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Soon, Indictments against Trump Organization, CFO to be Unsealed; GOP's Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) Bucks Party, Joins January 6 Committee; Now, Biden in Surfside, Florida, as Safety Fears Halt Search Efforts. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 1, 2021 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: Thanks for joining us today on Inside Politics. I hope to see you back here this time tomorrow.

Don't go anywhere, a very, very busy breaking news day. Ana Cabrera and Wolf Blitzer pick up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Wolf Blitzer is standing by in Surfside, Florida, where right now President Biden is meeting with family members of the victims of last week's horrific condo collapse, this after meeting with first responders last hour and as rescue efforts are currently suspended right now over fears the existing tower, the part that is still standing, could fall. We'll have a live report very soon.

But, first, we are following breaking news out of Manhattan just minutes from now. Grand jury indictments against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer are expected to be unsealed. Meaning we will learn exactly what charges the former president's company and its top executive are facing.

The chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, surrendering to prosecutors this morning, and he is vowing to fight, not flip, but could these charges change that? We know prosecutors have been investigating a multitude of potential violations, like whether Trump's company misled lenders.

Recently though, we are told attorneys have narrowed their focus, specifically on cash bonuses, and whether the organization properly paid taxes on those and other benefits.

While we wait for these indictments to be unsealed, I want to bring in former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Elie Honig and CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. Good to have you here, both of you.

Elie, if these charges are solely related to whether taxes were paid on employee bonuses, I mean, that seems pretty small. It's my understanding prosecutors rarely do this. So if this is where two-plus years of investigation has led, what does that tell you?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Ana. If this is all prosecutors have, then it's not much.

Now, the key thing to look at when we get the indictment is how big is the fraud, what are the dollar amounts we're talking about here, because that's going to make a big difference in how much pressure there is on Allen Weisselberg to flip.

For example, if he gets charged with over a million dollars worth of tax loss, then under New York State law, he's looking at a maximum penalty, may not get the maximum, but the maximum penalty of 25 years. But if we're only talking about a couple grand, he could be looking at as little as a misdemeanor.

So that's going to have a big impact on whether Allen Weisselberg flips and whether Allen Weisselberg flips, I think, will be the key factor as to whether this gets substantially bigger or not.

CABRERA: And, Gloria, what do we know? Because we know Weisselberg at this point, through his attorneys, has indicated he won't flip. What do we know about his relationship with Trump and the organization and how that all factors into his loyalty?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's all he's known. I mean, he used to work with Fred Trump, Donald Trump's father. And he's been with the Trump Organization for as long as he's worked at anything. And he started out as just sort of an accountant and then they promoted him.

But, effectively, what he is is Donald Trump's trump to a certain degree. He doesn't have the role of the consigliore that Michael Cohen was, but Donald Trump, for example, is famous for not wanting to pay his bills. And if you charged him $100, he would say, well, you only did $75 worth of work, and that was Weisselberg's job. Weisselberg was the guy who said, pay him $75, tell him to take it or leave it. That's all we're going to do.

So he was looking at the bottom line for Donald Trump. He knew what Donald Trump wanted to do. He knew what he wanted to pay and what he didn't want to pay because he listened to him. And that's how that relationship worked. I don't think they're particularly personally close, as in going out to dinner together all the time but I do think it's a longstanding relationship. And Weisselberg has a certain sense of loyalty to Donald Trump. We'll see where that takes him after we take a look at these indictments.

CABRERA: A spokesperson for the Trump Organization released a statement in response to all this saying in part, quote, the district attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other district attorney would ever think of bringing. This is not justice. This is politics.

Gloria, could these charges backfire politically?

BORGER: Well, sure, of course. Anything can. And Donald Trump will no doubt use it, and you already see it coming from him, he will play the victim card here, and he will say this is a politically-motivated prosecution, nobody would ever do this to anybody. Let's take a look at what the charges are and where they lead.

And also, don't forget, this could be very damaging to Donald Trump's business. Put the politics to one side. What does this do to the Trump Organization?

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What does this do to the business relationships and loans banks have given the Trump Organization? I mean, there are a lot of dominos that can fall here.

But you can be sure that Donald Trump will play this politically in the sense that it is another witch hunt against him and that he'll try and use it to say these Democrats are just out to get me.

CABRERA: Elie, as we await the unsealing of these indictments, we don't have all the details, obviously, but we have been told that there is not expected to be a charge against Trump himself at this point. But why charge an organization, the Trump Organization? It just -- I think a lot of us who are less familiar with the way these things work, you think, well, okay, if convicted, who goes to jail?

HONIG: Yes. So, prosecutors can charge organizations. It's happened before. However, good prosecutors, strong prosecutors, never want to charge an organization without the people who committed the crimes. An organization can only commit whatever crimes its people committed. And so all we have here, apparently, is going to be a charge against Allen Weisselberg.

And the question, I think, a lot of people naturally have is did it go any higher? Wasn't anyone else responsible for this? And that's a tough question that the D.A. and the attorney general are going to have to ask. Unless we believe that only Allen Weisselberg was involved in this, then an indictment that only charges the Trump Org and Allen Weisselberg really falls short and really doesn't exact full accountability.

So we'll see where their investigation goes. But if I'm prosecuting this case, I'm saying, I'm not going to charge the org unless I am confident I can capture all of the officers and the officials who were behind this.

CABRERA: So, if this is just the beginning, and not the end, Elie, what happens next? How do you see this next phase unfolding?

HONIG: There's one of two ways that this could grow, Ana. One is Allen Weisselberg flips. If he does that, it's a whole new ball game, he opens the keys to the palace. Of course, the current status quo, as he has said, he has no interest in flipping.

The other question is even if Allen Weisselberg, does not flip, do prosecutors have enough based on Michael Cohen, based on Jeffrey McConney, the controller who testified, based on the tax returns, based on the financial documents. My read is, at this moment, they don't believe they have enough to charge other people, or else they would.

So they're going to need a break here one way or another is the way I view it from my prosecutorial experience.

BORGER: They need Weisselberg. Weisselberg is the guy, remember, who was involved in cutting the check for Stormy Daniels, according to Michael Cohen. Weisselberg has the keys to the kingdom to a certain degree. And it's my suspicion, as Elie says, that they need someone like that. And they're putting an awful lot of pressure on him today, and we'll have to see what the pressure amounts to.

CABRERA: And real quick, Elie, we heard from Weisselberg's former daughter-in-law, who has been working with prosecutors, providing documents, providing interviews and testimony, depositions.

She was asked this morning whether she knew of sort of a paper trail, text trail, email trail, potentially, that Wietslberg would have, because, obviously, that would be corroborating evidence, potentially, in this case. And she seemed to think that Weisselberg and Trump rarely communicated via text or email. And I imagine that could play a big factor here in terms of whether prosecutors have enough to go on.

HONIG: That's going to be a real obstacle for prosecutors. We know Trump is not an emailer, he's not a texter. We not going to have a smoking gun, aha, document, there you go, Donald Trump about this fraud. And so you're going to need a witness, like an Allen Weisselberg, who needs to say more than just, well, of course, he was the boss, he knew everything. That's not good enough. Prosecutors need someone to say, this transaction was fraudulent and Donald Trump was part of it. That's what you need.

CABRERA: Elie Honig, Gloria Borger, a lot to await, thank you.

Let's head to Capitol Hill now because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just announced her appointments to the new select committee that will investigate the January 6 Capitol riot. Most notable is the one Republican member handpicked by Pelosi for this committee, Congressional -- Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming. She's one of only two GOP lawmakers to vote in favor of creating this select committee.

Cheney, who has faced Republican backlash and punishment for her criticism of former President Trump, says she is honored to serve on this panel, and that, quote, Congress is obligated to conduct a full investigation of the most serious attack on our Capitol since 1814. That day saw the most sacred space in our republic overrun by an angry and violent mob attempting to stop the counting of electoral votes and threatening the peaceful transfer of power, end quote.

Now, Cheney defying Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy here. We are learning he threatened to strip committee assignments from any Republican who dared to join this select committee. McCarthy himself could be called as a witness to testify on that phone call he had with Trump while this attack was underway. [13:10:06]

CNN's Jessica Dean is in Washington here to walk us through all of this. Jessica, we have now heard from both Cheney and McCarthy. What are they saying?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just heard from Congresswoman Liz Cheney. She just came out of Speaker Pelosi's office. That's where the members, the seven additional members and her were meeting with Pelosi about the House select committee.

And she came out and she said that she has not been told that she will lose her committee assignments. But she said, no matter what, the oath to the Constitution, her oath to the Constitution matters more to her. So, that is the latest from Congresswoman Cheney, who just came out of a meeting with the House select committee, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Now, for his, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also spoke just a short time ago, he maintains he didn't threaten anybody with anything. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I did not -- let me be very clear. I'm not threatening anybody with committee assignments. What I'm saying is it was shocking to me that if a person is a Republican, they get the committee assignments for the Republican conference. For somebody to accept committee assignments from Speaker Pelosi, that's unprecedented.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: Again, Cheney saying that her oath to the Constitution comes above partisan politics.

Now, McCarthy says he hasn't threatened anybody with anything, but our reporting indicates he did threaten Republicans members that they would be stripped of their committee assignments if they joined this House select committee.

And it is interesting to compare other members of Congress, other House Republicans and some of the actions, Ana, that they have taken that Kevin McCarthy has not done anything about, has not threatened to strip them of their committee memberships. And if you take a look, we have some of them we can show you here of the different congressmen that have done different things that McCarthy has not punished them for.

So, you have Congressman Mo Brooks on January 6th, his the words he was using. Some have said he was inciting violence on the 6th. No repercussions for that. No repercussions for Marjorie Taylor Greene, who McCarthy did not move to strip from her committees after all of the conspiracy theories that she put out there and indicating that she supported violent acts against Democratic leadership. Instead, the full House had to strip her of her committees. That's how that worked out.

Of course, Congressman Matt Gaetz is currently under a federal criminal investigation around reports of potential sex trafficking and a relationship with an underage minor and then fundraising with white nationalists here for Paul Gosar.

Again, these are all things that McCarthy has not punished any of these people for. And so there begs the question, Ana, a lot of people are asking, well, you're not willing to strip people of committees for any of these sorts of things or even rebuke them, but at the same time, you're willing to strip people from committees who are willing to join this January 6th fact-finding mission and this House select committee.

And, remember, this is the key thing. Democrats had wanted to go forward with a bipartisan commission. It got 35 Republican votes in the House, when it came out of the House, but it was filibustered in the Senate. That was everybody's first choice, including Liz Cheney's. But, Ana, here we are, and this is what the group is going to be moving forward. It remains to be seen what McCarthy will do. He can appoint five members. Pelosi has veto power though over them. Ana?

CABRERA: And that bipartisan commission that had initially been proposed was negotiated by a Republican, a key Republican in one of those congressional assignments. So, thank you, Jessica Dean, for that reporting.

We're following also new developments in Surfside, Florida, where President Biden is meeting with families affected by the tragic condo collapse. Wolf Blitzer is there. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Very sad developments unfolding today here, Ana. The president, he is visiting with the families, just as rescue work so desperately needed to find, God willing, some survivors. Rescue work has been halted over enormous fears right now that the rest of the tower could potentially crumble, could fall, very unstable, endangering the lives of hundreds of search and rescue and workers who are on the scene. All of that has stopped for now.

We have details coming up. That's next.

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BLITZER: Right now, President Biden is here in Surfside, Florida. He's consoling the families of the victims. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is with me here in Surfside.

Kaitlan, it got, all of a sudden in the last few hours, a lot more painful, a lot more difficult to console these families. They've been waiting and praying for a miracle. But all of a sudden, the search and rescue operation has come to a halt, at least for now, because of dangers from the existing tower that that potentially could collapse, endangering all those workers. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's obviously tough news for these families to take, because they've been waiting to hear any kind of news about their loved ones that they've been looking for.

And they got this news, Wolf, just hours before this meeting that's happening with the president right now, where we're told it's not all the families but it is a lot of them. We saw them getting into the buses, going to meet with the president. And they've been meeting for nearly an hour with President Biden behind closed doors.

And officials going up to this building up to the trip were saying this is going to be the hardest part of his time here. Yes, he met with local officials, talking about what the rescue effort is look like. He also thanks the first responders who have been working tirelessly to try to sift through the rubble to find people as a result of this building collapse, but now, actually, meeting with these families behind closed doors.

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While it may be more suited to President Biden's tendencies, he is someone who is very familiar with grief. It is something that we've talked about for decades in his political career, but nothing really prepares you for something like this, to be with these families behind closed doors and try to offer them some kind of comfort, which local officials had said they were hopeful for with the president's visit here.

They talked about the logistics of what it's like to have a presidential visit, making sure it doesn't disrupt any of the other efforts that are underway, but also bringing a sense of unity and some kind of small sense of comfort to these families that they can, while they are waiting to hear news about the loved ones. And given that the search and rescue operations have been halted, that is a really tough thing to stomach.

And so the meeting is going on. We will hear after the president after it wraps. They've set up three hours for this meeting though to give you a sense of how much time the families are going to have with the president.

BLITZER: Yes, 18 confirmed dead. And last time, we heard two kids, a ten-year-old and a four-year-old among the deaths and, what, 145 people still unaccounted for, missing. And the family members of those 145, they desperately want some answers and they're still praying for miracles. But the search and rescue operation has come to a close.

You did say, and I thought this was newsworthy, and you reported this, the president, the federal government is willing to chip in and help with the expenses.

COLLINS: And not just chip in. He says he believes, and it seems like they were still discussing it with attorneys and seeing purview can be for the federal government, that that would pay for 100 percent of this effort that's underway. Of course, you've seen just how many first responders are here, search and rescue efforts. This is not just from this area. It's from all over, even from other nations.

And so he did say the federal government, he believes, will be able to pay for that. Of course, that is welcome news for the officials who are not just dealing with the grief here but also the shock and what they're doing when it comes to logistics for this effort.

BLITZER: We'll, of course, have live coverage once the president does speak after his three-hour or so meeting with these families. We'll hear what he and presumably the first lady have to say. I know you'll be with me all day as well. Thanks so much, Kaitlan, for your excellent, as usual, reporting.

Amid all of this, the fact is the governor and others are pointing to serious potential weather problems that could dramatically impact, and they're hoping it will resume, the search and rescue operation, which now temporarily has come to a halt.

Tropical storm warnings are out there in the Atlantic right now. And if, in fact, those tropical storms begin to come closer, everything here is going to come to a complete halt, and these are critical days right now, totally critical days, day eight, day nine, day ten. If someone is alive back there, they're going to have to be found very, very quickly. People are still praying for miracles.

CNN's Rosa Flores is with me right now. Rosa, I know you've been speaking with family members, with others. So, heart breaking to hear what they were praying for, that the search and rescue operation would find someone alive. That's come to a grind.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And then for them to hear very early this morning, Wolf, that the search and rescue efforts were halted. Now, I've been trying to stay in contact with public information officers to see if the search and rescue efforts have resumed at this point. They say nothing has changed. But it's important to note why this is. Because you know that these men and women, what they want to do is they want to get over the rubble, underneath, tunnel through, to try to find signs of life.

But it really was a very dangerous situation, according to the fire chief, at about 2:11 this morning, the monitors went off. And they know that when that happens, the structural engineers are on site, they're monitoring every second of this. Well, it turns out there was a column that was swaying 6 to 12 inches. That's a foot, Wolf.

So, imagine that happening, the dangers to the men and women, and also the danger to the structure. They were afraid of a secondary collapse. On top of that, there was a concrete slab on the south side of this tower that was also moving. The pile of rubble started moving.

And so I asked the fire chief if there was something in particular that triggered this. He says that they don't know at this point. But you and I know, Wolf, that this work is so meticulous and it's so dangerous, that every single time that they move a piece of rubble, they've got to calculate what the reaction of that is going to be.

And then, finally, I wanted to share that the fire chief shared that in the very intense moments on Thursday, a week ago today, they heard the voice of a woman. It was very early on. So you can only imagine the stress going through these first responders trying to get to this woman. Eventually, he said they no longer heard her voice.

BLITZER: I keep hearing a woman screaming out, help, help, help -- listen to this.

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CHIEF ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE FIRE DEPARTMENT: During our initial search and rescue efforts, while we were working under the structure, the same structure that significantly compromised right now, we did hear audible sounds. And they were searching for a female voice, is what we heard, for several hours. And, eventually, we didn't hear her voice anymore.

So, unfortunately, we didn't have success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLORES: And, you know, Wolf, I've been staying in contact with first responders trying to learn when the search and rescue operations are going to resume. But at this hour, everything is still the same. They are still waiting to get the green light from structural engineers.

BLITZER: And tropical storm warnings in effect as well. That could further delay all of this. We'll see what happens on the weather front, all bad news. All right, thank you very much, Rosa, for that, Rosa Flores reporting for us.

I want to bring in Allyn Kilsheimer right now. He's Surfside's designated investigator of the condo collapse. Allyn, thank you so much for joining us.

What's your analysis right now? It's very depressing, the movement of what's remaining of this condominium building, this tower that potentially could come down. What do you think?

ALLYN KILSHEIMER, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER HIRED BY CITY TO INVESTIGATE CONDO COLLAPSE: Well, you have got to have a lot more information to be able to answer the question of when and if.

Obviously, in a situation like this, given the condition of the building that I know about and have seen, the building could have secondary collapse mechanisms. Sometimes that happens. The -- right now, protecting the first responders and the emergency guys is really important because you need them there to be able to keep looking for other people.

So, the idea is to understand the movement, why it occurred and determine if the movement caused the potential for a secondary collapse.

BLITZER: Yes. It would not be unusual to have this kind of pause. I spoke to Tom Von Essen, the New York fire chief who was directly involved in the search and rescue operation after 9/11. Repeatedly, they had to halt their search and rescue effort because of fears that other structures could come down endangering the men and women who were involved in that search and rescue operation.

So, what kind of options, Allyn, do they have now to ensure that recovery work can continue safely?

KILSHEIMER: I think we had the same kind of issues at the Pentagon where we had to stop and start a lot given the safety concerns. To the extent possible, it has to be determined what caused the movement and try and make sure that nothing else has been put at risk in the building. Once you feel as comfortable as you can from a safety standpoint, you can begin the operation again.

But you have to pay attention now to the fact that we have potential high winds coming and a storm. We are doing computer models of what kind of wind force causes what kind of stress, and, therefore, it's possible that at a certain wind force, the building is still standing for eight or nine or ten hours, it might have to -- the recovery effort might have to stop to get people away from there. But we're doing the computer modeling to try and confirm those different numbers.

BLITZER: Allyn Kilsheimer, thank you so much for all you're doing. We are obviously very grateful to you. Thanks very much for joining us.

And, Ana, I'm going to throw it back to you. But I got to tell you, it is so, so depressing, what, day eight right now. It's been a week. And these families that were desperately praying and hoping for miracles, sadly, the search and rescue operation has ground to a halt, and we have no idea when it may resume.

CABRERA: Right. Dozens of people still unaccounted for. We know they've already removed 1,400 tons of debris from that site, which seems like a never-ending mountain of debris. Thank you, Wolf, for your ongoing reporting and hard work down there.

Ahead, the Supreme Court upholding voting restrictions in Arizona that challengers say make it harder for minorities to vote. What's behind that decision and what it could mean for challenges in other states?

Stay with us.

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