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DOJ Tells IRS to Turn Over Trump Tax Records to Congress; Millions at Risk of Being Evicted after Federal Moratorium Expires; U.S. Ramps Up Airstrikes on Taliban Targets in Afghanistan. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 2, 2021 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A big legal blow for former President Trump. The Justice Department told the IRS Friday that it must turn over Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been trying to obtain them for more than two years.

Joining me now to discuss it Tim O'Brien, he's Senior Columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, also author of Trump Nation. Tim, good to have you on.

The former president certainly not shy about going to court over things. The IRS has given him 72 hours, which we believe extends to Wednesday. Does he have legal recourse here? Where would he challenge this and how?

TIM O'BRIEN, SENIOR COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG OPINION: Well, I would assume he would still. I can't imagine they won't challenge it because there is a lot of perilous as aspects in the information in those tax returns, I think, getting out into the wild.

So, I'm assuming they are looking at this. I'm assuming that they would still challenge it on the grounds originally that the DOJ, Bill Barr's DOJ, blocked the release which was that Congress was just engaged in a fishing expedition, it wasn't pursuant to any of the Congress' oversight authority or legislation, therefore, it should be stopped. I imagine they'll try to challenge that in court but they're going to have an uphill battle with that.

SCIUTTO: So, if it comes to Congress, if these tax returns come to Congress, are they now effectively public? Will you and I and people watching here be able to see them?

O'BRIEN: I suspect we will at some point. I think Congress is going to have to be judicious and I think circumspect about how they post these. There is a lot of, I think, issues around separation of powers and checks and balances that rides as much on trust as it does on the rule of law.

But if they hold the hearing on oversight of the executive branch and on potential financial conflicts of interest that are raised in Donald Trump's tax returns or possible corruption, then I think they get posted as exhibits to those hearings. And they may come out even before then I think through leaks, but we'll see.

SCIUTTO: So, the president has multiple legal tracks, perilous ones underway right now. I mean, you have an investigation, one in the state of Georgia into his efforts to overturn the election. You have the Manhattan D.A.'s continued case and indictment fact of Trump Organization. Now you have this, at least exposing it. We don't know if there is criminal behavior in here but at least exposing what the president has tried to conceal for some time.

What is the political effect for that for a person someone who remains the choice of most at least Republicans as their nominee in 2024?

O'BRIEN: Well, I just think the Manhattan D.A.'s investigation still the most perilous for him because that is a criminal investigation. There is a possibility that there would be an orange jumpsuit waiting for Donald Trump at the end of that process. I don't anticipate it yet getting there. There is a lot of evidence that needs to come into the public record before that occurs.

I don't know that any of his core supporters would care about any of this. I think the real issue is what do traditional conservative Republicans and moderate voters think about it in a general election. That is where the real the meat of the issue is. And I think if more of this comes into the open and we get a much deeper handle on what the real texture of Trump's conflicts of interests look like, it will matter.

Because I think one of the great unanswered questions of Trump's administration was why did he engage in these dances with dictators, and to what extent was he feathering his nest financially in his pursuit of different public policy decisions. And that still hasn't been satisfactorily answered. And I think that is one of the reasons that he's fought so hard to keep his tax returns hidden.


SCIUTTO: That is a question, right, not just tax avoidance or evasion, but possible conflicts of interest here.

The president is raising money off of all of this. He's raising money off the big lie. He's raising money off his claim that these are political witch hunts. What does he do with all of that money?

O'BRIEN: Well, he's clearly not spending it for the reasons that he said he was raising it. His initial -- the cash register drawer opened right after the election when he said he was raising money for a legal defense fund and he never spent very much of it on lawyers. And I think a light went off in his head and his children's head that they realized that campaign fundraising is a pretty good business when you're Donald Trump and if you aren't really concerned about whether or not the people giving you the money feel like you're grifting off of them. But he has a huge war chest right now. And I think it is an indicator of the kind of hold he still has on a significant faction in the Republican Party. And it means he is someone who has to be contended with.

SCIUTTO: Tim O'Brien, thanks for breaking it all down.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called on the Biden administration to take action as millions of Americans face the possibility of eviction today. I'm going to speak to the man who is leading a tracking system of evictions in this country, what that is telling us. That is coming up next.



SCIUTTO: Soon, millions of Americans could be facing eviction from their homes after the federal moratorium on evictions expired over this past weekend. Now, Democrats are pressuring party leadership and President Biden to act. The White House, however, shifting its focus to using unspent housing assistance to soften the blow.

Joining me now to speak about this, Peter Hepburn, he leads the eviction tracking system at Princeton University, helped keep track of how far this danger extends. Mr. Hepburn, thanks for taking time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, give us a sense of numbers here. With this aid, this moratorium expiring, how many Americans exactly do we believe are at risk, who can't pay their back rent to stay where they are?

HEPBURN: It is hard to say right now. We know based on data from the census poll survey, about 16 percent of renters say that they're behind on rent, which is a lot more than we would see under normal circumstances.

We also know that they are a lot further behind on rent. So where sometimes you might be a few weeks, a month behind, now, we're looking at three, four, five months and that is a lot harder to catch up on at least without any sort of assistance from the government.

SCIUTTO: And is -- just to understand the facts and how this works, if, say, with this moratorium expiring, if these renters do not come up with the money not just for this month's rent but for one, two, three, four months back today, does that mean that they're out on the street immediately? How does it work?

HEPBURN: Yes. So, the eviction moratorium that have been established across the country, including the CDC eviction moratorium in place since last September, never canceled rent. There was always an obligation to continue to pay rent or to attempt to pay rent. And the expectation that all of that back rent that was owed would come due when the moratorium ended.

And in recognition of that fact, Congress appropriated almost $47 billion to help renters get caught back up and to help landlords be made whole. The problem has been that getting that money out to renters and to landlords has been a slow process, to say the least.

SCIUTTO: Okay. So, that seems to be part of the solution, at least alternative solution that the White House is offering here, using that unspent housing assistance. I mean, one, is there enough of it out there, right, to take care of the folks that you're seeing don't have the money to pay, and can you get it to them, right? If we haven't got it to them at this point, how do we get it to them now?

HEPBURN: Look, the best estimates that are available suggests that the money that Congress provided would be sufficient to meet the available need. The problem is that it just -- it has been slow getting it out of the door.

So, as of the end of June, about $3 billion had been distributed out of that $46 billion that Congress allocated.

SCIUTTO: $3 billion out of $46 billion.

HEPBURN: Right, yes.


HEPBURN: And the pace of distribution is -- appears to be improving. Half of that money was distributed in June alone and it is likely that those numbers were better in July.

Unfortunately, there are -- this money is being distributed by state governments, by county governments, by cities, and some are doing a much better job than others of getting the money out.

SCIUTTO: That is a tiny percentage. I mean, it's like 6, 7 percent of the money allocated.

HEPBURN: Yes, less than 10 percent.

SCIUTTO: So, the economy is picking up, hiring is picking up. I mean, we've had enhanced unemployment benefits in addition to regular unemployment benefits for many months now in places in most states. Will that soften -- plus stimulus checks, will that soften the blow of folks who can't meet rent?

HEPBURN: It is possible that that will help some to catch up with back rent. But we know that the rent eats first and those families that are spending all of that stimulus money on rent payments may be cutting corners on other things that they need or that their children need.


And it would be certainly preferable if they were able to access the money that Congress made available for this specific purpose.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and amazing how little of it has gone out. Well, Peter Hepburn, thanks for breaking it all down for us.

HEPBURN: Thanks for having me on.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, U.S. airstrikes hit the Taliban as the group makes big advances in Afghanistan. Now, the U.S. State Department is stepping up a plan to rescue many Afghans, particularly those who worked for American organizations and government. We'll have more.



SCIUTTO: As we speak, the U.S. is hitting Taliban targets inside Afghanistan with airstrikes, trying to turn back the Taliban's advances that they've made in several cities, in large parts of country very quickly. Fighting has intensified across Afghanistan in recent days with the Taliban threatening to seize one of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals. They have made so much progress already around the country.

CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh and National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood join me now with more.

Nick, first, to you. This has been -- had been a question of what does the U.S. do after it pulls out ground troops. Does it maintain an air power presence there, and it seems as they are. What impact are these airstrikes having?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. As I understand from a senior Afghan security official, these airstrikes hit Taliban as they tried to move into key cities. There are three specific cities being referred to, according to the official I spoke to, Herat, in the far west of the city, and in the south, the two key cities of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, the latter being in Helmand.

These three are all considered to be endangered by these Taliban advances. And, in fact, just before we came on air, we heard a series of witness reports and local reports that in the city of Lashkar Gah, a key T.V. station may have had the Taliban enter into it earlier on today. They've been pressuring that city for a number of years, frankly, but never got as far in as this. And I should caveat obviously these things can change exceptionally quickly and communications with that part of the world is very difficult.

But, remember, when Joe Biden did say that they were leaving, they also said that they would protect themselves and their allies on the way out, which left the door open certainly to these airstrikes, saying Comm (ph) have admitted they are back in the air over Afghanistan hitting targets.

They're not specific about which ones but the idea that the U.S. is still continually hitting the Taliban when they get to close to urban centers is of extraordinary influence on the battlefield. That is, frankly, Jim, as you know, how it is been for a number of years. Minimal U.S. presence on the ground but heavy airpower pushing the Taliban back when they get too close.

So they question is are they able to sustain this kind of momentum in the air to keep the Taliban back or are we simply seeing too little too late and these key cities so many American lives lost fighting for those in the south, these key cities potentially falling to the insurgency. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. And power rarely alone does the job.

Kylie, a measure of U.S. concern about security is that they're now expanding access to a refugee program for certain Afghans to leave the country. The focus had been on translators for the military. So who else is eligible now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. They're expanding this program so that those who weren't eligible for that special immigrant visa program that we have been discussing are now potentially eligible for this program. These are Afghans who worked with U.S. contractors who worked for U.S.-backed organizations in the country, NGOs who worked for U.S.-based media companies. There are a lot of Afghans who could potentially qualify for this program.

Now, the thing that we're learning this morning, however, is that those who were applying to this program, first of all, they need to have the company that they worked for write them a referral letter. So that kick-starts the process. But then they have to be outside of Afghanistan before the processing of their refugee status can begin and that whole amount of time, according to the State Department this morning, can take 12 to 14 months.

So this is going to be a long journey for these Afghans who are just learning today that they can apply for refugee status but it certainly isn't going to be today, tomorrow or even next month or even next week that these Afghans are going to actually get here to the United States.

And it is kind of important to note that a lot of these Afghans are in places where it is really dangerous for them to travel right now because of the increase in Taliban violence in the country, that is, of course, directed at people who worked alongside the U.S. over the last 20 years. Jim?

SCIUTTO: It is quite an indictment, is it not, Kylie, of the state's (INAUDIBLE) view of safety in the country if they're basically given a lifeline out to these people, how do they explain it?

ATWOOD: Yes. Well, what they're saying is twofold, right, that the United States is still continuing to provide humanitarian support to Afghanistan, they're going to maintain the U.S. embassy open in Kabul, but they're also admitting, frankly, that things on ground are bad and the United States just can't completely leave all of these people behind who worked alongside the U.S., hand in hand with the U.S. over the last few years.


So that is why they're doing both of these things at the same time.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see how quickly it could move as a practical matter. Nick Paton Walsh in London, Kylie Atwood here at the State Department, thanks you very much.

And thanks very much to all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan will start right after a quick break.