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Biden in Geneva for Showdown with Putin; Emails Show Trump Pressured DOJ to Challenge 2020 Election Results; White House Unveils New Strategy to Combat Domestic Extremism. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Progressive Chair Pramila Jayapal says her caucus wants to guarantee that a separate reconciliation process will move forward in parallel, that includes progressive priorities, including the climate crisis, Medicaid expansion, lowering prescription drug costs and universal childcare. We'll track that one as it plays out.

We'll see you back here this tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up right now.

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

Right now, President Biden is in Geneva, Switzerland, 18 hours before his high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now, behind the scenes, officials say President Biden has been intensely preparing for this summit, reviewing issues and speaking with advisers. In public, he has struck a tough tone when fielding questions on this highly anticipated face-to-face.


REPORTER: Are you ready for tomorrow?



CABRERA: I'm always ready, he says. And today, we are learning more about how all of this is going to go down.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us live from Geneva, Switzerland. Arlette, what more do we know about the format?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, after weeks of buildup, that face-to-face meeting between President Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin will finally take place tomorrow. And we are learning some of the details of what that meeting will look like.

The two men are set to meet in Geneva, Switzerland, around 1:00 P.M. local time, that is 7:00 A.M. Eastern back in the United States. And it will start with a smaller meeting that will include just four people, President Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and then President Vladimir Putin, and Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia. There will also be translators in that meeting and the press will be allowed in for a brief photo spray at the top.

The meeting will then extend to a bit of a larger grouping and it's expected that these talks could go for four to five hours with no breaks for a meal in between. And President Biden, at the end, and also President Putin, they will each be holding separate news conferences. The U.S. decided to forego a joint press conference because they didn't want to give Putin that same platform that he had when he met just a few years ago with former President Trump.

And President Biden has been preparing for this meeting for weeks as he's met here in Europe with G7 and NATO and E.U. allies in the mornings. When he hasn't been in those summit meetings he's been preparing with his top aides. He's also been consulting with the foreign leaders at each of these summits to get their perspective on how best to approach Putin and the issues to raise with them.

The president has also consulted Russia experts, including some from the previous administration. And he is going into this meeting clear- eyed, calling Putin a worthy adversary, but having that tough talk, saying he's ready to challenge him on a host of issues.

CABRERA: So he is intensely preparing. What topics are we expecting to be covered?

SAENZ: Well, White House officials have really set modest expectations for this summit. They're saying not to expect a large amount of deliverables coming out of it. But there are some areas of agreement that they want to focus on, one of those being arms control, as well as climate change.

But the president is prepared to tackle some heavyweight issues head on, including those recent cyberattacks that we've seen originating from Russia, President Biden expected to take a tough tone when he talks to Putin about that, about trying to address some of those issues that have been emanating from Russia relating to those cyberattacks that have affected so many U.S. companies.

President Biden has also said he will raise human rights violations in this meeting with Putin. That includes concerns about the treatment of opposition leaders in the country.

Now, the White House has insisted that this is about setting a stable and predictable relationship with Russia. And President Biden has said he is not looking for conflict with Putin and Russia, overall, but that he wants to set the course of this relationship so it has a more stable and predictable future going forward.

CABRERA: Arlette Saenz, thank you so much for laying it all out for us, I appreciate it.

Now to what Russia is saying and how Vladimir Putin is preparing, CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance has been following Putin's moves. Matthew, Putin says relations between the two countries are at their lowest point in years. What can you tell us about Russia's plans and expectations for this meeting?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, just like at the White House, the Kremlin has been saying that we should keep our expectations low for this meeting. And what they're saying is that, look, the fact that a meeting is taking place at all, Ana, given how poor the state of relations is between Washington and Moscow, and is an achievement in itself.


But, obviously, that's a very low bar.

And, you know, as the previous reporter was saying, you know, there are a bunch of issues out there that the White House and the Kremlin, you know, feel there's an area that they can agree on, climate change was mentioned, arms control was mentioned, regional stability is something that the Russians often bring up, and what they mean by that are things like, you know, how to, you know, reinstate, for instance, the nuclear deal with Iran.

But when it comes to the substantial differences between the two countries, so we're talking about the use of cyberwarfare or cyberattacks in the United States, the threat that Russia poses against its neighbors, particularly Ukraine, the crackdown on Russian opposition activists, Alexei Navalny being one of them, but also more broad crackdown in recent weeks as well. Then there's the sort of -- there's a massive chasm between the two sides.

And, you know, for his part, Joe Biden, President Biden is going to this meeting saying that he wants a stable relationship, he doesn't want Russia to conduct anymore malign activity, what the Russians are going there and expecting to do is to explain to Joe Biden what their actions are because of and you get the sense they want him to accept those actions. They want him to accept that it is going to continue to dabble in the affairs of neighboring countries if it wants.

When it comes to cyberwarfare, then expect an agreement on that because Russia doesn't even admit to engaging in that kind of activity. And when it comes to the crackdown on dissidence in this of Russia the Kremlin have told me that they're prepared to inform President Biden about that, but they are not prepared in any way to discuss it. Ana?

CABRERA: Okay. Matthew Chance, thank you, live in Geneva Switzerland.

With us now to discuss is Susan Glasser, Staff Writer at The New Yorker, and CNN Global Affairs Analyst, and Mark Mazzetti, Washington Investigative Correspondent at The New York times, and CNN National Security Analyst. Thank you both for being with us.

Susan, from what we know about President Biden's approach going into this summit, will it be effective against Putin? Will it work? SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you know, both of these men, like to and are capable of giving out long explications of their positions. Vladimir Putin has given many lectures to many American presidents. Joe Biden is his fifth straight American president. So, in a way, it's a question of, I guess, who's going to seize the speaking microphone and not let go of it first.

But, you know, in private I was struck by something that Fiona Hill who was in the room the last time an American president met with Vladimir Putin, she was there for that now infamous Donald Trump meeting, she said the Russians are like the nasty schoolboys in the lunchroom. They're desperate to sit next to the girls and they spend the entire time at lunch kicking them under the table. So, expect Vladimir Putin to be kicking away under the table.

CABRERA: That is an interesting analogy. I can appreciate that. I also was listening to you talking about how they may be long winded or both want to take the stage. And we're expecting this to be a four or five -- perhaps longer four or five-hour-plus meeting, Mark.

It isn't the first time Putin and President Biden have met, you know, ten years ago in 2011, then-Vice President Biden met Putin and said he told Putin, I don't think you have a soul. Do you expect that same tough talk in this meeting and might Biden maybe have an advantage given his decades of experience in Russian affairs, the negotiations, you know, dating back to when he was a senator?

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, there is likely to be some bluster, probably even more in public with the -- as Susan pointed out, the dueling press conferences and I think both men will come in with their agenda on which to lecture. And as we heard at the very beginning, expectations are extremely low for any kind of major breakthrough.

But there is, I think, some common ground here and I think it's -- neither side see it in their interest to let this relationship completely spiral out of control, to get worse. Biden has been publicly saying he wants to have a constructive relationship.

And I think it's important also to point out that just in comparison to what we went through the last four years, there's just so much less background noise on the U.S.-Russia relationship regarding domestic politics, right? The Russia relationship under Trump was wrapped up into Mr. Trump's political fortunes. We had an entire impeachment about Ukraine. He was railing about the Russia witch hunt and saying how much he liked Putin.


And so it just created all of this tension and drama inside American politics that doesn't really exist now.

So I think that also gives Biden a little bit more maneuvering room because it's not so central to the conversation as it was under Trump.

CABRERA: Susan, a Russian presidential aide says it is going to be up to the two leaders whether they will step aside and just have a one- on-one talk. Do you think that will happen?

GLASSER: Well, my guess is that Biden would be very wary of it. Of course, Mark's point is an excellent one. There was the hyper- politicization of everything having to do with the interactions between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and, of course, it was Trump's insistence that there be the private conversation. To this day, we don't really know what transpired privately between the two of them because Trump insisted on engaging with Putin even without the standard note takers involved.

So I think Biden is going to steer as clear of that as he can and to try to say in this meeting regular order has returned, which, of course, is a lot of his overall view of foreign policy.

Now, the other thing is this is being built up into such a, you know, sort of one-on-one confrontation that, you know, and that too I think is part of the hangover of the Trump era, this idea that all national interests would be focused on the person of the president. And so, you know, remember that Biden's foreign policy, a lot of it, is about returning to a more less authoritarian view and a more democratic, small, they view, our national interest is not being wrapped up purely in what a president does or doesn't do.

CABRERA: And you're right, this is a one-on-one but will also include Secretary of State Tony Blinken as well as the Russian foreign minister who will be alongside Vladimir Putin. So at this point, it will be more like a two-on-two.

Susan Glasser, Mark Mazzetti, it's great to have both of you with your insights and expertise in all things on global affairs. Thank you so much.

Meantime, an American sitting in a Russian prison and his family, they will be paying such close attention to tomorrow's summit. Will President Biden help secure Paul Whelan's release? Paul Whelan's brother joins us live here in the Newsroom.

CABRERA: Plus, they pushed the Justice Department to pursue conspiracy theories and baseless claims of voter fraud. The emails show just how far Trump and his allies went to push the big lie and the response from DOJ officials.

And breaking just moments ago, the U.S. has now officially surpassed 600,000 deaths from the coronavirus, just an unimaginable milestone, more than a year after the start of this pandemic. Stay with us.



CABRERA: Newly released emails show how intensely Trump and his allies pressured the Justice Department to challenge the 2020 election results and how then acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen resisted that pressure in the final weeks of the Trump administration.

In one instance, Trump's chief of staff at the time, Mark Meadows, tried to have Rosen arrange an FBI meeting with a Rudy Giuliani ally who claimed Italy was using military technology and satellites to somehow change votes in favor of President Biden.

Now, Rosen later wrote to then acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donahue, quote, I flatly refused, said, I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his witnesses, and reaffirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this.

CNN's Whitney Wild joins us now. Whitney, it didn't end there. Meadows kept pushing and Rosen kept pushing back.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: There was really a relentless effort at the end of December and early January by the White House to try to get DOJ to overturn the results of the election. I mean, there were members of the White House reaching out, there was a private attorney reaching out.

For example, there was a private attorney who was peddling this lawsuit, he was trying to give it into the hands of then acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen because he wanted DOJ to file a lawsuit that would, in effect, seek to of overturn the election. So, it was a frantic few days, but in the end, the Justice Department did not give in to the White House's demands.

But just to put a fine point on it, to highlight just how really outlandish things got between the White House and the Department of Justice, at one point, Jeffrey Rosen, in responding to an email by Mark Meadows, forwards an email to his number two, Richard Donahue.

And underneath -- excuse me, in this email, Jeffrey Rosen says, can you believe this? I'm not going to respond to the message below. The message below, Ana, was Mark Meadows asking him to look into allegations of, you know, voting anomalies in Fulton County, Georgia. And, you know, Jeffrey Rosen obviously saying this is -- this is crazy. I'm not doing this.

So he forwards it to Richard Donahue, and then later they get this YouTube link from Mark Meadows that, again, purports to, you know, be part of this conspiracy of Italian satellites trying to manipulate voter data. So, Jeffrey Rosen just sends it to Richard Donahue. And Richard Donahue, again, the number two at DOJ, just responds simply pure insanity.

And that captures the hysteria out of the White House that DOJ was trying to deal with in the run-up to the riot, Ana, just put the timing into context. I mean, that's how hysterical they were at the White House. They were just throwing whatever they could at the wall to try to see if anything would stick to try to convince DOJ to overturn this election, Ana.

CABRERA: What's also so fascinating about this, Whitney, is that this was after then Attorney General Bill Barr was booted from the Trump administration, in part, we believe, because he would not buy into the big lie and was publicly saying that he saw no widespread election fraud.


And so then when Jeffrey Rosen took over, I think the idea was, for a lot of people, that he was going to be the person to do Trump's bidding.

WILD: Exactly, yes.

CABRERA: So how did all of this end?

WILD: Well, we don't know exactly like what the final, final end point was, but the emails do show sort of these two, you know, final moments. And I think, you know, the really big one out of the two is this January 3rd meeting between a man named Jeffrey Clark, Jeffrey Rosen, the White House, you know, President Trump. And it's sort of like this Apprentice style pitch to the president to either make Jeffrey Clark the acting attorney general or keep Jeffrey Rosen as the acting attorney general.

At the time, this is reporting from The New York Times, Jeffrey Clark was pitching himself as someone who might be able to take these election fraud claims to the finish line. So he was -- you know, that was his pitch. Jeffrey Rosen, in the end, won out.

And there was this sigh of relief. And one of these emails, Ana, a member of DOJ, the executive staff over there, says, in the end, it looks like, you know, basically, the rule of law had won. That's not the verbatim, but that's the paraphrasing, he's breathed a sigh of relief and says, it looks like Jeffrey Rosen and the rule of law won. Ana?

CABRERA: Yes. The direct quote is it sounds like Rosen and the cause of justice won. Whitney Wild, fascinating, thank you for that reporting.

The current attorney general, Merrick Garland, has just unveiled a new national strategy to combat domestic terrorism.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our current effort comes on the heels of another large and heinous attack, this time, the January 6th assault on our nation's Capitol. We have now, as we have then, an enormous task ahead, to move forward as a country, to punish the perpetrators, to do everything possible to prevent similar attacks, and to do so in a manner that affirms the values on which our justice system is founded and upon which our democracy depends.


CABRERA: CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is here now. So, first, tell us about the goals and how much this plan will cost.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Ana, this is really a newly announced government-wide strategy and it's going to combat the growing threat of domestic terrorism. It comes after President Biden ordered this 100-day comprehensive review on his first full day of office.

Notably, this strategy is a departure from the Trump administration approach, which really often downplayed this domestic terrorism threat despite the fact that we heard repeatedly from the FBI that the threat from domestic extremists is only expanding.

So, let me go through this newly announced government plan, it contains four pillars. The first pillar is for agencies across government to really understand and analyze and share information about the full range of domestic terrorism threats nationwide, even those threats that could be influenced by foreign actors. Now, this includes a new system that will be developed by the FBI and DOJ that will track these domestic terrorism cases nationwide.

So then there's the second pillar here, and it allocates $77 million to state and local law enforcement partners to really thwart domestic terror threats before they even emerge. It prevents domestic terrorism, recruitment and mobilization and it works with communities, and it even includes a commitment from the department of defense to train and alert service members or retiring military that they could be targeted by violent extremist actors since, of course, we've heard from prosecutors after January 6th that some of those charged were former military and even current police officers from across the country, Ana.

CABRERA: And, Jessica, it's based on the previous assessment that white supremacists and anti-government militias pose the most lethal threat. How exactly will that be addressed?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. So, in particular, Attorney General Merrick Garland noted that the threat from anti-government militias has increased over the past year, and he says that it will continue to grow throughout 2021. Government officials, they have learned that it's very easy for people affiliated with these groups to access guns and then to organize and mobilize via social media.

So the third pillar here, it includes this effort to disrupt and deter any of this domestic terrorism activity, including on social media. This will be done through $100 million that will be allocated for additional resources to FBI, DOJ and DHS to really track this, and then help deter it.

And the final pillar of this plan, it will really focus on confronting the long-term contributors to domestic terrorism, like they want to reduce racial, ethnic and religious hatred across the country, and, importantly, they also want to stem the flow of firearms for people who are intent on committing these acts of violence, Ana.


CABRERA: What's missing from this plan?

SCHNEIDER: So, interesting question, because the point here is that while all of this is being done, there's really no overarching domestic terrorism law that allows prosecutors to charge people. Instead, Ana, the federal government has this broad definition of domestic terrorism, and in that definition, it includes encompassing people who intimidate or coerce others or affect the conduct of government for political purpose.

But despite that definition, there's no specific law to charge people with domestic terrorism. That, of course, makes it difficult for prosecutors to stop people who might have violent intentions. In fact, I've covered cases and we've seen prosecutors, they usually come up with weapons charges to charge these people and perhaps thwart violent plots.

But, really, what it comes down to, and part of the problem here is that there's no overarching domestic terrorism law to encompass the threats prosecutors might see developing. And, Ana, we've heard from FBI Agents Association, they've been outspoken about this too, telling to Congress, you need to act to enact some sort of law addressing these issues too. Ana?

CABRERA: Jessica Schneider, thank you.

American Paul Whelan has been in a Russian prison for two years now, but could his future all change in less than 24 hours? Whelan is pleading with President Biden to intervene during his meeting with Putin, and his brother, David, is with us, next.