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Passport Application Backlog; Interview With Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI); Surgeon General Calls COVID Misinformation Threat to Public Health; Kevin McCarthy Summoned to Meet With Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 15:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And it sounds like he does not feel he needs to go anywhere. His health is in good condition.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yes, it's a lifetime appointment, and he still has a lifetime.

So, he's got to decide on what happens for him next. But I know there are many in his party who are wondering if they can get another appointment during this term.

Next hour starts right now.

New hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

CAMEROTA: I'm Alisyn Camerota.

This afternoon, the top Republican in the House is making a pilgrimage to see Donald Trump at his New Jersey golf club.

BLACKWELL: Now, at the same time, the former president is responding to explosive excerpts from a new book detailing what happened behind the scenes on January 6, including concerns from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the president might attempt a coup.

CAMEROTA: OK, so let's start with CNN's Melanie Zanona.

Melanie, let's start with this meeting between former President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. This comes, of course, as the select committee about January 6 is looming. And Kevin McCarthy is deciding who to put on that committee. And he may be a witness, as Donald Trump might be a witness for this.

So are they going to be talking about that today?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: I mean, officially, it's not on the agenda. But, unofficially, it's hard to imagine that this wouldn't come up. My sources are telling me that the purpose of this meeting between

McCarthy and Trump is to talk about the midterms, some of the fund- raising numbers that have come out, as well as some special elections that are coming down the pike.

But, as you know, it's coming at a critical time for Kevin McCarthy. He is weighing who he should appoint to the select committee on January 6, and he is going to come under enormous pressure to appoint some Trump allies who can mount a vigorous defense of the former president.

And, of course, Trump has been vocal in the past, including during his first impeachment, about who he wanted out there defending him. So, look, with Kevin McCarthy, he has a lot to consider here. He wants to stay in Trump's good graces, especially because he views the former president as crucial to winning back the House, both in terms of fund- raising and in terms of turnout.

And so any decisions he makes are going to have those dynamics in mind. And, look, I think the bottom line here is that Trump still maintains an iron grip on the party and there are just no signs of that loosening anytime soon -- Alisyn, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, no signs at all.

Melanie Zanona for us there at the Capitol, thanks so much.

Let's get now to those explosive revelations about the final days of the former president's term. This is from a new book by two "Washington Post" reporters, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. It's called "I Alone Can Fix It."

And CNN's Jamie Gangel obtained some of the excerpts that we're about to discuss.

CAMEROTA: One of the most shocking is that after President Trump lost the election, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, feared the former president might attempt a coup.

Milley 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're the guys with the guns."

CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel.

Jamie, incredible work getting these excerpts. They are bombshells. They're what so many millions of people suspected on some level was happening behind the scenes. But now we know more in more detail of what's happening.


And let's just remember General Milley is still chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He knew this book was coming out and he knew that it would be made public. He's quoted extensively throughout the book. CAMEROTA: That's such a great point. And he hasn't refuted it.

GANGEL: No, he has not.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's get to Mike Pence's role.

GANGEL: Right.

CAMEROTA: Here is one of the excerpts.

"Pence again explained the legal limits on his authority as vice president and said he planned to perform his ceremonial duty as prescribed by the Constitution." This was on January 6.

GANGEL: Right.

CAMEROTA: "But Trump showed him no mercy. 'You don't have the courage to make a hard decision, ' he told Pence."

So I guess that what is new to me is that they were having, I mean, heated conversations about what Pence was going to have to do.

So Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker are two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters. What I see as I read through "I Alone Can Fix It" is, they have the quotes. We knew that Donald Trump was putting pressure on Mike Pence. But in this passage, you see, he says to him: "You don't have the courage."

You can you can hear Trump saying that. And then it goes on that they -- Mark Meadows and Ivanka Trump try to get Trump to go along with this. No, Trump had given Pence instructions and was hell-bent on getting him to do it.

So I think you really see here just how much pressure Pence was under.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and we were hearing elements of this.

GANGEL: Right.

BLACKWELL: But to get this narrative now with the quotes is really stunning.

Some of the elements we're going to discuss you got exclusively. Some of these have been published in "The Washington Post" in just the last couple of hours.

I want to go to this moment of -- it gets the question of, what did the president know and when did he know it, that, of course, famous question.


"At the White House, Trump was back in his private dining room watching everything unfold on television. The president was riveted. His supporters had heeded his call to march on the Capitol with pride and boldness. For Trump, there was no more beautiful sight than the thousands of energetic people waving Trump flags, wearing red MAGA caps and fighting to keep him in power. He thought, 'This is cool.'

"'He was happy, ' recalled one aide who was with Trump that afternoon. 'Then, when it turned violent, he thought, oh, crap.'"

And I think, for this, it gets to you will remember that Leader McCarthy said that the president didn't know about any of the violence until he called. He was clearly watching it on television.

GANGEL: Absolutely.

And what they establish here is a ticktock of events, minute by minute through January 6. Clearly, Donald Trump knew exactly what was going on almost immediately. Also, for context, I was told that what this aide was describing when Donald Trump said "Oh, crap, " was not "Oh, crap, " people are going to get hurt. It was, "Oh, crap, this is going to look bad for me."

I want to talk about Ivanka Trump's role, because I need your help deciphering here if this--

BLACKWELL: Help us, Jamie.


CAMEROTA: I need your help.

If this is reputational rehab, if this is revisionist history, or what we learn here in this book.

Here's just a portion: "Just when Ivanka Trump thought she had made headway and returned upstairs" -- this is after she'd been summoned to try to quell the unrest, the feelings that her father was having on January 6, and get him to call off crowd, OK?

GANGEL: Correct.

CAMEROTA: "Just when Ivanka Trump thought she had made headway and returned upstairs, Meadows would call her to say that the president still needed more persuading. 'I need you to come back down here, ' Meadows would tell her. 'We have got to get this under control.' He would clear the room of other aides and say: 'I want only Ivanka, myself and the president in here.'

"This cycle repeated itself several times that afternoon, as another presidential adviser said: 'Ivanka was described to me like a stable pony. When the race horse gets too agitated, you bring the stable pony in to calm him down.'"

Obviously, there are only a few people who could have told the reporters this, so what are we to make of Ivanka's role?

GANGEL: Not only are there only a few people, but throughout the book, if there is a controversial quote or scene, it is very clear that these two authors went to that person and said, is this true or not? Mike Pompeo denies a quote through a closed source. There's no denial

of that here. So we have to assume Ivanka Trump was aware of how this scenario--

CAMEROTA: She would want it depicted like this.

GANGEL: Correct. If I had to guess, this comes from Ivanka Trump.


CAMEROTA: Seems like it, yes.

GANGEL: I do not know that.

So let's talk about whether you can get your reputation back. We talked earlier about Mark Milley. He had the very controversial moment in Lafayette Park where he came out with the president in that bizarre scene. He apologized for that immediately. He has said it was wrong.

Is part of his speaking to these reporters to repair his reputation? Yes, maybe. But what he has said in this book is so extraordinary, it goes beyond repairing his reputation.

I am not sure that Ivanka Trump can repair her reputation, even with this. Just for context, that particular scene I think is critical, because we had heard that Mark Meadows couldn't convince Donald Trump to call it off.

What this scene shows is the sort of shuttle diplomacy, where Mark Meadows keeps bringing Ivanka in over and over again.

CAMEROTA: By the way, she didn't convince him either.



CAMEROTA: Five people were killed.

GANGEL: Correct.

CAMEROTA: She didn't convince me either.

GANGEL: Correct.

And it's not clear. Hours go by. And it's not clear from the excerpts we have what finally convinced him. Some of our reporting has indicated that the lawyers came in, that the White House counsel came in and said, you are going to be responsible, perhaps criminally, for people getting hurt and killed.

And it's my understanding that that may have been the reason he finally turned around.

BLACKWELL: One more, Jamie, and this also is during the height of the violence at the Capitol and the question of how to protect the vice president. Should he stay there at the Capitol and should he leave?

Let's go here to Giebels, who is the head of the vice president's security detail, and the rest of his detailed "guided them down to a staircase to a secure subterranean area that rioters couldn't reach, where the vice president's armored limousine awaited. Giebels asked Pence to get in one of the vehicles. 'We can hold here.'

"The vice president says: 'I'm not getting in the car, Tim. I trust you, Tim, but you're not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I'm not getting in the car, '" which speaks I think primarily to the president wasn't sure the safety--


CAMEROTA: Vice president.

BLACKWELL: The vice president wasn't sure of the safety of getting into this car, but also the image of the president leaving the Capitol as the insurrectionists were there, that potentially they had won. That would have been the image.

GANGEL: To me, this was breathtaking.


GANGEL: It was that Mike Pence thought that his Secret Service detail was going to take him away and he was not going to be able to do his duty, end of story, period. He was scared he wasn't going to be able to get back there.


CAMEROTA: I mean, again, these excerpts just show you how close we came to it being even worse. It was horrible. But it could have been even worse.

GANGEL: Correct. Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Jamie, great reporting. Thank you very much for sharing it with us. It's really fascinating to hear all of that.

GANGEL: Thank you. Sure.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Jamie.

OK, let's bring in Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan. He sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

I know you have been listening, Senator. Do you have some thoughts on the new excerpts of these books, what more we have learned? I mean, I know you have already done an investigation your committee into January 6, but are there new things you're learning?

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Well, certainly, the comments that are coming out and hearing from General Milley and his statements that he made are all shocking. But I suppose you can say they're not surprising, given the fact we had a president of the United States basically telling supporters to come to the Capitol, it was going to be wild, and then send them to the Capitol to try to disrupt the peaceful process of transferring power and having the Electoral College come before the Capitol to disrupt that.

Clearly, the president was doing everything -- the former president was doing whatever he could to try to stop this peaceful transfer of power. So it's certainly -- it's shocking, it's frightening, but certainly something that is not something unexpected, given the events that we saw transpire on January 6.

CAMEROTA: Senator Angus King has said that General Milley told him -- had a call with him about some of the concerns that General Milley had about what was transpiring, whether or not President Trump was going to willfully leave the White House.

Did you have any calls with General Milley? Did he ever express any of that to you?

PETERS: No, I did not have a conversation with him regarding that at all.

CAMEROTA: January 6.

As you know, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is meeting with Donald Trump today in Bedminster. Do you think that they will be discussing their roles on January 6? Do you think that it is, I don't know, suspicious that they're meeting today? They claim that they're going to be talking about the midterms more than a year from now.

PETERS: Well, it's hard to speculate, and I don't want to speculate what those two individuals will be talking about.

But they may be comparing notes to make sure they get their stories straight, because, clearly, this is very damaging to the former president. And I'm sure they're trying to figure out how they can control that damage. But--

CAMEROTA: But isn't that a problem? I mean, isn't that a problem if before the select committee they're meeting to get their stories straight?

PETERS: Absolutely. There's no question it's a problem.

It's why we needed to have this commission. Should have passed a long time ago. I was engaged in an investigation, as you know, through Homeland Security as chairman there. We did a joint investigation, but it was limited in scope to just the security arrangements on the day of the attack.

And I have consistently said you needed to have a commission to look at what inspired folks to come to the Capitol, what led up to that horrible day. We needed to get the facts. The American people needed to get the facts. This was clearly an attack on the American democratic republic. It was about our democracy, and that we demand to have answers to some very tough questions.

So this is very troubling, which is why we need to get to these facts as quickly as possible. The American people deserve nothing less.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that the select committee will be able to flesh out what Donald Trump's role was that day and will be able to get to the bottom of it, particularly if former President Trump is already on some level talking to a witness?

PETERS: Well, I would hope so. I would hope so.

They have to get to the job as quickly as possible and to put that effort in. So I certainly welcome -- the more people that are asking questions, the more people that are pressing to get information as to what led up to this insurrection the Capitol on January 6, the better.

But we have to try. We have to try and we have to put every effort into it.

CAMEROTA: I want to talk to you about the child tax credit also that's hitting bank accounts today.

You know that there is also this kind of ad campaign that will be out in swing states today. Why do you feel the need to trumpet this? I mean, is it that Democrats don't -- worry that they won't be getting credit for this tax credit without another ad campaign?


PETERS: Well, I think it's important for folks, one, to know that they're going to see money coming into their account today, which is very exciting for American families to know that this help is on the way for those families that have children to deal with the additional expense of child care and other expenses that they face every single day.

And I think it's important for folks to know why they are getting that money in their account today. It was the result of Democrats who stepped up for American families with children. And I think it's very important for them to realize that not one Republican voted for it. Republicans were against this program.

And as they receive these checks, as they receive the assistance so important for the -- for their family, they have to know who's on their side. Democrats are on their side. We have proven it. And, clearly, Republicans are not on their side.

CAMEROTA: To that point, Senator Marco Rubio says that this is -- basically amounts to welfare. I'll read it for you.

He says -- here's his statement. He says: "Over the next six months, some American households with no working adults will receive over $6,000 in cash payments from the federal government. In reality, President Biden has transformed the pro-worker, pro-family child tax credit into an anti-work welfare check."

What's your response?

PETERS: The response is that this is a tax cut for American families to help them pay the central costs that they have to deal with each and every day.

American families are struggling. American families appreciate the opportunity to have these additional resources to pay the bills that are confronting them each and every day. And I think Senator Rubio would much rather be giving tax breaks to multimillionaires and billionaires and corporations that are showing record profits.

He has supported and his other fellow Republicans support huge tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals in the country. And now the folks who are not billionaires, who are not millionaires are going to get help to pay some of their basic expenses. He's opposed to that.

It's a clear difference between Democrats and Republicans. And I think the American people need to see that, and certainly they should be able to see that in very stark terms with what's going on right now.

CAMEROTA: Senator Gary Peters, we appreciate the time. Thank you.

PETERS: Thank you.

OK, still ahead, details on a major backlog in passport applications that could impact your travel plans.

Plus, the FBI accused of inexcusable errors in its handling of the Larry Nassar child sex abuse investigation. We're going to speak to one of the gymnasts who was victimized by the former doctor.

BLACKWELL: And the White House launches a direct attack on the disinformation and conspiracy spreading about the COVID vaccines. Hear how the surgeon general says that they're going to do it.



CAMEROTA: Now to the deluge of disinformation.

The U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issuing what he calls an action plan to battle all of the erroneous beliefs about COVID vaccines, which he says are a prime reason for the slowdown of vaccinations.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Today, we live in a world where misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation's health.

Health misinformation is false, inaccurate or misleading information about health, according to the best evidence at the time. And while it often appears innocuous on social media apps and retail sites or search engines, the truth is that misinformation takes away our freedom to make informed decisions about our health and the health of our loved ones.


CAMEROTA: So health experts say that unvaccinated Americans are causing the resurgence that we're seeing in infections and hospitalizations across the country.

BLACKWELL: The U.S. now averages about 25,000 new infections a day. That's up 68 percent from last week, up 102 percent from two weeks ago,

Elizabeth Cohen is CNN senior medical correspondent.

Elizabeth, so the surgeon general says that they're going to battle misinformation with an all-of-society approach. What does he mean by that?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What he says that it's not just the government's job to combat this misinformation. It's you and me.

When we are on Facebook or other social media, and we see some ridiculous claim about how the vaccine, I don't know, makes you grow seven heads or 15 fingers or whatever's out there, that we not share it. It is a multipronged approach.

If you take a look at one of the graphics that they put out, they talk about all the different ways that they're going to combat this, tools to identify misinformation, expand research.

That middle one is interesting. And the writing is so tiny, I'll read it, product design and policy changes on tech platforms. That was a super important and very interesting part of what Dr. Murthy had to say. He said, look, social media engines need to do their part.

He -- a quote from him: "Modern technology companies have enabled misinformation to poison our information environment." Poison, that is very strong language. I don't know that I have heard language that strong about what Facebook and others need to do.

But getting back to what the government needs to do for a minute, this misinformation has been sown by so many different groups, and it's emotional and it's convincing. It's really done, unfortunately, a very effective job.


The government, the CDC and others need to figure out, frankly, how to stop being so boring and how to capture not just minds, but hearts. They have had a real struggle doing that. And, hopefully, with this new initiative, they will figure out a way to be just as convincing as the folks who are spreading lies.

BLACKWELL: Yes, they have a lot of work to do.

COHEN: They do. BLACKWELL: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: Hey, if you're thinking about taking a trip abroad this summer, check your passport.

The State Department says it has a backlog of more than a million passport applications.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has details.

A million applications, how long is the wait?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the wait can be up to 18 weeks. That's upwards of four months, guys.


ATWOOD: This is a long time that Americans are going to have to wait to get new passports or to renew their existing passports so that they can travel abroad.

And, as you said, this backlog is upwards of one million passports. Of course, that is because Americans are getting vaccinated and wanting to travel abroad. The State Department, which is the entity that processes and goes through and actually gives these passports to the American people, is facing this backlog.

They are surging folks who are working on this. There are about 150 people that they are adding to this process. But the bottom line here is that there are these delays. And what you can do is choose the expedited route. And that is about 12 weeks. That costs $60.

But, still, 12 weeks is three months. So if someone is applying for a new or renewed passport now, they're not going to get that passport, most likely, until some time in early fall or late fall. And I also think it's important for folks to know that there are also a lot of scams happening around renewing and getting new passports.

And that's something that the State Department is warning folks about, because, right now, if you go and apply for a new passport, you don't have to actually pay for your appointment. But there are a lot of online folks who are saying that they are going to provide these expedited appointments.

Those are scams. So make sure that you're not paying for any appointment to renew or get a new passport.

CAMEROTA: Oh, golly, that's so helpful. Buyer, beware on that, because, when you're desperate and you know the clock is ticking, then sometimes you fall more easily for those scams.

So thank you very much for that warning.

OK, next: There is a scathing new report, and it details how the FBI botched their investigation into Larry Nassar. He's the former U.S. gymnastics doctor convicted of sexually abusing so many young athletes.

One of the survivors is going to join us next with what she wants to happen.