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DeSantis To Announce Presidential Run Tomorrow On Twitter; Source: Suspect Said He Wanted To Kidnap And Harm Biden; McCarthy To GOP: "We Are Nowhere Near A Deal"; Trump Appears Virtually In NY Court About Hush-Money Case; Russian Official: Cross-Border Attacks On Belgorod Are Over. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 23, 2023 - 15:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Breaking news this hour, on the 2024 race, the GOP field is about to get more crowded. Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, set to announce his candidacy. We have new details on exactly how he plans to do it and with whom.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus, a teenager now charged with threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on a president after he crashed a U- Haul into barriers near the White House. The suspect said to make his first appearance in front of a judge. We're going to take you live outside the courthouse

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And Texas lawmakers scheduled to vote today on a bill that would require the Ten Commandments be posted in every classroom in the state. It's all part of a national effort to insert religion into public life. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SCIUTTO: Well, the race to become the next Republican presidential nominee is about to get more crowded, heated and interesting. After months of speculation, we now know that Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, will announce his 2024 White House campaign on Twitter with Elon Musk tomorrow.

The announcement will take place at 6 pm Eastern Time on what's known as Twitter spaces where the site's users can participate in audio conversations. We have team coverage of this breaking political news.

We begin with CNN's Jessica Dean.

Jessica, I wonder why this choice as his first step in the announcement and what we expect to see tomorrow.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think, Jim, today a lot of people are going, wow, this is an interesting choice. This is different. That is exactly what the DeSantis operation wants.

If you talk to people working in that circle, they really want to do something different. They believe they have an unconventional candidate that they - that he deserves an unconventional campaign. They really want to step out of there and do things that they believe really bolster him and set him up for success and certainly they believe that this announcement with Elon Musk tomorrow is a step in that direction, fits the bill so to speak.

And so we do know that they will have that conversation tomorrow evening. It will be moderated by David Sacks is a tech entrepreneur, a supporter of DeSantis'.

We also know that Elon Musk confirmed that he would be doing this at a Wall Street Journal event just a little bit ago. He said that they would be sitting down that he would be talking. He has not endorsed anybody yet. But that is where we can expect to see him.

Of course, just broadening out for a second, Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida has been talked about and talked about will he get in, won't he get in, if he gets in what happens. Well, now we have arrived at that point.

And Jim, if it is any indication about where he stands against all of his rivals, soon-to-be rivals including former president, Donald Trump. Look at all the incoming that he's already had and that he will get over the next several days. They really see him as a true threat to their candidacies as well.

And of course, the DeSantis operation wants to take full advantage of that. I'm here in Miami where a group of his donors will be gathering over the next couple of days. They really want to make - they being this political operation, this once and future campaign. They want to make a very strong statement out of the gate and that is what they're aiming to do.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Dean in Miami, thanks so much.

I want to bring in now see the National Affairs Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, fact is during the time when his candidacy has been discussed though not yet announced, Donald Trump has, of course, been in the race and building his lead, at least according to the polls so far.

Where does this put the race at this point and what does DeSantis what does he expect to be able to do early to change that dynamic?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORREPONDENT: Well, look, we should set the polls aside at this point, Jim. Because as you well know, this is really the beginning of the Republican primary campaign here. And with the long-awaited arrival of Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, in the race, it essentially means that now the battle is on. The battle is joined.

He has long said that he was going to wait until after the Florida legislative session was over after he signed a raft of conservative bills into law and to take those with him across the country and sell his message.


Regardless of how he announces, regardless of announcing tomorrow with Elon Musk on Twitter, of course, will gain some attention and notice. But that does not change the fundamentals of this candidacy that he is now going to be locked in an aggressive fight with Donald Trump and the Trump political machine.

So the question for Gov. DeSantis is how can he sort of re-grow some of that strength that he had early in the year, can he be the one that Republicans have been waiting for. There are so many donors out there and others who have high hopes for a Trump alternative. He will now have to show that he is that candidate.

So tomorrow, certainly it's a surprise endorsement, how it's being done, the announcement I should say, how it's being done. But this does not change the race at all in terms of beyond the Twitter.


ZELENY: He's going to have to take this to the people and show that voters give them to sign on and to show some interaction with them. And the Trump team, of course, is sort of pointing out that this is not exactly the governor going to voters. So that's one thing that he's sort of struggled with a little bit. He's doing it online in an audio format here. So this is the beginning. But the next day is certainly more important, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, there's campaign style then there are positions. You mentioned the raft of conservative bills ...

ZELENY: Right.

SCIUTTO: ... some of them quite far-right conservative changes, for instance, a six-week abortion ban, which just a few months ago, a few years ago, wouldn't have been thought possible and that is something that will play well in some states and not in other states as he takes his campaign national. How is he preparing for that?

ZELENY: Well, certainly in a primary campaign when he is trying to win over conservative, in many cases, evangelical voters. He is very happy to be taking his record from Florida to the voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.

But, of course, the question is what does that do with a general election audience here?

So it's always the calculation of winning over the primary voters, but does that take you too far. But first things first, the primaries first so he wants to show Republican voters, of course, that he is someone who has the executive authority. Someone who can stand in a arena and a match with Donald Trump.

Now, we are just about three months or so away from the first Republican debate. So whether or not Donald Trump decides to participate in that this is going to be a very crowded Republican field. We've seen many early potential frontrunners, some from Florida like Jeb Bush comes to mind, sort of a flash in the pan.

So Gov. DeSantis certainly wants to show that he can take this to the next step and be a serious, credible candidate. And every time I've been out on the road with him and as he's been winding up here, voters are very, very excited to see him jump in. Now that he will be in tomorrow, we'll see if he can bring it.

This is going to be an incredibly intense contest with Donald Trump, Jim, and others.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny in Washington, thanks so much. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Another major headline we're following this afternoon. The suspect in last night's ramming incident at the White House is set to appear in court tomorrow. Authorities say the 19 year old from Missouri intentionally drove a U-Haul into a security barrier near the White House.

A source tells CNN he then exited the vehicle with a Nazi flag and said he wanted to kidnap President Biden. A roll of duct tape was found inside the truck but no obvious weapons were recovered there.

Let's take you now, live, to the scene and CNN's Brian Todd.

And Brian, we have some new information about the suspect.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Boris. Just a short time ago, getting new information on the suspect from people who knew him back in his hometown of Chesterfield Missouri. The suspect identified as Sai Varshith Kandula, 19 years old from Chesterfield, Missouri.

Short time ago, CNN spoke to two classmates of his from that school district, the Rockwood School District, which includes Marquette High School provided CNN with a yearbook photo of the suspect of Sai Varshith Kandula.

Two of the classmates who knew him at Marquette High School told us that he was known as a very quiet guy who didn't get into any trouble, didn't get in anyone's way there and kind of kept to himself.

But what we know about him now is that at about 10 pm last night, he allegedly rammed a U-Haul, a 26 foot long U-Haul truck into a security barrier at the White House multiple times. This barriers at Lafayette Park about 200 yards from the White House, but he hit it a couple of times, then exited the vehicle according to a law enforcement source with a Nazi flag on him.

When he was interviewed at the scene, the source telling CNN he told law enforcement officials that he wanted to kidnap and harm President Biden. Authorities are now considering what role that mental health may have played in this incident. Again, the suspect identified as 19 year old Sai Varshith Kandula and here are the charges that are going to be pending against him as - against him, excuse me. He was arrested for threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on the President or Vice President. He was arrested for assault with a dangerous weapon for reckless operation of a motor vehicle, for damaging federal property and for trespassing.


We also have learned a short time ago, Boris, he - we believe he might be in court today, but that is not the case. He will not be in court today. We believe he is going to be making an initial court appearance here at U.S. District Court sometime tomorrow, Boris.

SANCHEZ: We will be watching that arraignment closely.

Brian Todd, thank you for walking us through all those details.

Let's get some analysis now with CNN National Security Analyst Juliette Kayyem.

Juliette, thanks so much for sharing part of your afternoon with us. This teenage suspect, it apparently wanting to kidnap President Biden with a plan that seems ...


SANCHEZ: ... extremely unsophisticated, harebrained even. What do you make of all this?

KAYYEM: Right. So first of all, we should never get used to no matter how unsophisticated someone's desire to kill the President or Vice President, this is a big deal whether it was a novice or he clearly wasn't going to get through with it. He'd - he had nothing, apparently, in the U-Haul, except for this Nazi flag.

His motive based on the Nazi flag can be divined from that and we'll figure out what he was watching, what he was viewing, whether he got radicalized. But this scheme, he did enough to try to execute it. He rented a U-Haul . He comes from Missouri. He has paraphernalia that suggests what his motive is. And he has duct tape, all of it is crazy, of course, but he rams a U-Haul into a barrier that was put up to protect the White House and does not stop even though he's surrounded at that stage from the videos by law enforcement. So his intent was serious.

SANCHEZ: And Juliette, you mentioned obviously the team comes out of the vehicle. The flag has a swastika on it. He's holding it. The suspect's name ...


SANCHEZ: ... and his image, this doesn't match what you traditionally associate with a Nazi or white supremacist.

KAYYEM: No. No, not the - these are white blue-eyed Nazi that people stereotypically put. But this is - we've had this conversation before. This is the sort of the hate stew that's brewing, that's pulling in people, diverse backgrounds. We've seen recently on Hispanic-American or someone who did not identify as Hispanic who took on right-wing or white supremacist background. Part of this is just the nature of the - the distributed nature of

social media. If you want to believe it, you will believe it regardless of the fact that if I were to tell you as a rational human being that the Nazis don't like people like you in this case. But also what appears to be the case, at least based on our reporting, is that a pretty benign guy, he has no record in high school, no violence, we may find out more, at 18, by 19 is planning something pretty serious to kidnap or kill the President of the United States.

So what's happening in that timeframe is significant in terms of his radicalization process, whether it's tied to politics, ideology or a combination with mental health issues will determine.

SANCHEZ: Yes, officials saying they are looking into what role mental health may have played in this incident. Juliette Kayyem ...


SANCHEZ: ... always appreciate the perspective, thanks so much for the time.

KAYYEM: Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course. \ KAYYEM: Of course. Brianna?

KEILAR: So this is the scene, this is video from outside of the Capitol, White House negotiators leaving after meeting for a little over two hours today with Republican negotiators on the debt ceiling. And this is coming as we've heard all kinds of mixed messaging today from GOP House members, from optimism to both sides are far apart and nowhere near a deal.

President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy are expected to speak sometime today.

We have CNN's Melanie Zanona live for us on Capitol Hill to tell us what's really going on.

Mel, what's behind all this?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: ZANONA: Well, there certainly has been a little bit of whiplash in these negotiations over the last 24 hours and two things can be true at once, negotiators can feel confident that a deal is indeed possible while still acknowledging the reality that a deal is going to be difficult.

In fact, Speaker Kevin McCarthy told a closed-door conference meeting earlier today that they are nowhere close to a deal. And then he told Manu Raju a little bit ago, that the only policy concession that Republicans are willing to make is raising the debt ceiling, which is further going to complicate these negotiations. Let's take a listen to a little bit more of what McCarthy had to say.


concessions that you're going to make and what are those concessions?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We're going to raise the debt ceiling.

RAJU: That's your concession right there?


RAJU: Nothing else?

MCCARTHY: (Inaudible) ...

RAJU: No policy concessions, no cuts?

MCCARTHY: Well, I'm looking at like this. Everything we're doing is going to make America stronger, curb inflation and less dependent upon China. Listen, we passed the bill that raised the debt limit.


The Senate hasn't done anything (inaudible) and so we're sitting, communicating, working together and they're just now coming up with the idea of freeze, they didn't want to negotiate for a hundred days.


ZANONA: Now, ups and downs are common in these types of high stakes negotiations and that type of hard line rhetoric you heard from Kevin McCarthy also can be used as a pressure tactic. But aside from the fact that the two sides are still meeting and negotiating, there have been no real signs of progress at least when it comes to substance.

The key point of contention is spending levels, Republicans want to cut spending. The White House is offering to freeze spending. And as these negotiations have dragged on, we have seen both the left and right flanks starting to pressure Biden and McCarthy respectively.

You have conservatives who are saying that potentially the June 1st default deadline isn't even real, they're warning McCarthy against cutting a deal that relies on Democratic votes. And then you have Democrats who are still blasting these talks and searching for potential off-ramps to do a clean debt ceiling hike. So you start to get a sense of the real challenges that Biden and McCarthy are facing as they try to hammer out this deal that has the support of enough members in both parties, Bri.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly. Mel, thank you for that report.

I want to get to Phil Mattingly who is covering the White House perspective on all of this.

I mean, Phil, we've been talking to economic experts who say, yes, you may be looking at that June 1st "deadline." But these next 24 to 48 hours are crucial for how much time you need to really get something through Congress. How are things looking from the White House and do they really have a sense that they can move something here in the near term?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, I think there is a recognition inside the White House that things need to start moving and start moving quickly, just simply because they know that Congress tends to take its time. And as you know, better than anybody having covered the institution just drafting legislation takes a lot of time. Let alone getting it through the House and getting it through the Senate to the President's desk.

It's interesting when you talk to White House officials right now, the three White House officials you showed at the top before going to Mel, Shalanda Young, the OMB director, Louisa Terrell, the director of Legislative Affairs and Steve Ricchetti, the counselor to the President.

They're known for two things, one being very hard-nosed and competent negotiators, but also not saying anything at all. And I think that's kind of the posture the White House has taken over the course of the last several hours. You've heard a lot from Republicans, very clearly, frustrated about some of the behind the scenes negotiations last night, some of the discussions earlier this morning.

What White House officials have tried to do is really kind of keep a level headed approach where they're not talking much about what's going on in the room, but they want to maintain outside the room that their goal is a deal and one that will get bipartisan votes. This was how White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre put it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many days do we have left until we are in full crisis mode?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, look, the Treasury Department has laid that out. They put out an X-date. That's something that I would refer to them, as far as what does that look like and the specific and any information.

What I can tell you is what we're going to continue to do here every day: Our team, our negotiating team is going to, on a daily basis, multiple times a day have that meeting and conversation and discussion with the negotiators on the Hill to get to a budget deal, a bipartisan deal that is reasonable so that the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans in both chambers, can vote on.


MATTINGLY: And, Brianna, the President's negotiators went back to the White House a little bit earlier. They are expected to brief the President on this morning's discussions in negotiations. There is likely, I'm told, possibility that the President and the Speaker will speak again at some point either this afternoon or this evening, possible that negotiators will go back up to Capitol Hill as well. There's obviously urgency at this moment in time.

I will say, tell you though, that sound you heard from Speaker McCarthy talking to Manu Raju, being asked what his concessions would be and his concessions being raising the debt limit that struck a chord with White House officials. Several have reached out to me about that. You will be hearing more about that given the fact that they don't view the debt limit as a concession or a point of leverage. There should be a should be a policy discussion, the debt limit should be something that's kind of sacrosanct and I think they're picking up on that.

You'll probably hear more about that as we still wait to hear more about the negotiations, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, listening to him and listening to Karine Jean-Pierre, you can tell these are - they're aiming at very different targets. So we'll see if they start to get closer together.

Phil Mattingly live for us, thank you so much, Boris.

SANCHEZ: The Kremlin is launching a new investigation into drone attacks. It claims were carried out by pro-Ukraine fighters inside Russia. Ahead, what we're learning about the attack and what Kyiv is now saying about it.

Plus, the man accused of killing four University of Idaho students appearing in court choosing to stand silent when asked to enter a plea. We're going to get reaction to this move from the father of one of the victims.

CNN NEWS CENTRAL returns in moments.




SCIUTTO: A moment in political history memorialized in this just released image. It shows the former president appearing in a criminal courtroom via remote video. This took place just a few minutes ago. The proceeding involved the 34-count indictment alleging that Trump falsified business records tied to a hush money payment during his 2016 campaign. The judge directed the former president on how he can and cannot speak about the case, also set a date for the trial, notably March next year.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid joins us now.

Paula, first, tell us what happened in this hearing and I think we saw some of the former President's reaction to a March 2024 trial date.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Jim. The big question for this hearing is the extent to which the former president can discuss publicly certain details of this case.

[15:25:02] Now, prosecutors had pushed for restrictions on his ability to post

certain sensitive evidence in his ongoing case. The judge had granted a protective order. But he wanted to make sure that the former president understands exactly what this order said.

These prosecutors have said they're concerned that if he violates this protective order, he could try to argue that he didn't exactly understand the terms or didn't know what the restrictions were. So here, the judge went through the terms of this protective order.

Now, the former president's attorneys have argued that, look, he has a First Amendment right to defend himself, not only does he have the constitutional rights that everyone has, they point to the fact that he's also the leading Republican candidate for the presidency and should not be restricted in any way in terms of what he can say publicly.

But here in this court, they went over the terms what he can and cannot share publicly in terms of evidence in this case. And then we also, again, like you said, we got a trial date. Now this is probably tentative and likely won't hold. But as of right now, they scheduled this trial for March 25th.

Of course, that's right in the middle of the 2024 campaign. And as you can see there in that incredible picture, the former president appeared for this hearing, virtually, with one of his attorneys. You can see right there in the left-hand side.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The judge instructing him not to schedule anything to conflict with that trial date if it holds or something close to it holds.

Paula Reid in Washington, thanks so much. Boris.

SANCHEZ: The governor of Russia's Belgorod region says there have been no new incursions since yesterday and that counterterrorism operations are now over. Remember, two groups of anti-Putin Russian nationals who are aligned with the Ukrainian military claim responsibility for the attacks in the region yesterday.

Belgorod sits just across the Russian side of the border. Meantime, the Ukrainian military says it had nothing to do with the attacks.

Let's take you now, live, to Kyiv and CNN's Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, where do things stand right now?


Well, you can certainly see the anger and humiliation on the part of the Kremlin certainly also on the part of the Russian authorities as well. It's quite interesting because the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, he came out earlier today and tried to blame the Ukrainians for this. As you mentioned, these were Russian nationals going into Russia and

doing this. But the spokesman for the Kremlin they're saying that he believed that these were Ukrainian nationalists and he said that it shows that Russia is under attack from Ukraine.

So the Russians, obviously, using this to justify their war in Ukraine, which has been going on, of course, for over a year already. As you mentioned, the Ukrainians their part completely denying that they had any part in this.

In fact, earlier today, I was able to speak to the National Security Adviser of Ukraine and here's what he told me.


OLEKSIY DANILOV, UKRAINE'S SECRETARY OF NATIONAL SECURITY (through interpreter): There is a part of Russians who are on the side of light and who went to deal with the darkness that exists in Russia now. What are the questions to us, I don't understand at all.


PLEITGEN: So as we see, the National Security Adviser saying they had no part in this at all. But one of the big questions, of course, now is what happens next. Is there going to be some sort of massive retaliations after this humiliation by the Russians, for instance, another big Russian missile attack.

I asked the national security adviser that as well. And he said look, the Russians have already attacked us with so many missiles, what are they going to do now? The Ukrainians, of course, also believe that they are prepared for any sort of further missile attacks that could come.

On the Russian side, there are some questions that are being asked by the Russian authorities and by people on the ground. They're asking why the Russian army which allegedly is so strong was not able to protect the border, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes. An important question there.

Fred Pleitgen from Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you so much. And Brianna, this is especially significant because the Ukrainian counteroffensive is looming and you have this attack on Russian soil.

KEILAR: Yes, that certainly plays into it. And we have retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Steve Anderson to talk to us a little bit about that. What do you see as the strategy for what we've seen here in Belgorod.

BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, Brianna, what this was, was essentially a raid. I mean, think of J. E. B. Stuart in the Civil War run around the countryside in Virginia. These are essentially Russian sympathizers for the Ukrainians that have just raised some hell. They've got nine armored vehicles, they drove up about five kilometers into Russia. And what they've done is they've created a lot of havoc and you've

seen all the traffic, all the denials, and all the issues. They're putting the pressure on Putin. They're showing that the Ukrainians are strong and resilient and they're giving a very needed shot in the army and the Ukrainians who're having a tough time now down in Bakhmut.

KEILAR: What does it do to pulling some resources - Russian resources away as this counter-offensive is underway?

ANDERSON: Well, that's what the purpose of a raid would be, it would require the Russians to pull troops out of perhaps down in the Bakhmut area where they have like 200,000 troops now in the occupied areas in the Donbas.

Now, they got think about defending their homeland and they got to pull some troops out, bring them back into Russia and so that's a - that's a great operational victory for the Ukrainians.

KEILAR: Can you talk to us about some of the shaping operations that you were seeing and what that means during this counter offensive?


ANDERSON: Yes. So what they're trying to do is they're trying to prep for a counter offensive.