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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez & Wife Indicted On Bribery Charges; CNN Poll: Biden Leads Trump In New Hampshire Rematch; Nikki Haley Unveils Economic Plan Ahead Of Second GOP Debate; Congress Leaves For Long Weekend With Just 8 Days Left To Fund Government And Prevent Shutdown; Ukraine Strikes Russian Black Sea Fleet Headquarters. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 22, 2023 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Cash and gold and exchange for political favors. The allegations against a sitting U.S. senator are damning.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Nearly half a million dollars stuffed in envelopes and Mercedes Benz, even gold bars -- the high-priced gifts allegedly given to Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez and his wife as the senator faces a second corruption case in less than 10 years.

Plus, new video of Ukraine on the attack after more than a year of war. This time, Zelenskyy's confirm a successful hit on Russia's fleet in the Black Sea.

And auto strike escalated. More workers hit the picket lines in dozens more locations. This action could directly impact you if your car needs to be repaired.


BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And we start with U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused in a sweeping indictment today charged with accepting prescribes pressuring a U.S. official and spilling sensitive U.S. information to benefit a foreign government. The indictment lays out how federal agency raided Menendez's home last summer, finding a stash of gold bars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nearly half a million dollars of cash stuffed inside envelopes, inside jackets bearing the senator's name and a gifted Mercedes convertible.

Menendez's wife is also charged, and according to the indictment, she was paid for little to no work. Also named in the indictment, three New Jersey businessmen.

Menendez for his part is no stranger to the justice system. He was charged back in 2015 on corruption-related charges but ultimately acquitted due to a hung jury. Today, he denies any wrongdoing. If convicted he could face up to 20 years behind bars.

CNN's Kara Scannell details the shocking charges with links from New Jersey to D.C. to Egypt, and what's next for one of the highest ranking lawmakers in the United States.


DAMIAN WILLIAMS, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Some of the cash was stuff in the senator's jacket pockets.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Indicted again, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez facing corruption-related charges for the second time in 10 years. Prosecutors announcing a three count indictment against the senator and his wife over their dealings with three New Jersey associates and businessmen starting in at least 2018.

WILLIAMS: The senator and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for Senator Menendez using his power and influence to protect and to enrich those businessmen.

SCANNELL: The alleged bribes include more than $550,000 in cash hidden in the senator's home in safe deposit box. A Mercedes Benz convertible and gold bars worth tens of thousands of dollars among other things.

The indictment also alleges the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, quote, provided sensitive U.S. government information and took other steps that secretly aided the government of Egypt.

WILLIAMS: Behind the scenes, Senator Menendez was doing those things for certain people, the people who were bribing him and his wife.

SCANNELL: The senator not new to scandal, issued a defiant statement in response to the U.S. attorney's latest allegations.

I have been falsely accused before because I refuse to back down to the powers that be and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent. Menendez has long maintained his innocence in this latest probe into his dealings, telling CNN back in April --

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): This inquiry will end up, I believe, in absolutely nothing.

SCANNELL: The senator faced similar corruption charges in 2015. He fought off conspiracy, bribery and other fraud charges related to political favors.

MENENDEZ: To those who are digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won't forget you.

SCANNELL: That case ended in a mistrial, a partial acquittal and all charges against the senator being dropped.

In this latest case, Menendez remains defiant, saying he won't be, quote, distracted by baseless accusations. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCANNELL (on camera): Now a lawyer for the senator's wife said she also denies any wrongdoing. We have reached out to attorneys to the three businessmen. We've now heard back.

Now all five are due in court on Wednesday. If convicted of the most serious charges, they could face as much as 20 years in prison.

Pam, the U.S. attorneys saying that this investigation is continuing.


BROWN: All right, Kara Scannell, I know you will be following all of this closely. Thank you so much.

And let's go now to CNN's Tom Foreman.

So, Tom, walk us through the Egypt part of this and the influential position that Senator Bob Menendez found himself in.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's really interesting, Pam. When you look at this, he had some big titles and he was right person in the right place, according to this indictment if you wanted some influence.

U.S. senior from New Jersey right at the top of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and at the time, Egypt was one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid. Good person to know if you are in the Egyptian government, the Egyptian military.

So, how did the connection built? The indictment suggests the connection was built through his wife Nadine who he started dating in 2018, and married in 2020. The indictment, time and again, talks about her being a conduit from Egyptian contacts to this very powerful senator -- Pam.

BROWN: So, how exactly did he help Egypt, according to this indictment? Walk us through that?

FOREMAN: Well, yeah, of course, he denies it all. He says he hasn't done anything wrong here. But we talked about military aid. U.S. military aid to Egypt, Egypt has been one of the biggest recipients in the world, especially in this period of time, billions of dollars at stake. In one particular case of $300 million in aid that they were looking for.

According to this indictment, not only did he have meetings with military officials and intelligence officials, sort of off-the-record meetings from Egypt, he also at one point, according to the indictment, basically ghost wrote a letter on behalf of Egypt to his fellow senators as if Egypt was writing it, saying, here's why you should approve this because he would have insight into what they might approve.

Beyond that, at one point, the indictment says he shared sensitive, not classified, but sensitive information about the U.S. embassy staff in Cairo so they would know more about exactly how many people were there and what they were doing. At one point there was a deal struck with an Egyptian company to handle all of the certification of halal meat, meat sent to United States to Egypt that would be certified as halal, meaning it complied with Muslim law.

It was a monopoly granted there at one point, according to the indictment, he stepped forward to defend that deal which was defending a deal that was one of these people that was allegedly kicking back money to his wife and to him special favors. Beyond that, there was a dam project that was going on that involved Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. It was very important to Egypt. The project had stalled to some agree.

The indictment says he suddenly kicked in a letter and parted pushing and saying, look, this deal needs to go through. We need to deal with this and seems to be taken care of. Again, it would seem possibly kind of mysterious. There wasn't something else going on.

And through all of this, he, of course, says he did nothing wrong. Despite the photographs, despite the evidence but they say they have against him, he says he and his wife did nothing wrong in all of this. And yet, the prosecutors are saying look at the position he was in, look at the evidence we have, and these ties to Egypt in particular where it would seem, if you agree with the indictment, that certainly the interest of Egypt were being represented in some fashion by this U.S. senator -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks so much for bringing us that.

So, with all that in mind that Tom just laid out, let's have our next discussion with Jennifer Rodgers who was a federal prosecutor, along with Jamil Jaffer who was once chief counsel and senior advisor for Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the same committee that Menendez now chairs.

Jennifer, I want to kick it off with you here because you also once worked for the Southern District of New York. And in comparison to the 2015 charges against Menendez, which included bribery and allegations that he accepted luxury trips, how do these charges laid out in today's indictment stack up?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's a different office bringing them, Pam, first of all. The evidence is much stronger. But most importantly, the facts are just very, very different.

In the prior case, the problem was, and I think why jurors disagreed ultimately, the person bribing Menendez was a close friend of his with a prior relationship. And the bribes themselves were not cash, and gifts like they are here. They were trips that they were taking together, trips on a private jet, trips to the bribed luxury residences.

So I think a lot of the jurors thought, well, maybe those trips were taken because they were friends not because of what Menendez actually was doing for the person bribing him. Here's, it's totally transactional. There are a treasure trove full of

texts and e-mails laying out what these people were asking him to do, he and his wife agreed to do those things and then some of those things, they actually did. And in exchange, they got cash, they got gold, they got a Mercedes. So the transaction is laid out very, very clearly, making it much easier this time around for prosecutors to prove this case.

BROWN: Yeah, prosecutors in the indictment clearly went out of their way to try to illustrate the official acts that they allege Menendez took in exchange for the gifts, the money, these gold bars you see pictures of on the screen.


Jamil, with that in mind, you know, the Senate Foreign Relations Chair, he allegedly, quote, secretly aided the government of Egypt as part of that. Yet, for his part, Menendez said in his statement prosecutors, quote, misrepresented the normal work of a congressional office.

What do you think?

JAFFER: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, this is the challenge, Pam. You know, he's going to argue that all of the things that he did were what Senators do all the time. They look into these deals, they assess whether they're in the interest of the United States, in the interest of their home state, in the interest of the government agencies involved, and whether it makes sense for the U.S.'s relationship.

The U.S. obviously has had a long standing economic and military supply relationship with Egypt, even during the coup that took place in Egypt a few years back. We ultimately did provide Egypt with military assistance during the pendency of that coup.

And so, you know, Senator Menendez is going to argue, look, this was sort of normal order of the course. Now, the challenge, of course, the prosecutors are going to bring and they're going to put in front of the jury, right, is, look, he also ostensibly took all of this cash.

The problem is, as Jennifer and you were just talking about, they brought charges against him in the past and Jennifer is right, the charges are very different. But Menendez got 10 out of 12 jurors, according to at least one juror in the last trial, to believe that he wasn't guilty there. He's proven that he would withstand this. We're going to see what happens going forward.

BROWN: So then let's dig in a little bit deeper onto that because the indictment lays out all this evidence that prosecutors gathered to show the gifts that he allegedly received along with his wife. And the indictment also includes the mentions of fingerprints a few times as part of verifying or -- that this evidence they collected, the money, the gold bars was a direct gift from the three businessmen. So walk us through that if you would, Jennifer? RODGERS: Yeah, so, he's going to have a hard time getting out of

this. One of the reasons is that even if these are things that he would have done anyway, even if he's really pro-Egypt just by his own policy, even if these are things that, you know, he would have done in the normal course, if he also was getting this money and that was a tiny, tiny part of why he was doing it then he's guilty of these offenses. So it was going to be hard for him to say, with all this money coming in tied very clearly to these people who were asking him to do the things what he was in fact doing, that that wasn't any part of the reason that he was doing it.

So, you know, this seems like a very, very strong case to me, so different from the first case. And, of course, the jury won't know anything about the first case. They won't know that he almost got off of these charges. They will only hear what's within the four corners of this indictment and what happens in the courtroom.

BROWN: But I just want to follow up on what you said because you said these gifts tie very directly to these businessmen, walk us -- walk us through how prosecutors are laying out that case? That these gifts, that the money and the gold bars that they collected in his home through execution of a search warrant is tied to these businessmen, and it's part of the bribery scheme?

RODGERS: So some of it through the text messages and e-mails. I mean, the wife, especially, was in constant contact with these people talking about what it was they wanted Menendez to do and what they were going to do for her. They gave her a no show job there's paperwork related to. That she opened up a specific bank account to put the money in from them.

There's documentary evidence of that. There's fingerprints of one of these businessmen on an envelope which some of this cash was stashed that the authorities found during this. There's a lot of that kind of evidence, Pam.

BROWN: And allegedly, prosecutors say either the businessman or his driver, according to the indictment.

Do you think, Jamil, that Menendez can weather this one, too, and survive this? What do you think?

JAFFER: I mean, look, it's a tough call. I mean, I think Jennifer is right. This is a very strong case. The prosecutors have ostensibly now brought.

But again, Menendez is entitled -- Senator Menendez is entitled to the presumption of innocence until he's proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in the court of law. That's going to require the government to bring all semblance that they put in the indictment and bring them to bear and convince the jury unanimously that they have proven their case.

He has beaten these cases before. I agree with Jennifer, it's a very different case. That being said, the fact that they have surveillance on his wife, they had a court order wiretap in 2019, back in the early days of their relationship, early before they even got married, they are already surveilling her phone, so they clearly had a sense that something was afoot.

If they can bring all that evidence to bear and it's directly in, you know, the wife's voice and text messages, they can tie this money directly to events that happen, it's going to be a very tough case for the prosecution to bring, a tough case for Menendez to beat as well. We'll see what happens.

BROWN: We will be watching this very closely. Jamil Jaffer, Jennifer Rodgers, thanks for bringing your legal expertise and analysis to the forefront here.

Well, Senator Menendez says forces behind today's charges are trying to dig his political grave. That's also what he said back in 2017, when his corruption case ended in a mistrial.


How the indictment this time around could also spell disaster for his Democratic colleagues.

Plus, the new CNN poll in the battleground state showing a preferred candidate dominating the 2024 race and it's not Donald Trump. We'll be back.



BROWN: An emotional Senator Bob Menendez back in 2017 when his other corruption trial ended in a mistrial. And one year after that, Menendez went onto win re-election. Now he is facing a brand new federal indictment as he's up for re-election again in 2024 and telling New Jersey voters, quote, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave.

I want to bring in CNN political director David Chalian to talk about the immediate political implications here.

David, this is a sitting U.S. president, a Democrat, up for re- election, right? Democrats barely hold the balance of power right now. How much does this indictment -- how much could help Republicans?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, listen, it is not a welcome news to Democrats in New Jersey. There's no doubt about that.


New Jersey is still a very blue state, obviously, though we saw just in the recent gubernatorial election there, it ended up being a far narrower margin than people were anticipating.

Pamela, I think the things to watch for here are what President Biden has to say about this, what Chuck Schumer is saying about this. What Cory Booker, his fellow senator and what Governor Murphy, in New Jersey, are saying about this.

I'm told Governor Murphy is soon to make his first statement about this in the coming time here in the next little bit.

I know that he is stepping down, obviously, from the Senate Foreign Relations chairmanship, but look to see if these Democratic power brokers are sort of giving him the arm, because that's going to determine the fate here. Does he resign and allow the governor to appoint somebody else, that seems very unlikely for Bob Menendez who has fought through this before his political career.

Does he say he's not going to run for re-election and so a contest can take place to replace him? Or does he fight this out all the way through and continue to seek re-election which his statement today indicated that is his current plan.

BROWN: Yeah. And we know what one Democratic senator is saying you know, congressman I should say, Dean Phillips of Minnesota, he spoke to our colleague Manu Raju and he is calling on Menendez to resign. Here's how he put it.


REP. DEAN PHILLIPS (D-MN): A member of Congress who appears to have broken the law is someone who I believe should resign. I think George Santos should have resigned already.

And I have to say, in comparison to the president of the United States, which there is no evidence whatsoever he's broken the law and yet is being subject to an impeachment inquiry, there is evidence here. And yes, I'm a Democrat, so is Senator Menendez. But based on what I have seen, I'm disappointed, and yes I think he should resign.


BROWN: So, Phillips, a Democrat, should help push Menendez out to help restore faith in government. You mentioned that we're waiting to see what President Biden, what Governor Murphy says. Do you expect the calls to grow for resignation or do you expect it to be more of let's see how this plays out in the court of law?

CHALIAN: The latter. Dean Phillips is not my list of the voices that are going to actually determine Bob Menendez's faith here.

BROWN: Right.

CHALIAN: Congressman, other body from Minnesota, probably not going to have much sway here.

That's why -- there are people to look for and instate as well. But you know, yes, Bob Menendez is innocent until proven guilty and he deserves that. Chuck Schumer asserted that again in his statement just now.

Watch, because if indeed it looks like Bob Menendez is losing the respect and support of the people of New Jersey and especially Democrats in New Jersey, I would imagine you're going to start seeing a ratcheting up of calls for him not to run for re-election.

BROWN: Interesting. You can't help but compare it to how Republicans have responded to Donald Trump, the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Of course, he is facing 91 charges and four indictments. But polls show he still has overwhelming support with Republican voters.

In your years of covering politics, do the resignation calls depend on who's in trouble?

CHALIAN: Depends on the popularity of who's in trouble, right?

BROWN: Okay.

CHALIAN: If Donald Trump wasn't as popular with the Republican Party, with voters as he is, I would imagine there would be a lot more Republicans coming out against him. But, you know, elected officials tend to be followers, not leaders and so, they tend to follow public opinion on this, while Donald Trump remains popular. That's why you see fewer calls from Republicans in national life calling for him to go.

BROWN: We'll have to wait and see how this all plays out. David Chalian, great to have you on.

And coming, that new CNN poll showing one candidate dominating the 2024 race in a battleground state by double digits.

Plus, Nikki Haley is taking her political attacks up a notch on Donald Trump. Why now?



BROWN: In our 2024 lead, a new CNN poll offers eyebrow raising new insight into a potential rematch between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. In New Hampshire, a critical swing state, President Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by 12 percentage points, 12 points in a battleground state. That is a big deal.

For months now, national polls have been showing Biden and Trump in a dead heat. Biden isn't just beating Trump in New Hampshire, he's also beating every other notable Republican in this race.

Next week, the second Republican presidential debate will give these candidates another public chance to set themselves apart from the front-runner Donald Trump. He is choosing not to go.

But here are others who say they qualify -- Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, and Nikki Haley. She's in New Hampshire today.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is there as she rolls out her new economic plan.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I pick a fight, the people always win.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley is increasingly picking that fight in the Republican presidential race, trying to break through a crowded field.

HALEY: We need a leader who will stand up to Democrats and Republicans. Republicans talk a big game but they're nearly as reckless as the Democrats on spending.

ZELENY: She's eyeing voters who are seeking anyone but Trump. As she unveiled her economic plan today in New Hampshire, she said Trump was no better than Democrats in the White House.

HALEY: Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Barack Obama added more to our national debt than the previous 42 presidents combined.

ZELENY: It's a tenuous tight rope for the former South Carolina governor, who's trying to distinguish herself through conservative policy, rather than by policing the conduct of the former president and whose administration she served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

She's proposing to eliminate the federal gas tax, reform Social Security and Medicare programs for future generations and revoke $500 billion in green energy subsidies from President Biden's Inflation Reduction Act.

HALEY: Entitlement spending is unsustainable. We need reform. The longer we wait the harder it gets and the more painful it will be.

ZELENY: In a Republican race with Trump still firmly in command, Haley is gaining ground with moderates and locked in a fight for second place. A CNN poll of likely Republican voters this week in New Hampshire found Haley at 12 percent, up from 5 percent in July. All while Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fell 13 points here.

Haley's strong showing in the first Republican debate --

HALEY: You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.

ZELENY: Won over to Tom Boyer, who came to see Haley today at Saint Anselm College.

TOM BOYER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: She argued with Ramaswamy. I appreciated what she said and agreed with her wholeheartedly.

ZELENY: He hopes Republicans seize on the opportunity to turn the page in this election.

BOYER: The problems that Trump is having bring him down a little bit, I like her more than any of the other candidates.

ZELENY: Haley is attracting fresh attention in Iowa, too, which opens the GOP nominating contest in January.

KATIE CLARK, IOWA VOTER: I think she sees a big picture from the border to China, Russia, I think we have to have somebody strong which I think she is. And I'm very pleased with her.

ZELENY: To prepare for the next debate, Haley is taking voters and sharpening her answers and distinguishing herself from rivals -- including Trump.

HALEY: Why should we care about Ukraine? You always have to have a president with moral clarity, someone who knows the difference between right and wrong, someone that knows the difference between good and evil.


ZELENY (on camera): Now, this week has marked a bit of an inflection point in this Republican presidential primary with the rivals increasingly sharpening their differences with the former president on Ukraine, on abortion policy, and more.

And, Pamela, this is all about basically two races unfolding at the same time. Of course, the former president is in command of this race leading the way but beneath that there is a scramble for second place. That is what Nikki Haley is trying to get to the top of here.

There is no doubt at that debate next week in California, that's what is certainly on the minds of these candidates trying to come to the top of that second tier, if you will, all with the hope, of course, of one day eventually going head-to-head with Donald Trump -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss.

Michael, I'm going to start with you. It's really interesting as Jeff laid out that Nikki Haley isn't only going after President Biden as it pertains to the economy, but also Republicans. What do you make of that strategy?

MICHAEL LAROSA, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, FIRST LADY JILL BIDEN: Well, she's right about Donald Trump. He added $7.8 trillion debt. He left the White House with less jobs than he came with, which is the first time that's happened since Herbert Hoover.

So, I don't blame her for going after Trump on that. I think she's a talented political athlete. She has a lot of talent. I wouldn't want to have that contrast as her at the top of the ticket with Joe Biden. I think it's a bad contrast for Democrats, because I do think she's incredibly talented and she knows how to put on a show.

I think that's really good for her. I don't think her -- no one should have to teach Nikki Haley why Ukraine is important to the United States and why they are an ally, and why it's our national security just to be there. That troubles me as a former U.N. ambassador that she doesn't understand why Ukraine matters. I wouldn't be talking about Social Security reform in New Hampshire, which has a very huge senior population even Donald Trump knows that's a political loser. So, go ahead. ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think on the economy to

her point, it's not just Donald Trump and it's not just Joe Biden, it's a culmination of many years of bad financial decisions and economic decisions. And as Jeff mentioned between Obama, and President Trump and Biden, we've increased the debt from $10 trillion to $33 trillion that is a bipartisan problem that this country has faced.

And to Nikki Haley's credit, she's calling balls and strikes. As we're seeing with the polling numbers, people appreciate that. Her numbers have actually gone up.

And this is a classic case of what we always talk about in these presidential races, it's a marathon not a sprint. You get your message out on your own pace, at your own time face-to-face. And between what she said in the debates and what she's saying on the campaign trail, it's resonating.

People appreciate the fact that she's being truthful and honest as she was in the debate on abortion, a more nuanced position on abortion, as she was with foreign policy, and as she is now with the economy, saying, look, if we keep this out of control spending, Republicans and Democrats, our children will never forgive us.

So that's the case that she's making and people are clearly resonating with it.

LAROSA: Yeah, and, look, these primaries I have -- I have always said these primaries rarely turn out how they begin.


We got fifth place. I wouldn't count Nikki Haley out from winning. I also wouldn't count Ron DeSantis out. I think he's about to get a big endorsement in Iowa that's going to resuscitate his campaign.

I think he has a lot of natural talent, too.

BROWN: You do.

LAROSA: Look, he doesn't get to be governor twice in Florida but I think what the poll when your CNN poll said he's actually better for Ron DeSantis. It makes the case he's been making all along, is that Donald Trump is a political loser, he can't win a general election against Joe Biden.

BROWN: And you're talking about the polls showing that majorities will be unhappy with any Republican candidate other than -- which poll act exactly.

LAROSA: The one that has Biden up over Trump in New Hampshire --


BROWN: That's what I thought. It also showed they would be unhappy with any Republican candidate. But -- STEWART: I think another thing we see in this poll, of course, with

Biden in the last election as he said coming in fifth, and now that the DNC is trying to change the position of New Hampshire. Look, I'm sure you like these numbers much better than you did last time he ran in New Hampshire.

But one thing that we all know about people in New Hampshire, they will window shop until the last minute, until the day before the primary. They're going to continue to change their minds and pick different candidates and that bodes well for all of these candidates. I expect these numbers to change dramatically with supposed head-to- head, with Biden and Trump. But also, with these other Republican candidates, DeSantis, Vivek and Nikki Haley.

There's a good chance they could inch up on Trump and potentially make a difference in New Hampshire because they have not made their minds up yet. We still have a lot to see.

BROWN: Let's talk a little bit more about the primaries because the Democratic National Convention or Committee wants South Carolina to be the first primary in the nation, but New Hampshire Democrats are refusing to give up their first in the nation slot. If they defy the DNC, Biden today will not be on the state's ballot.

Let's go to this CNN poll showing 69 percent of Biden supporters in that state say they would write him in anyway. What do you think, is the DNC taking an unnecessary risk here, Michael?

LAROSA: Absolutely. I think this was a political unforced error on the part of Democrats. There was not -- there was no reason to put our friends in New Hampshire, Senator Shaheen and Hassan and the congress members, the delegation, in this position, to have to defend their state over the president that they support. It was just -- it was not a good use of political oxygen, however not surprised also that Biden will win in write-in as well.

BROWN: Very quickly to you, changing gears on this indictment, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. I mean, this is a Democratic senator, up for re-election, wondering in your view -- do you think this is going to change Republican strategy at all of going after Biden's DOJ, saying that it's, you know, politically motivated. What do you think?

STEWART: Look this is bad. And, look, you know, Republicans it's not a matter of going against Biden's DOJ. This is a matter of going against a senator who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that is accused of making serious, inappropriate deals with a foreign country.

And this is where Republicans need to go. It's about holding Democrats accountable. Are they going to ask him to step down? Are they going to ask him to remove himself?

LAROSA: Well, we can't -- we can't have different rules for Donald Trump who has four indictments. We have to wait and see how this plays out. Senator Menendez is a known quantity in New Jersey. He won his last

election by 12 points after he was indicted before. Spent $30 million against him to his $12 million, that just shows you how popular and respected the Menendez name is in New Jersey. It's like the Kennedy in Massachusetts.

BROWN: All right. We shall wait and see how that all plays out. So much more to discuss, and we got to wrap up there.

Alice Stewart, Michael LaRosa, thank you so much.

Today, the auto workers strike changed. More assembly lines are now involved. That will have a ripple down affect it and could impact you. We'll explain how up next.



BROWN: This just in, President Joe Biden will travel to Michigan next Tuesday to support autoworkers as their strike expands.

The strike now targets 38 GM and Stellantis parts and distribution centers across 20 states. Well, this move is likely to hit dealerships hard, slowing down the supply of parts which could limit their ability to service cars. The auto union will not expand its strike to Ford facilities, noting significant improvements and negotiations with Ford.

And to our politics lead, and the chaos raining on Capitol Hill. The government will shut down in eight days if Congress fails to pass a funding bail.

Today, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy issued a warning to GOP hard- liners despite sending them home yesterday for the weekend.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I just believe if you're not funding the troops and you're not funding the border, it's very difficult to think that you're going to win in a shutdown. I've been through those a couple of times.


BROWN: President Biden took the opportunity to swipe back at House Republicans, posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, quote: Last time there was a government shutdown, 800,000 Americans were furloughed and worked without pay. But enjoy your weekend.

CNN's Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill.

So, Lauren where do negotiations stand at this hour. And what options -- what options does the speaker have with the House in recess?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this point with eight days to go, Pam, the options are very limited. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has spent the day huddling with some allies on Capitol Hill. The House Rules Committee is meeting as we speak.

But the effort right now is focused on trying to pass a series of individual appropriations bills and that's problematic because these bills would need to be passed en masse in just a short period of time. They need to pass 11 of these bills in eight days, come to some kind of agreement with the Senate and get them signed by the president that's simply not going to happen at this point.

And that is why House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been trying to implore with his conference that they need more time.


They need a short-term solution. But many hard-liners have made clear they would not support any kind of short-term solution, arguing they want to have these one off spending bills one at a time -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. So, what can you tell us about the Senate stepping in to try and avoid a shutdown?

FOX: Well, as you can imagine, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is watching across the Capitol and seeing the disarray happening. So last night, he took steps to try and set up a vote as early as next week on a bill that would be a short-term spending package to give the House and Senate more time. He says he's having conversations with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Here's what he told our colleague, Manu Raju.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY SENATE LEADER: Leader McConnell and I are talking and we have a great deal of agreement on many parts of this. It's never easy to get a big bill, a CR bill done. But I am very, very optimistic that McConnell and I can find a way and get a large number of votes both Democratic and Republican in the Senate.


FOX: So if there is agreement in the Senate, Pam, to get this across the aisle, one thing that you can watch for is whether or not Kevin McCarthy is going to put it on floor, because ultimately, this could be a choice between keeping his job or averting a shutdown.

I tried to press Kevin McCarthy on that earlier today. He said right now, it's a hypothetical question and that if it happens, to give him a call -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Lauren Fox, thanks so much.

There's new video of that powerful attack today. The headquarters for Russia's Black Sea fleet hit. What a top Ukrainian general told CNN about the strike in an exclusive interview.



BROWN: In our world lead, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy entered Canada's parliament to a standing ovation today, as he continues to reaffirm diplomatic support against Russia. His military confirming this morning that they launched a missile strike on the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea fleet in Crimea.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Dnipro, Ukraine, where he spoke exclusively with the commanding general for Ukraine's counteroffensive.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Smoke billowing from Russia's Black Sea fleet headquarters in Sevastopol. Moscow blaming Ukrainian launched cruise missiles, Kyiv only confirming they hit the building.

I sat down with the commanding general for Ukraine's counteroffensive in the south, Oleksandr Tarnavsky, and he tells me strikes like these are invaluable for his troops.

BRIG. GEN. OLEKSANDR TARNAVSKY, UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES (through translator): The strike commander means a destroyed command link. If there is no command, then there are no coordinated actions hitting infrastructure like factories, bases, warehouse, containing weapons is also a factor for victory.

PLEITGEN: In the past weeks alone, the Ukrainians say they've hit a Russian ship, a submarine, an airbase and a surface to air missile system in occupied Crimea, still Ukraine's president faces skepticism both from many Republican lawmakers and the public about the U.S.'s continued support for Ukraine.

Tarnavsky asking for patience.

TARNAVSKY: We have one goal: liberation of our territories. However hard it is, we will keep on working. And I want to thank even the skeptics. Their criticism also influences our task's success.

PLEITGEN: It's been a slow grind for the Ukrainians on the southern front, progress so far incremental.

The questions do you think there will be a point when there will be a big push?

TARNAVSKY: I believe so, and I think this point will be Tokmak. They are relying on the depth of the offensive line there. I worry less about the Surovikin line, more about the crossroads tree lines and the minefields between the tree lines.

PLEITGEN: But the U.S. has cautioned time might be running out as fall progressives making the earth here soggy and movement difficult.

How much do you think that you can achieve before the winter sets in? How far do you think your forces can get, realistically?

TARNAVSKY: Weather can be a serious obstacle during an advance, but considering how we move forward mostly without using vehicles I don't think the weather will heavily influence the counteroffensive.


PLEITGEN (on camera): That's General Tarnavsky there speaking to us exclusively and he also said that the strikes like the one that we saw today are a big morale boost for the Ukrainian forces. Of course, he also says important because they hurt the morale of the Russians -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

A 911 call just released reveal the initial moments last Sunday when an F-35 disappeared in South Carolina. The pilot ejected from the malfunctioning fighter jet and landed in a homeowner's backyard. Take a listen.


HOMEOWNER: We got a pilot in the house and I guess he landed in my backyard we are trying to see if we can get an ambulance to the house, please?

911 OPERATOR: I'm sorry what happened?

HOMEOWNER: Ma'am, a military jet crashed. I'm the pilot we need to get rescue rolling. I'm not sure where the airplane is.


BROWN: Amazing how calm that pilot is after that.

Even the military was asking for the public's help finding this jet. Officials eventually found the debris Monday north of Charleston.

And just ahead for you on this Friday, what had to be a terrifying night for her parents but an adventure for their two-year-old little girl.



BROWN: Some good news in the national lead. A two-year-old little girl in Michigan is back home safe with her family. Police say her parents reported her missing Wednesday night after she wandered off all playing outside. For hours into the search, a family friend found the little girl three miles away, barefoot, sleeping with her two dogs, using the smaller one as a pillow.

Coming up Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION", Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Plus, Tennessee Republican Congressman Tim Burchett, as well as the bipartisan co-chairs of the House Problem Solvers Caucus. That's Sunday at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern.

And then next Tuesday on THE LEAD, Jake Tapper sits down with Cassidy Hutchinson, she's the former top aide to Trump, White House aide, and became the star witness for the January 6 Committee. Her interview is next Tuesday, beginning at 4:00 Eastern.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Have a great weekend.