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New Details on Trump & Allies' Efforts to Undermine Election Results; CNN's Dana Bash Goes One-on-One with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez; Senate Heads Toward Final Vote in Infrastructure Bill But It Faces Hurdles in the House; Democrats Inching Closer to New Voting Rights Bill; Taliban Seize 5th Provincial Capital in Afghanistan. Aired 2:30- 3p ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: A former Georgia prosecutor will be the next ex-official to be interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Trump White House efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

We're also getting new details about how far then-President Trump and his allies were willing to go to overturn his lose to Joe Biden.

Jeffrey Rosen, who was Trump's acting attorney general, and Rosen's top deputy told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a Trump appointee at the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, sidestepped the DOJ's chain of command multiple times to push Trump's election fraud lies.

Senate majority whip and Judiciary Committee chair, Dick Durbin, told CNN that Rosen was facing pressure from the top. Watch.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): It really is important that we ask these questions because what was going on at the Department of Justice was frightening from a constitutional point of view.

To think that Bill Barr left, resigned after he announced he didn't see irregularities in the election.

And then his replacement was under extraordinary pressure, the president of the United States, even to the point that they were talking about replacing him.


DURBIN: That pressure was on. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, is with me now.

Paula, what else do we know about what Rosen and his deputy told the Senate Judiciary Committee?

PAULA REID, CNN LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Interestingly, Victor, both Rosen and Donoghue told the committee they were not sure whether Clark was acting at President Trump's behest or just carrying out a plot that he orchestrated himself.

Both men testified that when they interacted with Trump he never pressured them to do anything illegal.

And they said eventually he did seem to understand that the Justice Department couldn't really do anything to help him because they didn't see enough evidence of fraud.

It's really unusual details, Victor, uncovered by our colleagues, Katelyn Polantz, Zachary Cohen and Evan Perez, about what exactly Clark was trying to push inside the Justice Department.

Our colleagues have done some reporting and they have learned that Clark told senior justice officials in late December 2020 that he believed that there was sensitive information that indicated Chinese intelligence had used a special kind of digital thermometer to change the results in machines tallying votes.

Of course, by that time, the Justice Department had said that they had no evidence of any changes in vote tallying mechanism.

Clark has really become a central figure in this narrative as we're learning more from both documents and testimony about exactly the kind of pressure those top acting justice officials were facing at this time.

BLACKWELL: Paula Reid, with the latest for us. Paula, thank you very much.

Dana Bash is CNN's chief political correspondent, co-anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION." And Carrie Cordero is a CNN legal and national security analyst. She is a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.

Dana, let me start with you because I watched that conversation you had with the majority whip there about the testimony that he heard.

He didn't give a lot of specific details but he seemed to be impacted by what he heard.

Tell me your takeaway was from that conversation.

BASH: Yes, that there were clearly a lot of details that he and the staff and the other Senators who were in there learned. It was seven hours of testimony over the weekend. This was on


And the fact that his takeaway was that this might not have been a direct ask from the then president, Donald Trump, to the people like Jeffrey Rosen and others in the Justice Department.

But Donald Trump was making it very clear what he wanted them to do.

And that Rosen and others that have testified have said so far that it was -- he was trying to use the levers of his own government at the time to try to prevent his loss.

And that was a takeaway.

We're not going to know everything --


BASH: -- until this committee puts together a report. But they're not there yet.

And it's a big open question about whether or not they'll hear from Jeffrey Clark.

BLACKWELL: Carrie, let me come to you about the last point about how, over the last couple of weeks, we learned how the Trump administration used the DOJ to weaponize that agency to try to overturn the election.

Listen to Alberto Gonzales on his confidence on the institutions but also the importance of having the right leadership.


ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This was far from a coup. The institutions did hold.

On the other hand, if he had been successful in persuading the acting attorney general to send the letter that he had drafted, it would have surely complicated things.

It would have given Republicans in Congress a reason to question the outcome of these elections that perhaps stopped the certification, the Electoral College vote.


So, yes, there were some issues that happened here.


BLACKWELL: We're learning more about how much the acting A.G., Jeffrey Rosen, held off with that pressure.

What's the residual impact of this? What's the lasting legacy of what we're learning? CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I wish I felt quite as positive as

former Attorney General Gonzales on the ability of the institutions to hold.

In this case, the acting attorney general and his senior leaders did withstand the pressure from the president.

But there was someone in the high position, the acting attorney general for the Civil Division, which is a high-ranking Department official, who was all in on these theories and trying to assist in the efforts to overturn the election.

So, I think we came very close, on January 6th, in particular, but for the actions of the vice president and the heroics of the law enforcement officers, to the institutions not holding.

I think that is the dangerous lesson for the future.

BLACKWELL: Dana, on another topic, you have a new series premiering tonight at 9:00 right here on CNN. Your first guest is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

I've seen just a few clips. She's being especially candid.

BASH: That's the goal of the series, is to talk more about the human beings behind the sound bites that we often see in Washington for politicians and just people of influence in general.

And speaking of January 6th, that is one thing I spoke to her about.

Listen to what she said.


REP. ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think one of the reasons why that impact was so doubled that day is because of the misogyny and the racism that is so deeply rooted, and animated that attack on capitol.

White supremacy and patriarchy are very linked in a lot of ways.

There's a lot of sexualizing of that violence.

And I didn't think that I was just going to be killed. I thought other things were going to happen to me as well.

BASH: So it sounds like what you're telling me is that you didn't only think that you were going to die, you thought you were going to be raped?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. Yes. I thought I was.


BASH: Victor, the context here, she was -- she knew she was a target. She got lots and lots of threats way before January 6th but even more leading up to January 6th. And also she is a survivor of sexual assault, which she talked to me a

little more, which we will hear tonight.

You combine those two realities and you end up with the fear that she just described that she felt on January 6th when she was hiding in the bathroom in her building office.

BLACKWELL: Certainly understandable. It looks like it will be a fascinating conversation.

Dana Bash, Carrie Cordero, thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

CORDERO: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Be sure to watch the premiere of Dana's new CNN series, "BEING: AOC." It airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

The Senate is preparing for a final vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package as soon as tomorrow. But the legislation still faces an uncertain future in the House. We'll focus on that next.



BLACKWELL: The Senate is preparing for a final vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. It could happen as soon as early tomorrow.

The bill cleared a key hurdle late Sunday after a rare weekend session in the Senate.

It is a top priority, as you know, for the Biden administration. But it still faces an uncertain future in the House. Speaker Pelosi has not yet agreed to take up the measure.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill for us.

Lauren, when is the package expected to pass in the Senate? If it does, what happens next?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a bit of a point of negotiations right now, Victor, on Capitol Hill.

Look, it's scheduled to pass around 3:00 in the morning. Lawmakers are trying to see if they could get an agreement so it would pass later in the morning.

So far, Senator Bill Haggerty, a Republican from Tennessee, had been digging in and blocking lawmakers from being able to expedite this process.

I just talked to him a few minutes ago, he told me it would not conflict with his goal of delaying this if Senators waited until a more-sane hour in the morning to actually vote on this legislation.

So it is unlikely at this point that it would happen in the middle of the night. Instead, it sounds like lawmakers are trying to find some kind of agreement to do this tomorrow morning at some point.

Once they vote on this legislation, then Democrats will put down their budget resolution. They'll have to have a discussion about how long that debate for that budget resolution will go on.

Then they will vote on that as part of a budget vote-a-rama. Of course, that is the process in the Senate where lawmakers can offer amendments, endless amendments throughout the evening up until the next morning.

After that, we expect they could leave for their August recess, Victor.

So a lot of moving parts happening right now.

We expect that this vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill will happen within the next day.

I think that's an important landmark because the president campaigned on this issue. He argued that if he were in the White House, he would be able to get Republicans to work with him.


And this is a clear demonstration of him following through on that campaign promise -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: We will certainly watch that overnight.

Another issue that the president campaigned on, voting rights. And I understand you have some reporting on that.

FOX: That's right. Lawmakers have been working on the Democratic side for more than a month now to try to come up with some kind of consensus bill that would get all 50 Democrats on board.

If you remember, last month, they held a vote to discuss the issue, to begin debate on the issue. It was stalled by Republicans.

In the meantime, there has been an effort to try to get people like Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia as well as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a more conservative moderate member of the Democratic caucus, on board with the same bill.

Those efforts are still under way.

I was told from a source familiar this afternoon that it is possible they unveil their proposal later this week. However, sticking points still remain.

One of them is on the issue of voter I.D. laws. Manchin made it clear he wants a national voting I.D. law. Some Democrats in the caucus are uncomfortable with that. They're

trying to figure out if there's a middle ground.

It's possible this unveil this legislation later this week. It's also possible they have a vote to discuss the issue. But again, that would be blocked again by Republicans -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: We'll see if Democrats make progress there.

Lauren Fox, thank you.

The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating. The Taliban has taken another capital city and senior officials fear catastrophe.



BLACKWELL: A senior Afghan security official says the situation in Afghanistan is "getting nasty." His words. And since the end of last week, the Taliban has seized its fifth provincial capital.

The groups hold in just the last week depicts a region that is spiraling.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN international security editor, and Oren Lieberman, CNN Pentagon correspondent, are here to lay out how critical this is becoming.

Nick, let me start with you.

A string of victories for the Taliban. The taking of Kunduz, a major military prize. Why is it so important? And what does this mean long term?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think for two reasons. One, Kunduz is a major city. The other four provincial capitals we're talking about are minor compared to Kunduz.

It's also important, too, because twice in the last six years the Taliban have walked into Kunduz, held it briefly and then been kicked out by a combination of well-trained Afghan security forces and U.S. airstrikes.

That hasn't happened yet. In fact, the momentum seems to have carried the insurgency on to its next target, possibly a sixth capital, possibly a seventh.

And that may be a key town which is the similar sort of stature to Kunduz.

It's moving so fast at this point that I think many are concerned that Afghanistan security forces don't know which fire to put out.

As you mentioned there, too, they've got their eye on the clock. The U.S. said it will stop air support for Afghan security forces, reduced as it is right now, in three weeks.

And that, even though is hasn't changed much in the last five days, could be a severe handicap for that minimal level of air support the Afghanistans rely on at the moment.

BLACKWELL: So, Oren, the U.S. has continued the airstrikes over the past week. Our forces, as we know, there's this high-profile withdrawal coming, expected by the end of this month.

Is there any slim indication from U.S. officials that there will be a change of strategy?


Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, just a moment ago, in his briefing, was asked whether the Biden administration, whether the president himself would shift course on this, try to keep troops longer or perhaps try to add more troops, essentially shift the strategy in any way.

And Kirby made it clear that the White House is maintaining its mission, which is to complete the withdrawal by the end of the month, by August 31st.

On that crucial question of continued airstrikes after August 31st and would there be any, he declined to comment, saying he's not going to speculate about what happens in the future.

The expectation right now is that it is the expectation that those airstrikes will curtail severely once that withdrawal is complete at the end of this month.

Of course, it was just a couple of weeks ago the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, warned that the Taliban had surrounded 17 provincial capitals throughout the country but they hadn't taken any yet.

That, of course, changed in last couple of days. They've seized five provincial capitals. As Nick pointed out, there's a number of others now under threat.

And there's a growing question of whether they are moving to cut off the major population centers, including Kabul. That is what everyone is watching to see as the situation and the security situation there spirals in the wrong direction at this point.

There had been a question of what strategy the Taliban would pursue. Was it one of using the territory they gained for leverage and negotiations to create the government or was it a continued offensive?

That answer at this point is all too clear as they build on the gains they have already made, taking more territory and controlling more people and populations throughout the country.

BLACKWELL: All right. Oren Liebermann, there at the Pentagon for us, and Nick Paton Walsh, in London, thank you.


Listen to this. A church in Florida has lost six members to COVID just over a matter of days. What the church is doing now to try to save lives.



BLACKWELL: It's a brand-new hour. Thank you for staying with me. I'm Victor Blackwell.

There's a new analysis of CDC data and it finds that COVID vaccines save lives, even with the Delta variant.