Return to Transcripts main page


Pak Testifies before Senate Committee; Arrest Warrants for 52 Texas Democrats; Hochul to Speak in New York; Jeremy Zellner is Interviewed about Hochul Taking Over as Governor; Taliban Claims Ninth Afghan City; Manchin Raises Concerns on Bill. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired August 11, 2021 - 09:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Today, former U.S. Attorney BJay Pak is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel is investigating former President Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election. Pak used to represent the northern district of Georgia but resigned suddenly in January, one day after an audio recording was released of Trump pressuring Georgia officials to find enough votes to change Biden's win there.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joining me now with more.

Jessica, good morning.


This testimony will actually take place virtually. It will be behind closed doors. But it will happen today.

And what BJay Pak will reveal is of great intrigue here, largely because his abrupt resignation on January 4th, it is still shrouded in mystery. In fact, I've been in touch with him. He has declined any comment. So we only really know a few details about what happened to possibly prompt his departure.

So Pak resigned on January 4th. That was just after a key weekend where former President Trump had considered overhauling DOJ's top officials all because they refused to buy into those false claims of voter fraud. Then "The New York Times" reported the night before Pak's resignation, the deputy attorney general, Richard Donoghue, talked to him on the phone and said to him that the White House was frustrated by his failure to bring voter fraud investigations.

And Pak was really at the center of the storm here. He was the U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, and he quit two days after that now infamous phone call between former President Trump and Georgia's secretary of state, where Trump pleaded for officials there to find him the votes.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The people of Georgia are angry. The people of the country are angry. And there's nothing wrong with saying that, you know, uh, that you've recalculated.

All I want to do is this. I just want to find, uh, 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


SCHNEIDER: So, Pak's resignation taking place two days after that phone call.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee should get more insight into any direct pressure that Pak faced when he goes behind closed doors today in that virtual testimony, Erica.

HILL: Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that closed door testimony.

Meantime, the Senate Judiciary chair is also saying that he wants to interview Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, about the pressure the DOJ faced to overturn Biden's victory.

So what more do we know about that request, potential request?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, there's this big question here, Erica, about what White House officials, other than Trump, which ones were instrumental in pushing DOJ officials to act on these false claims of fraud. So Senator Dick Durbin, chair of the committee, he says he wants to talk to Mark Meadows. It's unclear, though, if Meadows will volunteer to testify or if the committee would have to get this bipartisan buy-in for a subpoena.

But we've learned that Meadows helped push those false theories. We've seen emails -- five emails from Meadows in late December, early January, where he asked the acting AG, Jeff Rosen, to look into election fraud claims in Georgia and New Mexico.

And then there was this. Meadows even asked DOJ to investigate what was a far flung conspiracy theory that people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely switch votes for Trump to buy -- for Trump to Biden. And we know that Rosen declined to set up a meeting between the FBI and a man who was promoting those Italy conspiracy theories.

So, Erica, there is a lot of question about Mark Meadows, any role that he played -- any more role, anyway, that he played in pushing these false claims.


HILL: Yes.

Jessica Schneider, appreciate it. Thank you. This morning, civil arrest warrants for 52 Texas house Democrats will be delivered to the sergeant at arms. The lawmakers left the state last month to block the passage of restrictive voting bills. Well, yesterday, the Texas Supreme Court voided a lower court's order that prevented the house from arresting those Democrats.

And CNN's Dianne Gallagher joining me now live.

So, Dianne, what's the latest here with this back and forth?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, look, as one Democrat told me, this is uncharted territory.

What we do know is that this morning those 52 civil arrest warrants that were signed by the Texas house speaker will be delivered to the sergeant at arms to serve. What happens after that, that's still unclear.

All of this unfolded last night, just hours after that Texas Supreme Court, which is all controlled by Republicans, overturned a Democratic district court judge's ruling that would have made it -- it would have blocked them from being able to arrest or serve these warrants on those members.

Now, this is not the first time that the Republican members of the house have voted to send law enforcement after their Democratic colleagues in an effort to force them to come to the house so they can have quorum and do legislative business.


They did the same thing in July. The difference here is that those warrants are only -- they only have jurisdiction within the state of Texas. Last month, all of those Democrats were in Washington, D.C., or at least out of the state. Right now several of them have returned to the lone star state, many of them under the belief that they were going to be protected by that temporary restraining order.

Now, there are still roughly two dozen or so that are in Washington, D.C., trying to lobby congressional members to pass federal voting rights protections. But those that are in the state of Texas now are at risk for arrest.

I do want to be clear, these are civil arrest warrants. No one's going to be taken to jail. But Democrats say they're not sure how this will unfold, Erica, whether or not law enforcement can come to their homes, can grab them in public with their children and drag them to the capital to try to force them to pass legislation, or at least participate in the passage of this legislation.

HILL: Wow. All right, Dianne Gallagher with the latest. We'll continue to follow that out of Texas.

Here in New York, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul set to hold her first press conference today. What issues will she be inheriting when she takes over from Governor Andrew Cuomo in two weeks? That's ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HILL: The woman slated to become the first female governor of New York will address the media later today. The current lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, will take over in two weeks when Andrew Cuomo officially resigns. Of course he made that announcement yesterday in the wake of the state attorney general's report that found he sexually harassed multiple women.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Albany this morning.

So, Polo, what more can we expect from Hochul today?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, good morning to you.

You know, it's just a matter of hours and we will hear from Kathy Hochul here in Albany as she has the event here later this afternoon as she speaks to reporters here. Obviously a lot of anticipation as we wait to hear exactly what she says, what are perhaps some of her big priority items once she begins her administration in about 13 days now in light of Governor Cuomo's resignation here.

Now, in terms of what has been happening up to this point, obviously this catching many people here in Albany by surprise. But we do know that she had been preparing to take over when -- as those calls began to grow louder and louder for Governor Cuomo to step down. Sources have told CNN that she has previously taken meetings, not just with lawmakers, but with several advocacy groups that she's been in contact with during her -- as lieutenant governor.

And also sources have been telling us that she has already assembled a political team. And that could suggest that she will likely actually run for a full term after she finishes up Governor Cuomo's term here.

But in terms of what the long term Democrat is going to say, obviously there's a lot of anticipation here as she does obviously inherit, including the state's COVID response as well. So as we wait to see and hear exactly what she will be tackling. That's one of the things that we're going to be monitoring here while for lawmakers here in Albany, they have announced they're going to continue to pursue the possibility of impeachment, but that's something that we're going to try to answer a little bit later today, Erica.

Back to you.

HILL: We'll look for that.

Paolo Sandoval live from Albany for us. Thank you.

Well, for a closer look at the lieutenant governor, soon to be governor of New York, let's bring in Jeremy Zellner. He's chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee. He's worked with Hochul for over a decade. And I know you two are personal friends. In fact, in the break you and

I were chatting a little bit. You spoke with Kathy Hochul yesterday at some point, you said, friend to friend, not talking business. But just give us a sense, where is she at right now? You know, how is she feeling with all of these changes in the last, you know, less than 24 hours?


I can tell you that Kathy is in great shape, ready to go, laser focused on moving the state forward. She is prepared to be the governor in two weeks. And, you know, we just spoke some pleasantries because she is a good friend of myself and the organization here in Erie County.

HILL: A good friend, but you've also known and worked with her for some time over the years. Give us a sense, what is she like as a leader?

ZELLNER: Well, I -- the wordy I use to describe her is "tenacious." Kathy's been to every county across the state. She understands the people of New York because she was born and raised as a regular New Yorker, and she knows the state, the urban, the rural and the suburban communities here because she's gone to visit people. She's won difficult races across western New York here by going out and meeting people where they are and understanding their challenges. That's why she's built strong coalitions with labor, the labor community, and communities just across the state of New York.

HILL: You know, early reporting last week in the wake of this report, she made a brief statement initially and then said she couldn't say much more because if something changed, obviously, she would need to step in and take on the role of governor.

But we did have, as Polo just mentioned, our reporting, that she has been preparing in the event that this happened. She served side by side with Governor Cuomo since 2015, but it's my understanding she wasn't really part of that tight-knit inner circle of Governor Cuomo's. So based on that, do you think that is -- I mean how does that -- how does that impact her I guess is the question moving forward, not being part of that inner circle over the last several years?

ZELLNER: Well, I think you're going to see a very different style of governing. Kathy is a down to earth person, but she is a get the job done type of person.


She's going to be cooperative with the legislature to move the state forward. She has been very involved in state government over the last 12 months with COVID, leading the charge here in western New York to help us with the vaccine and get people mobilized.

So you're going to see a different kind of governing from Kathy once she takes over as governor to keep us moving forward. A different kind of relationship and a different kind -- a different way of getting things done.

HILL: We have some reporting she's potentially putting together a team, looking ahead to 2022. She hasn't been sworn in yet. Got a couple weeks before that happens. Is she getting ahead of herself?

ZELLNER: Well, you know, Kathy -- as I said, Kathy's prepared and she's tenacious. So she was prepared to run for re-election as lieutenant governor next year. So she's built a strong fundraising network. She's got a lot of money in the bank. She is -- she is prepared to be the governor, but I think you're going to see her -- what -- you're going to see what we know in western New York, is that she can get the job done as governor, but I believe she will run for election as governor next year as well.

HILL: I don't have to tell you, this is a big job. But, really quickly, what do you think her biggest challenge is coming in?

ZELLNER: Well, she has to build that relationship with the legislature to keep the state moving forward with its response to COVID. She's been on the ground across the state dealing with that. But she's going to have to now take the reins and develop a staff and the staff's going to have to work with commissioners to help keep the state going forward and get the legislature to continue acting on behalf of the people of New York.

HILL: Jeremy Zellner, thanks for sharing some of your insights with us this morning.

ZELLNER: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: Breaking overnight, the Taliban claiming it's now captured yet another key city in Afghanistan, just as U.S. officials are discussing a further drawdown of the American embassy in Kabul. We're going to take you live to Afghanistan, next.



HILL: New this morning, the Taliban claiming control over its ninth provincial capital in Afghanistan in less than a week. And now sources telling CNN that officials are concerned Kabul could fall much sooner than expected, prompting active discussions about evacuating some of the staff at the U.S. embassy there.

All of this as President Biden says he has no regrets about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is live in Kabul.

So, Clarissa, what more can you tell us this morning?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, there's no question, the situation here is unraveling quicker than anyone could have expected. You mentioned nine provincial capitals, that's more than a quarter of Afghanistan's provincial capitals in less than a week. And there are many more that are under imminent threat.

We have, in the last week, spent time in Kandahar, which is Afghanistan's second largest city. We've spent time in the city of Ghazni (ph). Both of those cities completely surrounded by the Taliban. And no clear sense yet of how Afghan forces can really try to turn this around.

We saw President Ashraf Ghani here yesterday come out on Twitter and basically urge ordinary people to pick up arms and join popular uprisings or militias. They're hoping, the government is, that -- that the warlords, rather, particularly in the north of the country, can try to help reverse some of the Taliban's gains.

But given that five of those provincial capitals are in the north of the country, where the northern alliance, those warlords are primarily based, at this stage I would say there's not a whole lot of optimism on the ground, Erica, that the situation can be reversed. And so there is a huge amount of desperation, of fear, and a very grim reality setting in.

HILL: Yes. I mean you can only imagine, especially as we look at that map and just how it is really closing in sort of around Kabul, as you point out. There has been such a push, right, to help the thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. So we know that nearly a thousand who worked with U.S. troops have arrived now in the United States under special immigrant visa. Do we know any more about the status of this program?

WARD: Well, here's what I would say. I mean the U.S. is apparently trying to do everything it can to make sure that all the people who worked with the U.S. military and government on the ground here are able to get to the U.S.

But we spoke to someone who was working with us just a couple of days ago. He's desperate to get out of the country. He worked with the U.S. military in Kandahar for many years and he doesn't see a prospect for being able to leave the country at this stage and time.

It's very complex. I don't want to get into the details of it. You have to leave the country before you can properly apply, then it can take years sometimes to go through all the clearance that's needed before you finally get, you know, your entry, if you like, to the United States.

So it's complex and a lot of people very much hoping that they can be a part of this program, but it's difficult to expedite it because there is a lot of bureaucracy and there are very real security concerns.

HILL: Clarissa Ward with the latest for us. Clarissa, thank you.

Two big wins for President Biden. The Senate advancing the infrastructure package and budget resolution. So what does this mean for the overall Biden agenda? That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HILL: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill. Poppy and Jim are off today.

Breaking overnight, a major signature win for President Biden's economic agenda. Already, though, one Democratic senator signaling the work here is far from over. Just hours after Democrats passed a major hurdle in the Senate, they voted along party lines to approve a $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which paves the way for Democrats to ultimately pass the legislation without any Republican votes.

Already this morning we are hearing pushback from moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin about the price of the plan.

Let's get straight to CNN's Manu Raju, who is live on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, Senator Manchin did vote to pass that $3.5 trillion budget resolution, but -- and now the but -- he is raising serious concerns, in his words, about this price tag.



Remember, this is a two-step process to get this massive proposal, sweeping proposal, $3.5 trillion to deal with everything from health care, to climate change, to immigration, expanding the social safety net, raising taxes on high-income earners.