentions and expectations are here. Because there's been an enormous amount of expectations management, saying, they don't expect any grand agreements here. They do want to deliver very strong messages. So what do they say will be the takeaways?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's exactly right, Jim. The expectations are very low. They are saying not expect any deliverables and that is consistent with what they've said in the past, that they really can't expect any deliverables coming out of a meeting with Vladimir Putin, who is so unpredictable.

But that is exactly what they're trying to accomplish here, is more predictability. And that means that there's not going to be any kind of grand breakthrough here. It's just going to be incremental things. So perhaps more cooperation on counterterrorism, cybersecurity, perhaps a discussion of the hostages, the prisoners that Russia has taken, American prisoners, and a potential prisoner swap there. So things that perhaps they can point to that are small, but that can move the relationship forward in a -- you know, a meaningful way, so that there are no misunderstandings.

And the Biden administration -- well, the president himself actually said yesterday during a press conference that he has told allies that what to expect out of his meeting with President Putin is, you know, a clear explanation of red lines. And what to expect coming out of this is just going to be, look, we're going to talk tough to Putin, we're going to see areas of cooperation, but we're also going to convey that they will be held accountable if they do continue their bad behavior. So take a listen.


BIDEN: I shared with our allies that I'll convey -- what I'll convey to President Putin, that I'm not looking for conflict with Russia but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities.


BERTRNAD: So this is exactly what the president has been trying to convey to foreign leaders in the past week or so, meeting with G7 and E.U. leaders, that they want to de-escalate as much as possible with Russia, find areas of cooperation, knowing that Putin is obviously not going to give anything substantial necessarily to the United States, but that there is hope here that they can at least bring Russia a bit out of China's orbit, is one big thing, and also better into the United States and better align their interests there.

SCIUTTO: And the timing is notable, coming from Brussels, where he met with NATO allies, coming prior to that from the U.K., where he met with G7 allies, team events, right, showing we are unified, and that's the kind of strength backing him as he comes here to Geneva. Wind at his back, I think it's been described.

I want to ask you, Matthew, about this idea of establishing red lines, because this is no small thing in this relationship today. Because there are multiple areas where the U.S. and Russia are head-to-head, you know, in very dire terms, certainly in cyberspace, in Ukraine, and elsewhere. How important is that factor in this, saying, okay, we have to at least open channels more so that we don't escalate beyond a point that we can control things?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that all sides agree that talking is better than not talking. But I think we also have to say, and you mentioned there, Natasha, that Putin is not predictable, but I think we can predict that he's not coming to this meeting to make any concessions. He's not going to back down when it comes to cybersecurity, because he doesn't even admit he engages in that kind of activity.

SCIUTTO: Just the other day he was denying that.

CHANCE: He's not going to back down when it comes to Ukraine. He doesn't regard that he's done anything wrong in Ukraine. He doesn't think he's even annexed Crimea. It was a democratic referendum. He's not going to back down on cracking down on dissidents inside Russia.

You know, I spoke with the Kremlin the other day and they said, well, we're happy to inform President Biden about what's happening in Russia but we're not going to discuss it. He's got his own domestic audience. He's coming here to show he can stand up to the U.S. president.

And so I think what we can predict is that we're not going to see any sort of meaningful, substantial concession from him.

SCIUTTO: That's quite a set-up for a summit then, is it not? I mean, if on all these issues, they're going to get no better, right? The progress then, I imagine, from the administration's perspective, it's for Biden to say, Trump is no longer the sheriff, right? I'm not going to stand for things that he stood for.


SCIUTTO: Where then do they have the ability to make progress, because, for instance, if you look at the Iran nuclear deal, both the U.S. and Russia want to resurrect that deal, if possible?


CHANCE: Yes, that is the Iran nuclear, that's one area, climate change is another area that they've discussed. But this is a process which is going to be continuing.

There are sort of these surface tensions which I think they can address. I mean, we've spoken previously about the exchange of ambassadors. Neither country has an ambassador in each other's country at the moment. That could come out in this summit.

But another thing is prisoner swaps. I mean, it's a really emotional issue on both sides. There are American prisoners in Russian jails. the Americans want them back. But in exchange for that, they're going to have to give the Russians what they want in terms of prisoners, and then we're talking about people who U.S. diplomats believe are or say are hard-core criminals.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's the danger here, right? You have folks that have been detained in Russia on what the U.S. believes are trumped up charges and then folks with actual criminal histories in the U.S. Is that an equitable trade? But, listen, you know, the parents of one of them were on our air earlier this week and they're desperate for anything that would bring their son home.

Natasha, how does the administration answer the Biden administration, the criticism that they are coming into this with far from any guarantees, which, by the way, is the same criticism that former President Trump faced when he met, for instance with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that he went in purely for the moment and for any deliverables afterwards?

BERTRAND: The White House says that this is basic diplomacy, right, and that they want to establish these lines of communication face-to- face with the Russian leader, because, frankly, that is how Biden likes to do business. He is a very tactile politician. He really likes meeting with leaders face-to-face.

SCIUTTO: Sounds familiar. BERTRAND: Yes. And he really feels like getting that in-person dynamic is extremely important to kind of getting a sense of each other. He has met Putin before, obviously. They met in 2011. And that went fairly well. There was one kind of curveball that Putin threw during a joint press conference about visa-free exchanges between Russia and the U.S., that Biden kind of waffled around. But, otherwise, it was a fairly civil discussion.

And right now, what the president and what the White House really wants, again, is just to create these incremental kind of steps that they can take with the Russians to say, there's still kind of a cold, you know, understanding here that we're not going to be perfectly aligned to say the least on any issues, but at least we can work together on some issues.

Now, of course, critics of this summit say, the U.S. and Russia's interests are really not aligned at all, and it is too -- the Russian president is too unpredictable to actually rely on him to make any kind of meaningful changes. And, of course, Putin is coming into this not wanting to look weak, wanting to stand up to the U.S. president, because, as Matthew said, he does have to cater to a domestic audience. So whether or not he will come into this as a hostile presence is also something that the White House is looking at.

SCIUTTO: And Putin might say, it's the U.S. that's been unpredictable on the Iran nuclear deal, right, sign to it, left and you have Biden attempting to get in.

Just very quickly, in terms of optics, what emphasis is the White House putting on, on the simple message of, this is not Helsinki, right? You will not see an American president stand next to the Russian president and take his word, in that case, on Russian election interference, over that of his own intelligence agencies, what value do they place on that?

BERTRAND: They want to avoid that at all costs. And, actually, but the president held a meeting with Russia experts earlier this month who advised him against holding this joint press conference. Among those in attendance was Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Russia on the National Security Council.

SCIUTTO: We're going to be speaking to her later this week.

BERTRAND: And she was among those who was advising against standing next to Vladimir Putin, putting him essentially on the same level as the U.S. president, and giving him the opportunity to undercut President Biden at every turn. Because, of course, like I said, during that last press conference they had in 2011, Putin kind of threw a curveball. They don't want him to dominate the conversation. They don't want him to throw in anything that Biden will have to react to. And, of course, they want to have Biden speak to this on their own terms.

SCIUTTO: Notable that it was the U.S. view that they had nothing to gain from that rather than the Russia one. Natasha Bertrand, Matthew Chance, thanks so much. Poppy, listen, there are a lot of dangers in a meeting like this as well, but there's also potential here. Because, as Matthew was saying, even with adversaries, you need to be talking. And there are lots of issues with potential for escalation. And that seems to be the hope possibly from both sides being here in Geneva tomorrow.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Clearly, the calculation the White House has made. Okay, great discussion, we'll get back to you in just a minute, Jim.

Meantime, back here at home, new emails just released by the House Oversight Committee highlight how former President Trump and his allies pressured the Justice Department to challenge the results of 2020 election. Whitney Wild is with us.

Whitney, what do these emails show?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, they show over a several-week time period this ramping up by the White House trying to convince the DOJ to overturn the election through several different means.

On December 14th, this was a big, because this was the same day state certified the Electoral College votes, and it was the same day Bill Barr said he was leaving the Justice Department. The White House on that day went around Bill Barr, went to his number two, apparently thinking they could manipulate the number two into doing something Bill Barr would not do, which is use DOJ to overturn the election.


That was one of the starting points here as the White House, over several weeks, tries to use members within the Trump administration, including private -- and, additionally -- not including, but, additionally, private attorneys that were circulating in Trump world and circulating in this election fraud world, reaching out numerous times to the Department of Justice, Poppy, to try to get them to file -- for example, file a Supreme Court lawsuit to nullify the 2020 election, trying to get them to look into just outlandish claims, such as Italian satellites were manipulating the vote counts here in the United States.

On one day, this highlights just the real hysteria within the White House, Poppy. January 1st, I want to direct our viewers to that day. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows emails then acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen three times in like a four-hour period, saying, look into this, look into this, look into this. They were on the brink of hysteria.

And what it really shows is that, in the five days before the riot, Poppy, they were throwing whatever they could at the wall to see if it would stick to try to get DOJ to do what in the end it would not do, which is overturn the election, Poppy.

HARLOW: It shows so, so much. Thank you for going through them for us, Whitney. We appreciate. Well, still to come, deja vu, Senator Mitch McConnell threatens to block another Supreme Court nominee if Republicans win back the Senate.

And health officials warning about the danger of the new delta coronavirus variant that is contagious and leading to more hospitalizations. Now, there is increasing pressure for the world's richest countries to do even more to help. The head of the IMF will be with us on that effort, ahead.



HARLOW: Welcome back. More now on those emails released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee showing how former President Trump and his allies repeatedly pressured the Justice Department, all the way up to the top, by the way, to try to get them to overturn the results of the 2020 election, all of this based on lies and false allegations.

Joining me now on this and a lot more, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He sits, of course, on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee. Good morning and good to have you.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Good morning, Poppy.

HARLOW: It's just another window into the push of the big lie, and we saw the violent, deadly consequences during the insurrection. Now, Speaker Pelosi is just minutes away from holding this meeting about what you do now, because there wasn't the bipartisan support to get that independent investigation pushed forward.

So, I wonder what you would like to see Speaker Pelosi call for. A House select committee, for example, or do you believe that standing committees should carry out their investigation?

LIEU: Last week, the U.S. Senate asked for some more time to see if they could pass the bipartisan January 6th commission. If that time has, in fact, run out, then the House will move forward. Speaker Pelosi can either appoint a select committee, like the Benghazi select committee, or she can authorize one or more of the standing committees to do the investigation.

In any event, these committees or committee will have subpoena power, and in the House, Republicans cannot block these subpoenas from being issued. So we're going to find the truth out, and the Republicans cannot stop us.

HARLOW: There's something extraordinary happening here, when you look at the trickle-down impact of the big lie. Obviously, there is the deadly insurrection. There is this warning from the FBI about QAnon believers targeting members of what they call the cabal, which includes Democrats, in their mind, a really serious warning from the FBI. And then, now, you have a man from New Hampshire, who is charged in connection with a riot, in fact, went on to chug a bottle of wine from a Senate desk and then participate in the insurrection, say that he is going to run for New Hampshire's second district in 2022. Listen.


JASON RIDDLE, CAPITOL RIOT DEFENDANT: In the long-run, if you're running for office, I guess any attention is good attention, because I think it will help me.

Despite my ongoing legal problems, I'm suppose to live my life how I want to live it and it's something I want to do, so why not do it?


HARLOW: I wonder -- I'm not ask about his specific run, but what does it tell you, big picture, that someone who participated in the deadly insurrection is saying that that basically gives him more press and publicity and that helps him in his run for office, and is running to sit in the same chamber you sit in?

LIEU: The big lie is deeply corrosive because, as a democracy, we can't really function if people think that elections are not valid. And we also had violence because of the big lie on January 6th. We may have further political violence, and Republican leaders can mitigate that risk by saying one simple, truthful sentence, the election was not stolen.

Because of their refusal to say that, for the most part, it leads to people who continue to believe the big lie, who then will really upend our democracy and likely cause violence in the process. So I hope Republican leaders come to their senses and really quash this big lie.


HARLOW: Turning to the Department of Justice and the revelation in the last few days that the Department of Justice during President Trump's term went to Apple, seized metadata of members of the House Intelligence Committees, Democrats including family members, including a minor, and we know what has been at play in terms of targeting members of the press. The chair of your committee, the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, said last night that they're going to hold hearings on this, going to look into it. Obviously, you'll have subpoena power, if you need, for Sessions and Barr and others. I wonder what you will ask them.

LIEU: Well, let me first commend Chairman Nadler for his leadership. And I'm very pleased he has now directed an investigation into this scandal during the Trump DOJ years. I know this investigation is important for two reasons. First, I support their inspector general investigation at the Department of Justice, but the inspector general does not have jurisdiction over former employees, like Bill Barr or Jeff Sessions. The House Judiciary Committee, as you pointed out, can issue subpoenas to them. And, second, the Republicans, we urge them to join our investigations, but in the House, Republicans cannot block congressional subpoenas. So this is going to be a full-on investigation and we'll get to the bottom of this scandal.

HARLOW: Okay, just letting people know what they're seeing on the right-hand side of their screen, that's Air Force One about to land in beautiful Geneva ahead of the president's summit with Vladimir Putin. We'll keep a close eye on the president's landing there.

You're not happy or at least totally happy, Congressman, with the Garland Justice Department right now. You were speaking to Nicolle Wallace a few days ago. You talked about, in your words, a gross abuse of power, vis-a-vis the Barr memo and the decision of not releasing that, also on the leak investigation, members of Congress, into the continued defense of former President Trump in the E. Jean Carroll case.

You tweeted that the Justice Department needs to do better. What is it that you want Merrick Garland to do?

LIEU: So, the Department of Justice, traditionally, under both administrations, has maximized presidential power to the detriment of democracy. We've got a separation of powers in terms of the judiciary and of Congress. The current Department of Justice won't even recognize the validity of congressional subpoenas issued to senior executive branch officials. That's just got to change. Because, again, the personnel there took an oath not to the president or the office of the president, it was really to the Constitution of the United States. And I just want the Department of Justice to respect the separation of powers. And that was my main point.

HARLOW: I guess I'm wondering what you'd like Garland to do now, because it's quite a charge.

LIEU: Well, I'm very pleased actually that Attorney General Garland recently made a statement about respecting the separation of powers. I think he understood that what happened during the Trump DOJ years was completely unacceptable and it appears that he is reversing course with their shredding of the Constitution the last four years. And I'm very pleased that justice -- or that Attorney General Garland made those statements.

HARLOW: Okay. Before we go, I would like to ask you about the Supreme Court changing issues here, but something that's getting a lot of attention as they head into a term next term, where they will decide on a lot of keys issues, including guns, including voting rights, including abortion.

Mitch McConnell yesterday in an interview said it's highly unlikely he would let President Biden fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2024, if the Republicans retake the Senate. My question to you is, if you agree with your Democratic colleague, Mondaire Jones, for example, who said that 82-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer should retire after this term and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told my colleague, Dana Bash, that she is inclined to say that she agrees with that. Do you?

LIEU: Justice Breyer has been an amazing Supreme Court justice. This is a very personal decision for him. My recommendation would be the same as Representative Jones and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which is that I do believe that he should retire prior to the midterms.

HARLOW: You do?

LIEU: I think that would be best for our country.

HARLOW: Congressman Ted Lieu, thank you.

LIEU: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: These are live pictures here. That is Air Force One now on the ground in Geneva, just across the lake from us here on the other side, President Biden arriving from Brussels, where he was at the NATO Summit. Tomorrow, he will meet face-to-face with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, the first time Biden will have done so as commander-in-chief, although he did prior as vice president.

A highly anticipated meeting and enormous number of difficult issues between these two countries, but some issues of agreement. They're hoping both sides to cover both of those areas, the difficult ones, the hard ones and perhaps some of the easier ones, as well.

We're going to have much more on this just after the break. Please stay with us.



SCIUTTO: You're looking at live pictures here in Geneva, this the arrival of Air Force One. President Biden, you can see the stairs are up, the red carpet literally rolled out for President Biden's arrival here.