Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

UAW Launches Historic Strike Against Big 3 Automakers; Prosecutors: Trump's Public Statements Have Lead To Harassment Of Witnesses; Special Counsel Obtains At Least 32 Direct Messages From Trump's Twitter Account In 2020 Election Probe; U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Blames Strike On Biden; Deliberations Underway In Texas AG Impeachment Trial; Paul Whelan's Sister Pushes Biden To Bring Her Brother Home; UAW Launches Historic Strike Against Big 3 Automakers. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 16:00   ET



MIKE BALL, CNN HERO: And instead now you talk about what you feel and a whole bunch of people go, yeah. It's life-changing. We can plant a seed in that child of self-confidence, self-worth, it's just so powerful.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: That is beautiful.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: It is beautiful. Makes you tear up.

KEILAR: It does.

For more go to


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A former presidential candidate and current U.S. senator is about to join auto workers on that picket line.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Day one on strike. As autoworkers push for higher pay and better benefits. Soon, a rally to support their demands with Senator Bernie Sanders joining the fight.

Thirty-two of Donald Trump's old Twitter DMs turned over to the special counsel and now in the hands of Jack Smith, as his federal investigation digs into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. What was so damning in those messages?

Plus, deliberating the fate of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, already suspended, facing impeachment by his fellow Republicans, accused of abuse of power and bribery. So, the big question, will state senators vote to remove him from office? That decision could come down literally at any moment.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start with our national lead. For the first time in U.S. history, union workers are on strike against all three of America's Big Three automakers, all at the same time.

The UAW strike is spread across three plants right now, one from each of the Big Three. It's a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Ford truck plant in Wayne, Michigan, and a Stellantis assembly complex in Toledo, Ohio. Stellantis owns Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler, among others.

In total, more than 12,000 workers have walked off the job. Right now, that's about 9 percent of UAW's 145,000 members. But the union warns more will go on strike if demands are not met. This is just a taste of what could come, they say.

So what do auto workers want? They want a 40 percent pay increase over a four-year contract. They want cost of living pay increases restored. They want a four-day workweek and they want limits on part-time workers and forced overtime.

So far, the CEOs at the automakers have scoffed at the worker's demands. Ford CEO Jim Farley said the company simply cannot afford these demands, but all three automakers, it has been noted, have reported record or near record profits. And the CEOs themselves have seen multi-million dollars pay raises with their salaries climbing up to 40 percent over the last few years.

Today, President Biden spoke with the White House supporting workers and their demands, but he did stop short of explicitly endorsing the strike.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's be clear: no one wants a strike. Say it again, no one wants a strike. But I respect the workers' right to use their options under the collective bargaining system, and I understand the workers' frustration.


TAPPER: A Michigan lawmaker who was on today's picket line will join me in just a second.

But our coverage is going to start with CNN's Gabe Cohen.

Gabe, you're at the Toledo, Ohio, Stellantis plant where more than 5,000 Stellantis workers are on strike. That's the largest group of striking workers of the three plants. Just minutes ago, the UAW, the union said negotiators are going to return to the bargaining table tomorrow.

What do we know about that?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was the message from the head of the union, Shawn Fain. That's what he told me early this morning on a picket line. Sorry about the noise. On a picket line in Michigan.

He told me that they would not be bargaining today. That really today was about these rallies and these members that they would not be bargaining again until Saturday. Although, we now understand that the union has sent a counter offer to all three of the automakers and are now awaiting a response and until that deal is reached and it could be sometime.

This is what it will look like outside of this massive Stellantis plant. You could see about a dozen workers and they stretch all the way down this road. If you look on the other side of where I'm standing, you could see additional lines at each and every gate, many of the other workers who aren't here are out at the local union headquarters signing up right now for strike pay, Jake.

They're going to be getting $100 a day for the foreseeable future.


And that's money from the union because they're not making a salary and they have basically shut down operation here. We spoke with the head of the union, the local union here about their frustrations. Take a listen.


BRUCE BAUMHOWER, PRESIDENT, UAW LOCAL 12: One thing that drives us crazy is we went through a breaking news bankruptcy with Barack Obama in 2008 and 2000 -- and beginning of 2009. And we were asked -- we were told by the president, we had to give up huge concessions for them to get the government support to turn their companies around. We did that. And now it hasn't been reversed.

Back in 2000 -- when we came out of bankruptcy, our starting pay was $15.78. Fourteen years later, it's $15.78. There's something wrong with that.


COHEN: And, Jake, I could tell you every worker I've spoken to today has told me they're ready for the long haul. They're prepared for a strike. They were told to save up money, that this could be coming. And they basically shut down operation at this huge complex where they make many of the Jeeps that you, family and friends likely drive. For example, the Wrangler, many of those cars parked just sitting here as these picket lines are growing. Jake.

TAPPER: Gabe Cohen, thanks so much.

So exactly what do automakers want here? How is the strike going to affect the rest of us?

Rahel Solomon is here to break it down.

Rahel, what are the striking workers hoping to achieve here?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, more money. That is the big thing. There are other demands which you just mentioned. One that we hear a lot about is the 32-hour, four day workweek.

Jake, I could tell you based on conversations today with different industry analysts, that that is not expected. There is a lot of confidence that that issue, four-day workweek, is going to make it across the finish line. But the issue of the 40 percent pay raise, that is going to be a huge issue.

Now, for the automakers, they say, look, we can offer -- Ford and GM say that they can offer a 20 percent raise during the life of the contract and Stellantis is offering 17.5. But again, the UAW asking for 40 percent over four years.

And just to provide a bit of a snapshot, Jake, of where we're starting from, on average, the average UAW worker right now at one of those Big Three plants is making about $32.32 per hour. But that really depends on the type of workers. If you are part-time, if you're temporary, that number could be a lot closer to $15 to $18 per hour. And, Jake, pay I said a really big issue here.

But it's not just the pay of the workers that we're hearing a lot about. It's the pay of the executives as you just pointed out. So, the top three executives at the top three automakers making between $20 million and $30 million. And if you'll notice, that is up to a 40 percent increase.

So you're seeing a bit of a theme there. Forty percent increase over the last four years for executives and the UAW workers now asking for a 40 percent pay raise. Now, Jake, if it feels like there have been more strikes than usual, that there has been an uptick is strikes, you're right. It's not your imagination.

There are a few factor driving this increased strike activity, inflation, a big part of it but also the tighter labor market that workers still feel like they have the upper hand and so, they are exercising that because they think now is a really good time to get the things they say they are deserve.

TAPPER: What's the impact on consumers potentially and what does this mean for the automakers from a financial standpoint?

SOLOMON: Yeah, so for the consumers, anyone who has tried to buy a car, Jake, over the last few years fully understands prices have been high. So perhaps depending on how long this lasts, we could see more of that. So watch that space.

In terms of the financial impact of these companies, Jake, look, I have been asking analysts who know these industries, who know these companies and their financials what would the impact be financially, how damaging could it be to them, and I've heard everything from there is no way these companies could give into these demands, meet these demands as they are now without having to raise prices, $4,000, $5,000 prices per car.

But I've also heard others say, look, it ultimately depends on how this turns out. Also, ultimately, depends on what the automakers do in response to try to minimize. So it's early days, a lot of scenarios, the economic impact will ultimately depend on how long this lasts.

TAPPER: All right. Rahel Solomon, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Michigan Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin.

Congresswoman, we know both sides are set to meet again tomorrow. More than 3,000 workers are striking at Ford's truck plant in your state. Ford CEO Jim Farley told CNN that the company cannot afford the union's demands. But the UAW president Shawn Fain said Farley's claims are a joke.

How do you see this getting resolved?

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Well, I mean, I think it's like any other negotiation, right? We're really glad that the parties are coming, you now, together. We're really glad that right now, it looks like everyone is bargaining in good faith. They're coming back to the table even though we had strike activity today, and we just expect them to do the push and pull like any negotiation until they figure it out. And we want them to do that as quickly as possible, right? No one wants this to go on longer than it has to.

But I think certainly today was a -- you know, a different moment of inflection for these -- this conversation because, you know, I was down there today in front of the Ford plant and, you know, the energy is really -- the workers have the energy.


They're ready for this.

TAPPER: The union, they're asking for several things, including a 40 percent pay raise over four years, a four-day workweek. What do you think of these demands?

SLOTKIN: Well, look, I mean, I think -- I used to do, you know, negotiations on international agreements in my former life, in the national security world and you prepare and, you know, you bring your demands to the other side and you would work it out. And, you know, I'm not in those negotiations. I don't know what each side has sort of set as their internal red lines and I know that no negotiation will be perfect for either side.

So, we're -- to me, the -- only Shawn Fain and the UAW and the folks who are going to vote on that agreement are going to know what the right sweet spot is. In the meantime, the stage was set for this negotiation, frankly, months ago, right, because you have the companies who are making record profits, you have every employer in the country looking for employees, attracting employees, raising wages and benefits because they need those employees to come to them.

In that scenario, it's understandable why anyone in Shawn Fain's position would be pushing for a strong deal.

TAPPER: We cannot ignore the potential political impact. Obviously, this could impact the economy. Obviously, this is happening under President Biden's watch, the first time in history there's been a strike against all three of the big three automakers at the same time. For you, too, running for the U.S. Senate in Michigan.

How worried are you that this -- it's going to hurt Democrats?

SLOTKIN: You know, I'll be honest. I mean, I was down there front of the plant today, we went to another location where UAW hospital workers are striking.

And I didn't hear one person on the line actually talking about politics. I didn't hear one person say, Joe Biden this or Donald Trump that. They literally were just like, I can't pay my rent, right? I can't afford to rent a place. Or I started here 20 years ago and the people who are coming in today have no shot of getting the position that I've gotten.

I just -- it is just not on the tip of people's tongue right now who are actually in the middle of this. And for me, it's not -- it's not a political calculation. I'm a firm believer that in the United States of America, we are safer and better off when we have a strong middle class and everyone should be able to get into the middle class and stay in.

And that's what people on the line are asking about. How can I live a secure life financially? So, I get it that, you know, people want to ask about politics. It's just not the conversation going on, on the ground here.

TAPPER: I want to turn to the final trial in the 2020 plot to kidnap your governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer. Three men were acquitted in this final trial today, of all charges. They were not considered to be the ringleaders of the plot. They said they have done some of the surveillance of Whitmer's home. Two of them testified in their defense, saying they had no serious or dangerous this plot was.

So of the 14 men who were prosecuted in the plot, nine were convicted, five were acquitted. What's your reaction to final outcome?

SLOTKIN: Well, first of all, I think it's really important that we as a state and as a country have gone through this process, right? If you threaten violence, you organize, you plot, you surveil, you come up with this whole scheme to do this, to hurt somebody else, you should be held accountable. So I think it's just been an important process for us to go through.

And then, you know, there's courts of law. You've got to be able to prove your evidence in courts of law and I think, you know, just by the numbers you just laid out, we've had some justice here. And that's all we can ask for.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, happy Rosh Hashanah to you. SLOTKIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We're standing by for a rally to begin in support of union workers. CNN is there. Senator Bernie Sanders is supposed to be there. Keep it here to see how that event plays out.

Plus, breaking right now, prosecutors with the special counsel's office out with new allegations about Donald Trump. That's next.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now on the special counsel's 2020 election subversion case against Donald Trump. The Justice Department prosecutors are making some new allegations this afternoon about Trump's public statements.

Let's get straight to CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake. I mean, the prosecutors here are saying quite simply that Donald Trump's public statements have led to the intimidation and harassment of witnesses. Now this is all contained in an opinion that was just released from the judge overseeing the D.C. case, Judge Tanya Chutkan. This relates to prosecutors wanting to file a motion asking Judge Chutkan to do something about the former president's comments and supposed intimidation and threats against these witnesses. We don't know what.

But Judge Chutkan has ruled here today that all of the witnesses mentioned as having received some of this intimidation and any of these threats, their names can continue to be redacted, away from public view.

One of the things that she said is that all of these individuals who are mentioned by the prosecutors, they have already experienced harassment and threats due to publication of their information and the possibility of that happening again risks witness intimidation, including of other witnesses not identified in this motion.

So, you know, there is a few holes in this opinion. We're not getting all the details. But what we do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly continued to speak out, tweet, say things about people involved in that D.C. election case, the federal case going on right here in Washington and now prosecutors are saying that maybe some of the people who he's talked about, they have received threats, they have been intimidated and now prosecutors are asking the judge to make some kind of decision here regarding those threats.

So, Jake, I mean, it's notable here that prosecutors are saying, you know, Donald Trump's words over the past several weeks, even though the judge in this case has told him not to make any public entertainments about this case, those words not only has he made those comments, but they have affected numerous witnesses as we're getting a look at here. [16:20:14]

We don't know exactly who or we don't know exactly what statements have led to those intimidation and threats, but significant news and accusations coming from the prosecutors' office.

TAPPER: Interesting. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Tom Dupree. He was a principal deputy assistant attorney general for the George W. Bush administration.

Tom, what do -- what do you make of this filing?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, G.W. BUSH ADMINSTRATION: Well, first, it doesn't surprise me that that's the result on witnesses. I mean, the president has been outspoken. He's attacked judges, witnesses and everyone under the sun through his public statements and social media.

What will be interesting here, Jake, is what the judge does about it. We're seeing so far from the way she runs her courtroom, she's committed to preserving the integrity of the judicial process. She wants to make sure the jury pool stays protected. She wants to make sure witnesses say protected.

I would expect she'll take this very seriously and that she may either admonish the president, she may instruct his lawyers to direct their client to knock it off, in an extreme case she could impose a gag order. She can even do things like revoke bail.

So, she has a menu of options open to her and I suspect she'll start at the lower end to see if that will coerce his compliance and then gradually work her way up if that doesn't work.

TAPPER: And what is interesting, this is comes right after Senator Mitt Romney announced he's not running for re-election and in an excerpt of his book about Romney that was published in the Atlantic, McKay Coppins has a section where Romney is recalling members of the House and Senate saying they're not going to vote to impeach or to convict Donald Trump after the insurrection because they are afraid of what will happen to them or their families. In other words, intimidation from Trump works.

DUPREE: Well, that may be the lesson that's drawn from this. I mean, in the past, he's been very aggressive, going after everyone, political enemies, the media, citizens, through these comments. They work. They can cause people to change their behavior. They can silence people.

But it's a different world now when you're in court. In other words, it's one thing to make those comments in the context of a political campaign or a political fray. It's another thing to make it when you are a criminal defendant and you are making comments about witnesses who are poised to testify against you.

TAPPER: Judge Chutkan previously said any inflammatory statements could speed up the trial as well. You think that she might do that as well.

DUPREE: Absolutely. I mean, if she thinks there are witnesses out there who are getting scared or intimidated from testifying because of these comments, she may say, look, we need to move this thing up. Let's move it up a few months.

So, he is -- it's a risky business. I mean, he's playing with fire to some extent, making these comments, because I don't think this is a judge that's going to stand for a lot of this stuff.

TAPPER: Some other news today in the same case. Special counsel Jack Smith sliding into Donald Trump's DMs as it were after a tug-of-war, the company, Twitter, now known as X, reluctantly gave the Justice Department at least 32 direct messages from Donald Trump's account. The warrant sought information from October of 2020 through January of 2021, asking for, quote, the content of all direct messages sent from, received by, stored in draft form, and/or otherwise associated with Trump's account.

Explain this to us. That seems like a rather extreme thing to -- for a judge to order the justice department to do? Did the judge have to look and say oh, that merits handing over? How does that work?

DUPREE: Well, sure. What will often happen is in this case the social media platform might object, and say, look, we've got those requests --


TAPPER: And judge said that they did.

DUPREE: Right.

TAPPER: Elon Musk did not want to turn it over.

DUPREE: And they fought it. They fought it.

TAPPER: Right.

DUPREE: The judge said, you have to turn it over because there might be relevant evidence in there.

And, look, the significance here, Jake, is that as we know, the president typically does not use email. Email is often one of the most effective piece of evidence prosecutors can use in proving the case. It wasn't going to be in play apparently in this case.

The existence of these direct messages does suggest that former President Trump was communicating in an email-like way with people, sending direct messages to individuals. We don't know what they say. But at least it could be a game-changer if there's material in that collection of DMs that the prosecutors can use to prove the president's intent or the president's state of knowledge.

TAPPER: Yeah. Or draft DMs. It also suggested.

Trump was asked this week by NBC about the possibility of pardoning himself if he gets elected president again. Take a listen.


INTERVIEWER: Mr. President, if you were re-elected, would you pardon yourself?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I could have pardoned myself. You know what? I was given an option to pardon myself. I could have pardoned myself when I left.


TAPPER: He was not facing any criminal charges when he left office. But if he is re-elected, he could potentially be a convicted felon at that point. It's an entirely different scenario.

Do we know if it is clear that he could pardon himself?

DUPREE: I don't think there's a clear answer either way. My best guess is he you can't pardon himself. If you look at the history of the pardon power, it is not something that a sovereign bequeaths on of its citizens. It's not something the sovereign would typically do to himself. It's something you give to someone else.


You look at our nation's history, our traditions. My sense is that the founders did not envision when they gave the president the pardon power that he would use it to press -- pardon himself because that would have the effect of putting the president above the law.

TAPPER: Yeah, but then you look at the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court and --

DUPREE: You could. But I think in this case, they would actually play it straight with the history. I think they would look at the history, the traditions. They would go back to the British common law and they would make a call as to whether this was encompassed within the constitution.

TAPPER: You're very optimistic. You're a very optimistic young man.

DUPREE: That is how I see it, Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Dupree, thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

Just in the last 36 hours, President Biden's son Hunter was indicted and then this autoworker strike started, as Biden touts himself as the most pro-union president in history. All this making his bid for re- election which was already going to be difficult, that much more difficult. How political strategists see this political landscape. That's next.


[16:30:20] TAPPER: In our 2024 lead, the United Auto Workers strike is a real test of merit for one 2024 presidential candidate. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is President Joe Biden. It's all got the hallmarks of his economic agenda and this is all centered in Michigan, a must-win state if he wants to keep his job in 2024.

Let's discuss with Karen Finney and Republican strategist Rina Shah.

So, Karen --


TAPPER: -- you know, 58 percent of Americans believe that Joe Biden's policies have made economic conditions worse. And I know you disagree. But now we have a major strike by a UAW and three different states including Michigan.

What possible moves does Biden have here politically?

FINNEY: Well, I think we saw it earlier today, right, trying to both affirm some support for the strike for the people who are striking and their right to ask for better wages and better working conditions, particularly, you know, given that we saw during COVID, the disparities were laid so bare. And so, you know, you listen to the strikers and they're talking about, look, they're getting 40 percent increases and we gave up our pension.

So I think you saw the president kind of walking that balance. At the same time, I also think that the president could do some tough talk behind the scenes because, remember, the American people, we bailed the auto industry out in 2008 and he was part of that deal.


FINNEY: So I think he's got to do both. I mean, particularly given that this strike is fundamentally about the middle class in this country. So I think he's got to continue to try to do both. He's, you know, sending members of the administration out to try to help with the negotiations.

I think this is a tough one for the president, obviously, because he can't control what happens. He can only try to navigate around the edges.

TAPPER: And, Rina, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the strike is Biden's fault. She writes, quote, the UAW strike and indeed the summer of strikes is the natural result of Biden administration's whole of government approach to promoting unionization at all costs.

Now, as Karen noted, Biden has no legal authority to intervene in this strike, unlike strikes involving, for instance, the air traffic controllers, the rail workers. He called on the Big Three automakers to go further. What do you think are his options here as president?

RINA SHAH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: His options are limited because this is a true test of his leadership and I think he's going to be defined by this in many weeks to come. Though he, again, can not put his hand directly in, there are people looking at this as the frustration that is there with the American workers and in an industry that is pivotal.

And so, many people have short memories of 2008. But, you know, when you talk about this president, and how he has seen so many of our greatest challenges through, I just don't know that he has it in him to help quash this and he could send out the surrogates and they could cite the data and I see them do it from the White House podium that everything is fine, guys.

But we live in an era as we all know, politics is a feeling. And the feeling is that there are a lot of people in Detroit who are extremely frustrated and they don't see their lives getting better. And so, that's why I see this election being about and I don't hear the president able to make the case about how he's going to make my life better.

FINNEY: But you know, actually, I think the president is talking more about the lives of individual Americans far more than Trump or any of the Republicans are. And so, and I think when voters have gone to polls, 2020, 2022, just recently in Ohio, they have said it is about us and it's about our democracy and it's about our bodily autonomy and that is what President Biden is speaking to.

And I think we have to remember, nobody said the job would be easy. From day one when they came into office, don't -- let's not forget, the middle of COVID, January 6 insurrection had just happened, and I think he and the vice president have very ably navigated all of these challenges. And actually, I look at the strike, this is a pivotal moment of our country because again, the summer of strikes, this is about workers, this is about people saying we're tired of it.

SHAH: But it is about trust to do something and do something bigger than the Chamber of Commerce was saying and that whole of government approach. That's what I take issue here.

FINNEY: Well, what is the problem with a whole of government approach --

SHAH: I feel --

FINNEY: -- and saying we've got to help people move forward in their lives both in an economic context, and hope?

SHAH: But there's a smorgasbord of problems and it feels like they are trying to put out fires and not focused on anything particularly well, any one particular issue.

And I agree with you, democracy and how women fit in is on the ballot next year but trust for me, for him to do right for those worker who are striking, I don't have it. So, again, I have much less.

FINNEY: You think Trump is going to be out there and --

SHAH: No. FINNEY: So, there you go.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question. One of the things that is interesting about the vestige of Trumpism in a positive way is it does seem to me -- and you tell me what you hear from your Republican friends -- but I have sensed more support among Republicans and maybe I'm mistaken about this, but it seems to me, more support among Republicans out there, for the writers and the actors and even for the auto workers than I have in the past.


Like it does seem like that sentiment of these rich fat cats are screwing us all, that is populism and it is Bernie Sanders populism, but also in a way it's Donald Trump populism. I kind of sense it out there still, don't you?

SHAH: I hear it. I hear it, and I'm going to be in L.A. later this month, and I'm going to connect with those people because, again, it's that grievance. It is the grievance politics which marked this era and let's go further. Who is going to lift us out of this? It's not one person. It could -- it wasn't Trump and it's not Biden.

And so, there is a real feeling of there is nobody for us. There is nobody representing us. Just big companies just taking and taking, and that is why Republicans are stepping in, and, again, not making the most sensible case, because it's like you're talking out of both sides of your mouth, but you're right, tapping on the feeling that there is a grievance here and I think as we move forward into next year, Republicans are going to actually do better at capitalizing on that grievance.

TAPPER: If we see some things from like Hawley and Rubio, that are interesting.

FINNEY: But they have -- I mean, they can't even get to a vote about the budget, so how are they going to help American workers?

SHAH: Fair.

TAPPER: Good point. Thanks to both of you.

Any moment, we could see a political earthquake shake in Texas. State senators are deciding right now whether or not to remove the Texas attorney general from office. The impeachment accusations that led to this moment, that's next.



TAPPER: Any moment now in our politics lead, 30 state senators will decide whether or not Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton should be impeached and removed from office. Paxton is a firebrand Republican, a staunch Trump ally. He's already suspended and he faces 16 articles of impeachment, including bribery and abuse of office. A conviction on any of the counts would remove him from office.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is at the Texas state capital in Austin where an intense ten days of testimony has led to deliberations happening right now.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ken Paxton skipped most of the impeachment trial but the suspended attorney general was there for the final moments before 30 state senators started privately deliberating his political fate. Standing over him in the Senate gallery were several of his former senior staff members who blew the whistle on Paxton's alleged misconduct.

TONY BUZBEE, PAXTON ATTORNEY: So what is this case about? It is about nothing. It's about nothing.

ANDREW MURR, TEXAS HOUSE IMPEACHMENT MANAGER: He has no regard tor the principles of honor and integrity.

He's betrayed us and the people of Texas.

LAVANDERA: Paxton is accused of abusing his power as attorney general to help friend and campaign donor, Nate Paul, a real estate developer under federal investigation at the time. Paul was arrested earlier this year by the FBI for financial crimes.

Paxton is facing 16 articles of impeachment on charges of abusing his power, disregard of official duty and bribery involving an alleged affair. Most of the testimony against Paxton during the impeachment trial came from eight whistleblowers would worked as senior staff in the AG's office. The conservative political appointees were fired or resigned after they took their concerns to the FBI.

MARK PENLEY, PAXTON INVESTIGATION WHISTLEBLOWER: The laws were being abused. The behavior and the conduct of the attorney general of Texas --


PENLEY: -- is outrageous.

BLAKE BRICKMAN, PAXTON INVESTIGATION WHISTLEBLOWER: He abused the entire office of the attorney general of Texas to benefit Nate Paul and it got worse and worse and worse.

LAVANDERA: Paxton's lawyers say the AG did nothing wrong, calling the case against Paxton hogwash and a joke.

One lawyer called the prosecution's allegations.--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dumber than a bucket of hair.

BUZBEE: All of this foolishness that they've accused this man of is false. But the only question I have in my mind is whether there is courage in this room to put this man back to work. And vote not guilty.

LAVANDERA: Ken Paxton is the most controversial politician in Texas, a close ally of Donald Trump. He's been elected attorney general three times but his tenure has been shrouded in constant scandal. The Paxton impeachment trial has exposed a bitter divide among Texas Republicans, extreme right-wing groups are threatening political retribution for lawmakers who vote to oust Paxton. But House impeachment managers urge senators to ignore the pressure.

MURR: Sam Houston told Texans, do right and risk the consequences. Now is your time to do right.


LAVANDERA (on camera): Jake, state senators have been deliberating since noon Central Time. If Paxton is convicted of just one of the 16 articles of impeachment, he would be removed from office and that means they need 21 of the 30 voting senators to do that. There are 12 Democrats assuming they vote to convict, nine Republicans would of to vote against Paxton for him to be removed from office -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ed Lavendera, thank you so much.

Coming up next, the sister of Paul Whelan, one of the Americans wrongfully detained in Russia, she's met with President Biden before. The message she's getting after coming all the way to D.C. to meet with the president again. She'll join me here live in the studio.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead today, the U.S. ambassador to Russia visiting two prisons this week, each one holds what the State Department deems a wrongfully detained American citizen. "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich has been behind bars for nearly six months on trumped up charges; former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan for five years on similar trumped up charges.

Paul Whelan's sister Elizabeth joins us now here in studio.

Elizabeth, thanks. First of all, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. We always try to keep a light on your brother's case.

You requested a meeting with President Biden this week. You didn't get it but did you meet with members of Congress, the State Department, White House officials this week. Do you feel any more hopeful for your brother's release after the meetings?

ELIZABETH WHELAN, SISTER OF PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: Well, you know I try to keep a sense of hope all the time. My concern has been that this entire effort to get Paul home has been moving at a glacial speed, you know, the speed of bureaucracy not the speed of hostage taking. And so, you know, during the -- almost five years that Paul has been held, we've seen two other people be arrested and released.

So I feel the need to come down here and make sure everything that is being done to make sure that Paul will be coming home in the near future as well.

TAPPER: Yeah. Do you think it helps or hurts Paul's case that Evan Gershkovich is also detained in Russia, also getting media coverage?


WHELAN: Oh, I don't think it hurts. I think it's actually helpful because it helps people around the work, not just in America understand the vile nature of state sponsored hostage taking. I think it's shed a really good light on the subject.

TAPPER: You told my colleague, Erin Burnett, this week that you were relieved when you saw the video of Paul. First video of him in years from inside the prison saying there he is, looks like himself, you said. That was, of course, Russian propaganda to a degree. But he does look good and he did sound good.

Is there anything you've heard about his treatment inside the prison that particularly concerns you?

WHELAN: Well, he has been had retaliation against him overtime. You know, he's put in solitary every now and again. It's hard to know really what's going on. We really went on know what Paul has been experiencing until he's out because even though he can communicate to my parents, in small phone calls during the week, and the embassy of course the guards are listening to him. So I'm not sure that we'll know the full story.

TAPPER: Your brother David says the U.S. embassy staff tried to hand deliver mail and a package to Paul but the Russian prison staff did not let him receive it. Your brother cites, quote, Russian bureaucracy.

Do you know roughly like what percentage of letters or supplies that are sent to Paul that actually he gets?

WHELAN: You know we're not exactly sure but we know these kinds of retaliations are not about Paul, they're a retaliation against the United States, against the -- you know, the U.S. embassy. But here's an example, Paul has been getting mail 200 to 300 pieces at a time from a large delivery made in January. That was the mail that came from Brittney Griner asking her supporters to write to Paul and then people who were mad about Brittney Griner coming home also writing to Paul.

So Paul is getting Christmas cards and things right now from back in December and January. So they string out how long it takes for him to get things. Who knows why they denied accepting the mail this time.

TAPPER: So you couldn't meet with President Biden during your trip to week but he has been known to on occasion watch this show. If you want to look at the camera and address him, go ahead.

WHELAN: In which direction?

TAPPER: Look in this camera right here. Right here.

WHELAN: I would say this is not just to the president but this is to everybody involved in the entire effort to bring Paul home. You know what he's going through. You know he's in a prison camp every single day. Any call, any contact, any connection, anything that you can do to end this ordeal, please do it soon.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, Elizabeth Whelan, always good to have you. We're going to continue to shine the light on your brother's ordeal.

WHELAN: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: In our national lead, a commemoration and a warning 60 years ago, September 15th, 1963, an explosion tore through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. An FBI investigation later discovered four Ku Klux Klan members planted dynamite under a staircase. The blast injured nearly two dozen people and infamously killed four young girls. Eleven-year-old Denise McNair, as well as three 14-year-olds Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson spoke at today's commemoration ceremonies, sounding a warning against efforts to water down what we teach our children.


JUSTICE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT: If we're going to continue to move forward as a nation we cannot allow concerns about discomfort to displace knowledge, truth, or history. We must not shield our eyes. We must not shrink away lest we lose it all.


TAPPER: Sixty years after ignorance and prejudice and hatred led to violence in Birmingham, Justice Jackson asks, can we really say that we are not confronting this same evils now?

A large rally is just getting started in Detroit in support of autoworkers on strike. You are looking at live images of the crowd. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, is set to come to the mic. The message to workers as the union prepares to go back to the bargaining with the Big Three automakers tomorrow.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, the Pentagon has announced that they are going to revisit

the Kabul airport bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members during the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan more than two years ago. Whom are officials planning to interview and whom are they not talking to?

Plus, a wall of water washed away an entire city in Libya. Days later, thousands are dead, thousands more are missing. CNN is the first network to reach the devastated city of Derna, the epicenter of the floods.

And leading this hour, an unprecedented strike that could cripple the U.S. auto industry. Workers with the United Autoworkers Union are striking against the big three automakers, General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, the company that owns Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.

Right now, workers have walked off the job at three plants in three different states. At any moment, the UAW is going to hold a rally in Detroit, Michigan, where Senator Bernie Sanders will be a guest speaker.

Our coverage starts with CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich, who's at the United Autoworkers rally in Detroit, Michigan.

Vanessa, what's the mood there among the autoworkers?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have several hundred UAW members here and supporters who are waiting to hear from UAW President Shawn Fain and Bernie Sanders.