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Report: DOJ Official Wanted To Push False GA Election Fraud Claims; Trump Formally Joins Legal Fight Over Release Of Tax Returns; NYC Business Owners Mixed On Proof Of Vaccine Mandate; Ohio Congressional Race Key Test On Presidential Sway; Obama Scales Back Birthday Bash Amid Case Spike; Frontier Airlines Backs Flight Crew That Duct-Taped Unruly Passenger. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 4, 2021 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Another explosive revelation about what was happening at the Justice Department in the weeks after the 2020 election.

ABC News is reporting that high-ranking officials at the Department of Justice had to reject one of their own colleagues who wanted to push officials in Georgia to investigate and perhaps invalidate President Joe Biden's victory in the state.

CNN's justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is following this for us.

So this was an effort by a Trump loyalist at the DOJ. How far did it go?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Victor, it was swiftly stopped by these top two officials at the time at DOJ who we know actually had to repeatedly push back against calls for them to label the election as fraudulent.

This latest revelation is coming from newly surfaced emails and a draft letter obtained by ABC News.

It shows how Jeffrey Clark, the top official in the DOJ Civil Division, wrote a letter dated December 28th, 2020, and it urged Georgia's governor and the state lawmakers there to investigate these supposed voter irregularities.

This letter was drafted one day after we know that then-President Trump pressured the top two officials at DOJ to say the election was corrupt.

We know from previous reporting that Trump had an ally in Jeffrey Clark. So Clark wanted the acting attorney, Jeffrey Rosen, and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, to sign off on this letter.

And it falsely stated that DOJ found voting irregularities that impacted the election outcome in several states.

What we're seeing in subsequent emails that accompanied this letter is how Rosen and Donoghue stopped this effort.

They said there was no widespread election fraud -- that's something the A.G. Bill Barr publicly stated -- and there was no basis for this letter drafted by Jeffrey Clark to be sent to Georgia or any other state.

Donoghue put it in black and white and said this: "There's no chance I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this."

So the letter was never sent.

But it is part of a trove of evidence that lawmakers and likely the DOJ inspector general are sifting through to uncover the lengths that Trump and his allies went to, to push their claims of election fraud.

Alisyn and Victor, this likely won't be the last we hear or last documents we get. DOJ has told Trump officials that they can cooperate.

We might get more documents that show how far the White House and Trump went to put this pressure on and overturn the election.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Every single new episode we hear about is more chilling and there's no reason to believe there won't be more.

Jessica, thank you very much.

Let's bring back Laura Coates. She is back with us.


So, Laura, just what I just said, it is chilling to hear how President Trump and his lackeys were trying to subvert democracy.

And if it were not for men of conscience, you know, people, sane people of conscience who had to stop them, I don't know where we'd be right now.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Or people who simply read the law, right, Alisyn, and also heard from the attorney general of the United States at the time, William Barr, who said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

You would think that, of course, because Jeffrey Clark is under in terms of the org chart, he'd fall under the attorney general of the United States, that he would have some information that, say, William Barr did not have is quite astounding here.

And you see this notion of just plant the seeds.

We heard just last week former President Trump making the statement that just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican members. The idea of knowing full well about what the impact and the gravitas

that's assigned to a president of the United States that could lead people, mislead people to believe that there was something wrong or unconscionable or corrupt about what was a free and fair election.

And this is why it's so important that the Department of Justice, Alisyn, has decided not to exert executive privilege with respect to its DOJ employees.

To say, listen, we would like you to have transparency and the opportunity to be unmuzzled to share what you learned, just how deep this may have run.

A lot of this as we all know, the big lie and everything surrounding it, led to an attack on the citadel of our democracy.

This removal of the muzzle through privilege is going to be extraordinarily important in getting to the bottom what might be a very long rabbit hole.

BLACKWELL: You know, what's important is that they try to do in this letter that ABC News obtained is now being codified in state law across the country.

They want to invalidate the votes that they don't like and usurp the powers of those that have been entrusted to run the elections in localities and states.

Former President Trump personal attorney now getting involved, filing to try to stop the personal tax returns being turned over to Congress.

What's the chance that the president and his attorneys will be able to stop that?

COATES: Well, you know, we remember how protracted it was in the past.

Only just recently has the Manhattan D.A.'s office been able to obtain what people were trying to get when it was Candidate Donald Trump coming down an escalator, let alone when he was President Trump.

This is all coming back to the idea that his lawyers are now asserting what they did before, but now he's a party, and not the executive branch that's going after or trying to defend against the requests from the House ways and means committee.

They're saying look, this is a protracted political witch hunt.

There's no rhyme or reason other than to embarrass the former president of the United States or to allow the IRS through what he says is a protracted audit process to use the fact that the House wants to know about it to harm him or undermine the audit process.

But what they're saying in Congress here, Victor, is the idea of, look, we have a role as legislators. We would like to know that the presidential auditor process is good, correct and sound. We need to know the last six or so years of this president, including

other matters of his organization, to figure out if our legislative process is working.

They're going to have to convince the judges of this very notion. I believe it's a political -- someone who was appointed by Donald Trump who will be looking at this matter in part.

But to say we have a legislative purpose. It's been found before to be valid.

But you have to worry about the notion of the political optics of all of this and what Trump knows very well, the tag line, the slogans of partisan witch hunt can be very, very loud and deafening at times.

CAMEROTA: We'll see what the judge decides.

Laura Coates, thank you very much for helping us understand it.

COATES: Thank you.


CAMEROTA: It looks like President Trump and Biden have some sway in local elections. We have the results of primary races in Ohio that just put king-maker status to the test.


BLACKWELL: We're just getting this into CNN. The New York auto show, one of the industry's premiere events set for later this month, has now been cancelled.

Organizers say they called it off because of the increase in COVID cases driven by the Delta variant in the area.

They also cited increased measures announced by state and local officials to stop that spread.

New York City business owners are now reacting to Mayor Bill De Blasio's mandate that requires proof of vaccination for indoor activities. We're talking dining in restaurants, going to the theater or the gym.

CAMEROTA: The mandate goes into effect August 16th and requires people to show proof that they have had at least one vaccine dose.

CNN business and politics correspondent, Vanessa Yurkevich, spoke to some local business owners about how they feel about this requirement.

Vanessa, do they think this will help or hurt their businesses?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS & POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a little split right now, Alisyn. Here in New York City, the expectation is that these businesses will have to check the requirements.

We spoke to one restaurant over who says he welcomes this news.

But we spoke to one live venue owner who says that he doesn't think this new requirement will convince people to get the vaccine.


JACK MCGARRY, CO-OWNER, THE DEAD RABBIT: We were wrestling with it right from the get-go because the laissez-faire approach into working. So this week, we would have made the decision anyhow. But I'm very happy that it's been made for us.

MATTHEW GARRISON, CO-OWNER, SHAPESHIFTER LAB: I think it's much better. The fact that we can just point to somebody else and say hey, listen, don't get on our case. It's coming from high above.

We have to comply, so there's not much we can do about it. It makes us feel much more comfortable in the act of rejecting somebody, which we don't want to do.


YURKEVICH: Now, Matthew, who you just heard from, said he's probably going to have to hire an additional person just to check the vaccine status.

He also says he probably thinks he'll lose some customers, people who have purchased tickets to live shows. He expects some to cancel because of this proof of vaccination requirement -- Alisyn and Victor?

BLACKWELL: Vanessa, it seems like they can now say that the mandate comes from someone else but they're still left to enforce it.

Do they feel like they're being turned into the vaccine police here?

YURKEVICH: Absolutely. That's sort of what we're hearing from the National Restaurant Association, warning that employees are now going to have to be the ones enforcing this.

That restaurant owner that you heard from says they already check I.D.s so it's not much more work to check the vaccine cards.

However, that owner of the live venue said that they are probably going to have to hire that additional person. It will probably be a security guard to both check the status, but also enforce the rules -- Victor, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK. It is complicated certainly for business owners.

Vanessa, thank you very much.

Now to Ohio, where the votes are in for the state's contentious congressional special primaries.

BLACKWELL: A key test of the Democratic Party's direction and President Biden's agenda. Progressive Nina Turner lost to establishment candidate Shontel Brown. Trump's GOP pick, Mike Carey, won his race.

CNN chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is with us now.

Big takeaways. What are you seeing from these races?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: The big takeaways are that President Biden, his agenda was at the center of this race, the Democratic one in Cleveland.

We saw Shontel Brown embracing it. She said, look, send me to Washington to help advice President Biden's agenda.

Nina Turner, who is a recognized face here, a former CNN commentator, a big supporter of Bernie Sanders, she supports the Biden agenda but wanted to push the message in a much more progressive direction.

It's a classic age-old fight we've been watching inside the Democratic Party. A moderate lane or progressive lane. The moderate won out.

So there's no question with President Biden in the White House, the top of the Democratic Party, there's a moderate sense that people just wanted to elect someone to work with him. An ally, not an antagonist, if you will.

Certainly, it didn't settle the feud necessarily inside the Democratic Party but it sent the message that they wanted to send someone to work with him.

On the Republican side, quickly, it shows that President Trump still has juice in the Republican Party among his base. So watch him to endorse more candidates because he won last night.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's get to the important stuff, partying.

President Obama is turning 60 today. And he had a big birthday bash planned on Martha's Vineyard, 400 of his closest friends. Pearl Jam was going to be performing live.

But then he now --




CAMEROTA: No? No likey?

BLACKWELL: I don't know a single song.

CAMEROTA: Now he announces that he's scaling back.

But these were going to be for vaccinated guests, right? Fully vaccinated guests.

So why is everyone being punished if they're fully vaccinated? ZELENY: Really, it was a sense that the criticism from this party was

growing in advance of it. Usually, the criticism comes after a party if things are too loud, you make apologies.

This was growing day by day. A lot of criticism about should someone -- should a former president be having such a big party when this variant is spreading so much.

So the Obamas decided late yesterday, they announced it early this morning, that because of the spread of the Delta variant, they thought they would scale it back to just closer friends and family members.

We still don't know how big the party is going to be. I've talked to several people who are still going. It's certainly going to be a sizeable one but not the big party we were talking about.

A lot of movie stars going. Oprah Winfrey was going, is no longer. Steven Spielberg. It was a very big list of people.

There was a lot of criticism of should he be doing this. So he took a leadership role and said I'm going to scale back my party trying to avoid criticism from creating a super-spreader event.

But they're still partying this weekend at Martha's Vineyard to celebrate his 60th, which is today.


CAMEROTA: We just don't know how big a party. It is bad optics.

BLACKWELL: It is bad optics, but at what point do you get the --


ZELENY: They thought so, too, or they wouldn't have changed their plans, right?

BLACKWELL: The optics I see. If people are vaccinated and you're getting people tested and it's outdoors, at what -- what else do you want people to do?

CAMEROTA: I don't know. I don't know what the answer is.

ZELENY: They're still having a party, just not 400 people. I think that's the thing.

CAMEROTA: I think, mostly, I'm just jealous, actually, that I'm not going to a big party on Martha's Vineyard.


BLACKWELL: Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

ZELENY: You bet.

BLACKWELL: Frontier Airlines is responding after members of its crew taped an unruly passenger to his seat. Hear their new statement, next.


CAMEROTA: Well, after initially suspending a flight crew for duct- taping an unruly passenger to his seat, Frontier Airlines says it supports these employees who took the extraordinary measures to retrain this man, who is accused of groping, punching, and verbally harassing the crew from Philadelphia to Miami.


BLACKWELL: CNN aviation and transportation correspondent, Pete Muntean, is here with more.

This is one of the stories that is unbelievable. The video is even more bizarre. Set the scene for us.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION & TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: Victor, flight attendants are calling this one of the ugliest incidents of unruly passengers yet.

This happened on a Frontier flight on Saturday from Philadelphia to Miami. The video coming to light now, though.

Police say this passenger was on board, had a couple drinks, spilled a third drink on himself, went to the bathroom, and then reemerged shirtless, then groped two flight attendants.

A third flight attendant was assigned to watch him, and then this happened.







MUNTEAN: This is where it starts to get interesting, though. One flight attendant is seen in the videotaping the passenger to his seat.

This is called restraint tape. It's in the kit that flight attendants have to deal with in-flight emergencies.

Frontier responded to this by initially suspending the flight attendants. That got pushback from flight attendant unions.

Now, Frontier changed its tune, saying it supports the flight crew in the incident.

It also supports the prosecution of 22-year-old Maxwell Berry of Ohio. Miami-Dade police charged him with three counts of battery now.

You know, you have to look at the big picture, 3,700 incidents of unruly passengers just this year alone, according to the FAA. Another 100 incidents in the last week.

Of all of those, more than 3,000 incidents, the agency-initiated enforcement action in only 99 of those cases.

Flight attendants are pointing to this as an example of swift prosecution that they need as they're dealing with this uptick of unruly passengers.

CAMEROTA: I mean, would these flight attendants -- what was the other choice, tackling him?

BLACKWELL: The airline supplied the tape. If you don't use it for this guy --

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, what that video captures those flight attendants dealing with, in terms of taking the incoming fist, it is incredible.


CAMEROTA: Pete, thank you very much for highlighting this story for us.

MUNTEAN: You bet.

CAMEROTA: School is starting in several states, and the question is how to protect children from COVID.

BLACKWELL: But in Florida, it's turned into a fight between school districts and the governor. New developments on that front, next.