tv CNN Newsroom With Pamela Brown CNN September 12, 2021 5:00pm-6:00pm PDT
you're live in the cnn newsroom. tonight a dangerous and pivotal point in u.s. history. how the actions of former president donald trump and his supporters could damage american democracy. trump not only insisted he won, his lies made millions of americans doubt the u.s. election system. he relentlessly pressured officials and the department of justice to help reverse the 2020 results and when that didn't work, his supporters turned to changing voting laws across the country. to understand how dangerous this is for america's democracy, you have to look at the entire scope of the actions by trump. his inner circle and republican politicians who are clinging to his lies even to this day. here is cnn senior investigative correspondent drew griffin. >> reporter: pamela, cnn spoke to a dozen state and county officials involved in elections, many republicans and expressed
concerns about the future of the united states, and that donald trump's big lie could change this nation forever. donald trump's attempt to subvert the election started long before anyone voted. >> we're not going to lose this exception if they cheat. >> reporter: continued on election night. >> we want all voting to stop. >> reporter: sparked and attempted insurrection. >> we fight like hell. >> reporter: as disgraceful as trump's public words were, behind the scenes trump and his inner circle were using all the powers of the presidential office to cheat, not to stop the steal. but to start it. >> it was app attempt to undermine the will of the people. it was profoundly anti democratic and potentially criminal. >> reporter: the 45th president of the united states tried to c co-worse the department of justice to lie on his behalf and strong arming state and local election officials to over throw the election. >> there is no question that our democracy is at a breaking
point. >> reporter: in the weeks following the election, trump and his inner circle would wage a high pressure campaign. >> hello, francis, how are you? >> hello, brett and rain and everybody. >> it's rudy giuliani. >> reporter: at least 30 betwee officials in critical states, georgia, michigan, pennsylvania and arizona. >> this is the white house operator. >> i was out to dinner with friends, and a phone call came in from washington d.c. of a number i did not recognize. >> reporter: client hickman a trump supporter who was then the chair of the morer mer cow -- a advisory. hickman let the call go to voice mail. days later the white house operator called back. hickman again refused to pick it up. >> i thought it would be something to do with election and operations and i was not prepared to talk about that. the governor of arizona
certified it. the attorney general of arizona and the secretary of state had certified it. >> reporter: records now reveal dozens of text messages and multiple phone calls from the white house, from rudy giuliani and also, the head of arizona's republican party. >> i just talked to president trump, and he would like me to talk to you. >> reporter: trying to put pressure on the meraricopa coun supervisors to intervene in a free and fair election that joe biden won. supervisor bill gates believes it was an attack on the constitution. >> i saw that a voice mail had popped up. it was just unbelievable to hear, you know, instantly i knew who it was. i knew that voice. rudy giuliani, america's mayor. >> it's rudy giuliani, president trump's lawyer. i have a few things i want to talk over with you. >> reporter: the maricopa board of supervisors received this subpoena demanding election
officials hand over billions of ballots to state republican politicians launching fraud investigations. >> he wanted us to turnover the ballots as soon as possible so that the state senate can get to work. >> get to work doing? >> one of the objectives was to get their hands on the ballot before the january 6th hearing in the capitol. they wanted evidence to support desertfying the election. >> it's constitution be dammed really. >> right. one of the main reasons i became a republican in the 1980s was i thought the republican party was the party of the rule of law. the party of the constitution. >> in michigan, a wayne county republican election official voted to certify the election, then changed her mind after a call from donald trump. >> i have provided them with a copy of my affidavit resending my vote. >> reporter: in georgia g,, tru not only called the top election
investigator but what is now being invest gated as a possible crime. trump tried to convince georgia's secretary of state to change the vote count. >> there is nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you've recalculate. >> it seems clearer and clearer that trump was actually trying to steal the election. he was actually trying to create conditions where he would be declared the winner even though he actually lost the election. it is incredibly dangerous and destabilizing. >> reporter: and perhaps most dangerous of all, president trump tried to use the united states department of justice to pull off his attempted coup. in the notes of a december 27 phone call now handed over to congressional investigators, trump told his acting attorney general jeffrey rosen and his deputy richard donohue, just say that the election was corrupt, leave the rest to me and the r congressman. both men refused trump's request and both have testified before
the senate judiciary committee chaired by senator dick durban. >> what was the most directly i president was and the pressure put on rosen. it was real, very real and specific. >> reporter: trump tried to pressure rosen to file a lawsuit to declare the electoral college votes cast cannot be counted. his chief of staff was repeatedly emailing top doj officials at least five times asking they investigate conspiracy theories about voter fraud. >> it's an attempt to use the department of justice inence tht the state and local level. it dangerous. it inappropriate and should be unacceptable. >> reporter: trump had been secretly working with someone inside the department of justice. an official from the environmental division named jeffly clark pushing allegations of voter fraud despite all the
evidence against it. clark urged his bosses to sign a letter to georgia's governor containing a lie. it falsely claimed the justice department identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election and advised the governor to convene in special session. acting attorney general rosen and the deputy a.g. donohue said no. >> the country came very close to a coup. >> reporter: it was the violence of the insurrection on january 6th that finally ended trump's plans to prevent the certification of joe biden as president. yet, with no proof, with no facts, with no evidence at all that fraud played any role in his defeat, trump has convinced his base of support that the electoral system of the united states is corrupt. former republican new jersey governor christine whitman who started a group to safeguard
u.s. democracy says this is a threat to the country. >> abraham lincoln said if this government falls, it will fall from within and we have to remember those things because it can. it could happen. >> reporter: one thing bill gates and maricopa county supervisor told me is that if it weren't for republican whose were willing to risk their own careers for standing up for what is right, there might have been a very different outcome and some of those elections officials, pamela, are dealing with threats to their very lives. >> yeah, that is chilling. drew griffin, thank you. coming up, we'll have much more of that reporting on those threats that he just mentioned. >> how many threats do you think you have gotten? >> i think over 150. >> 150 threats? >> you're going to hear some of the chilling voice mails, physical threats to election officials and threats to american democracy. but first, former attorney general alberto gonzalez will join me to discuss trump's
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hurry, offer ends september 13th! welcome back. right now american democracy is at a crossroads. donald trump's lies sewed the seeds of doubt for people that questioned the integrity of the election system to this day. some tried to in their words stop the steal by storming the capitol to prevent congress from certifying the election. former attorney general alberto gonzalez joins me now. he served in president george w. bush's administration. attorney general, thanks for joining us tonight. first, if you would, set the stage for us. explain what the role of doj is and the strain under with the pressure coming from the very top and even within the department. >> well, the department of justice is there to protect the constitution and to enforce laws
passed by congress and of course, enforce the requirements of the constitution. that is the responsibility of the department of justice. as a general matter, the department, the attorney general don't represent the president as a person. they do represent the institution of the presidency but even in that representation, it's got to be consistent with law and has to be consistent with the contusion. >> and what about the strain then it was under with the president of the united states putting pressure on the department and top leaders to overturn the election results. as you heard in drew's earlier report he is toldi the acting a to leave the rest to him and the repub conlican congressman, wha your reaction to that? >> at the beginning of every administration there is a discuss between the department of justice and white house counsel's office limiting and
describing the amount of contacts, limited contacts that are to occur between the white house and department of justice because you don't want -- even the appearance that the department of justice is in any way influenced to protect the constitution. in this particular case, communications from senior officials and communications from the president, the senior officials at the department of justice is extremely unusual and extremely dangerous, quite frankly. that is something that should not happen. any communication between the white house and the department of justice should be -- should occur between the white house counsel's office and perhaps the deputy general. the communication of doing something about the election is unheard of and dangerous. >> what do you think would
happen if you had a few people at the top leadership roles that had integrity to follow one of them, what do you think could have happened? >> i don't know. i don't know what might have happened. i think we would have moved into uncharted territory. listen, i have heard a lot of people say we were on the edge of disaster or a coup. the department of justice, they did their job and going forward, i think this is going to be a lesson for the senate to confirm the positions and court agencies like the department of justice. you want to make sure you have people courageous, people that have integrity and they would do the right thing even under ex x tr -- extreme pressure. >> right, because you had the president reportedly consider firing his acting attorney general and placing clark, jeffrey clark who was spreading conspiracy theories and election lies into the top job.
should there be greater barriers, clear walls that make this kind of behavior illegal? >> well, that will be a decision that congress will have to make based upon their review of what happened on january 6th and of course, this reporting is covering a lot of what happened with respect to january 6th and the election. and congress will have to decide whether or not additional laws have to be passed as a again already matter, again, what the system worked here we had individuals with integrity and senior positions at the department and stop this thing from moving forward. as to whether or not additional legislation is necessary, that will depend upon congress. you know, the question here is we have institutions. we have guard rails, and they work, but the reason our democracy works is primarily because of the individuals we have in positions of power. once you have people in positions of pow there don't have integrity, that don't respect the constitution or the
laws passed by congress, that's when trouble arises for the people of this country. >> that is the big concern, right? as we also see states across the country changing election laws, giving more power to politics and so forth to perhaps overturn the results and in some states, i want to talk about what an election expert said. it wasn't just profoundly anti democratic but potentially criminal. you're attorney general. would your department launch investigations into the people involved in the scheme to over throw election results. >> we would look at this. this is a high profile matter. we look to see whether or not there should be a full investigation launched in this particular case. again, i think it's -- i don't know -- i haven't studied the election changes and with texas
and georgia and as a general matter and former texas secretary of state, i give a great deal of difference for what is necessary and right within a particular state and as we know, no election is perfect. there are always irregularities and mistakes made but from my perspective, my vantage point, it appears that there was no massive fraud that occurred in this election in these various states. and you had that confirmed by the attorney general bill barr and chris crab. so it does beg the question why are these changes of law being made at this particular time and i think that does raise a question the department of justice will look at. >> there was no wide spread stop and judges weighed in on that, too. not just the officials you
pointed out, republicans and trump appointed officials. i've said it so many times. there is nothing to back it up. there is little to no doubt the people that stormed the capitol on january 6th were fans of donald trump. have a listen to this. >> there is little cultural over lap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. there is destainful plural list m in their filing national assembles. they are children of the same foul spirit. and it is our continuing duty to confront them. >> attorney general, are you concerned about the direction the u.s. is heading in from people within the u.s.? >> no question about it.
i am concerned about domestic terrorism and they were trained overseas. for the most part, today he will come from someone that looks like you or i and speaks english and prevents challenges primarily because of the of the facts and within the borders and potential rights that come into play that does hurt the ability of the government to prevent and protect another terrorist attack. >> all right. attorney general alberto gonzalez, thank you very much for joining us and offering your perspective on this important topic. >> thanks for having me. >> well, donald trump's lies have convinced so many people there was major voting fraud that election officials nationwide have been threatened
and harassed just for doing their jobs. listen to this voice mail. >> you rigged my [ bleep ]ing election you piece of [ bleep ]. we're going to try ayou and han you. >> how trump's lies are affecting america's election system. we'll be right back. so, no more night sweats. no more nocturnal baking. or polar ice cap air-conditioner mode. because the tempur-pedic breeze delivers superior cooling... from cover to core. helping you sleep cool, all night long. don't miss our best offer of the year, and experience your best sleep of the summer. all tempur-pedic mattresses are on sale, with savings up to $700 on adjustable mattress sets. learn more at tempurpedic.com
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violence against election officials for doing their jobs. once again, here is cnn senior investigative correspondent drew griffin. >> pamela, there are two things happening across the country at an alarming rate. both are dangerous to democracy. threats against election officials, which are causing some to quit and laws in more than a dozen states that change the rules on voting. we have to warn you some of the language you're about to hear is very graphic. in milwaukee elections executive director claire vogue has been bombarded by hate ever since an extremist right wing website gateway pundit published lies about her. >> you rigged my f-ing election you f-ing piece of s, you're going to try you and hang you. >> we're coming for your claire. >> i sincerely hope you get what is coming to you you fraud
length, f. >> what was your reaction to what was on that machine? >> it was crazy because there are crazy people out there. it might be them blowing off steam but it's clear they believe it and only someone who truly believed it would act on it. >> how many threats do you think you have gotten? >> i think over 150. >> 150 threats? >> yes, i received a letter, very colorful language to my home, which did make me threatened i have a 5 month old and 3-year-old to think about all because i did my job and made sure the city of milwaukee e and ballots were counted. >> what did it say? >> can i tell you the swear words on camera? >> you are a fraudulent cunt. a cunt, a whnd a whore.
>> reporter: in phoenix, republican bill gates and the fellow county supervisors faced their own threats every day. >> just last friday my colleagues and i all were treated to a orange jump suit that a gentleman sent to us and, you know, declared that we will end up in jail some day because we are traitors in the minds of these people. >> reporter: this could lead to a damaging loss of experience professionals who know how to conduct elections. a report from the brennan center for justice found one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job matt masterson was the lead cybersecurity advisor for the department of homeland security in the 2020 election. and says it's all creating an alarming situation. >> local election officials are going to leave. and then that opens the door to adding less professional, more political actors into the election space, which again, is incredibly dangerous.
>> reporter: vogue says she's staying but closed the election's office until she can beef up security. >> it made me really concerned how powerful conspiracy theories have become and my job would become dangerous and 13 administrators now and are very well established democracy is now a dangerous situation. >> the danger isn't just the obvious threat of violence, but the threat to da moemodemocracy trump and republican allies have injected enough doubt in the election process to threaten its stability. >> he is undermining the system in a way that is going to cause the system to deteriorate. >> some republicans are also undermining the system with new unnecessary legislation. across the united states, republican state lawmakers are passing law after law aimed at fixing a problem that does not exist.
mass voter fraud. >> this bill, i'll say it one more time, will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat in pennsylvania. >> easy to vote and hard to cheat. >> in arizona, we want to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat. >> reporter: at least 18 states have enacted 31 laws with new restrictions on voting mets si -- methods since the beginning of the year but most concerning are election subversion laws impacting how elections are run and who is in charge. >> they didn't like the fact they lost those states and so now they are rewriting the rules for the future in a way that will make it extremely problematic because they make it very partisan. >> reporter: former new jersey governor christine whitman a republican is part of a group working to safeguard u.s. democracy. >> what you have with local officials, secretaries of states and others are people trained to oversee elections. that's their job. now what you're seeing in those
states, texas, arizona, georgia, they're pulling it back and putting it in the hands of the legislatures, the political legislatures. >> reporter: case in point, georgia's election integrity act of 2021. 98 pages long. it was signed into law in march by governor brian kemp repeating that republican mantra. >> this bill makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat. >> reporter: among the provisions, it strips power from the georgia secretary of state and allows lawmakers to intervene in how counties administer and count the vote. >> sounds like it makes it easier for the politicians to cheat. >> you can have that perception. you'll have your i.d. with you. >> reporter: adams is georgia's election supervisor. >> i believe it's a massive power grab. the secretary of state is removed as a voting member of the state election board, basically tossing the secretary of state aside for a political person. >> exactly. >> reporter: in arizona, republican leg sislators have me their power grab blatant passing
a law that strips some election oversight powers from the arizona secretary of state currently a democrat and gives them to the arizona attorney general currently a republican. it expires in less than two years making sure it's a republican who oversees any dispute in the important midterm elections. gates says his party's big lie about vote fraud is getting way out of hand. >> i'm worried about the people who look at this now. they've listened to their leaders, republican leaders and are now convinced that our system is corrupt, that there is this large conspiracy and we've yet to see many republicans speak out and tell people no. the election was fair. it's time to move on. enough is enough. >> reporter: in texas, which trump won, republican legislators passed a law that bans drive-through and 24-hour voting favored in heavily minority houston and creates new hurdles for mail in voters.
the texas legislation also makes it a crime for election workers to interfere with partisan poll watchers. >> we're at a tipping point as a nation and our democracy is at stake. >> reporter: democratic legislators like carl sherman fled the state trying to prevent a vote on the bill. the standoff ended after 38 days. >> it matters because we have a long history cherry picking who can vote and who cannot vote. >> reporter: if all these election laws being surfaced in republican-led states seemed like a coordinated effort, that's because it is. >> we have honed in on these eight specific focused states. >> reporter: a former trump administration official who now heads up the conservative heritage action for america said the group had made recommendations to several states, which ended up in election related bills. >> from there, as we create this echo chamber, we're working with the state legislators to make sure they have all the information they need to draft
the bills in some cases we actually draft them for them on our behalf so it has that grass roots. >> reporter: donald trump's big lie and his party's willingness to go along with the facade is now the biggest threat for free and fair elections we face. >> it is unthinkable to contemplate election subversion in the united states. it's not only thinkable but something we need to spend the next few years guarding against. it's the greatest danger facing america today. >> reporter: pamela, it's dangerous because it's destabilizing. a democracy depends upon the losers agreeing the election was conducted in a fairway and agreeing to fight another day. if you don't have that acceptance, you don't have a democracy and right now with donald trump and followers, we
do not have that. pamela? >> drew griffin, thank you for that reporting. trur trump is showing absolutely no sign of backing off the big lie even yesterday on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, he falsely claimed again that the election was quote rigged. our conversation continues after this short break with election law expert david becker and cnn legal analyst corey cordero. stay with us. trelegy for copd. ♪ birds flyin' high, you know how i feel. ♪
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welcome back. donald trump's toxic and relentless big lie. threats of violence against election officials and new state laws that could make elections vulnerable to partisan influ we think so. that combination amounts to an assault on america's democracy. joining me is executive director at the center for election innovation and research and cnn legal analyst corey cordcordero. thank you for joining us. this is something we've talked about extensively and hard to believe this is where we are so many months after the 2020 election. we heard this law professor sounding the alarm on election subversion. he called it the greatest danger facing american democracy today. is he right? >> absolutely. i feel as if especially now we're over ten months since the election. we're still talking about this. there is still people actively working both the losing
candidate in the presidential election and the circle of grifters that surround him are spreading lies trying to profit off the effort to delegitimize american democracy. we're seeing it spread now and there is talk in the california recall by candidates that think they're going to lose. they're trying to plant the seeds of doubt in voters that the state of california might keep its democratic governor in a state that's overwhelmingly democratic. those kinds of things are toxic to a democracy and i honestly believe it's a national security issue. this creates a situation of void in which our adversaries around the world who have tried to delegitimize democracy as a form of government are seeing this opportunity because of people working within our country. >> and not to mention the insurrection that we saw from the threat from within. that election expert talked about election subversion. did it used to be unthinkable in the u.s. so what do you think? did donald trump change that all
by himself or did he just throw a match onto the gasoline? >> well, the country has had a history of times where there have been voltvoter suppression efforts to limit certain communities from being able to vote. what is different now is that we have a former president and now he has inspired really a movement amongst his political followers to not just try to prevent people, certain people from voting but try to overturn the election. that is the key, i think, of what professor in the piece was trying to explain is that this wasn't actual attempt to change the election outcome, and now with all of the states, the various states drew griffin said 18 states, 31 different laws passed around the country, these laws are intended to try to make it possible for state legislators to overturn the correct results of a future
election and that's where the real threat is. >> and we've talked about that, david. that is your big concern when you look at these laws across the country and these states. it's the fact that politicians can then step in, have the power to step in and potentially and in worst casscenario overturn a valid result and you have election workers receiving death threats. they are receiving -- i mean, you have this lady in milwaukee drew talked to that has been threatened more than 150 times just doing her job. the same situation in morocco pa county, arizona. they get threats every day. there was this study survey that found one of third of election officials feel unsafe because of their job. your nonprofit launched a fund to help election workers. tell us about this. >> you see things like the recent texas law that allows partisan hyper partisan poll watchers to roam anywhere in the polling place and interfere with the process potentially intimidating voters and efforts by election officials,
professional election officials to try to restore order actually criminalized and then you also see these threats and so last wednesday, my nonprofit center for election innovation and research partnered with bob bower, former obama white house counsel and ben begiginsberg tom the eoldn.org that will form a network of attorneys all around the country who are going to be available for the professional election officials at the state and local level who might find their efforts criminalized and might find themselves and families subjecteded to death threats. i'm still talking to election officials around the country. some are still under protection to this day. they're forming a network of lawyers who will be available to consult, to advice and defend election officials in this hyper partisan environment where both republicans and democrats are finding their lives put at risk.
>> right. that's key. it's republicans and democrats receiving voice mails threatening them, their families for just doing their jobs. i mean, it like you can't wrap your head around it. in the meantime, when you look at the prosecutions of those making these threats and r reuterss has a report should doj do more to prosecute and send a message on people making these threats and also, on the attempts to subvert the election? >> i do think that election and the sanctionty of the elections is important. they will look at the individuals making the threats and each individual case and look to whether the evidence to prosecute those cases but in the bigger picture where the justice department is focussing its effort is with respect to these state laws and what it can do to
challenge potential individual state laws, what it can do to support efforts in congress to pass legislation that is going to try to counter some of these state laws. but these threats are incredibly important and they have covered a range of officials, the threats against election officials have ranged anywhere from the head of cybersecurity, the former head of cyberi secury who him his self-and family were subjected to threats to state elected officials subject to threats down to regular people working as election officials. >> working long hours. i mean, i saw it when i was covering the election. they are working overnight not sleeping and this is what they get? >> in your interview with former attorney general gonzalez, how the institution is important and integrity of people that work in them is important. that's true not just at the justice department but the entire election system. if we can't have an environment
where people are safe whether they are federal government burrb burro cats or people volunteering their time, this won't work if people don't feel safe. >> thank you for helping us put this all into perspective. such an important issue. appreciate it. tonight, we're following breaking news out of north korea. the country claims it successfully test fired long-range missiles. we're live in soul with the latest of this break. me change? we can make emergency medicine possible at 40,000 feet. instead of burning our past for power, we can harness the energy of the tiny electron. we can create new ways to connect. rethinking how we communicate to be more inclusive than ever. with app, cloud and anywhere workspace solutions, vmware helps companies navigate change. faster. vmware. welcome change.
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ko korea. the regime successfully test fired long range cruise missing. paula, what are you learning? >> well, pamela, the state media saying these were newly developed weapons and spent the past couple years developing them. a concern they are testing a new type of weapon but not really a surprise. we did hear earlier last month from the sister of the north korean leader and she had said that there would be repe repercussions for the u.s. and south korea holding joint military drills so we have been expecting something from north korea but it is interesting that this does not appear to have been attended by the north korean leader himself kim jong-un. we don't understand from the state run media that he was even part of this. now, usually when north korea wants to make a big statement, he is front and center.
we heard from the south korean side, as well. they say that they are looking into this but they also said that there have been a couple of these kind of cruise missiles shorter ranger earlier in the year they haven't announced. they are also down playing this somewhat but certainly, any time north korea does test any kind of weaponry, there is concern in the region, the u.s. according to one u.s. official is aware of the reports. they're also looking into this. so the fact is, we know that in the past couple of parades, not the one last week but the one in january and october of last year, there were new weapons unveiled and we knew and experts told us at some point north korea would need to test the weapons systems. this appears to be what we have seen over the weekend, pamela. >> thank you so much for bringing us the latest there and thank you for joining me this evening. i'm pamela brown and i'll see you again next weekend.
be sure to stay with cnn. jake tapper asks tough questions what went wrong in afghanistan. the new cnn's special report begins next and here is a quick pre preview. >> $2 trillion. thousands of lives lost. >> was the war worth it. >> before i go to my grave, i'll have that question answered. >> what went wrong in afgha afghanistan. >> i don't think we had a good understanding of it. >> corruption is one of the reasons things turned out that way. >> was pakistan the enemy? >> no, but pakistan was not our friend. >> the tough questions that still need answers. >> if everybody gets an a but the overall effort is still an f, who do we hold accountable? ♪ ♪
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good afternoon. i'm speaking to you today from the same spot president george w. bush informed our nation that the united states military has begun strikes against al qaeda military camps and the taliban regime. >> we went to afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. we delivered justice to bin laden a decade ago. >> the united states conducted an operation that killed osama bi