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McCarthy Pivots, Now Says Trump Didn't Incite Insurrection; Impeachment Article Could be Sent to Senate Tomorrow; Interview with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Biden Faces Unity Challenge in Wake of Deadly Insurrection; QAnon Followers Losing Faith, Feel Duped as Biden Sworn In. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired January 21, 2021 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: As soon as tomorrow, House Democrats could send the article of impeachment of former President Trump to the Senate. And this is all happening of course amid an extraordinary flip-flop by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. So let's play the before and after. Here he is on January 13th addressing Trump's role in that capitol insurrection.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters.


BALDWIN: But today he appears to be rewriting last week's history. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe that President -- former President Trump provoked?

MCCARTHY: I don't believe he provoked if you listen to what he said at the rally.


BALDWIN: CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on The Hill. Manu, congrats chief, by the way on the promotion. Why the flip- flop?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he came under a lot of criticism from the former president, Donald Trump, who privately was very concerned about what McCarthy said on the House floor. In which McCarthy suggested that the president bore responsibility for what happened on January 6th. And a majority of the House Republican conference even after the deadly riots on January 6th voted to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania and Arizona. And also Kevin McCarthy joined that effort as well. I asked McCarthy

today whether he regretted the role he played in sowing doubt about the election and signing onto that Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate the electoral results, also not acknowledging Biden's victory until just recently. He sidestepped that and suggested that he has been consistent. He said that he did nothing wrong, defended his actions. But what he is seeing is a Republican conference that has aligned themselves still with President Trump and is going after some who voted for Donald Trump's impeachment. McCarthy didn't and was making clear he's still on Trump's side -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: I'm going to stay on all of this, Manu thank you so much. Manu Raju for us on The Hill.

With me now CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Doug Heye, and a CNN political analyst Sabrina Siddiqui. So welcome to both of you. And Doug, I'm starting with you because you have told me you have known Kevin McCarthy since 1996, right? So, my question is to you, same question. What's he doing, why the flip-flop?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I met Kevin McCarthy in Bakersfield. I met Kevin and Buck Owens, the country singer, on the same night. I remember that Saturday fundraiser pretty well. And look. Kevin is facing the same challenge that Republican leadership is, and Republican members are. They have to ask themselves a very clear question. Are they looking forward, are they looking backwards? Are they going to be the party of Trump? Or are they going to be something else in the next coming days?

Very clearly, he's reacted to what Manu said, negative feedback from the president. And I know as they were discussing whether or not to vote on ultimately after the insurrection whether to challenge these results in states that leadership was talking about whether or not they would be able to get Donald Trump to support them and campaign for them in the midterm elections in 2022. They're already thinking about that ahead. They had Trump support. This clearly is playing a role there.

What is Trump doing, like texting him from the golf course because he's no longer president? Hey, you need get in and do this. I mean, I'm being only half serious. But, you know, when you look, Sabrina, in four years' time, Trump lost the White House, he lost the Senate, he lost the U.S. House. Why are Republicans so resistant to working with Democrats? Because right now that is the only way they're going to get anything accomplished this year.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the challenge that Republicans are facing is that former President Trump left office with a very strong grip over the Republican base.


And you know, you have polling showing that a majority of Republican voters do not believe that President Biden is a legitimate president, which is a consequence, of course, of former President Trump, pushing these baseless claims about election fraud and also having the support of many Republicans in Congress while he was challenging the outcome of the election. And so now, as Doug pointed out, they're worried about 2022.

You also have several Republicans in the Senate who are angling for a possible presidential run in 2024. And they are trying really, in essence, to hold onto Trump supporters. But of course there are a great number of challenges ahead, especially with most of the country wanting to see action in terms of tackling the coronavirus pandemic and reviving the U.S. economy. And so I think they will come under pressure to of course negotiate with the Biden administration, especially as they are moving forward with this coronavirus relief package.

But again this is just a testament to the way in which the Republican party has transformed under Trump's watch. And the kind of fear that a lot of those Republicans still live in about possible retaliation and being primaried for not still demonstrating some kind of loyalty to someone who is no longer, as you point out, in office.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes, and I have to imagine that when we saw Speaker Pelosi this morning -- as you all point out -- you know, politics at play with these guys. 2022, 2024. You know, she issued this stark warning this morning that they as members of Congress, you know, can't move on and pretend the insurrection didn't happen. I'm just curious, Doug this is for you, just as a lifelong Republican, do you just want to see the likes of, you know, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley just completely denounce, have nothing to do with these rioters, these Trump and other Republican supporters? Is that what you want to see?

HEYE: It would be a good start. You know, I've said quite often Ted Cruz's entire career in the Senate has been playing with matches and hoping that nobody gets burned. People got burned on January 6th. And it was a result not just of the president's language but of what we saw from Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.

It's why we've had never Trump before, I'm happy to be now never Cruz. But the Republican Party need to find a way forward, and the challenge that they face, as you've mentioned and Sabrina has as well, is that intense loyalty that Trump still has. It's why Mitch McConnell is getting some pushback if he ultimately votes to convict when there is a Senate trial. It's why Liz Cheney is getting pushback for not supporting the president. The reality is, even though Donald Trump is no longer president, Donald Trump doesn't give points, he only takes them away one at a time, and Republican members of Congress know this.

BALDWIN: Doug Heye, thank you. Sabrina Siddiqui, I wish I had more time. Come back. We're going to have another date. We're going to talk more about all this, I promise you, thank you both so much.

As arrests continue across the country, just speaking of this insurrection a couple of weeks ago, how do you bring accountability to the members of Congress who may have been involved? We'll talk to Congresswoman and former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger next.



BALDWIN: More arrests are being made in connection with the deadly insurrection in Washington, including another leader among the pro- Trump extremist group the Proud Boys. Joseph Biggs is now facing multiple charges for organizing violent members of the group to march on and attack the Capitol. Virginia Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger is with me now. She is also a former CIA officer who worked counterterrorism cases. So Congresswoman Spanberger great to see you, welcome.

REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): Thank you so much for having me.

BALDWIN: I just want to dive right in on the message we heard, you know, you were sitting there that the message from the president's speech is all about unity, right? And when I think about unity, I'm also then thinking of the people who stormed the Capitol with Confederate flags and wearing camp Auschwitz sweatshirts and carrying -- you know, having nooses. Do they look like they're looking to unify? I mean, how is unity supposed to work, is my question, Congresswoman?

SPANBERGER: Well, I think in American society, there's always been challenges. There's always been those who are outside the norms of the societal norms of our community, of law and order. So I think that for those who would break the law, for those who would rise up in insurrection and attack the United States Capitol, I don't think that President Biden's message was intended for them.

I think President Biden's message was intended for Americans across the country who may have preferred a different outcome but weren't going to rise up in an armed or violent insurrection to try and undo an election. I think President Biden was speaking to people throughout my district in central Virginia who are just tired of the fighting and the division and families not being able to get together for holidays because of what has occurred in this country over the past four years.

And I think it's important to note that even when advocating for unity, I didn't hear word one of the president talking about not pursuing accountability, not talking about the reality of what occurred on January 6th. And, frankly, the rise of white nationalism, which he mentioned in his speech, the threat of domestic, violent extremists.

BALDWIN: I want to talk to you about that because I know that is one of your primary concerns, right, is how the insurrection really galvanizes these extremists, these domestic terrorists. How should the government, how should homeland security respond to this? How can they prevent future threats?


SPANBERGER: Well I think it's important for everyone. Your viewers, those who are doing the day-to-day work of preventing attacks, to recognizing that what happened on January 6th was not an isolated event. While it might have been an isolation event in that it is was a violent attack on the United States Capitol, a onetime occurrence. The underpinnings of what happened there, the move towards the growth and the recruitment abilities that exist for these domestic violence extremist groups, this has been ongoing. Their growth, their networks have expanded.

And so, across our country we need to recognize that this is a real threat. This was not a one-off. This was not a one-time thing unless we aggressively work to make it so. And it starts with ideology. It starts with us accepting half-truths. It starts with us not speaking up when we hear something, we know is wrong. It starts with those in political office who might politically benefit from allowing people to think that a conspiracy theory is correct.

And that, you know, like frogs in water, you start to feel unmoored. And you lose a sense of what is real and what is not. And that creates fertile ground for the domestic violent extremist groups that would be recruiting across this country. And you know, we've seen a growth in that threat, and we need to be wide-eyed and clear-eyed about the threat that poses and our aggressive efforts to stop it.

BALDWIN: To that point, you know, I was reading a piece this morning in the "New York Times." They went to Charlottesville, your backyard there in Virginia, you know, to talk to Heather Heyer's mother. Heather, you know, was killed when those Nazi sympathizers stormed the city a couple years ago. And so the Capitol attack and then Trump's response to it was frightening similar. And Heather's mother told the Times -- this is a direct quote.

Look at the lessons learned from Charlottesville, the rush to hug each other and sing kumbaya is not an effective strategy.

So Congresswoman Spanberger, did we learn any lessons from Charlottesville if this is still where we are now?

BALDWIN: So in the aftermath of Charlottesville, we were quick I think as a community to think it was a one-time event. Right? We had never seen anything like that when Heather Heyer -- and my sympathies go to her family -- when Heather Heyer, a woman who was standing up for what she believed in, for what was right, marching for peace, marching for justice, when she was murdered by a far-right extremist, by a white nationalist, in many ways we viewed it as this was an isolated event.

But it wasn't an isolated event. They don't all look the same. Right? We saw attack after attack on Jewish cemeteries, on synagogues. We saw them murder congregants at The Tree of Life. These are all somewhat different occurrences of violence, but they are all rooted in the same domestic far-right white nationalist threat.

And so I think that the quote that you mentioned from Heather Heyer's mother is an important one. While we can try and find unity, we should be unified in our aggressive denouncement of white nationalism, far- right extremism. We should be very clear that even when it isn't resulting in violence in the streets as we saw in Charlottesville, as we saw in the Capitol, that if we are even allowing for that ideology to permeate our society, to be excused in the way we heard the former president say, there were good people on both sides, we are allowing it to seep in and take root. And those roots are what give it life. And so we might it sprout up in different places. But that root system is what we all need to be unified in fighting.

BALDWIN: We're looking to you to help lead the fight in eradicating all of those roots. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, thank you.

SPANBERGER: Thank you so much.

BALDWIN: Some of former President Trump's more extreme believers are wondering today what's going on after a bunch of bizarre conspiracy theories imploded. What is ahead for the QAnon movement? Next.



BALDWIN: This is quite something, to see the American tradition of a presidential inauguration unfold in our nation's capital, just two weeks after rioters tried to breach that same majestic building in that attempted insurrection. There was certainly more work to be done to unite the country. Speaking of our last conversation, right?

CNN's Donie O'Sullivan is with me He's been interviewing a number of President Trump supporters who follow conspiracy theories like QAnon. And Donie, what are they telling you about finally seeing this moment that they really thought would actually never come true?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: Hey, Brooke, yes, I mean, some of these QAnon followers are in absolute shock today taking to online forums to express the fact that they're coming to the realization that they have been duped. I mean, many of these people believed the election was stolen. Many of these people believed and were told for years that Trump was one day going to round up all the so-called members of the deep state.

And many of them also believed even up until inauguration day that Biden wouldn't be inaugurated. In fact, I met one Trump support supporter who was streaming live on YouTube in the early hours of inauguration day morning and he was convinced because there was this QAnon conspiracy theory going around, that Trump would instate martial law in the United States which would stop the inauguration of Joe Biden. I spoke to him before the inauguration. And I also spoke to this Trump supporters after Biden was sworn in. Have a listen.


WILLIAM WIETING, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't believe -- this sounds so crazy, and I recognize how crazy this sounds. But I don't believe Joe Biden is going to be sworn in as president today.

WIETING: I was just kind of in shock and I thought -- I had to re- evaluate everything the way my life was going to be now. Because it's so -- it's so different than my expectations. And I literally was just kind of walking around like, what now?


[15:55:00] O'SULLIVAN: So, therein lies the issue, Brooke. I mean, you can see there he realizes he was duped by one conspiracy theory which was martial law. But he still believes the election was a fraud. He still actually even believes that it was left-wing agitators who were responsible for the violence on Capitol Hill and not Trump supporters, two weeks ago. So as some people are waking up to the fact that they have might have fallen for QAnon a nonsense conspiracy theory, others are so steeped in this world that they are not able to see the truth.

BALDWIN: Listen, I appreciate you talking to these people to expose, you know, other folks who are watching, just to understand who's out there and what they have been believing. What they had been brainwashed into believing. My next question is, you know, what do you do if you have a QAnon believer in your family? What's your advice?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, I mean, I think it's important to listen to them, and you know, to be compassionate. Because, you know, there's levels to this conspiracy theory. I mean, there are people who act out in violence, believers of this conspiracy theory, who were violent on Capitol Hill.

But then there's also people who are just good people who have been really misled by what they're reading online, what the former president had told them. So rather than, you know, trying to excommunicate those people, we should listen to them, be compassionate and try to show them the truth. Because, you know, otherwise we risk alienating them further and sending them down further darker rabbit holes of online misinformation.

BALDWIN: Donie O'Sullivan, you've been doing an outstanding job. Just listening and doing exactly that. Thank you, Donie.

O'SULLIVAN Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And our coverage of President Biden's first day in office continues here on CNN with the return of the daily press briefing by the White House. It is set to begin in mere minutes. Live pictures there of the briefing room.

Also today, Dr. Anthony Fauci will be back behind the podium. We'll bring that to you as soon as it happens. Stay right here.