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Georgia Election Interference Case Reveals Unindicted Senators, Impending Strike Threatens Big Three Automakers And U.S. Economy, U.S. General Warns Of Foreign Companies Exploiting Military Talent For China. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 08, 2023 - 14:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Willis could have indicted a lot more people in the Georgia election case, including current and former U.S. senators. Ultimately, she decided not to do those details just ahead.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: It would unleash serious economic damage, and it could happen in just a few days with new details on the standoff between the big three automakers and one of the biggest unions in the country. Plus, of course, what it means for all of us. And they're not laughing. Staff members for NBC star Jimmy Fallon, reportedly accusing him of fostering a hostile work environment. What Fallon is now saying about all of this. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN News Central.

SCIUTTO: More legal developments in Georgia today. We are learning the sprawling election interference case that brought indictments for Donald Trump and 18 others could actually have been even more sprawling. The special purpose grand jury underpinning that case initially recommended charging some 39 people. A reminder that panel did not have authority to indict. It could hear evidence, interview witnesses and offer recommendations.

Among those recommendations were charges for three current and former Republican senators. South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, Georgia's two former senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Of course, they were not indicted in the end. The report does not show us how the D.A. decided which people ultimately made the cuts, as it were.

CNN's Paula Reid is here. So, Paula, the D.A. does not have to indict all that a grand jury recommends to indict. By the way, some that were split votes, in effect, from the grand jurors.

Others were close to unanimous, if not quite unanimous here. There's a lot to indict. But, but but -- what were the main headlines we came away with?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly rare for the public, Jim, to have access to this kind of information. These were the recommendations from the special grand jury. They are not binding on the district attorney, but we know who was ultimately charged in this case. And so, after looking at the recommendations, we can see she passed on indicting 21 people. And there's two groups that are really raising some eyebrows. The first are those lawmakers you mentioned, Senator Lindsey Graham and the former senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

We don't know why she declined to indict them. But if you look at the votes, it's clear they did not have unanimous support from the members of the special grand jury. And look, Jim, if you can't get a significant support in a grand jury room, it's going to be much tougher when you move to an actual courtroom. That was likely part of her calculus.

The other group is, of course, the Trump advisers who were recommended, Boris Epshteyn, Mike Flynn and Cleta Mitchell. If you look at the math there, it seems similar. The votes, the vote breakdown is very similar to many people who were charged like former President Trump and Rudy Giuliani. So, at this point, it's not clear why she declined to charge them. But that's going to be something we're really going to be watching during this trial. Are they incredibly significant witnesses? Have they provided something else that would have prompted her not to move forward with charges? I also want to note that CNN was one of the media outlets that pushed to make this report public.

SCIUTTO: You look at Epshteyn, for instance, it was virtually unanimous that he'd be indicted by the grand jury. Of course, the D.A. made a decision not to. So there have been some responses, including from Senator Lindsey Graham. What did he have to say? That's right. When it comes to Lindsey Graham, what the grand jury was looking at there were these conversations among things with the conversations that he had with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger has subsequently said in interviews that these made him uncomfortable, that he believed that the senator was possibly encouraging him to disenfranchise voters when he was asking him to look for fraud. Let's take a listen to what Graham has said in response to this.


LINDSEY GRAHAM, SENATOR: I called around different states, including Georgia as a sitting United States senator, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. I eventually certified the election in all states, including Georgia. I didn't find any evidence of mass voter fraud, but I did have concerns about the mail in ballot systems in Georgia and other places. This is troubling for the country. We can't criminalize senators doing their job when they have a constitutional requirement to fulfil. It would be irresponsible for me, in my opinion, as chairman of the committee, not to try to find out what happened.


REID: And I'll remind you that the senator fought having to testify before that special grand jury all the way to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, he did provide testimony and could potentially be one of those 150 witnesses at trial.

SCIUTTO: And as you said, he said doing his duty. Brad Raffensperger, also Republican, said he felt that Graham was pressuring him to disenfranchise folks. That was his testimony. Paula Reid, thanks so much. So meanwhile, we are racing towards an October 23rd trial date in that Georgia election case. There are many legal experts who are sceptical whether that date will, in fact, stand on the calendar. And that includes the Fulton County Superior Court judge presiding over the case. Here is why.


In a televised hearing this week, Judge Scott McAfee denied a motion from Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, seen there, to sever or separate their trials from the other defendants. So, the judge, for now, set a joint trial date for them of -- October 23rd. But Fulton County District Attorney Fannie Willis, she is pushing for all 19 defendants pictured here, including Trump himself, to be tried on that same day.

In a case prosecutors say will feature at least 150 witnesses and last close to four months. That's at least an estimate. Judge McAfee has serious doubts if that timeline is possible because these five defendants are trying to move their cases now to federal court from state court.

Plus, Trump's lawyers just officially notified the court that they might join that effort as well to switch the case, which would, of course, complicate that timeline. Also, Trump has asked to sever his case from co-defendants who want a speedy trial, among them his former lawyer, John Eastman, who was behind so many of these efforts to overturn the election in Georgia and elsewhere.

So many questions do remain. It's the nature when you've got four criminal trials running, including this one in Georgia. But Judge McAfee says he will make a decision on some of these issues by next Thursday, which is just about two weeks from, we should note, the next GOP primary debate. It's all happening, Boris, in the midst of a busy election calendar.

SANCHEZ: A very busy time for former President Trump. So, let's discuss with CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rogers. Jennifer, thanks for being with us. Looking at the three senators in the report, the special grand jury was pretty divided on whether to recommend charges for them or not. In fact, there is one footnote from a juror that thought some of them were simply pandering to their political base and not engaging in a criminal conspiracy. This report is a really fascinating look at the way that jurors interpret evidence.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It really is. You never get this sort of insight into what grand juries talk about. But ultimately, the decision, of course, was up to Fannie Willis. And she and her team must have decided that they either couldn't indict the senators and former senators, or it wasn't worth doing that. They decided in their discretion not to. There's some legal issues here, Boris.

There's First Amendment political speech issues that arise with elected lawmakers or speech or debate clause issues that come up that they could have had defences on. So, it's a trickier case than with a lot of these other folks. And I think that's at least part of the reason why Fannie Willis and her team decided not to charge the three ultimately.

SANCHEZ: And yet she did wind up charging former President Trump. Could we potentially see him argue that he was just pandering to the political base?

RODGERS: Well, I think we'll see him argue a whole bunch of stuff, including that he's just immune from prosecution by a state prosecutor. We have a lot of motions coming in, not just this case, but in all the cases. And I do think we will see during the course of all of these trials, a lot of statements by President Trump being read into the record to make the prosecutor's case. And I think his response to all of that evidence is going to be, hey, you know, I'm just a politician kind of saying what I need to say.

So, I do think that kind of argument will rear its head in different ways. But it's not really a defence. I mean, if you have proof that someone was subverting the election results in a criminal way, it's not a defence to say, hey, you know, I was also just pandering to my base. So, I think prosecutors will be ready for that.

SANCHEZ: Notably, any of the 19 co-defendants could have objected to this report being released. The deadline was on Wednesday. None of them did. Jennifer, who do you think benefits more from these details being made public, the prosecution or the defence?

RODGERS: Well, it's interesting because I think what it does show is that Fannie Willis and her team really did use their discretion here. I mean, they didn't just rubber stamp the special grand jury's desires here. They decided not to charge in 21 instances. So, to the extent that defendants are going to say, hey, this is all political. She just indicted me and the other 18 defendants because we're Republicans. That doesn't hold up when you look at who they decided not to indict.

At the same time, there's a group here that isn't being talked about so much that has interest. And that's these 21 people whose names are now out in the public realm. And we now all know that the special grand jury suggested they be indicted. But the prosecutor decided there either wasn't enough evidence or that they shouldn't be indicted. So, I think that's a real problem. You know, the fact that Georgia law allows for this release shows a real commitment to transparency on the part of Georgia, which is terrific in a lot of instances. But I do think that there's value in not releasing people's names in connection with suggested charges if they're not ultimately charged. And so, I don't want that issue to get lost here.


SANCHEZ: I wanted to look more closely at the question of discretion that you brought up about Fannie Willis, because there are people that were looked at here that received just as many votes recommending indictments as folks that were indicted, but yet they were not. Walk us through potentially some of the logic behind those decisions.

RODGERS: Well, it's hard to know why folks in the grand jury room vote one way or the other. You know, you can see what they're doing, but not really into their heads. But what prosecutors have to do is different. You know, they have to, knowing the law, being lawyers, they have to walk through each defendant and each charge and say, do we have enough in connection with this person? When you look at the elements of this statute to charge. And so, they can't really rely on what the grand jurors think about that.

They, of course, you know, are taking into account the investigation that the grand jury put forward, but they're the ones that have to make those decisions. So, I don't think they were overly concerned with the vote counts, except in one instance, it is a good barometer. If you're a prosecutor, if you're in the grand jury and you barely eke out the number of grand jurors that you need in a regular grand jury, a charging grand jury, not a special grand jury, that is a trouble sign for you at trial, right? If you can barely get the grand jury, you're going to have trouble with the actual jury that has to find unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt. So, in that sense, they may have looked at it, but not in the sense of can we charge this person? How strong is the evidence?

SANCHEZ: Yeah, very rare that we get access to a report like this. Jennifer Rogers, we appreciate you walking us through it. Thanks. Jim.

SCIUTTO: A senior U.S. general warns that China is exploiting U.S. service members to try to train its own military. We're going to tell you exactly how they say that's happening coming up. And we are now a week away from a possible union strike against the big three automakers. Right now, there's no deal in sight. We're going to tell you what the impact could be on the economy just ahead. Later, the race to save the American trapped in a cave more than 3,000 feet down. A doctor is now with him to get his strength up before they can begin the rescue mission. You are watching CNN News Central, and we'll be right back.




SANCHEZ: In less than a week, we may see 145,000 autoworkers walk off the job and hit the picket lines. The United Autoworkers Union says their demands against Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis have not been met, while calling GM's latest proposal insulting. General Motors offered higher starting wages, more paid time off, and a 10% raise for most workers. But GM's head of global manufacturing called it a solid offer, though the union says it is not. And next week's strike deadline still stands.

Now, here is some of what the UAW is demanding. A 40% pay raise over the course of a four-year contract, restoring cost of living increases, and restoring traditional pension plans for all workers. Remember, the last strike against GM in 2019 cost the company $2.9 billion over the course of six weeks. A strike against all big three U.S. automakers has never happened before, and it could mean losses of $5 billion in just 10 days. Let's discuss now with Robert Reich. He's a former labour secretary under President Clinton. Obviously, Robert, there would be a huge economic impact if a strike were to happen. Should the White House, the Biden administration, get involved?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOUR SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT CLITON: Well, my advice, for what it's worth, is not to be involved. Basically, the White House does not have, not only this White House, but White Houses in general, don't have great track records in terms of getting involved in labour disputes, unless those labour disputes are so serious that they threaten the economy overall.

And, you know, you have to go back years to the Truman administration before you see something like that. Now, I would say the Biden White House should stay away from this one. It could be very costly, but both sides know exactly what they are getting into. And they are very, very, very sophisticated in terms of handling a strike and handling labour management relations.

SANCHEZ: On the note that it could be costly for the U.S. economy, couldn't it also be costly for President Biden in the sense that, in general, the American public doesn't have enormous confidence in his handling of the economy? There was a new CNN poll showing that some 60 percent of Americans believe he's actually hurt the economy.

REICH: Well, Boris, first of all, as a factual matter, the economy is actually in very, very good shape right now. Inflation is way, way down. There is no sign of a recession. This is as close to a Goldilocks economy as I have seen in my many years of providing economic analysis and advice. But beyond that, obviously, if you have a prolonged strike that costs five billion dollars or more in just 10 days, in terms of not only the workers and manufacturers, but also suppliers and consumers, it could have a negative effect. The political fallout could be negative, obviously, but the economic fallout would be much more serious.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. On the question of perception, though, regarding the U.S. economy, you are right. We've not seen the recession that many had been worried about for several years. But does the White House need to do more to show the work that they've done to enhance the economy and to provide things like the Infrastructure Act or Inflation Reduction Act when so many believe that President Biden is hurting the economy?


REICH: Well, I would say, you know, again, these are the messaging issues are legion, Boris. I mean, every --every administration is frustrated inevitably because it's not getting its message out. I think the Biden administration could presumably do a much better job. You've got these these extraordinary, --extraordinary achievements, not only the CHIPS Act, the Infrastructure Act, the Inflation Reduction Act with huge solar and wind and non-carbon-based initiatives that are going to be very, very helpful in terms of fighting climate change, which we're all suffering from and all dealing with.

And at the same time, we're we've avoided a recession and brought inflation way down. I think there's a lot to cheer about. And so, I, you know, I can't advise the Biden administration, obviously, on exactly what to say or how to say it. But I do hope that the public pays a great deal of attention over the coming months because we've got an election coming up in 14 months that could be one of the most critical elections in American history.

SANCHEZ: And quickly, Robert, your impressions on what it would take from both sides to prevent a costly strike?

REICH: Well, look, the big three automakers in the United States have over the last 10 years, they've made a huge amount of money, about $250 billion in the first six months of this year alone, $21 billion. There's a huge amount of money. And yet workers, auto workers are still back in 2009, 2010. They've had very, very little by way of a raise. The CEOs of the big three, they have, they're earning about $29, $28, $25 billion, a million dollars a year.

Just the CEOs, we're just talking about the chief executive officers. And they've had a raise of about 40% over the last four years. So, if I were a UAW worker, I would be clamouring. I'd say, now is the time. You've been doing so well. Now is the time for a major raise. A lot of benefits that I have foregone for years, I should be getting right now. Because why should the CEOs and top executives be doing so well, and the shareholders be doing so well, and everybody else be doing so well. But I, as a worker doing all the work, I'm not doing so well. It's about time I did. That's what the auto workers probably are saying to themselves.

SANCHEZ: Robert Reich, we appreciate the perspective. Thanks for joining us.

REICH: Thank you, Boris. Of course, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Now to a warning from one of the nation's top generals, that foreign companies are, quote, targeting and recruiting US and NATO training military talent to educate and train the Chinese military. Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown, who has been nominated to replace General Mark Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has written, quote, by essentially training the trainer, many of those who accept contracts with these foreign companies are eroding our national security, putting the very safety of their fellow service members and the country at risk and may be violating the law. I'm joined now by CNN military analyst General Wesley Clark, his former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. General, always good to have you on.


SCIUTTO: So first, when I saw this, --

CLARK: And I really, --

SANCHEZ: Go ahead. --

CLARK: What General Brown's saying is, is wrong. So, our big advantage, United States military, not just the equipment of training. So of course, China wants to cut into that advantage. SCIUTTO: No question. And I'd heard about this going back a few months

from lawmakers about this concern. These companies, they hire particularly pilot trainers so that they can get up to speed on some of the most advanced aircraft and learn something about U.S. and NATO, NATO skills and tactics here. My first, most basic question is, why wouldn't it be illegal for current or former U.S. and NATO military trainers to do this kind of work?

CLARK: Well, for retirees, for military retirees, they're covered by the Constitution's Emolument Clause. So, for them, it would be illegal to work for a foreign government. However, they do work. Even retirees work for foreign corporations. They may be doing training for those corporations and so forth, and they may not even understand that training is actually being exported into China in some way. For the people who are not retirees, there's a lot of skill at the bottom of the armed forces.


The armed forces are all about training and education, so they come in, they get their basic training, they get their expertise training, they get their pilot training, their tactics and techniques training, and then maybe they're out at, and they're 30, 35 years old. They don't have retirement benefits. They're looking for a way to use their skills. There's no comparable civilian demand for those particular skills. Some foreign country says, well, you know, this country would really like your skills. We've got an advisory set there. Come with us. You might live abroad for a couple of years. And before you know it, that technology, all that technique is going to China.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. Now, listen, it makes sense for folks, particularly they leave the military, that they want to be able to continue and earn a living. That makes sense. And invariably, they're going to be private companies willing to pay for that. But is there a way to delineate which companies and which contracts are dangerous in effect? I mean, you see the U.S. government making judgments like this all the time in terms of, say, which chips they're exporting to China, right? You can export some, but not others. I mean, is there a way for the military to say, you can work for these guys, but not those guys?

CLARK: I think there is a way to do that. I think the government, now that they've been alerted by General Brown, probably can do a lot more in this area, Jim. But it's a slippery area because once you take employment with one of these companies, and some friends of mine were employed by a company in the Gulf, and before they knew it, that company was involved in doing some things like wiretapping American citizens that it wasn't doing before. And they didn't know that they had been signed on to do that. So, they sort of got drawn into it inadvertently. There are a lot of traps out there. When you're out of the military, you've got military-specific skills, and you're looking for employment abroad. It's a very tough transition for people to make.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Well, something clearly, they're keeping a close eye on. General Wesley Clark, always good to have you on.

CLARK: Thank you, Jim.


SANCHEZ: When we come back, Hurricane Lee is now a major hurricane in the Atlantic. We have the latest on its track. And after several incidents involving passengers and flight attendants being stuck on planes on the runway in the blistering heat, now airline unions are demanding change. We're going to show you what they want to see happen when we come back.