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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
High-Stakes Runoff Elections To Decide Control Of Senate; Trump: I'll Campaign Against GA Governor And Secretary Of State In 2022; Voters Hitting Polls In Critical Elections, Senate Majority At Stake; Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) Will Object To Certification Of Electoral Votes Tomorrow; Divided GOP Set For Fierce Showdown Over Biden Win. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 5, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Very good Tuesday morning to you, another Election Day in America. I'm Jim Sciutto.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: Yes, very consequential day, we're glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow and right now the fate of the Senate majority is in the hands of Georgia voters.
15 days from now, President-Elect Joe Biden's administration takes over and today's runoff is critical in just how effective he will be in getting his agenda across in the White House. Georgia crushed early voting records, more than 3 million votes already cast.
SCUITTO: This all comes one day ahead of what will undoubtedly be an intense face off on Capitol Hill the president sowing division among his own party with baseless voter claims already rejected by courts. The Justice Department setting up a show down over certifying Biden's Electoral College wins which has already been certified by all 50 states.
We're following all the latest from Georgia to Washington D.C. Let's begin that with CNN Correspondent Gary Tuchman he is in Fulton County. Gary, the county under intense scrutiny from the president in recent weeks what kind of turn out are you seeing there?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far there's been a large turnout, particularly in the morning. It's quieted down a little bit now, Jim. But the important point is, early voting huge numbers more than 395,000 people in Fulton County, the largest county in the state, voted early.
To give you context, that's about 75 percent of the total number of voters in the presidential election in November. So runoff elections are usually ignored not this time around. Right now we're in the Ornate Cathedral of St. Phillip; it's the home church of the Episcopal Diseases here in Atlanta, where right now it is one of the 254 precincts in Fulton County, so far so good at all 254 precincts. We're being told that everything has been smooth so far. The early voting counts have been not tabulated yet but processed. Once 7:00 arrived the polls close those votes as well as today's votes will start getting counted. Now that's surprisingly almost everyone I've talked to here is very familiar with the telephone conversation.
That's what people are calling it. That was President Trump talking to the Secretary of State issuing his diatribes. I asked the very first voter in line this morning what he thought about that. Very first voter happens to be the Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBB PITTS, CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF FULTON COUNTY: I've been involved in politics a long time. I'm not sure what the end game is. I don't know what's going on within the Republican Party. I'm not privy to the fight between the President and Secretary of State, that's their issue. My issue is to make sure that our elections here in Fulton County are conducted openly, fairly, and in a transparent manner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Fulton County hopes to have all the votes counted by late tonight or early tomorrow morning Jim and Poppy back to you.
HARLOW: Yes. They're hoping it's a quicker count than last time. That's for sure. Gary thanks you for being there for the reporting. Savannah, Georgia was good for Democrats in November, will it happen again? Our Martin Savidge joins us again there this hour. Good morning Martin, Democrats hoping to repeat that Chatham County, success this time around. What are you seeing?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far as first turn out today, at this particular polling place we're in the City of Savannah that's the Civic Center which is of course just behind me that way, very low turnout at this spot. In fact, so far they've had about maybe 25 people vote since the polls opened at 7:00 this morning and that included the original of about 10 people.
So turn out here very low. We're hearing that there are other areas where the voting actually is in the 100s now so that would imply that this could be just an anomaly here. As Gary was pointing out Chatham County here, which Savannah is bedded in, had a record turnout for early voting so it could be a lot of people just have voted.
In fact they know that 30 percent of registered voters in this county have already cast their ballots they were anticipated that may be around 40,000 people around the county would cast ballots today. We'll see if it actually lives up to that kind of billing. So far only minor problems were reported initially as the polls open that's not unusual as you start the machines warmed up and going.
There have been no other major problems that have been reported here. So what they're thinking is that maybe it was a little cool here, people down in the Southern part of Georgia are actually very attune to the weather, they may wait until it warms up.
So we'll watch around the noon hour to see if the numbers kick up. But they had about doubled the number of voting they normally have for a kind of runoff. So it shows that there was extreme enthusiasm going into this Poppy and Jim.
SCIUTTO: That's an important headline with all the president's baseless attacks on voting, and system and the counting et cetera people voting with their feet in effect right but showing up at the polling places. Martin Savidge thanks very much.
SCIUTTO: Let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly for a closer look at these two critical runoff elections. And Phil one key dynamic November 3rd was that down ballot Republicans actually outperformed the president. That helped the Republicans do better in the Senate races than expected. These are two runoff races in Georgia, expected to go any differently this time?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes it's an open question because we start right now with this you see gray nothing is filled in. In a couple hours we're going to start to see blue and reds start to populate. But let's flash back to November where you actually saw a similar type of scenario play out here.
Obviously, Joe Biden first Democrat to win a presidential election in this state in 28 years but flip over to one of the Senate races, David Perdue actually out running the president by about 90,000 votes but falling just shy of the 50 percent plus one threshold and headed into the run off.
If you add the votes together for the Republican-to-Republican candidates and the two Democratic candidates, Republicans once again outrunning the Democrats and that's why Republicans say, hey look, this may have flipped in November 3rd or however long it took to count things but we believe it's a Republican state and in a runoff where obviously turnout is traditionally down they believe they have an advantage here.
But I think it's the states that are so important. Jim you made a key point, Democrats felt like they underperformed in the Senate map where they really thought they had a clear path to the majority. As of this moment they don't have a majority. As of this moment it's 50 to 48.
However, given the fact that Joe Biden is the President-Elect if Democrats are able to secure these two seats right here they will become the majority with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie breaker. This is it.
You wonder why all eyes are on Georgia right now it's because Democrats can lock in unified control of Washington D.C. if they can pull up the victories in these two seats. One, caveat here there I think is really important this is not a general election it's tough to model out everything that's going on here, whether or not what turnout is going to look like. One thing we do know on the early vote side right now already 3 million votes have been cast last runoff Senate runoff in the state in 2008, 2.1 million guys.
HARLOW: Yes, I mean it's a huge number already for sure. Before you go, where are you keeping your eye in terms of the closest today?
MATTINGLY: Yes, I think look, again, keep in mind that this is not necessarily going to be an apples to apples comparison but they see a very similar dynamic here and this isn't that you're trying to flip counties if you're a Democrat or Republican you're trying to run up your numbers and if you're trying to run up and you're Democrat your going right here, you are going to Gwinnett County, used to be a Republican strong hold John Ossoff won this county handily.
David Perdue won this county in 2014 but he under ran Joe Biden same over here. This is suburban Atlanta massive changes over the course of the last several years. Jon Ossoff won this county under ran Joe Biden trying to turn out Biden like numbers in the suburbs of Atlanta.
If you are David Perdue, if you are Kelly Loeffler, you're looking right here, you're going to Cherokee County. It is a big Republican county. You need to run up vote here but there is one area if you're wondering why Donald Trump was in Dalton, was in White Field County last night well, not a huge county, 35,000 36,000 votes on election night.
This part of the state, North Georgia all the way across the board here, Republicans can turn out big numbers here that will blunt the Democratic gains in Atlanta in the suburban areas, that's what they're counting on. That's what they're hoping for. Those things will determine who wins tonight, guys.
HARLOW: Phil Mattingly going to be a long night may be few nights for you. Glad you're back. Thank you. President Trump launching attacks on two of Georgia's top Republicans.
SCIUTTO: The state's Governor and Secretary of State have repeatedly pushed back on the president's baseless claims of election fraud, they used the facts last night the president threatened them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Your Governor and your Secretary of State, they're petrified of Stacey Abrams. What's that all about? They say they're Republicans. I really don't think they are they can't be. If I'm going to be here in a year and a half, and I'm going to be campaigning against your Governor and you're crazy Secretary of State that I can tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Joining us now is Greg Bluestein he is Political Reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Greg, going into this and we spoke to you, Republicans were nervous that the president might do damage to the Republicans running in these runoff races. The speech filled with a lot of talk of himself, baseless claims, and occasional mentions here of the Senate candidates. Do Republicans believe he helped or hurt them last night? GREG BLUESTEIN, POLITICAL REPORTER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Yes, I got one text from an operator saying basically that out of the 90 so minutes speech e spent 4 minutes talking about the candidates. They feel like they gave them what they wanted, there were some nice words about the candidates.
He praised the candidates Republican incumbents and attacked the Democratic challengers. But he spent most of it talking about himself, furthering his election grievances.
HARLOW: So for folks who don't cover Georgia politics the way you do, just a little background Governor Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to this open Senate seat.
HARLOW: So if she wins she'll be the first woman elected to the Senate in Georgia. But he did that against the advice at the time of President Trump, but despite that Senator Loeffler stood there with the president on the stage last night. She is going to join the effort tomorrow not to count ceremonially the Electoral College votes for him.
And this is after he attacked Kemp. His - I mean, what kind of fracture do you think this has left in the Republican Party across the State of Georgia?
BLUESTEIN: Yes, it's a deep divide. And look 2022 race starts tomorrow in Georgia. As you heard from President Trump he is openly inviting others to challenge Governor Kemp, Secretary of State Raffensperger, he has also attacked Lieutenant Governor Jeff Duncan. He has attacked any Republican officials in Georgia who have dared to say the election was free and fair and that who have rejected his calls to overturn it.
So what you've heard is he's called for the Governor to resign. He said he's ashamed to have endorsed him and then last night said he'll be here to rally for whoever is challenging him. He feels like the Governor owes him and the Governor feels like by appointing Senator Kelly Loeffler to the seat that was his right to do so. He could pick whoever he wants in his view.
SCIUTTO: I've heard competing claims from Republicans and Democrats as to who got the advantage in early voting. There was some reporting of nervousness among Republicans that Democrats had a lead, since then I've heard other claims from Republicans that didn't look that bad for them in early voting. I'm curious, as you speak to the parties there who have the advantage going into voting day, which typically favors Republicans?
BLUESTEIN Yes, I think everyone I've talked to says Democrats had the advantage in early voting. The question is how big that advantage is, is it 150,000 votes? 200,000 or is even bigger? I've heard - most consensuses I've heard is around 200,000.
That's the big question today is whether or not Republicans can make up that lost ground especially in those territories that we highlighted earlier, Northwest Georgia where voter participation has lagged behind other parts of the state, and - in Cherokee County two are the most important Republican strong holds in the state especially now that the suburbs have gone solidly blue.
HARLOW: So you know Greg the president's closing argument last night on that stage was the election is rigged. Not sure how that gets out the vote. Joe Biden's closing argument last night was you elect two Democrats to the Senate and Georgia and you're all going to get who qualify these $2,000 stimulus checks. Which plays better?
BLUESTEIN: Yes, I mean, both of them are appealing right to their bases and maybe Republicans. There's sort of the optimistic spin I've heard from Republicans is by President Trump talking about a rigged election he might encourage further turn out to overwhelm they've say whatever Democrats are trying to do, which of course is a false narrative.
In terms of the Democrats they've got a united front. They don't have to worry about this deep division, the civil war raging among Republicans here in Georgia. They have been just saying hey if you elect Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock, Joe Biden's administration, his policies can move forward.
SCIUTTO: Greg Bluestein, we know you're going to be watching today and probably for a few days afterwards thanks very much.
BLUESTEIN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Well, at least 140 Republicans in the House are preparing a last ditch fight against President-Elect Joe Biden's victory. We should note as I always do they were all elected on the same election on the same ballots. They're calling fraudulent. Up next, we're going to speak one GOP lawmaker backing that move.
HARLOW: Plus, officials in Southern California are calling the COVID outbreak there a human disaster. The situation has gotten so bad ambulance crews in L.A. are being told not to transport patients with little chance of survival.
And the hip-hop community in Atlanta playing a huge role in the Senate runoffs across the State of Georgia will they help push Democrats across the finish line to flip the Senate. I'll talk with two artists helping to lead the charge Jermaine Dupree and Geese.
SCIUTTO: At least 140 House Republicans are gearing up to oppose the certification of the Electoral College results tomorrow. My next guest is one of those lawmakers. With me is Republican Congressman Clay Higgins of Louisiana he has released a statement an official statement saying he will object to the certification. Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.
REP. CLAY HIGGINS (R-LA): Good morning, good sir and to your audience as well.
SCIUTTO: I want to ask you this, can you explain to the audience why you're challenging an election in which you yourself and those other 100-some-odd colleagues were elected as well on the very same ballots and yet you're calling the election fraudulent?
HIGGINS: Yes sir, I can very well explain that. The role that the founders gave congress regarding the Presidential Election was a very narrow window during the counting of electoral slates from the several sovereign states.
And the elections themselves are to be - are to be conducted according to the laws of the state legislatures of those sovereign states. So we are a union of states, a representative republic and there's a solemn duty for each member of the republic, each sovereign state although yes they have the right to form their own laws and I support that I'm a straights rights guy.
However in a federal election, a Presidential Election that sovereign state has a solemn duty to follow their, own written election laws.
HIGGINS: So the founders gave--
SCIUTTO: They have. Those - all 50 states have certified the results. The fact is the founders gave the states the right to certify their elections. Tomorrow's vote is ceremonial that the 50 states have already certified their election results. So I'm curious what gives you and these other congressmen the right to overrule the state's certification.
HIGGINS: We won't be overruling anything we'll be challenge the legitimacy of the electoral slates of several of the sovereign states which is an absolute role that the founders gave the House of Representatives. If you're joined by the Senate, then it would go to debate and a vote.
It's completely constitutional. Where if what you referred to earlier regarding the entire election that took place on November 3rd, including the congressional races and including you know, others on the ballot at the time.
SCIUTTO: Right, you included.
HIGGINS: We don't have a role - congress does not have a role constitutionally to challenge the swearing in or the legitimacy of the election of a congressional representative. We do have a role--
SCIUTTO: OK. On that point, the constitution gives congress a right to count the votes not to overrule the states. I do want to ask you because in your statement saying you will object you say you're doing so because there is, "Reasonable suspicion of election fraud".
In fact the Department of Justice investigated fraud claims and I'll remind you that the Attorney General of course appointed by this president said to date we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election. What evidence do you have that the Justice Department does not?
HIGGINS: Well, I have - listen, we have a preponderance of evidence that election crimes may have been committed in six of the sovereign states.
SCIUTTO: What evidence? Give me one example. Give me one example.
HIGGINS: In Georgia, change of statutory requirements for reviewing signatures Pennsylvania eliminating signature requirements.
SCIUTTO: That's not true. The Georgia election official sterling rejected that very - he rejected it point by point yesterday. So I'm asking what evidence you have to contradict the state Republican election official there as you're claiming right now. What evidence do you have?
HIGGINS: Good sir, I say again, we have a preponderance of evidence that crimes may have been committed, election crimes. The threshold for investigation is reasonable suspicion.
SCIUTTO: Cite the evidence. Cite one example.
HIGGINS: I have just cited several. You're being rather combative. I do believe you invited me on your show.
SCIUTTO: I did, but if someone makes a false claim on my show I will contradict it.
HIGGINS: I have in my office; I have in my office right now, hundreds and hundreds of pages citing evidence that crimes have been committed.
SCIUTTO: Give me one example.
HIGGINS: I'm an investigator. I've already given you several. You're just repeating your talking points.
SCIUTTO: I'm not. You said it's a problem verifying signatures. That was contradicted yesterday in a press conference, in Georgia, by Mr. Sterling, for instance on verifying signatures. They, in fact, examined more than 15,000 mail-in ballot envelopes only found two with signature issues. So I contradicted that one, give me another example.
HIGGINS: That's another talking point. Let me clarify that investigations take time. The standard to launch an investigation is reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed. And then over the course of time, as evidence is harvested, presented, chain of custody is maintained and it's reviewed through Article III by judicial procedure then you can have charges and judicial process--
SCIUTTO: The fact is they were reviewed over weeks as you know in dozens of court cases. Let me quote from one because this comes from the Pennsylvania case. Judge Stephanos Bibas a Trump appointed judge, by the way and I'm quoting here. Free and fair elections are the life blood of our democracy, charges of unfairness are serious but calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof, we have neither here. You say that it needs to be investigated. This was adjudicated in courts by a Trump appointee and rejected. So I'm asking what evidence you have to contradict that.
HIGGINS: It absolutely needs to be investigated.
SCIUTTO: It's already been investigated in the Trump campaign lost in dozens of court cases. It's already been investigated by the Justice Department.
HIGGINS: You obviously know very little about investigations, good sir. Just last week, a third terrorist from the Lockerbie bombing was charged internationally, that happened in 1988. Investigations can take a long time and the standard for whether or not an investigation should move forward is reasonable suspicion that crimes were committed. We have hundreds of affidavits from thousands of pages; perhaps we've reached thousands of affidavits now.
SCIUTTO: Courts have already rejected--
HIGGINS: --and to disenfranchise the words of thousands of your fellow American citizens are quite disingenuous of you. You're the one using talking points my brother not me.
SCIUTTO: The fact is you're trying to overturn the votes of millions of Americans. Final question--
HIGGINS: I'm not trying to overturn anything. I'm legitimately challenging which is my constitutional role, the counting of electoral slates from any sovereign state where reasonable suspicion that election crimes were committed and/or fraud took place.
HIGGINS: Has been presented. I have in my office, I'm quite sure you do too, I'm quite sure you have--
SCIUTTO: I've read the cases and judges--
HIGGINS: --a preponderance of the evidence.
SCIUTTO: --the judges have rejected this. The final question the president asked the Georgia Secretary of State to find him the votes he needs to win that state, to flip it in effect, the exact number of votes plus one. Given your interest in investigating, I wonder if you had evidence that Joe Biden made the same call to a state official would you object as well and seek the investigation of that call? Should that call be investigated?
HIGGINS: Look, I've had one conference call with the Georgia Secretary of State and I hung up on him. 17 of us wrote him a letter saying please reassures us that you have your election squared away for the Senate runoff, it's very, very important--
SCIUTTO: I'm just asking if you would investigate a president--
HIGGINS: It was totally read from a script for ten minutes--
SCIUTTO: I'm just asking would you investigate a president pressuring a state official to overturn an election given your interest you say and knowledge of investigation.
HIGGINS: I disagree with the premises of your question, sir. The president is a very candid speaker and to take one minute or two minutes out of an hour-long conversation can be quite misleading.
SCIUTTO: I listened to the whole conversation, I suggest you do to.
HIGGINS: What kind of a man has a private conversation, and then releases it to the media and then the media slices it up--
SCIUTTO: You do because gives the president lied about the context of it.
HIGGINS: --the president is very involved in the details. That shows you a president I was paying attention, there were maybe a couple hundred thousand votes off in Georgia.
SCIUTTO: There's no evidence of that. It's rejected by multiple Republican state officials. Congressman Clay Higgins let the record show I gave you multiple chances to present evidence of the fraud, if you have it, please share it. We'd welcome you back.
HIGGINS: I have given you multiple examples. And let the evidence show that I have.
SCIUTTO: Rejected by state election officials in Georgia.
HIGGINS: I have in my office, if you'd care a visit, if you'd like to come and sit with me; I have hundreds of pages of evidence.
SCIUTTO: Rejected by Georgia state officials and courts.
HIGGINS: Evidence is presented in courts after an investigation. CNN is not mentioned in Article III good sir.
SCIUTTO: Listen, they've been rejected in courts, they've rejected by Republican state officials. Congressman Clay Higgins thanks so much for joining the program this morning.