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The Lead with Jake Tapper
McCarthy Defends Launching Impeachment Inquiry Without Floor Vote; Sen. Romney Says He Won't Seek Re-Election; Escaped Killer Caught After 14 Days on the Run. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired September 13, 2023 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yeah. Do you get to cover the international tour? I have a producer who's asking. I hope the answer is no or she might leave me.
All right. THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Some House Republicans worry the impeachment road could be politically perilous.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Selling the plan. Speaker Kevin McCarthy gathers Republican Party colleagues and defends his call to order an impeachment inquiry into President Biden without calling for a vote for it, and without sufficient evidence to, as yet, convince all of his fellow House Republicans.
Plus, a defiant convicted killer has been captured, sniffed out by a dog and infrared technology. A witness will be here, one who saw the arrest go down and the killer up close.
And a political stunner from Republican senator and former presidential Republican nominee Mitt Romney. A look at the impact as an elder statesman of the Senate walks away.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We're going to start in our politics lead. Today, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to get House Republicans on same page after he launched an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden, looking into whether Mr. Biden personally financially benefited from his son Hunter's business dealings and perhaps even worse.
McCarthy met with the Republican conference behind closed doors earlier today, trying to defend his decision to launch an inquiry without bringing it first to a full floor vote as he had promised he would do. Not even two weeks ago. He said he would do that as evidence of how serious of a matter this was.
Here is how he defended his decision to not do so to CNN's Manu Raju right after the meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nancy Pelosi changed the precedent of this House on September 24th. It was withheld and good enough for every single Democrat here. It was good enough for the judge. Why does it have to be different today?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Speaker McCarthy there referencing how then Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry into then President Donald Trump in 2019. What he's saying is accurate.
However, she did bring it to the floor for a vote five weeks later. As conservative David French writes in "The New York Times," quote: In 2019, the House opened its impeachment inquiry only after it received reports that Donald Trump had attempted to coerce President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine into investigating Trump's chief domestic political opponent, that would be Mr. Biden. McCarthy's move, French writes, comes, quote, without anything approaching comparable evidence.
But McCarthy is not just on the defense about how he launched the inquiry. He's also playing defense on why he launched it as McCarthy or any House Republicans has yet to show the public any concrete evidence as of now that President Biden himself financially benefited from Hunter Biden's business dealings. In fact, McCarthy has made several claims during the impeachment inquiry announcement that you have to is listen to closely to. Here is the first one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: We know that bank records show that nearly $20 million in payments were directed to the Biden family members and associated through various shell companies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That is accurate about, quote, Biden family and associates. Associates is a word doing a lot of work there. And yeah, Hunter Biden, Jimmy Biden, people have been making a lot of money off the Biden name for a long time and there is plenty of questions about the ethics of that. But there is no public evidence as of now that Joe Biden made any of the money in any of these questionable deals. At least not that we've seen.
Then there's this claim from Speaker McCarthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: Eyewitnesses have testified that the president joined on multiple phone calls and had multiple interactions, dinners, resulted in cars and millions of dollars into his son's and his son's business partners. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: CNN has looked into those claims and found that McCarthy is omitting some context about what was and was not reportedly discussed at these calls and dinners. A Hunter Biden associate Devon Archer testified to the House Oversight Committee in July and said that, yeah, Joe Biden was on those calls and at the dinners, but he also said Joe Biden did not discuss any of the business that these individuals were working on.
Devon Archer said, yeah, this was a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, look at how connected Hunter Biden is, but no business per se was discussed with Joe Biden.
Republicans have presented no concrete evidence as of now that Joe Biden personally benefited financially from the dinners or calls.
And then there's this claim about the FBI informant. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCARTHY: Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It's true. And an informant gave a tip of this nature to the FBI in 2020. It is true that the FBI viewed that informant as credible. But the underlying allegation that the Biden family was given a bribe is not proven.
The informant was reporting something that he had been told by a Ukrainian businessman and as of now, there's no actual evidence of it. So, yeah, stuff worth looking into, stuff worth investigating.
And Republicans have been looking into it. And they have been investigating. And as of now, they have not found anything that has convinced, say, conservative Freedom Caucus member, Republican Ken Buck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): I have not seen any evidence that links President Biden to Hunter Biden's activities at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, now, Kevin McCarthy said they knew the impeachment inquiry powers or as David French says, quote, the absence of such evidence is being used as a perverse justification for the impeachment inquiry, unquote.
We should note, hovering over McCarthy's head, this is important context, hovering over his head like the sort of Damocles is this threat from the MAGA right, people such as Congressman Matt Gaetz, that any moment just one of them could go to the floor and make a motion to vacate, to call for a vote to oust him as speaker. A bunch of conservatives have been grumbling about McCarthy for a number of reasons mainly because of spending bills and other issues like that.
And this seems to be political analysts say an attempt by Speaker McCarthy to try to sate them at least for now.
McCarthy is also staring down another major battle, avoiding a government shutdown. He has 17 days until the government runs out of money and he's scrambling to try to get Republicans on board for the short term spending bill to keep the government open.
Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.
Manu, you spoke to Republicans today who were in that closed door meeting with McCarthy. What are they telling you?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of them are very cautious. They don't know exactly everything that's in the evidence so far. They want to learn more about what these committees have uncovered.
They plainly acknowledge that there is not proof to show that Joe Biden acted on behalf of Hunter Biden to try to benefit him, to take any official action on his behalf or that the president as vice president profited by Hunter Biden's business dealings. Though they say there's a smoke, they want to see if there's fire behind that smoke, and a lot of them simply are also uncertain about whether they would vote to impeach Biden if it were to come to that, showing the hurdles ahead for McCarthy as they open up this inquiry.
Some of them are also acknowledging that Republicans can face blowback if they go too far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA): I think we should always take one step after another to -- to go where the facts lead. You get ahead of your skis so to speak when you make an assumption about what you're going to find.
REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): It certainly didn't high pressure -- it didn't help Democrats. I haven't seen too much after the impeachment process and didn't go well for us in '98 for Clinton. I don't see it as good politics. But I do think there is enough stuff here that deserves to be looked at.
REP. DAN NEWHOUSE (R-WA): I don't want this to be seen as just a response to impeachment from the previous president. This should be based on the facts and the facts take us down that road, then so be it. But it shouldn't be a tit-for-tat.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: He's also uncertain exactly how long this investigation may take shape. McCarthy did not provide a time frame when talking to Republicans behind closed doors, indicating that it would happen in an expeditious manner but does that extend into next year and next year, things get more complicated as it get to an election season, particularly among those Republicans who serve in districts that Joe Biden carried. There are 18 of them, many of them skeptical about this and certainly not ready to vote to impeach.
So a lot of questions here, Jake, as Republicans plan to issue subpoenas and have public hearings but could they have the evident and can they get the votes in line, all major questions in the weeks ahead -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much.
Joining us now to discuss, Republican Congressman Steve Womack of Arkansas. He sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
Congressman, about the impeachment inquiry, you told an Arkansas newspaper, quote, we shouldn't be afraid of a fact finding process as long as it is a fact-finding process.
I agree, but -- I mean, hasn't that been what the House Oversight Committee has been doing for the last nine months?
REP. STEVE WOMACK (R-AR): Well, they've been working on it. And, you know, to a lot of people, there seems to be enough out there, kind of the fog of this whole issue, kind of hanging over Washington right now.
And really, I think the only way to settle the issue is to do the fact finding. Nobody should be afraid of that. And let the facts take us where they go.
And if there is no proof of any wrongdoing, then there would be no impeachment article filed.
So, look, I shouldn't -- we shouldn't be afraid of allowing these committees, Ways and Means, Judiciary and Oversight to continue their work. And, heck, if I was a White House, I would want that. Just to settle the score once and for all and so that we could move on to other things and we have other things to move on to.
TAPPER: Sure. And let me just -- the politics of this. You think that it is possible for Kevin McCarthy to launch a House impeachment -- to launch an impeachment inquiry that doesn't result in impeachment? I mean, you think he's going to allow something that is going to end with Joe -- President Biden's name being cleared? That just doesn't seem likely in this political environment.
WOMACK: Well, it may not seem likely to a lot of people, given the politics of the day. But let's just remember, impeachment is a very powerful tool, and should be the tool of last resort and in holding the executive branch accountable. And I think there's enough clear- eyed, fair-minded, practically, you know, geared Republicans in the Republican conference that will look to see if there are indeed high crimes and misdemeanors that come out of an inquiry that would be justifiable in supporting articles of impeachment.
So let's just see where this goes and then let the facts take us there and then we'll have more to say about it at that time.
TAPPER: So you're on the Appropriations Committee. I mean, Speaker McCarthy is adamant. He wants a clean short-term spending bill. You expressed concern to CNN yesterday that the margins for getting any deal done are very, very thin.
Are we headed toward a government shutdown this month do you think?
WOMACK: Well, the signs certainly point to that way. Maybe the Vegas odds makers are, you know, putting it on their book. Because, look, here we are right now, we're in a blue screen environment today. Welcome to Washington's version of Burning Man. We are stuck in the mud.
We had the DOD bill ready to go an owe the floor today, but for the fact that we couldn't produce the votes to approve the rule, we've had to pull that bill away and so now we're just kind of treading water as it were, waiting for our -- for our next call. So we're going to have to do a new rule on the car issue that we had packaged with the DOD rule and then that is probably what we'll vote on tomorrow.
Then, we will depart for the weekend and come back next week in hopes of being able to resume the appropriations process, which everybody agrees needs to happen. We just don't seem to have the votes to be able to move the process along from where it currently stands.
TAPPER: You know what they're saying about you in the senate? They're saying, hey, we're 51-49, we have a slender majority here as well. And we are able to come together and pass bipartisan appropriations bills. What is wrong with the House, why can't you guys do it?
WOMACK: I hear that. And look, the Senate has done their work. I'm a House appropriator, we do our work. There are always going to be differences.
The Senate has marked the bill to the debt ceiling agreement. The House has chosen to move those numbers lower and clearly, the fringe members of our caucus are demanding a straight $1.471 trillion spending package if we're going to get their votes.
It's a thin majority, Jake. You know that. We have to have 218. We're not getting any Democrat support. So until -- unless and until we could coalesce around a different strategy, this is, I think, where we're going to be and eventually I think the Senate will complete its work and then attach it to the MilCon-VA bill that we've transmitted to them and send it right back to us perhaps in time to save a government shutdown at the end of this month.
But it's real. Don't get me wrong. It's real. TAPPER: Yeah.
WOMACK: But I think we should be doing everything we can right now to prevent that from happening, to prevent a lapse in appropriations and to send a message to the economy, to national security, to federal workers, to all concerned, that this is a -- this is not a situation that we want to get into at the end of the month.
TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to the news. This afternoon, Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, your party's nominee for president in 2012, announced he's not going to seek re-election for another term, calling for a new generation of leaders. He's really one of the last statesmen of the U.S. Senate.
What do you make of his departure?
WOMACK: Well, it saddens me, because I happen to admire Mitt Romney, supported him for president when he ran. I know that there's a certain part of the Republican base right now that has a certain amount of disdain for him.
But, look, we're in a situation right now where really good members, the Mitt Romneys of the world, the Fred Uptons of the world are beginning to move into the next chapter of their lives and leaving Washington. It is sad to me because these are true statesmen.
These are people that have made a difference in our country, that have been successful by any means and I hate to lose their wisdom, their leadership and their expertise as they move on to the next part of their life.
TAPPER: Republican Congressman Steve Womack of Arkansas, good to see you, sir. Come back soon. Thank you so much.
WOMACK: Always a pleasure, Jake. Thank you.
TAPPER: As Republicans take this impeachment route, is it too late for Democrats to intervene? I'll let one Democrat respond, next.
Plus, new video of that inmate in Pennsylvania, that escapee, now in custody, thank heaven, dressed in a white robe, barefoot, in handcuffs. The plans to make sure this time he stays behind bars. That's ahead.
Plus, nearly 60 years after the tragic assassination of President Kennedy, a secret service agent who was with him that day is coming forward with what he says is a major revelation about that fateful day.
TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead and more on Speaker McCarthy launching this impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
Here to give Democratic reaction is Democratic Congressman Jared Moskowitz of Florida.
So, Congressman, thanks so much for being here.
Speaker McCarthy is defending not bringing this to the floor for a vote, even though he said he would do that about 12 days ago. He said he would, but noting that Nancy Pelosi changed the rules in 2019 when she launched an impeachment inquiry into then-President Trump without a floor vote but she did bring it to the floor five weeks later.
You weren't in Congress at the time but he has a point, kind of, right?
REP. JARED MOSKOWITZ (D-FL): Well, except he took the opposite position, right? He said that she needs to bring it to a vote which she eventually did.
TAPPER: Right, yeah.
MOSKOWITZ: He also said this go around that if they do an impeachment inquiry, he will bring it to a vote.
MOSKOWITZ: But you and I both know why he's not bringing it a vote. It's not because he's had some policy change, because he doesn't have the votes.
MOSKOWITZ: Right? He's got enough members who would vote against it.
TAPPER: There are 19 or 20 -- I think it's 19 actually, Republicans, who represent districts that Biden won.
TAPPER: And they don't want -- I mean, they're worried that there isn't enough evidence to justify this. You talk to them, right? I mean, what do they tell you?
MOSKOWITZ: Well, it's unpopular at home, right? Listen, if the polling showed that the American people want Joe Biden to be impeached, that would have already happened. They would have already called the vote and impeach him six weeks ago, three weeks ago. That's what they're trying to do with all these nine months of hearings, by the way.
By the way, we've been having the impeachment inquiry for the last nine months. It hasn't worked, so they're rebranding it. They're hitting the video game reset on what they've been doing in Oversight and Judiciary. But, no, the polling shows that members -- that folks don't want it back home.
TAPPER: Well, they don't want him impeached necessarily, but there is a new CNN poll that shows, and we're going to put that up, 61 percent of the American people think that Biden had at least some involvement in Hunter Biden's business dealings while he served as vice president.
So doesn't that suggest, that polling number, that these allegations are connecting? That's the American people, that's the electorate as a whole, not just Republicans. And then the perception of wrongdoing could have hurt Joe Biden.
MOSKOWITZ: Well, look, they've spent five months with would have, could have, should have, but there's no evidence. And that's why the polling on impeachment is different, right?
We know that, you know, he was on the phone one time or he had dinner one time and the Republicans have done is that, see, there's the evidence. He was -- he was in the room, he was at dinner, he was on the phone, he spoke to his son.
But there has been no evidence at all, zero. And if there were, they would be calling for a vote on impeachment. This is not like they want to give Joe Biden the benefit of the doubt, right? This is all about trying to appease Donald Trump.
If they have the evidence, they would have tried to appease Donald Trump three, four, five, six months ago.
TAPPER: So, let me pause it like, for the sake of argument, that you are correct in what you're saying. Does Joe Biden not bear any responsibility for the fact that his brothers and his son have been making millions of dollars, you know, profiting off their relationship to him being lobbyists and advisers and this and that, because of him? I mean, is that not --
MOSKOWITZ: Hey, listen --
TAPPER: I understand people in this town do that and their relatives do it. But, like, he's been letting them do it.
MOSKOWITZ: Yeah, listen, if there was something that was unethical obviously that borders on illegal, then it needs to be prosecuted, right, on the Hunter Biden stuff, right? That needs to be prosecuted. If he's broken the law, he needs to be held to account. Democrats have said that on Donald Trump who, you know, has 50 percent of the president's impeachments in this country, 100 percent of its indictments.
If Hunter Biden did something wrong, he should be indicted. You know, as far as the culture in Washington, the revolving door in Congress, the revolving door in the Pentagon, being able to make money off of family members, listen, that may be something that Democrats and Republicans should address on a bipartisan basis.
TAPPER: Well, that's the thing.
MOSKOWITZ: But we can't just -- we can't just say, oh, Joe Biden's family did it but they don't want to ask any questions about Jared Kushner getting $2 billion for the Saudis who they blame for 9/11. TAPPER: Right. So, so, but -- I mean, but that's the whole thing. The
-- people say about in Washington, the real crime, quote/unquote, crime, is not what's legal, but what's legal, right? It's perfectly legal to be the son of a very powerful person and traffic in that connection.
MOSKOWITZ: Listen, I'll vote for term limits. I'll vote for -- to close the revolving door. The Republicans won't even bring those bills to floor but yet they want to go after Joe Biden for stuff that's been going on in Washington, D.C. for half a century.
TAPPER: Right, but that's my point. Could he not have done something -- I understand that it is legal?
MOSKOWITZ: Sure. So, listen, in the even that we eventually conclude that hey, it's unsavory what he did.
MOSKOWITZ: Right, it doesn't mean that it rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors and deserves impeachment.
This is not about the facts.
This is about Donald Trump who has deemed this down from Truth Social, who is meeting with members every day, right, in the House. He's telling them, you must impeach Joe Biden so I can also run against someone that has been impeached.
Donald Trump doesn't want to be the only one that's been impeached in the next election.
TAPPER: What -- when you talk to your Florida colleague, Matt Gaetz, like what is that conversation go like?
MOSKOWITZ: Well, look, Matt is on a mission, right? He's interested in just napalming the whole deal. And for Matt, quite frankly, his strategy is a win-win, right? He calls for a vote on a vacancy, he won't get the votes, of course. But Democrats probably don't throw the House into chaos, they probably don't team up with the Freedom Caucus and then he says Kevin McCarthy is now the speaker of the Democrats, right? It is a slow bleed for the speaker. So that's the box that Matt is willing to put his leadership in.
TAPPER: Yeah, I feel like we should talk about policies and issues that might actually benefit the American --
MOSKOWITZ: That's why most of us run for office.
TAPPER: Benefit the American people.
Democratic Congressman Jared Moskowitz of Florida, good to see you. Thanks so much.
MOSKOWITZ: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: We're standing by for Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah to come the cameras. He made a big announcement earlier today. He's not going to seek re-election.
And also ahead, the dramatic arrest of that Pennsylvania fugitive. Thank God he's been, found asleep in tall grass, apparently a sleep on top of his stolen rifle. A witness who saw that arrest within yards of his home is going to join us coming up.
TAPPER: Right now, we're awaiting on Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah to begin his news conference. Today, he called for a new generation of leaders and announced he would not seek re-election when his Senate term ends in January 2025. We'll bring that to you as soon as his remarks begin.
In our national lead, the 14-day manhunt in Pennsylvania, thankfully, is over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm proud to announce the subject is in custody. The subject is in custody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Danelo Cavalcante, the brutal killers who crab-walked his way out of that Pennsylvania prison, finally caught wearing a stolen Eagles sweatshirt. The international criminal was found by a plane using thermal heat seeking technology in the dead of night, detecting him sleeping atop his stolen rifle in tall grass. A police K9 pinning him down by biting him as lawmaker moved in.
CNN's Brian Todd is in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Brian, we're learning that Cavalcante just finished up his first court appearance?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. We are told just moments ago that Cavalcante was formally arraigned. He was charged with felony escape and he was denied bail. This capture took place just a few feet behind, past this brush and over a creek over there and a little bit up a path.
What we could tell you is that the sequence basically began a little bit after midnight last night Eastern Time when a burglar alarm went off in a house not far from here. Authorities converged on that house and did not find Cavalcante. He was actually captured about a quarter mile after that.
After midnight, there was a thermal image captured of him by a plane, a DEA fixed wing aircraft that captured -- TAPPER: Brian, I'm going to come back -- Brian, I'm sorry to interrupt
you. We're going to Senator Romney and then we'll come back to you.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I think some of the people that are coming along next want to have a say in how we leave the Earth and how they prepare for the future they're going to live in.
REPORTER: -- Trump critic, do you feel like with him likely being on the ballot next year it could give you trouble running for re- election.
ROMNEY: You know, there was a recent poll in Utah which had me showing some very strong numbers and I was very pleased to see that. I think the people in Utah don't all agree on me with the posture I took with regards to Donald Trump, but they respect people who vote their conscience. And I appreciate that in my fellow citizens and I don't have any question that I won if I run again. I just don't think that we need another person in their 80s.
I'm a little long in the tooth already. We don't need more like me. The issues related to China, climate change, A.I., and guys in their 80s don't (ph) know how to deal with those issues.
REPORTER: You mentioned your age as one of the reasons for not running for re-election. Is that a nice way to say to some of your colleagues who are older that maybe it's time for them to step down as well?
ROMNEY: Well, everybody has to make their own decision, and consider their own circumstances. I just look at my age and where I am, I wish -- if I knew that I was going to be like Chuck Grassley and be able to be vigorous and dynamic into my 90s, I might have reached a different decision. But you never know.
But I do think that the times we're living in demand the next generation to step up and express their point of view, and to make the decisions that will shape our American politics over the coming century. And just having a bunch of guys who are around the -- the baby boomers -- who are around the post-war era, we're not the right ones to be making the decisions for tomorrow.
REPORTER: If you could speak to where the Republican Party is now. When you look at the Republican Party, particularly where the House of Representatives is, do you feel like this is a Republican Party that is beholden to former President Donald Trump?
ROMNEY: Well, there's no question that the Republican Party today is in the shadow of Donald Trump. He's the leader of the greatest portion of the Republican Party. It is a populist, I believe, a demagogue portion of the party.
Look, I represent a small wing of the party. If you will, I call it the wise wing of the Republican Party. And I don't believe we're going away. I think ultimately we'll see a resurgence and come back into leadership of the party.
Look, my wing of the party talks about policy. And about issues that will make a difference to the lives of the American people.
The Trump wing of the party, talks about resentments of various kind and getting even and settling scores and revisiting the 2020 election. What are the policies for future? And my party is only going to be successful getting young people to vote for us if we're talking about the future. And that's not happening so far in that other wing.
REPORTER: Are you going to lose that battle? You are fighting that wing of the party and in stepping aside and to add to that you had said that a lot of your party simply does not believe in the Constitution. What do you mean by that?
ROMNEY: Well, there were -- I was in a rally where someone said to me, you know, if you're elected, this is when I was running for Senate last time, if you're elected, will you close down ABC and NBC and CBS because they're not sending out the truth. And this is in a Republican rally and I was like, really?
There are no question, there's not question there is some organization of my party and the opposition party who thinks we need to have a strong person, a strongman to put aside the Constitution. For that matter President Trump, former President Trump said we should put aside the Constitution and reinstall him as president.
I mean, so, yeah, there are sp people who believe that. I believe they're sorely wrong. I believe the great majority of American people believe that they're wrong. But -- and in terms of what I'm going to be doing, look, I want to get more young people voting and involved in the political process and that's something that I'm going to devote myself to after the next year and a half when I spent --
REPORTER: Who do you plan to endorse as your successor, Governor Cox, Mia Love, Congressman Owens? And, second, why not stay and fight for what you believe in, even if it takes you to your mid-80s?
ROMNEY: Well, in part because I believe we want some other young people coming in and making those decisions. I don't intend to make endorsements. By the way, I think endorsements are -- what is the old line, the John McCain line, they're not worth a bucket of spit. Who the heck cares who endorsed who?
You make your decision as a voter about what you think about the candidate and their point of view and their vision, and you don't care what some other person said. So, I'm not planning on --
REPORTER: But who do you want to succeed you?
ROMNEY: I don't have a comment on who might succeed me. I hope that we get a very strong contender and that it is someone would is a little younger than me.
REPORTER: Senator, if you think you're too old, what about Biden and Trump who are old? And do you think they should be re-running?
ROMNEY: Oh, I think it would be a great thing if both President Biden and former President Trump were to stand aside and let the respective party pick someone in the next generation. President Trump -- excuse me, President Biden when he was running said he was a transitional figure for the next generation. Well, time to transition.
David Ignatius this morning made a strong argument that we should see that kind of change. I think both parties will be far better served if -- if they were going to be represented by people other than those of us from the baby boom generation.
REPORTER: Some of your bipartisan accomplishments in your statement earlier. Are you concerned at all about the ranks of senators who are at the table forming gangs, that that is spinning out?
ROMNEY: Well, we had a group of about ten of us and that group has dissipated. Rob Portman is gone. You know, Susan Collins has become really the ranking member of appropriations. That's going to be her focus. And then you got Sinema, Manchin, Tester on the Democratic side. So we're all pulling in different directions these days. Coming together like we had was a very unusual thing.
Look, I recognize that I -- you know, that I had a embarrassment of riches initially which as a first term senator, I got together with a group of other folks and we got a lot of stuff done. A COVID relief package when the White House and then Speaker Pelosi couldn't get one done and an infrastructure bill reform and the Electoral Count Act, Religious Liberty Protections and the Marriage Act, gun safety legislation.
We've got a lot done, which was a lot of fun. That is kind of unusual. And looking forward, I think it is going to be more challenging for something like that to occur again.
REPORTER: Senator, are you going to seek elected office again? Will you run for office ever again -- high office, Senate?
ROMNEY: I never imagined I would be running this time. And I can't imagine doing it again. But there is that old line from "Dumb and Dumber", which is, you know, there's one in a million shot. So you're saying there is a chance, all right? So I'm not planning on that. Again, no future campaigns in mind.
REPORTER: Senator, what you have heard from some of your colleagues on both sides of the aisle when it comes to missing your leadership, missing your participation in these issues? And secondly, something that you'll be a part of it another impeachment trial in the Senate this time with President Joe Biden. What's your response to that?
ROMNEY: Well, I have been heartened today as I've received a text from a great number of my colleagues saying they're going to miss me. I appreciate that. I was heartened by the poll in Utah a couple of weeks ago that was very encouraging as well with a very positive approval rating.
That feels good. But, you know, following the Georgia Costanza lead, which you leave when their laughing and leave when their wishing you would stay. And I really don't want to be in an institution when people are saying, why is he still hanging around?
So, I'm going to -- I'm going to continue to work over the next year and a half to really address the big three or four issues, immigration, level of our debt we have, a climate change strategy, and a strategy to deal with China.
REPORTER: And what about impeachment? Another impeachment trial potentially?
ROMNEY: You know, I know the House is beginning an impeachment inquiry. I haven't heard any allegation of something that would rise to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor. I think it would be very unusual to actually see a referral of impeachment. I don't expect that to happen.
They could inquire and see if there's evidence that shows something else. I don't think they'll find that. I don't know. But there's been no allegation of that and any hint of that has been denied by the president so I'm not expecting that to occur.
REPORTER: Senator, can you talk about -- you talk about your legacy and how you want to leave before people as you said are laughing at you. What would you say to some of your colleagues who have been experiencing --
ROMNEY: I was -- they were laughing at George Costanza, not me. But they laugh at me too but that's a different matter.
REPORTER: What do you say to some of your colleagues, including the Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Dianne Feinstein who are going through their health diagnosis and facing criticism to step down?
ROMNEY: Well, you know, in their position, for instance, you know, take Mitch McConnell, he's the leader of the Republican Caucus. What he's able to do at his age is really extraordinary. I mean, and I'm the first -- I'm the first term senator, even as a second term senator, I would not be a committee chair or a ranking member. I'd be a junior trying to get stuff done and fight through the regular order process.
I was able to break through that with this gang that came together. But he's in a position to make a real difference at his age. Which, you know, if I were majority leader of the Senate, I might -- I might reach a different decision, too. But I'm not.
REPORTER: Senator, in the excerpt from the book that just came out today, you have some harsh memories of Leader McConnell. Are you at all disappointed by the leadership that you've seen in your Republican Party that you may encounter particularly with impeachment trials and dealing with Trump?
ROMNEY: No, actually, I have a great deal of respect for Leader McConnell and one of the mysteries is why he's so unpopular in national polls. I don't understand that. He is the singular reason why we have a conservative Supreme Court. I hope people recognize that.
And he also is a very effective leader of our group. When you have 50, a Republican group, basically 50 of us, every one of whom thinks they ought to be president, how you lead a group like that is not easy and he has done it with skill and aplomb over a number of years. So I have nothing but the highest respect for him.
And I -- there is nothing that I know of in the book that McKay Coppins has written that's critical of the leader. I mean, and I -- the personal conversations and the private conversation and his public pronouncements, I've been nothing but more impressed.
REPORTER: In that book, you said that McConnell said that Trump was an idiot, that was the word from McConnell. For one, is that true?
ROMNEY: I'm not going to -- yeah, I'm not going to comment on those things because those were not quotes from me. They were quotes from a member of my staff who actually quoted that. So I won't comment about that. But I think --
REPORTER: But you also called -- but you also objected on January 6 (INAUDIBLE) Cruz and Hawley.
ROMNEY: I think the point was that with regards to that comment, which is that I think leader McConnell thought it was not a great idea on the part of Donald Trump to be critical of jury members at the time they were deliberating. It was kind of an obvious point.
REPORTER: And what about Cruz and Hawley because you said they were disingenuous then of --
ROMNEY: Look, I really do believe that -- that the -- many of the people in leadership, meaning elected officials who claim that 2020 was stolen election, that we need to recount the ballots or whatever other than through the normal judicial process, I think they knew better and I express that numerous times. That's not a surprise.
Look, democracy requires belief in credibility in elections and so people who are casting aspersions on our election process are threatening one of the bases of our very foundation. So, yeah, I was critical of that and continue to be and I'm sure they wouldn't be surprised to hear it again.
REPORTER: Any words if another January 6 could happen after this election? Is that a part of --
ROMNEY: I think my guess is after the next election, whatever happens, there will be plenty of people around the Capitol to make sure that doesn't happen again.
REPORTER: What do you think it's going to take for the party to be not so dominated by Donald Trump anymore?
ROMNEY: You know, I saw an article in "The Atlantic" which pointed out that young people are not warming to the MAGA message and I think that's true. Whether Donald Trump is there, there will be some of the follows him, that follows in his footsteps and gives the same populist pattern.
I don't think it will be successful long-term because I think young people are paying far more attention and are not going to be sucked into the populist notions and so I think -- I think our party goes back to, if you will, the wise wing of the Republican Party as time goes on.
REPORTER: Do you think your party though -- Trump is leading -- dominating in the polls right now, probably going to be your nominee. You're the outlier of the party.
REPORTER: There's no signs that you're saying that the party will shift.
ROMNEY: I'm not talking about in the next two years. I'm talking over the next decade or so. I mean, I -- I just -- I mean, populism doesn't work. I quote that H.L. Mencken line which is to every complex problem there is a solution which is simple, clear and wrong. And unfortunately that is what we're hearing.
And again, on the Trump wing of the party, I haven't heard policy other than saying we're going to build a wall and, by the way, he was president -- he was president for four years and he built 50 miles. What did he done? How was the tax change? Well, the tax, that was Paul Ryan. That wasn't the Biden plan.
And he had a health care plan. Remember that? That was going -- everybody was going to have low cost health insurance that was fabulous. Never proposed, never saw. He was in four years.
So it's not a policy-centric approach and if you don't have policy to match your rhetoric, ultimately, it's not going to be successful.
REPORTER: -- at the end of day --
REPORTER: Senator, in that case, in the McKay's article you mentioned or it is mentioned that you spoken to Joe Manchin about possibly starting a third political party. Is there any interest in that or is that sort of died out?
ROMNEY: Oh, that was several months ago. Who knows what might happen. I think Senator Manchin is looking more closely at No Labels at this stage. I can't speak for him.
But Joe and I speak a good deal. And I raised ideas with him. I actually think a third party candidate would make it more likely that it is just a spoiler and it would not be successful in electing someone. So that is not --
REPORTER: You say that you want to step aside and let the new generation come in. What are you doing about that?
ROMNEY: What am I doing about that? Stepping aside.
REPORTER: More than that.
ROMNEY: And I will --
REPORTER: And how are you getting young people into politics?
ROMNEY: Well, one of the things that I intend to do is going on college campuses and speaking in college campuses to encourage young people to actually run for office and to vote.
And I don't think there is a way to actually mandate this. I probably wouldn't. But I like colleges and universities to insist that the young people vote, and make it easy. Have voting booths on campus and make sure that we get more of the young people, because it is the world they're going to be inheriting.
REPORTER: What was the biggest regret of your career? What was the biggest regret of your career?
ROMNEY: I don't have -- I don have any.
REPORTER: Have you talked to President Biden? Have you spoken to the president?
TAPPER: We have been watching this news conference with Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney who today announced he will not seek re-election.
Let's bring in CNN political director David Chalian.
David, this really does mark the end of an era of sorts. He is one of, if not the last statesman in the U.S. Senate.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: There is no doubt that it marks the end of a storied political career. It is hard to imagine him having something beyond this. But as even Mitt Romney noted, some of the elder statesman remain in their roles in both parties, something he's arguing against with this announcement, Jake.
He's arguing for a real generational shift. Time to pass the torch to the next generation which is why he sort of takes this criticism to both Trump and Biden. He said to Dan Balz in "the Washington Post" in an interview earlier that he thinks that is likely the choices before the American people and he thinks it's a terrible choice to present because neither one of them he believes at this point in their lives are in a position to lead properly into the next generation.
And I would note that this is a Mitt Romney -- I mean, think about going back to him running against Teddy Kennedy for the Senate, serving as governor of Massachusetts, a very liberal state and he's a conservative Republican making that run for the White House and now serving in this role in the United States Senate from Utah, and doing so in a way where he wanted to sort of provide the conscience of the party in the Trump era. The only Republican senator to vote twice in two different impeachments that is, to convict Donald Trump in both of the impeachment trials.
And he said that where his party is going doesn't work. That not only is he saying there needs to be a generational change and he doesn't want to be in his mid-80s at the end of a second term. But that is he is hopeful, it sounded like to me, that young people are going to reject the populism that is coursing through the Republican Party, that this -- the Trump MAGA sort of philosophy that is the dominant force inside today's Republican Party, will die out because young people seem in his estimation totally unenthusiastic about.
TAPPER: All right. David Chalian, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Back to our national lead and the dramatic lead to the 14-man manhunt for that escaped brutal killer, Danelo Cavalcante, finally, thankfully captured this morning. The international criminal now facing a felony escape charge.
Let's bring in Robert Russell, who was 100 yards away, about the length of a football field from where Cavalcante was captured.
Robert, you and your wife and four kids were in your house, on lockdown, for 48 hours, when at around 6:00 a.m. this morning you saw hundreds of police cars and heard a helicopter above. What was going through your mind?
ROBERT RUSSELL, LIVES NEAR SITE WHERE DANILO CAVALCANTE WAS CAPTURED: A lot of things. I think the first thing was initially I really hope the police are surrounding this guy. But we did know that we were safe because of how many police officers were in the area. There had to have been well over 50 cop cars with at least two cops in each car.
So we knew there was pretty high hopes they were going to get him this morning, which we're thankful they did. TAPPER: I don't think people understand necessarily how much people in
Chester County were living in terror about this brutal killer being on the loose. You called your landlord at one point, and she said that Cavalcante had been seen in her own yard?
RUSSELL: Yeah, that's correct. We had been in contact with her. She just lives across the creek and also the pond. But yeah, she had said that she had seen something, so she called the cops. They had done a walkthrough of her house. And that kind of just escalated things for us, making us aware we needed to be more secure.
Just stay away from the windows, make sure everything was locked again. Yeah, just stay safe, hunker down and let cops do their job.
TAPPER: Did you have a plan ready if Cavalcante made his way onto your property, into your home?
RUSSELL: Partially, yes. I mean, I think everyone kind of has a plan of what they would like to do. I don't know if I -- what I would have done in the moment, if he did enter the house. Obviously, we were -- like you said, I've got four kids. Two of them are 2-month-old toddler or infants.
And so, we were up all night, listening to the scanners on YouTube or whatever. Just being aware of what was going on outside of our house and trying to be extra careful. And if we heard anything, we would either call the cops or give a tip.
We've actually seen our barn door open multiple times throughout the last day and a half, and we called that in, just because we didn't know if the cops had been there, we hadn't seen them walk into the back. So that was a little terrifying, as well.
TAPPER: How have you and your wife been explaining it to the two kids that are not the infants, the other two who might have some understanding that things weren't normal?
RUSSELL: Yeah. So we have a 3-year-old Ruby, 2-year-old Jordan, both girls. They didn't fully understand. We kept it as light hearted as possible because -- I mean, obviously, as parents, we want to guard them from things that might scar them or terrify them.
There's not need -- we knew he would be captured, we knew we would be okay. Thank God that everything was, really. So we just said, cops are going to get the bad guys, and that's what the cops did.
TAPPER: All right. Robert Russell, thank you so much. Really, really appreciate it. And yet, I'm glad too that they caught this guy and you and your wife and kids are all okay. Thanks for joining us. Really appreciate it.
RUSSELL: Of course. Thank you.
TAPPER: And be sure to tune in to CNN today. Laura Coates is going to take a look at the manhunt, "Capturing a Killer". That's at 11:00 p.m. Eastern tonight, only on CNN. The gravity of that big announcement Senator Mitt Romney saying he will not run for re-election, not shutting down questions about what may be next for his political future.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, back behind bars. The killer's has been on the run for 14 days after escaping that Chester County, Pennsylvania prison, is mow in custody again. How a police dog pinned the fugitive while he was sleeping on top of that stolen rifle in tall grass, all within the search parameter.
Plus, the new account from one of the Secret Service agents at JFK's side when he was assassinated. Why this raises new questions about the magic bullet theory. We're going to talk to that Secret Service agent this hour.
And leading this hour, Republican Senator from Utah Mitt Romney just announced he will not seek re-election when his term ends in January 2025. He released a video statement on Twitter earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: At the end of another term, I'd be in my mid 80s. Frankly, it's time for a new generation of leaders. They're the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The Utah senator just held a press conference on Capitol Hill where he took questions from reporters about his career, the future of the Republican Party, and former Presidents Trump and rumors that Senator Joe Manchin will potentially run for president in 2024 on the third party ticket, the No Labels Party.
CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju was in the room there for Romney's press conference.
Manu, outside of Romney's inner circle, the senator's announcement today came as a real surprise.
RAJU: Yeah, no question about it because there was a hope that he would actually run for re-election.