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The Lead with Jake Tapper
G.A. Indictment Includes 30 Unindicted Co-Conspirators; Trump, 18 Others Charged In Georgia Election Case; Fulton County D.A. Lays Out Sprawling Case Against Trump; North Korea Issues First Confirmation American Soldier Travis King In The Country; Former NFL Player Michael Oher Claims Tuohy Family Tricked Him Into Signing Conservatorship. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 15, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: One major difference in this case is the racketeering charge that Trump and his conspirators face. CNN's Paula Reid is outside the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta for us.
Paula, this is a wide ranging racketeering case that invokes a law normally used, at least on the federal level, to prosecute organized crime, mobsters. Lay out these charges for us.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Jake. While Special Counsel Jack Smith filed a pretty narrow indictment focused solely on former President Trump, here District Attorney Fani Willis is pursuing this as a RICO case. She is alleging a vast conspiracy by this group, these 19 defendants, to try to overturn the results of the election here in Georgia. And to support this, she has offered up a nearly 100 page indictment that details 161 acts that were part of this conspiracy across these 19 defendants, there were also 30 unindicted conspirators. And these allegations span seven states and the District of Columbia.
While this is -- the fourth criminal indictment Trump faces this year, this is by far the most sweeping. Now, RICO cases are notoriously challenging, they tend to get drawn out. And when you have 19 defendants and their attorneys, it's easy to see how things could get drawn out for months, even years. But the district attorney has said, Jake, she wants to try everyone together, and she's hoping, she says, to ask for a trial in the next six months.
TAPPER: So, Paula, former President Trump and the 18 others who have been indicted have 10 days to voluntarily surrender. How might this booking look different from the other arraignments Mr. Trump has gone through?
REID: Well, it's going to look certainly different than what we've seen at the federal level, and we've seen a few now with the former president. But there you saw he was processed. He had his initial appearance and his arraignment all in one fell swoop. But here in Georgia, he and all the other defendants have until next Friday to surrender. Typically, that surrender is done to the Fulton County Sheriff's Office. And as part of that, there's usually a mugshot and fingerprints. But given the former president's status, his secret service protection, it is likely that they may negotiate something a little bit different for him. And then the initial appearance, that date is up to the judge. It could be days, weeks, potentially months before we see that initial appearance by the former president or any of these other defendants.
TAPPER: So, Paula, let's talk about Mark Meadows for a second. Meadows, of course, being Trump's --
TAPPER: -- former White House chief of staff. He was not named a co- conspirator or even suggested to be a co-conspirator in Jack Smith's indictment, but he is named as a codefendant in this Georgia case. Why?
REID: It's been one of the biggest questions of all of the various investigations into the efforts to overturn the election, because we know from the January 6 committee they did an exhaustive investigation. And while they didn't have the chance to speak to Mark Meadows, he did provide some helpful evidence. And they came to the conclusion that he was really at the center of this, that all roads from this alleged conspiracy went right through Mark Meadows and accusing him of being really the chief enabler of former President Trump. So the fact that he had kept so quiet during the federal investigation was notable, even more so his conspicuous absence from the federal indictment. So to see him charged here is significant.
And when you read through the indictment, I mean, Fani Willis, she lays out these specific allegations against him, reminding people of just how intimately he was involved in so many of the aspects of this alleged conspiracy, including the enormous pressure that was being placed on Georgia officials, including, of course, most famously, the secretary of state.
TAPPER: All right. Paula Reid at the courthouse in Fulton County, Atlanta, Georgia, for us, thanks so much.
The Fulton County indictment mentions 30 unindicted co-conspirators not named. Yes, you heard that right, 30, three zero. CNN has been going through this indictment and cross referencing with our own reporting to try to identify some of the unnamed individuals. There are lots of folks we know who testified or who played a role in the Georgia effort by the Trump team who escaped charges such as Georgia Attorney Lin Wood or South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, or former National Security Advisor General Mike Flynn. None of them mentioned by name in the indictment.
CNN anchor of "The Source," Kaitlan Collins, joins me.
Kaitlan, one unnamed conspirator, individual eight he's called or she's called, appears 11 times in the indictment. We believe, CNN believes it's Georgia's current Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: Yes, we don't know for sure, Jake, but there are a lot of strong hints in here where you can pretty easily draw conclusions. Burt Jones seems to be one of them because it references a tweet that he posted. He is someone who is now the lieutenant governor, but he's someone who was one of those fake electors pledging to be an alternate elector to Trump in this time period.
He was calling for a special session of the Georgia legislature, something that the former lieutenant governor, who at the time was Jeff Duncan, of course, refused those calls, as did the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp. But Burt Jones is someone who is named in here. There's a tweet that he posted. It is very clearly reference. That is why it does appear to be Burt Jones here.
The reason, though, he may not be on the list of indicted conspirators here, those names that you can actually see at the top is -- Fani Willis is actually barred from being able to indict him. And part of that was because he was someone -- it was determined by the judge that you saw last night, Judge McBurney, to be a conflict of interest because she is a Democrat, she hosted a fundraiser for the Democrat who ran against him for that position of lieutenant governor. It was kind of one of those moments where the judge said it was what was she thinking kind of moment. But he does appear to be someone in here. And so surely, the state agency in Georgia we know is going to look into this because he does currently hold that position of lieutenant governor.
And it seems pretty clear that he is referenced in here.
TAPPER: Who are some of the other people we have been able to identify of this list of unidentified unindicted co-conspirators? There are 30 of them total.
COLLINS: There's a lot of strong hints. Another one is Tom Fitton. He is believed to be individual one. He, of course, comes from the conservative group Judicial Watch. And the reason we believe it's him is because they reference a draft of a speech that he provided to Donald Trump in the days before the election on October 31, I believe it was, where in an email he said, here's the draft of the speech that you asked for.
And basically what it said is that Trump should declare victory on Election Day on solely the ballots that were cast on that day, ignoring, of course, the millions of mail-in ballots. And the reason we believe that's him is because we see what's in the indictment. We also know that there is a draft of an e-mail that he sent to Molly Michael and Dan Scavino to White House aid saying, hey, Mr. President, here's the draft of that speech that you requested.
I should note that we have reached out to him, Jake, and asked for comment. He has not responded yet. But again, these are very strong clues that are left in this indictment as to who these people could be.
TAPPER: And Kaitlan, we've talked a lot about over the last few years, the insane December 18, 2020 Oval Office meeting where they talked about using the military to seize voting machines. That was with Trump several advisors, including attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. It was cited in the indictment. We know a lot about this meeting because of testimony for the House January 6 select committee.
COLLINS: Yes. And so two people were curious of who could potentially be unindicted co-conspirators here is potentially Mike Flynn, of course, Trump's former national security advisor, and Patrick Byrne. He is the former Overstock CEO. And he is someone who was there that day. He was in the middle of the fight screaming with the White House counsel at the time, Pat Cipollone and Eric Herschmann, confusing as to who they actually were.
I mean, there's some pretty famous testimony from Eric Herschmann about that. What's notable is that this indictment does cite that December 18th Oval Office meeting, that, Jake, you're right, it was one of the craziest, if not maybe the craziest moment in that post election part of Trump's presidency. It notably was not listed in the Jack Smith indictment, but it is listed in this indictment. So that raises the question of who unindicted co-conspirator number 20 could be.
TAPPER: Yes, we know that it's not Herschmann, Lyons or Cipollone because they were pushing back on the crazy.
TAPPER: Kaitlan, thanks so much. We're going to see you again at 09:00 p.m. this evening for "The Source." You're going to talk to 2024 presidential candidate Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas. Thanks so much for being with us.
Let's bring in Ambassador John Bolton right now. He was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and served as Donald Trump's national security advisor. He is a vocal critic of his former boss.
Now, Ambassador Bolton, good to see you. I want to start with these mysterious unindicted co-conspirators, some of whom you may have crossed paths with in the White House. Do you think any of them or any of Trump's 18 fellow defendants might ultimately flip on Trump if they haven't already?
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMO NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it's very possible. I mean, I think a lot of people have pointed to Mark Meadows not named as a co-conspirator in the federal indictment, but obviously named as a defendant here. It's pretty hard to see how he can be separated that way. So, perhaps he cooperated at the federal level, didn't cooperate enough at the state level, but I think that's going to be extremely interesting to watch. And I'm sure that's one of the reasons that this Georgia proceeding could take a long time to unfold. And of the four criminal cases, in my view, probably the one almost certain to be after the November '24 election.
TAPPER: Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie departed from his previous reactions to these indictments. He told me he thinks the Georgia case is unnecessary because Jack Smith already charged Trump in a federal election meddling case. He thinks it should supersede the Fulton County case. He also suggested on the show in the last hour that it's possible that district Attorney Fani Willis' ego may have been involved and not wanting to have all the hard work go to waste. What do you think?
BOLTON: Well, I'd say with respect to Chris's remarks, it sounds like a former U.S. attorney who would say, get these state cases out of my way. I just say, as a conservative Republican believer in federalism, let's hear it for state prosecutors. Is Fani Willis motivated politically? I don't doubt it. A friend of mine once said, most U.S. attorneys wake up in the morning, look at themselves in the mirror and say, shall I run for governor or senator when I'm done with this job? That's what prosecutors do.
The question is, can she prove this case in court? And I really think that's what's going to be important here over the next months. Not the pretrial proceedings, not even the trials themselves. The only issue that's going to matter politically here is, does one of these prosecutors get a conviction?
TAPPER: What do you think of this case now that you've read the indictment, do you think it's strong? Do you agree with using RICO racketeering charges against the president and his fellow defendants?
BOLTON: Well, I'm not a big fan of over reading statutes to go beyond what they were intended to. I think this is going to be a very hard case to bring to trial and to prove in all of its elements. I think almost certainly, if it does go to trial with 19 defendants on all these charges, you're going to have some guilty and some not guilty. It's going to be a very mixed result because all of these allegations are not equal, all the charges are not equal. It's -- they've made it a very complex case.
TAPPER: A vast majority of 2024 voters have likely already made up their minds about Trump. Republican consultant Brendan Buck put it this way in the "New York Times," he said, quote, "For voters, at this point you've decided whether being indicted is problematic or if you believe this is all being done to undermine Trump's campaign," unquote. If Trump gets acquitted of any of these charges, you've expressed fear that it could energize voters to catapult him to a second term. Do you think prosecuting these crimes outweighs the risk of acquittal?
BOLTON: Well, I don't think it's a question we have. It just shows there really isn't a deep state. Nobody sat down and said, I think the risk in all four of these cases justifies going forward. We had prosecutors that were operating independently. I personally think that the documents case is the best case of the four, and I think does justify going ahead.
The New York case ranked one to four, I'd rank that about 10th. And I think the January 6 election fraud issue is somewhere in between. But, yes, I think the risk is worthwhile because the people deserve to know whether Donald Trump is a felon. And I think -- I disagree with this idea that because the indictments haven't shaken things up, that people have already made up their mind. This just shows indictments are subject to the law of diminishing marginal utility like everything else.
The issue here is when a former president is actually convicted if that happens. That will move people's opinions.
TAPPER: Ambassador John Bolton, good to see you. Thank you so much.
BOLTON: Thank you.
TAPPER: Coming up next, we're going to get some insight on the Fulton County case with an attorney who knows the lead prosecutor, Fani Willis, pretty well. Plus, the new outlook for a key source of water for much of the United States after the level plummeted. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our Law and justice lead, a comprehensive picture of a former president's alleged attempt to steal the 2020 election all painted by a local prosecutor. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in a 98 page indictment, lays out an elaborate racketeering scheme involving Trump and 18 other defendants. It's a culmination of an investigation that has lasted more than two years.
Joining us from outside the Fulton County Court, Charlie Bailey, a former Fulton County Senior Assistant District attorney, and Robert James, former DeKalb County district attorney.
Charlie, listen to what former Governor Christie said last hour about Fani Willis' investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTITAL CANDIDATE: I'm a little bit concerned that this had more to do with ego than anything else, that her office had put a lot of time into an investigation. Jack Smith came in a number of months ago, swooped in, moved quickly, charged the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Christie's argument is that the federal case makes this one redundant, this one against Trump. You've worked closely with Fani Willis. Your wife is also communications director for Fani Willis. What do you make of what Christie said?
CHARLIE BAILEY, (D) FORMER CANDIDATE, GEORGIA LT. GOVERNOR: Well, all due respect to Governor Christie, I think he just doesn't know Fani Willis. You know, she said at the beginning of this investigation, she didn't know where the facts were going to lead, that's why she was going to do an investigation. And that's what a real prosecutor does. So she did that investigation, and she's led by the evidence to bring the charges that she's brought. And I'm reminded of, you know, many times when I sat in her office, we had cases together, and this is, you know, 10 years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago, these are cases that nobody was going to know the victim, nobody much in the victim's life thought they mattered. But Fani impressed upon me and everybody else that worked with her that they did matter and that the defendants mattered. And it didn't matter who they were, we were to follow the evidence, make charging decisions, and try cases based on that. And that's what she's done here.
I know in this age of cynicism, we have a tendency to think everything's about politics, but Fani just means what she says. Nobody's above the law, and she's going to be led by the evidence. And I think that's what this indictment shows.
TAPPER: So, Robert, getting an indictment is not all that difficult, as they say. You can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Getting a conviction in a court with a jury with a higher standard, obviously much more difficult. Based on what you've seen in this indictment, do you think any of the charges might be too overreaching?
ROBERT JAMES, FORMER DEKALB COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, I wouldn't say overreach. I would just say that, you know, it's going to be difficult. Look, you've got 19 defendants, one of whom is the former president of the United States, each of these individuals they come -- many of them, rather, come with varying levels of publicity and public sentiment behind them.
And there's a principle that's called, you know, jury nullification. And so as a prosecutor, you're always concerned when you're indicting public officials or celebrities that no matter what the evidence shows, knows that there's going to be certain people in the public that just do not want to convict. And so, look, it's a tall task, it's a complex case, several individuals, not impossible, but difficult.
TAPPER: Charlie, Fani Willis hosted a fundraiser for you last year in your campaign for Georgia lieutenant governor. At the same time, of course, she was also investigating your Republican opponent, Burt Jones, for alleged 2020 election interference. She was ultimately disqualified by a judge from the investigation into Jones because of that fundraiser. And Jones, we believe, is one of nearly three dozen unindicted co-conspirators in this filing unnamed, but we're pretty sure it's him.
It's possible he could have been an indicted defendant if it were not for the fundraiser. Do you have any regrets?
BAILEY: No, I don't. You know, Fani's been my friend for many years, and she was backing me before Burt Jones even decided to run for lieutenant governor, before I decided to run for lieutenant governor when I was in the AG's race. And I'll just point out, I wasn't Burt Jones' opponent at the time. I was in a primary, and she was trying to help me win the primary, which I did. But you know, these are just distractions. The judge made the ruling that he made, and that's his right to make it. And Fani kept forward with her investigation and brought these charges, which seemed to be appropriate.
TAPPER: Robert, Fani Willis says she wants to try all 19 co-defendants at the same time in the same trial. In a case with so many high profile players and so much nuance and so many complexities, is that a wise approach, do you think?
JAMES: Well, look, you want to tell the story and you want to tell the most complete story that you can tell. And to do that, it's important to have everybody there at the same time that has an opportunity to speak. Because, you know, look, in law, in prosecution in particular, there's a principle that if you're bringing in certain evidence, right, and that evidence comes from other co-conspirators and you're using it to convict someone that is actually at the table, and it comes from someone that's not at the table, it may be problematic. And so, ultimately, you want everybody at the table so you can tell the entire story and the jury and the world can get a full picture and you're not dealing with exclusion issues because of it.
TAPPER: All right, Robert James and Charlie Bailey, thanks so much for your time today, gentlemen. Appreciate it.
Coming up, next, a look at how Donald Trump's fourth criminal indictment is playing out on the campaign trail. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our 2024 lead, as former President Trump faces an historic and unprecedented fourth criminal indictment, the response from his competitors on the campaign trail has been a mixed bag. Many rushing to Trump's defense. Vivek Ramaswamy writing, "Prosecutors should not be deciding U.S. presidential elections." Senator Tim Scott calling the charges, "Un-American and unacceptable." Governor Ron DeSantis saying it was an example of the "Criminalization of politics."
Others of course, are more critical, former congressman Will Hurd saying, "This is further evidence that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election and was ready to do anything it took to cling to power.' And Governor Asa Hutchinson saying "Trump has disqualified himself from ever holding our nation's highest office again." Of course, we heard from Governor Christie earlier in the show.
My panel joins me now. And, Ashley, I just ticked through some of the responses. Let's play a little bit of what Chris Christie said because he was -- he didn't disagree with the charges and that there should be accountability, but he disagreed with this specific criminal indictment. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: She could have brought this case without Donald Trump, and because Jack Smith didn't charge anybody else other than Donald Trump in this matter. And so I think the double charging here of Donald Trump is just something that complicates things in a way which makes the administration of justice much more difficult in the near term.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What do you think?
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think if she doesn't charge Donald Trump in this case, it's also kind of playing to politics. If you're going to go after RICO criminal rank, you go after the kingpin. You don't get all the little fish and then say, I'll let the big guy kind of go free. No, you start at the top, and you try and get the soldiers behind him.
The other thing is that the DA was elected by people in Fulton County, and so she has to do the work of her constituents and not the work of the federal electorate that is going to make the decision on who was ultimately president. Now, Georgia is an important state, and Fulton County is an important county in Georgia, but I think she actually played this without politics and said, I have a criminal conspiracy in my district and I'm going to go after it.
TAPPER: So, Kevin Madden, let me ask you one of the things you do hear most of Trump's opponents for the presidential nomination, for the Republican nomination, defending him or at the very least, attacking Fani Willis, attacking the special counsel, et cetera, et cetera, you don't hear a tremendous amount of defenses of what Donald Trump actually did. I mean, there are very few factual disagreements about what either Jack Smith or Fani Willis is asserting he did, much of which we just kind of all saw play out with our own eyes and ears.
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I think it's an attempt to sort of balance the politics of it effectively as possible with their base voters while, you know, trying to thread the needle when it comes to the substance, right? Because the substance on this and if you look at the indictment and you read all the evidence that's behind it, as well as the phone call that happened back in 2020, it's very, very hard to defend.
But I think to your earlier point, these messages that are mixed and muddled, I think that's not how you win campaigns. You win campaigns by distinguishing exactly the differences between you and your opponent. And so these campaigns are really missing a huge opportunity, because if you're going to go against Donald Trump and you want to make the case that you should be the leader of the free world, you're going to have to make a very clear case to the voters that you're the best person for the job.
And so these muddled defenses where they're defending them one hand, and then but, you know, then trying to attack the politics of the prosecutor on the other, it's going to lay it flat.
TAPPER: David, Trump said on Truth Social, his social media website, that he is going to hold a press conference on Monday to present, quote, a large, complex, detailed, but irrefutable report, reports in all caps for some reason, on the presidential election fraud, that's capitalized for some reason, which took place in Georgia. And that based on the results of this all caps conclusive report. All charges should be dropped against me and others. There will be complete exoneration. What do you think?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't think we should pay a whole lot of attention to that I said -- we should note this, though. Donald Trump is presumed innocent right now, and he deserves that like any other indicted person in America, in the justice system. And if he wants to give a report about what he thinks went on there in some way, that's going to refute what we all saw. Two recounts in the state, every election official in the state, the Republican governor asserting that it was a free and fair election. He now has the opportunity to do that in a court of law.
So I will be a lot more interested in what Donald Trump and his legal team presents in a court of law under oath than out of Bedminster press conference.
TAPPER: So the governor of Georgia, a very conservative Republican named Brian Kemp, responded to what Trump said, saying, there was no fraud. We've had, you know, we've had an opportunity now for years for people to present any evidence of fraud that would have changed this election, I'm paraphrasing obviously, in a court of law under oath, and no one has done so. And yet most Republican voters believe Donald Trump and not Governor Kemp.
MADDEN: Yes, but most Republican voters in Georgia who've seen both of these cases presented support Governor Kemp and elected Governor Kemp. They didn't well vote for Donald Trump. And so this is a really good example, Jake, of like if the 2020 or if the 2024 hopefuls are looking for a template on both message and approach to persuading voters, Governor Kemp has already given it to them. He has the blueprint.
He's demonstrated that you can speak truth to power, present your case to the voters, and win in a very tough state by doing exactly that. And yet they all decided to look the other way. Or, again, like you, like we mentioned earlier, mixed messages and, you know, muddled messages.
TAPPER: Ashley, Trump is now facing, in total, 91 criminal charges, 13 in the Georgia election case, four in Jack Smith's January 6th case, 40 in Jack Smith's classified documents case, 34 in Alvin Bragg's Manhattan hush money case, and this guy with 91 criminal charges, last time I looked, not only is the far and above leading candidate to be the Republican nominee, he was tied with Joe Biden in a "New York Times" poll.
ALLISON: Yes, I mean, I think that after the first indictment, it was clear that this is a strong campaign strategy. We think this is the last indictment that he is going to face. The point that you were making, Kevin, about there's a Republican debate next week, and there's a real opportunity for there to be a superstar and come out of the Republican Party and make very clear what they will do for the American public, whether I agree with their policy decisions or not, and to draw a line and distinguish them from Donald Trump.
They won't do that, though, because they think it's not working today, this strategy of, like, coddle him and don't go too hard against him because my poll numbers will go up. These folks are stagnant, and they have been stagnant since they announced, and they continue to coddle Donald Trump. We'll try a new strategy next Wednesday and see what might happen because, yet again, Donald Trump is going to have to turn himself in to the state of Georgia in a couple of days. And what an amazing split screen that would be. I'm going to be the person to lead my party in a different direction while this guy is going to turn himself for a RICO charge.
MADDEN: And Trump's right about like, you know, one more indictment and he would sort of solidify.
TAPPER: Let's play this, because I get your reaction to that. This is a moment from a Trump speech just 11 days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every time they file an indictment, we go way up in the polls. We need one more indictment to close out this election. One more indictment and this election is closed out, nobody has even a chance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So do you agree with that or no?
MADDEN: Yes, because -- but I think it's coupled with the fact that his opponents won't draw a contrast.
TAPPER: Well, Chris Christie does and Asa Hutchinson does.
MADDEN: Chris Christie is but Chris Christie is also probably the most compromised candidate right now because he spent six years driving an entirely different message, and he spent six months driving this one. But your -- so the point I was trying to make is that the antibody defense of the average Republican based voter continues to strengthen around Trump when nobody else criticizes him and tries to offer a much more stark contrast about what kind of candidate should lead the party into the future.
TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. Appreciate it.
This just into CNN, North Korea makes the first public comments about the American soldier who crossed the DMZ into North Korea. That's next.
TAPPER: Just into CNN for the very first time, North Korea is publicly acknowledging the U.S. soldier who ran across the border from South Korea last month. CNN's Oren Liebermann is live for us in Pentagon. Oren, what are North Korean officials acknowledging? What are they saying about Private Travis King?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the little bit of information we have at this point comes from North Korean state media from KCNA. And as you point out, this is the first official or public confirmation or statement we've seen from the North Korean side. And it comes nearly a month after private Travis King ran across or crossed into North Korea. That was on July 18ath. And here we are on August 15th, where again we have this first public statement coming from North Korean state media.
In it, KCNA says that Private Travis King admitted that he illegally intruded into North Korea after he was on a tour there of the joint security area. It was on that tour that he ran and crossed into North Korea and was then presumably taken into custody by North Korean soldiers who were there. In addition, North Korean state media goes on to say that one of the reasons he decided to run into North Korea, was that he, quote, harbored ill feeling against inhuman, maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. army.
That again, according to North Korean state media. And now according to state media there he was expressing his, quote, willingness to seek refuge in North Korea or in a third country. Now there hasn't been too much communication at all between United Nations command and South Korea with the North Koreans, Jake, essentially just acknowledging that there was an ability to speak about this, but this gives a little bit more information about how North Korea views this and how they're playing it.
TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann, at the Pentagon for us, thanks so much.
And our National Lead, the confirmed death toll from the nation's deadliest wildfire in more than a century now stands at 99, a number that tragically is expected to rise dramatically, in fact, in the coming days. Hundreds remain unaccounted for. And it's not just, people in Maui's Humane Society says about 3,000 animals, pets are lost. CNN's Bill Weir is reporting from Wailuku on the island of Maui. Bill, you've been tracking the aid efforts. Has that gotten any better?
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we will witness really a do it yourself, sort of crowd-sourced, very aloha style of first responders up until now. But the Feds are coming, the cavalry is coming, they say. FEMA today held in press conferences. Also the Pentagon saying six new missions with the army command here in the Pacific, sending everything from fire support, firefighters to help these pop up fires to people moving equipment around the island.
FEMA will give you a $750, one-time payment to the affected. About 3,200 families have applied for FEMA assistance and they say they have a program set up where those now freshly homeless due to this firestorm can stay in a local hotel for an indefinite amount of time, depending on the need. But there's so much distrust, Jake, right now among locals. Some saying don't sign the FEMA papers, you might give away your rights later.
The response has been boggled in a way that it's going to take some time to wind trust and heal a little bit. In the meantime, so many are graving and giving DNA samples as they try to identify more bodies.
TAPPER: Bill, the National Weather Service is expecting wind gusts to pick up to about 20 miles per hour in your area over the next few days. How might that impact the search for human remains?
WEIR: Well, there's a couple tropical storms, hurricanes there's Greg and Fernanda, which are coming so far it doesn't look like it'll be as bad as the firestorm last week. There could be some high winds which kick things up here as well. We're standing by one of the infamous now sirens here around Maui, which the homeowner says never go off right now. So, so many questions about the warnings, what was done during, what's happening now. Jake?
TAPPER: Bill Weir, thanks so much. Appreciate it. And you can help Hawaii fire victims, head to CNN.com/impact, CNN.com/impact for a list of resources that have been vetted. You can also text the word Hawaii, H-A-W-A-I-I to 707070.
Coming up, from blindside to blindsided, how the former NFL player who was the subject of the Oscar winning film now says he was tricked.
TAPPER: Our Sports Lead now, former NFL player, Michael Oher, whose life story was of course portrayed in the Oscar winning film "The Blind Side," is now claiming that the family that took him in never actually adopted him and instead, in his view, tricked him into a conservatorship, keeping or out of his own finances. CNN's Brynn Gingras has more on the sudden accusations and the questions surrounding them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, big smile, Tuohy family.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Oher, blindsided, he says, by his family at the center of the Hollywood blockbuster.
SANDRA BULLOCK, AMERICAN ACTRESS: Your team is your family, Michael. You have to protect him. Tony here's your quarterback. You protect his blindside. When you look at him, you think of me.
QUINTON AARON, AMERICAN ACTOR: Yes, ma'am.
GINGRAS (voice-over): In a lawsuit, the former NFL player alleging he was tricked by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy believing they were adopting the 18-year-old budding football star.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He became part of our lives. GINGRAS (voice-over): When in fact, they became his conservators and, quote, have total control over Michael Oher's ability to negotiate for or enter any contract despite the fact he was over 18 years of age and had no diagnosed physical or psychological disabilities. It's a lie Oher says he discovered in February.
AARON: Never had one before.
BULLOCK: What a room to yourself?
AARON: A bed.
GINGRAS (voice-over): Oher's life story from poverty to NFL stardom with the support of the Tuohy family became a bestselling book, then an Oscar winning film, reportedly netting more than $330 million. Oher says he's seen none of that money and now, nearly 20 years later, is asking the Tuohy's for a full accounting of his share. The suit reads, where other parents of Michael's classmates saw Michael simply as a nice kid in need, conservators Sean Tuohy and Leigh Anne Tuohy saw something else, a gullible young man whose athletic talent could be exploited for their own benefit.
Sean Tuohy telling a local Tennessee newspaper, we didn't make any money off the movie. His son SJ not named in the suit, told Barstool Sports he did make some money, but it didn't make him rich.
SEAN TUOHY JR., RESPONDING TO LAWSUIT AGAINST FAMILY: I've made like 60, 70 grand over the course of the last four or five years.
GINGRAS (voice-over): The suit also claims Oher, who just published a book about overcoming obstacles, this month, unknowingly signed over the rights to his name, image and likeness in 2007 without payment. Oher has publicly stated he doesn't like how he was portrayed in the movie.
MICHAEL OHER, FORMER NFL PLAYER: I think the biggest for me is, you know, being portrayed not being able to read or write when you go into a locker room or your teammates don't think that you can learn a playbook, you know, that weighs heavy.
GINGRAS (voice-over): The Tuohy's say they are devastated by the claims in the filing, quote, it's upsetting to think we would make any money off any of our children, but we're going to love Michael at 37 just like we loved him at 16.
GINGRAS: Now, why the suit is happening now and how Michael just realized about this conservatorship back in February are two of the questions we proposed to his attorney, but we haven't heard back. The Tuohy's, though, Jake, have given us a very lengthy statement through their attorney essentially saying that Oher tried to shake them down for money before going public with his story, saying in a statement part, the idea that the Tuohy's have ever sought to profit off Mr. Oher is not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous. Now, the next step is they're going to have to respond to this suit in court, and so we'll see how this plays out. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras, thank you.
Joining us now to discuss, Lisa MacCarley. She's an estate and probate attorney. So, Lisa, as you know, a conservatorship is usually made because a person has been deemed incapacitated, someone who cannot handle his or her own financial or personal affairs. Oher says he did not know that he had been put into conservatorship instead of adopted until February of this year. Does that surprise you?
LISA MACCARLEY, ESTATE AND PROBATE ATTORNEY: It does surprise me. And I actually went to the file. According to the Tennessee court records, he was present at the hearing when the Tuohy's were appointed, and in fact, his parents gave consent to them to become his conservatory. So I'd love to see a transcript of that, but it is surprising that he didn't know what was going on, even at the tender age of 18.
TAPPER: Are there any other reasons that the Tuohy's could have sought out a conservatorship? And broadly speaking, looking at this case, do you think that the Tuohy's have done something wrong here?
MACCARLEY: In terms of the conservatorship, we actually occasionally will do this for children called guardianship because it allows the parents, the guardians or the conservators, to place people on insurance. And Mr. Tuohy himself said we needed to do this in order to get Michael into school.
And even though, you know, I haven't been able to research whether that was a requirement, it actually does make sense. So there could have been very innocent reasons why they sought conservatorship for an 18-year-old who is still in high school.
TAPPER: Do you think that the Tuohy's have done anything wrong? I mean, there does seem to be some evidence that members of the family did receive money from the film, which made more than $300 million. I haven't seen any evidence that any of that money went to Oher. What do you make of it?
MACCARLEY: Right. Well, actually, according to the file, once the Oher's got this court order, they never pursued letters of guardianship or conservatorship. They never took the oath, at least from what I can see, which means that they never actually had legal authority to act on Mr. Oher's behalf. And that would be consistent with his own statement that just three years later, he was presented with a contract to sign. They received an order, but they didn't act on it. So it'll be interesting to see whether or not they actually did receive any of his money.
TAPPER: All right, Lisa MacCarley, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
This just in to CNN, court filings showing Donald Trump's former White House chief of staff and co-defendant Mark Meadows is trying to move the Fulton County case against him to a federal court. Wolf Blitzer following this and more, next in The Situation Room. Wolf? [17:54:55]
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Lots going on right now, Jake. We're going to get important insight into all of this, the Georgia indictment of Donald Trump from a Republican who served as the state's top law enforcement officer, the former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. Does he believe the district attorney's strategy for prosecuting Trump and his 18 co-defendants is appropriate and potentially successful? We'll discuss that and a lot more right at the top of the hour, right here in the Situation Room.
TAPPER: In our Earth Matter Series, a positive report for the Colorado River, thanks to an above average snow season, federal officials now say they will ease water restrictions on the river next year. Over the last 110 years, a southwest mega drought forced water cuts in Arizona, Nevada and California. The Colorado River supplies drinking water to an estimated 40 million people.
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