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Interview With Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); New E-Mails Reveal Trump Efforts to Overturn Election; Biden Set to Meet With Putin. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 14:00   ET



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

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

President Biden is in Geneva, Switzerland, where, in 17 hours, he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CAMEROTA: These are live pictures right there of Villa La Grange, where the summit will take place.

BLACKWELL: There we go.

CAMEROTA: Geneva is also where President Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985.

BLACKWELL: Now, as for President Biden, the preparations for this conversation have been pointed and plentiful. He has consulted other world leaders and national security aides, political advisers.

But, remember, this is not the first time that the two have met.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have met with him. He's bright. He's tough. And I have found that he is a -- as they say, when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.


BIDEN: All right, joining us live from Geneva, we have CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly and CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen.

Great to see both of you.

So, Phil, let's begin with you. What do we know about how President Biden has been preparing for this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you see -- you can kind of hear there, there's a little bit of a grudging respect for the man he's going to be sitting down with for what senior administration officials believe could be somewhere between four and five hours tomorrow, when they enter that building.

And I think what you have heard from senior administration officials over the course of the last several days has been, look, it has obviously been intensive preparation. Most of the mornings during his foreign trip, first at the G7 and then over to NATO today, the U.S.- E.U. summit have been clear, in large part so preparation could occur.

He has been meeting with foreign policy experts on the issue of Russia. He's also been meeting with foreign leaders.

And I think that was an interesting part of the dozens of meetings that he's had with leaders both in kind of wide open forums, but also one-to-one bilateral meetings, is how much the issue of Russia and the issue of this meeting came up and the president kind of soliciting opinions, soliciting ideas, soliciting positions that each of these leaders had for their countries, not necessarily because he's going to take them verbatim into President Putin, but that he wants to have a sense of where they stand, and I think wants them to believe that they have a stake in this meeting as well.

So much, guys, of the last seven days has been the president trying to kind of give a big show of unity and make clear to President Putin he's not entering this meeting alone. He's entering it with kind of all of the Western democracies allied together and more unified than they certainly have been over the course of the last several years.

Guys, one thing I would say, that administration officials kind of previewed how this is going to go about tomorrow. And they said President Putin is expected to arrive first. But once they start to sit down, it will start in a smaller meeting.

President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Putin, his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, will start, just the meeting of the four of them and their interpreters. And they will expand out to -- with adding about five more officials. They expect probably around four to five hours.

But one interesting element senior administration official stress is, they have built in flexibility in their negotiations with the Russians in terms of how long this will go, when there will be breaks, the idea of there being they're going to kind of see how things move through those first two meetings to decide if anything else is going to occur before those individual press conferences -- guys.

BLACKWELL: Fred, to you.

Let's look at the other side of the table. President Putin has met with four other American presidents. How do you think he is preparing for this meeting with President Biden?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that he's been vigorously preparing. That's one of the things that the Kremlin said earlier today, is that Vladimir Putin has spent the rest of -- the past couple of days speaking to many of his aides, speaking to many of his senior advisers on a range of topics.

And I think one of the things that we can really see, Victor, that the Russians are really telegraphing is that they really take this meeting very seriously. And I think they also really understand that President Biden certainly really means business.

And if you look at the way this meeting is organized -- and Phil just talked about it just a little bit -- you can tell that it's very little about photo-ops. It's very little about any sort of one-on-one chats that you would have had with President Trump at the time and President Putin.

And it really gets down to business very quickly. You have those working groups. And what we have heard from the Russians over the past couple of days, but especially today, is that, apparently, no topics, they say, are off-limits. They do say that there's an agenda that has been set.

But one of the things that really surprised me is that a senior Kremlin aide today said that the Russians fully expect that President Biden is going to bring up the subject of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. And the Russians are saying, look, the president of the United States can bring up any topic he wants, and that topic is then going to be discussed.

They also think, for instance, that Belarus is going to be another topic that's going to be brought up, of course, some of the moves of the dictator Alexander Lukashenko really troubling to the U.S. and its allies.

On the whole, what the Russians are saying what they want to achieve in all of this, they say it's not about a written communique at the end. It's not about signing contracts or anything else, but they still believe that this meeting is worth it. What they want, they say, is more predictability, more stability in the relations.


And they certainly want to get a sense from Washington and also telegraph their sense of where their red lines are and where the U.S.' red lines are. So, right now, this is really shaping up to be a meeting between two leaders who obviously don't necessarily like each other very much, but who are very, very focused on the task at hand, who are both obviously very focused on their own national interests and really want to get down to business here and, at the very least, know where the other side stands and move forward from there -- guys.

BLACKWELL: All right, Fred Pleitgen, Phil Mattingly, thank you both.

Let's bring it now CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He is there in Geneva. And Jill Dougherty, she's the former of CNN Moscow bureau chief.

Thank you both.

Jim, let me start with you. It's hard to recognize failure when success hasn't been defined. The

president dodged a really important question at that news conference yesterday. So how will we know, how will Americans know if this meeting went well?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's a good question, right? And the White House has done a very aggressive job, you might say, of managing expectations, managing them down, right, because they're not advertising really any breakthrough agreements here.

In fact, a big portion of this from the Biden administration seems to be about message-sending, right, and not inconsequential message- sending, because, remember, Biden follows a president who repeatedly apologized for Putin, election interference in 2016.

So, to have a U.S. president to say, we will not stand for election interference, we know the way you treat dissidents at home, we will not stand for that, and we will enact penalties as best we can, right, I mean, that is a different -- difference. And that's a difference with meaning and importance.

The trouble is, though, Victor, that we haven't heard from the Biden administration any sort of silver bullet for any of the many disagreements and sources of tension between the U.S. and Russia. Does the Biden administration have a way to deter future cyberattacks? We haven't seen it. Multiple administrations have failed to do that.

So that's why the managing of expectations may not just be smart politics by the Biden administration, but may just reflect reality.

CAMEROTA: Jill, I want to drill down on that. You say that Biden is expected to talk tough on this, including the cyberattack subject matter, and lay out the red lines.

Will those be explicit to Putin? Will President Biden say exactly, if you do this, again, blank will happen? Or is all this sort of inferred?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: I think it's likely that they are going to be more specific than they ever have been, because, if you look at what President Biden is saying before this, he's saying, we are going to respond in a robust and meaningful way against what they consider harmful activity by Russia.

And they're also talking about the capability and the consequences for Russia. So, of course, President Obama said some of this. But I think the -- it's gotten to the point, with hacking, cyber intrusions, et cetera, and also new weapons, not only nuclear weapons, but very dangerous, dangerous conventional weapons, very sophisticated ones, that I think they feel that they have to sit down and be very specific about what the red lines are, and what would happen if those were crossed.

Now, the danger, of course, is, if you respond in the cyber realm, you can start a war. So that is a real problem. I think Putin's going to listen to this and say, hey, I have got some red lines of my own. Ukraine is one of mine. Don't even think about bringing Ukraine into NATO.

I think it's going to be -- there will be a lot of pushback from Putin as well in this.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and speaking of cyberattack, potentially starting a war, we saw at NATO that the member countries then asserted that a cyberattack could invoke or could trigger Article 5, the collective defense, you attack one, you attack all.

Jim, from your perspective, could there be progress there on cybersecurity? As Jill says, out front, Putin will talk tough. Is there a deal to be made, especially for these groups that have attacked JBS and Colonial over the last several months?

SCIUTTO: Doubtful, yet, just in the last 24 or 48 hours, you heard Putin in public interviews denying that what -- Russia was responsible for these attacks, right, that both sides have at least talked about establishing some sort of rules of the road for cyber warfare, which, frankly, happens in both directions, right, both for espionage and other reasons.

But will they come to some sort of agreement to define the rules of the game the way you had, for instance, with missile treaties? Extremely unlikely here. Does it begin a conversation? Perhaps. Message-sending and so on.


I will say this, that when you look at what the seed was for this summit, a few weeks ago, when Russia was massing forces on Ukraine's border, and there was genuine concern in the U.S. that Russia was going to go out and invade, and when Alexei Navalny was in danger of death in prison, being denied basic medical treatment, and the U.S. was afraid that he might die, at that time, the level of concern in the U.S. led to saying, we got to sit down and talk.

Now, both those -- Navalny is -- well, he's still in prison, but he's alive, and those troops have pulled back from the border. So, you were on a precipice there, it seemed, that we pulled back from. Perhaps that's an opportunity to discuss some of these things, and at least stay here, right, because that's part of the intention of discussing red lines is, right, not get yourself in a situation where you escalate things beyond your control.

CAMEROTA: Jill, we just heard in the report from Fred Pleitgen that Putin is suggesting that he wants some sort of strategic stability with the United States.

But don't we already know that Putin deals in the realm of unpredictability and friction and instability? And so how can President Biden trust that?

DOUGHERTY: Well, he does. But don't forget, when you talk about strategic stability, at least kind of traditionally, that would be arms control. And so Russia and the United States are interested in keeping what they have right now, which is the New START arms control agreement, the last existing agreement.

And I think, legitimately, both sides are looking at this. It'll be over in five years. It was extended for five years. Then what happens? Do you bring China into this? If so, how do you do that? Do you have to bring Europe in? So there are a lot of questions for future stability, very serious ones.

But I think both countries are kind of used to that type of dialogue. They have been talking about arms control for a long time. But what you're referring to, Alisyn, I think, is the unpredictability of Putin. And you will probably see some of that on display, perhaps bringing up some things that the last minute, that he will try to get the United States or Joe Biden to react to.

That's another part of it. But Russia plays both games. Putin plays both games.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting. Thank you both for all of the analysis.

Jill Dougherty, Jim Sciutto, we appreciate it.

OK, now so this. The FBI director, Christopher Wray, will be on the hot seat this afternoon. He is set to face lawmakers' questions about the January 6 Capitol riots.

And a new trove of e-mails sheds new light on how much pressure former President Trump put on the Justice Department in his quest to overturn the 2020 election results.

BLACKWELL: Plus; marking a tragic milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, 600,000 Americans dead. And moments ago, the CDC designated a strain of the virus as a variant of concern.

We're going to explain that next.



BLACKWELL: We're keeping a close watch on two key hearings on Capitol Hill. Both are part of investigations into the January 6 insurrection.

Testifying today, we have got FBI director Chris Wray, U.S. Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton, and General Charles Flynn. He's also the brother of Trump's former national security adviser, QAnon supporter Michael Flynn.

CAMEROTA: And newly released e-mails show just how far former President Trump and his allies went to try to overturn the 2020 election results. The e-mails released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee

show many examples of President Trump and his allies pressuring the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to consider these false and outlandish fraud claims.

At one point, Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tried to arrange a meeting between Rosen, the FBI and Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani to talk about a conspiracy theory that Italian satellites somehow changed votes to Biden. Rosen refused that meeting.

Meadows even sent Rosen a YouTube clip about those satellites. Rosen forwarded that to his deputy attorney general, who called it -- quote -- "pure insanity."

So, let's bring in Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson lee. She joins us now. She's a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thank you very much for being here.


CAMEROTA: According to these e-mails, President Trump and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, were relentless in their efforts to try to get the acting attorney general to take up these conspiracy theories and these fictitious claims of voter fraud.

What can Congress -- now that this information has just been released, what can Congress do about this now?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Well, thank you very much. Again, it's good to be with you.

That is why the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee have announced a formal investigation. I want the American people to know how seriously we take this, because, in actuality, the Trump administration, his DOJ, both under Sessions and Barr, and then, of course, you just said the acting attorney general, Rosen, really, under the pretext of a criminal investigation, got Apple to subpoena any number of Democratic members -- we don't know how many -- who are -- allegedly are on the Trump enemies list.

That is not a way to run a country. It's not a way to run a government or a White House. And, in, actuality...


CAMEROTA: Right. That -- sorry to interrupt, but that is -- I mean, I do want to get to that. And I do -- I know that you have called that kind of behavior from President Trump being tyrannical, that he's a tyrant.

But, in terms of this new information of just how far Mark Meadows and President Trump were going, it sounds like the then acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, was doing the right thing under this one by refusing to take these meetings with Rudy Giuliani, by refusing to look into these fraudulent and fictitious claims of voter fraud. But with this new information that was just released, I'm just not

sure what consequences there will be. I mean, what will happen now to Mark Meadows and President Trump, who were trying to get the DOJ to do their bidding?

JACKSON LEE: Well, let me be very clear. They are former representatives of the United States government, but it doesn't mean that they are not subject to actions against them for criminal behavior.

And so what will happen, Alisyn, is that we will include that in our multiple investigations to be determining as to whether or not their actions were both unconstitutional, as well as an abuse of power. And they will have to be subjected as well to the idea of subpoenas, and maybe something else.

I don't want to speculate about criminal actions. But those behaviors were clearly breaking the law as it relates to their duties in the United States of America and their representation of the White House in a separate branch of government. They were threatening another branch of government. They were using the power of the White House, the executive, to undermine our separate, but equal powers.

We, as a Congress, cannot stand for that. And you can be assured a deep investigation may result in actions that will move this to a criminal realm.

CAMEROTA: OK, now, to get to what you were referring to originally, and that is the new revelations about the Department of Justice secretly seizing the e-mails and phone metadata of Democrats on the Intel Committee, as well as journalists such as our own Barbara Starr here at CNN, and, by the way, family members as well of these folks, and Don McGahn, former White House counsel.

So what do you want the -- I mean, the Department of Justice has now said they will look into this, they will investigate it. What do you want to see changed from -- by the Department of Justice?

JACKSON LEE: I think there has to be firewalls. I think there has to be a further deep dive before you can even begin to investigate without a thorough basis that a criminal act or that there has been evidence of a leak from a member in another branch of government.

The DOJ must have further layerings of that. The only thing they had, as we can tell, is an intimidating call from the president and/or his agents.

The interesting thing is, he was investigating Comey and McGahn, who happened to be really under his jurisdiction. So there cannot be a staff level, that maybe the actions by that staff are directly related to direction from the White House. There has to be documentation of the attorney general, whoever it might be, handprint on this.

And it has to be for the security, the national security of the United States, not for the personal whims of a president or not for the fact that he has an enemies list. Nixon had an enemies list. And there it was, a printed enemies list. He made noises about it.

President Trump had an enemies list. And he wanted to threaten, undermine and intimidate another branch of government and, really, as I said, possibly engage in criminal behavior, but use the Department of Justice that is a significant standard for justice to be able to be his tool. That cannot happen anymore.

CAMEROTA: In the time that we have left, I want to ask you about something that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to suggest on a radio show or podcast yesterday.

He said that, if Republicans were in control of the Senate in 2020, that he seemed to suggest he would not allow President Biden to get his -- whoever he nominates, if there were an open seat on the Supreme Court, he would not allow Biden's nominee to basically get a vote.

And, as you know, 82-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer is 82 years old. And some people have suggested that, maybe now, while Democrats still can have a vote like that in the Senate, he should retire.

Your thoughts on that?

JACKSON LEE: Well, it's certainly a sadness and a disappointment for the basic -- how should I say, the basic undermining of the Constitution that the minority leader engages in.


He should be ashamed of himself, because, obviously, we voted on a Supreme Court person by his forcing weeks before, in the midst of the 2020 election, shameful as that was, and should not have been done, regardless of his opinion on the qualifications of that particular jurist. Of course, many of us thought that that person was unqualified and too biased, and the suggestion of one group of individuals.

That should not be the case. So I believe that should be a strategy by the White House. We now recognize the importance of having a fair court. That fair court means that there should be the opportunity for the elected commander in chief, CEO, president of the United States, to be able to appoint a jurist within the time frame of his or her leadership.

President Biden should push forward, regardless of the time. We have an obligation, meaning the United States Senate, which is a majority at this time, to be able to focus and force that. And if it happens to be McConnell, then the American people need to rise up and to ensure that that appointment can go through, at least those hearings can go through.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean -- yes, but, Congresswoman, just -- sorry to interrupt, but he's had his way before. He's done this successfully before. And he says he would do it again.

Do you think that Justice Breyer, given that information, should retire now?

JACKSON LEE: You know what?

I will not make a determination for the justice. I'm on the Judiciary Committee. So we're very hesitant to go in that direction. I know that Justice Breyer, who everyone has said is a outstanding jurist, will take all of the matters into consideration as to when his retirement is, and let us look and see what will happen.

But I do think we should dwell upon the very bad behavior of Minority Leader McConnell. You're right, he has had his way. And he absolutely should not have his way. You know, there is legislation about expanding the court. And there's such an uproar about it and expressions of opposition, and it should not happen.

But let me just say this. I am needing in my position, one, as a minority, as a woman, as someone who needs the right to choose, and also someone who has a minority-majority district under the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has been a lifeline for people who are vulnerable.

It is outrageous that one person can block the opportunities for Americans to get justice at the level of the Supreme Court. We have seen what their recent decisions have been. So I make the point. I hope that the right decisions will be made. I hope the Biden administration, that has shown its (AUDIO GAP) and its strength, will move forward on the appointment.

But I hope that we will be able to overcome Senator McConnell's absolute bad behavior. And I have known him from his time in the House. And I don't speak of him as a human being, but I speak of him as his behavior, one, to make sure Obama had one term, to make sure that Biden has one term.


JACKSON LEE: This is not the characteristics of a leader of the Senate. And I hope that he changes his mind and that we fairly are able to nominate and have approved jurists by President Biden.

That's the American way.

CAMEROTA: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you for having me.


BLACKWELL: There's no evidence that mind change is coming, though.

CAMEROTA: Not yet.

BLACKWELL: I mean, we have seen how Mitch McConnell operates.

CAMEROTA: But hope springs eternal.

BLACKWELL: For the congresswoman. CAMEROTA: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Experts issue a new warning about a highly transmissible variant of coronavirus hitting the U.S. Will this change the minds of the vaccine-hesitant?