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Breyer Hasn't Made a Decision on Retirement; Misinformation is Threat to Public Health; New Book Says Leaders Feared Trump Would Attempt a Coup. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 09:00   ET



DANIEL SILVA, "NEW YORK TIMES" BESET-SELLING AUTHOR: From behind later today, you'll see what -- it bears a striking resemblance.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Daniel Silva, it's great to have you on. Great to have both you and Jaime on in the same show. Congratulations. The new book is "The Cellist." You can get it today.

SILVA: Thank you so much for having me.

BERMAN: And CNN's coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

New this morning, it is a decision that will have repercussions for the nation's highest court and the laws of our country for decades to come. The question this morning is, will Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer retire before the midterms or stay on the bench.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic sat down exclusively, face-to-fact, with Justice Breyer, who is speaking out for the first time since the court recessed earlier this month after a slew of consequential decisions.

Joan Biskupic joins us now.

OK, so he told you -- and, by the way, fantastic access to a sitting Supreme Court justice.


SCIUTTO: My hat -- we tip our hats to you.

He says he hasn't made a decision yet. He says the two factors are his health and the court. I wonder what he means by the court exactly.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Sure. And, you know, Jim and Poppy, there was just so much speculation around a possible Supreme Court vacancy and whether President Biden might get his first opportunity to name someone to a lifetime seat. So that's why I went up there, to just get a sense of his thinking. And he did list those priorities right in that order, you know, his health, he's turning 83 next month. He's a very vigorous 82-year-old now. You know, he jogs. He's -- he hasn't had any of the kinds of health problems that plagued Justice Ginsburg through, you know, four different cancer ordeals. He's relatively healthy.

But to the point of his second consideration, the court, this is a man who's very much of an institutionalist, who thinks he can bring consensus to the court, you know, across the ideological factions. He's kind of an old school justice in that regard where he doesn't want to think of the court as it's polarized with six Republican- appointed conservatives and three Democratic-appointed liberals. He tries to sort of break up that idea. And he thinks about the institution, you know, in terms of its integrity in the American eye.

So that's how I understood his regard for the court.

HARLOW: Joan, he is a smart man. Obviously that goes without saying. And the reason I say that and remind people is, he knew you were going to ask this when he agreed to sit down with you for coffee in rural New Hampshire. So I want to know why he said yes then.

BISKUPIC: Well, that's a good question. I went up to see him. And I had several things to talk to him about. And, you know, toward the end I said, I need something on the record from you about what you're thinking.


BISKUPIC: And I said, you know, I've come all this way and you hadn't wanted to talk at other times, but here I am. And I said, you know, have you decided what you're going to do? Because I have to say, Poppy and Jim, I've been, you know, watching for all the signals and there were zero signals that he was going to leave despite all the pressure. But I wanted to hear it directly from him.

So as I've said, he was a bit of a reluctant conversationalist, but he -- but he said, no, I have not decided. And then I asked him, you know, what will influence you? And that's when he talked about his own health and the court. But then the other thing he told me on the record, which was so helpful to understand his thinking, is about this responsibility he has now as the senior justice on the liberal side.

HARLOW: Right.

BISKUPIC: That means that when the liberals are in dissent, he assigns the opinions for that weighing of the -- of the bench. But it also means that he speaks earlier in the justices' private conference and he has more of a chance to influence the internal debate, and more of a chance to try to bring sort of -- some sort of consensus rather than these hard and fast 6-3 rulings.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Yes. HARLOW: Yes. When it's just the nine of them in that room.


HARLOW: Joan, as Jim said, huge scoop. Everyone should read the entire piece. Thank you for bringing it to us.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's bring in CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon to discuss all this. And people might be saying, well, why bring a political analyst in when you're talking about the courts. Because so much of Breyer's calculus and concern about the state of the court is about politics, right? That speech he gave at Harvard last year warning what happens when you let people view those in robes as politicians or politically influenced.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but that's the reality. I mean, you know, the highest court in the land is still selected through a political prism. And if there were any doubt about Republicans' determination to do whatever they can to seat courts, it was a result of Ruth Bader Ginsburg deciding not to resign, and then running right into reversal of the rule they'd applied to -- you know, that -- when Scalia's seat was open.


They jammed that through.


AVLON: Donald Trump had three appointees. So it is reckless to ignore the political implications of this decision.

SCIUTTO: Democrats have PTSD, you might call it, from the RBG situation, right?


SCIUTTO: You know, and there were some that encouraged her to do the same thing, right, quietly, more quietly. Now the encouragement, if you want to call it that, to Breyer is louder and more public.

How does that pressure go from here, then, right, because the midterms are just a little more than a year away, right, so that razor thin Democratic majority in the Senate could disappear then. What happens now?

AVLON: Well, that's exactly right. What he said to Joan is that he's leaving -- basically he left the door slightly open, although there is no indication he plans to retire, certainly by his actions.

But here's the thing. Let's say he says, you know, I want a 28th year on the court. And then it will be, you know, it will be the midterms, still middle of President Biden's term. And maybe I'll retire then. But what's to say that Republicans might say, look, the midterms, we could control the Senate in just a few months.


AVLON: And, therefore, we're going to delay this.


AVLON: There's no rational reason to think -- he worked for Ted Kennedy. Ted Kennedy didn't resign, even when he was gravely ill. And then that seat went to a Republican at a critical time for health care debate.

So there is plenty of precedent to say that even beyond thinking about his own health, which seems strong --


AVLON: He needs to think about the institution of the court and the balance and what is happening to the Senate, which is politicized this court. It is his choice to make, but it is reckless to ignore the political dynamics in place.


I mean it's remarkable to think, right, that you could delay again -- I mean we've seen so many delays by McConnell and others, right, you know, during the Obama term. Well, we've got an election coming up. We won't do it again after Trump's election. And maybe even in advance of the midterm, say, well, things could change there. I mean it's amazing the gaming of the system.

AVLON: That's right. And that's why you can't simply act as if that's not happening in the Senate. You cannot separate out the partisan power grabs even from the position on the Supreme Court.


Well, John Avlon, thanks for walking us through the politics.

AVLON: Thank you, guys.

SCIUTTO: They are real.

On another topic this morning, this just in to CNN, the U.S. surgeon general is warning about the real world costs of health disinformation as new infections of COVID rise and vaccination, at least the rates of vaccination, is dropping.

HARLOW: He's calling that misinformation, quote, a serious threat to public health.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us this morning.

Good morning, Elizabeth.


HARLOW: The Biden administration, their health officials, the top ones, including the one we just quoted, extremely worried about the impact of misleading, flat-out wrong, false lies, sometimes, about COVID vaccines. And, by the way, spread largely on social media.


COHEN: That's right. Exactly right. There is one thing that is standing in the way of this pandemic getting under control in the United States, and that is garbage on FaceBook and other social media sites.

We have the science, right? We have these incredible vaccines. What's standing in the way is that about a third of Americans have chosen not to get it. And I say chosen because they could get it, it's there, it's near them, it's free, and they're not getting it. And it's because of this misinformation.

So this new report from Surgeon General Murthy, let's take a look at a really important sentence in here. It says, limiting the spread of health misinformation is a moral and civic imperative that will require a whole of society effort.

I think in many ways this administration, as well as the one that preceded it, were sort of caught off guard with this. They thought, well, we're going to have a great vaccine, people are going to see how well it works and they will take it. I think they underestimated the power of misinformation.

So this whole of society effort really needs to start with the CDC and others. They need to think, how are they going to counteract this misinformation.

This happened during the measles outbreak years ago and I asked top CDC officials, what are you going to do? And I will tell you, to be honest, they basically pooh-poohed it. They said, oh, these -- we're not going to get down in the mud with these crazy people who are spreading all of this misinformation.


COHEN: We're going to put out the science and the science will win. I think we can now show, no, the science did not win.


COHEN: They need to figure out how to effectively communicate, not just when people's brains, but their hearts as well, how to do that without getting into the mud. There's got to be a way to do that.

HARLOW: Yes. No, you're right, it doesn't work to shame people --

COHEN: Right.

HARLOW: Or yell at people. COHEN: Right.

HARLOW: How do you change hearts and minds?

COHEN: Right.

HARLOW: Elizabeth --

COHEN: Exactly.



SCIUTTO: And, by the way, it's not just on social media, right? I mean it's coming from sitting lawmakers.


COHEN: That's true.

SCIUTTO: It's coming from the health department in the state of Tennessee, right?

HARLOW: Very good point.

SCIUTTO: You know, it's deliberate. I mean, on right wing media. And it's -- it's powerful, that message.

COHEN: That's true.

HARLOW: That's a great -- great point.

Elizabeth, thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

HARLOW: We'll see you tomorrow.

Still to come, as we see many adults choose not to get vaccinated, that is putting our children at risk.


Why there is not yet a vaccine approved for children under 12, but it's coming.

SCIUTTO: Plus, just stunning allegations. The nation's top generals were, according to a new book, so worried that former President Trump would attempt a coup to remain in power, they were discussing a plan to prepare for that, prepare for the worst. We're going to have details, next.


[09:15:01] SCIUTTO: Now to the new book giving stunning insight into the chaotic and frankly dangerous final days of the Trump presidency. It details the very real fears among top military generals that the former president might actually attempt a coup in the aftermath of his election defeat in order to attempt to hold onto power. It is all from the new book, "I Alone Can Fix It" by two "Washington Post" reporters, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.

HARLOW: According to excerpts obtained by our very own Jamie Gangel, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, was so shaken by then President Trump's refusal to concede, he believed Trump and his allies might actually attempt to overthrow the government. According to one excerpt, General Milley allegedly told his deputies, quote, they may try, but they're not going to f-ing succeed. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We are the guys with the guns.

Our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, joins us now.

And this is one of so many alarming excerpts. You think of General Milley and you think of someone who chooses every word with intention and is a student of history. And to use the words used, like "Nazi" and "Reichstag" says a lot.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. For context, after the election, as you said, General Milley was so shaken. And an old friend called him -- it's anonymous in the book -- and said, they are going to try to overturn the government. And so he got together with other top administration officials, with top military officials, and they put together -- they informally planned in case there was an attempted coup. They wanted to make sure the guardrails were kept up.

I just want to read another excerpt from the book. This is after January 6th, after he has seen the violent attack on the Capitol. And General Milley is preparing for the inauguration. And he's with other law enforcement officials and he says, quote, here's the deal, guys, these guys are Nazis, they're boogaloo boys, they're Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II. Everyone in this room, whether you're a cop, whether you're a soldier, we're going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power. We're going to put a ring of steel around this city, and the Nazis aren't getting in.

As you said, General Milley is very careful with his words. There -- there's also an end to that, which is that General Milley is shown at the inauguration. He goes to the ceremony. And at the end of the book, he's talking to the Obamas, who are sitting next to him. And Michelle Obama asks him, you know, how are you doing? And he says, no one has a bigger smile today. You can't see it under my mask, but I do. He felt it was critical to make sure there was a peaceful transfer of power.

SCIUTTO: We have to remind people, this is not an outsider speaking.

GANGEL: Correct.

SCIUTTO: This is a general who served at former President Trump's discretion. He served -- that administration was in the room with him many times. By the way, this fits a pattern of what the president is still continuing to attempt to do today.

One thing struck in the book as well, a phone call, and this is the day after January 6th, the insurrection, between Milley and, interestingly, Representative Liz Cheney. Tell us what that conversation was like, especially given where we are with Cheney today.

GANGEL: Right. So for some context, Liz Cheney is close to General Milley. They speak often. And this is, on January 7th, Liz Cheney calls General Milley and she's telling him about what it was like in the chamber on January 6th. And, no surprise, she is angry about one of her colleagues, Representative Jim Jordan, who is a Trump loyalist, who has been perpetuating the big lie. And Milley says to her, quote, how are you doing? And Cheney says, the f-ing guy, Jim Jordan, that son of a bitch, while these maniacs are going through the place -- meaning the Capitol -- I'm standing in the aisle and he said, we need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you. And Cheney says, I smacked his hand away and told him, get away from me, you f- ing did this.

In other words, from the election to January 6, Jim Jordan was on the phone with Donald Trump, if not every day, several times a week. And as we all know, Liz Cheney voted for the impeachment.



GANGEL: She sees, you know, her Republican colleagues as perpetuating and enabling Trump that led to January 6th and the insurrection.

SCIUTTO: Well, by the way, in the six -- more than six months since then, many of these people are still perpetuating the big lie, right?

GANGEL: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: It's continued. And with alarming damage.

Jamie Gangel, thanks so much for giving us an inside look at this.

GANGEL: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: We're joined now by former Army commanding general, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

General, it's great to have you back.

Listen, this is Mark Milley, right, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He doesn't mess around, doesn't mince words. His fears were genuine here of Trump attempting a coup. And I'm just curious, given that you've served in uniform as well at that level, explain to folks at home how significant this is.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is hugely significant, Jim. And it's, as you just said a mina go to Jamie, it was not unexpected. We've seen indicators of this since the Trump presidency began.

But I -- what I want to point out is General Milley, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, does not command any forces. His primary job by congressional and legal mandate is to provide advice to the president and the secretary of defense and to testify before Congress in terms of the state of the military. So whereas he is very adamant, like all general officers are about supporting the civilian military relations, he's also taken a vow to defend the Constitution. That is part of our oath. And I think, you know, he was caught in a very delicate situation and did a very good job. And you can see now in the book there were a lot of things going on behind the scenes. And Milley's stepping up as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs when there was not -- you know, there was an acting secretary of defense, that's part of the problem. You had a retired lieutenant colonel, Chris Miller, who had just been placed in that role and had not been confirmed by the Senate.

So all of these things contribute to the morass that was in government at the time, and which General Milley, I think, took some magnificent steps to rise above.

HARLOW: Let's take a moment and listen to General Milley. This is in the days after the election. This is (INAUDIBLE) two. Really, I think, shifting tone and making clear where he stands, and maybe sending a message to the president directly.

Here he was.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We do not take an oath to a king or queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe, or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution.


HARLOW: Jaime, I think back to the final days of the Nixon administration and what reportedly, at least in private, then Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was telling people around the president, like, if he orders anything crazy or, you know, having to do with the nuclear codes, clear it through me or Kissinger first.

GANGEL: Right. I think the -- just for some other context, there is a phone call in the book between Nancy Pelosi and General Milley. And she says to him, quoted in the book, remember your oath.

HARLOW: Right.

GANGEL: And then he goes on to reassure her. Look, General Milley believes in civilian authority. And he goes on and he reassures her, we'll only do things that are, quote, legal, ethical, and moral.

I was speaking to a very high-level former Pentagon official last night about General Milley. And just to go back in time for a second, when General Mattis left, he actually suggested somebody else to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And Trump passed over that person and picked General Milley. And a lot of people were not so sure he was the best choice, including my source last night. But my source said to me, you know, General Milley was probably the best person to have in this job at this time. He's a stubborn Irishman from Boston with a lot of backbone, and he was the right man for this time.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen -- and as a reminder, Trump chose him, appointed him.

GANGEL: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: Again, not an outsider, Trump's choice.

GANGEL: Correct.

SCIUTTO: General, before we go, by defending those rioters on January 6th today, as the president is doing, the former president, and many other GOP lawmakers downplaying what happened that day, in your view, are they empowering the folks, the groups that Milley was talking about and referred to as Nazis that attacked the Capitol? Are they giving them power and encouragement?

HERTLING: Absolutely, Jim. I mean there's no doubt in my mind about that. And what we're concerned about now is the continual use of the big lie.


You know, it's interesting to me that what Milley was standing up -- in that speech he -- that you just showed is one that I've given many times. When we vow to defend the Constitution, we are vowing to defend, not land, not title, not officials, not presidents, but ideas, a piece of paper that lists what our ideas are as a nation. And those who don't adhere to those ideas are actually damaging the country.

So those who tend to ignore the authoritarian takes of those who might be in public office, who refuse to vote the way they should, what they know the truth to be, what supports our democratic principles, they're -- in my view, they're just as bad as President Trump trying to bring about authoritarianism in the office of the presidency.


HERTLING: So, yes, absolutely, anyone who ignores these kinds of things, in my humble opinion, is ignoring their vow to -- and their oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.

HARLOW: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, as always, thank you.

Jaime Gangel, extraordinary reporting again, getting all of this. Thank you.

Still ahead, a COVID-19 vaccine for young children is still not available. The question is when will it be. The CDC director just weighed in on this, so we'll have that ahead.

SCIUTTO: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stock futures are mixed as we get new data that will indicate the pace of recovery in the labor market. Some investors say stocks may struggle to grind higher in the coming weeks because an uptick in COVID-19 infections could threaten the global reopening. We're going to stay on top of it.