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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Initiates Impeachment Inquiry Against President Biden; Escaped Murderer Danelo Cavalcante In Pennsylvania Is Now Armed, Intensifying The Manhunt; Fulton County DA Faces Deadline In Trump Election Interference Case; President Biden's False 9/11 Ground Zero Claim Sparks Controversy; Flash Flood Emergency Declared In Parts Of Massachusetts Due To Heavy Rainfall. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired September 12, 2023 - 14:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Kevin McCarthy's marching orders the House Speaker directs his committees to open an impeachment inquiry of President Biden and the White House is already pushing back. We're going to tell you what the administration has said.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Also ahead, the manhunt in Pennsylvania taking on a new sense of urgency with the fugitive now armed. Police say a homeowner fired shots at the escaped killer as he was stealing a rifle with a scope on it. We are live in Chester County.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: And Fulton County's district attorney up against the deadline to explain how she plans to prosecute Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants all at the same time. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN News Central.

SCIUTTO: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy just raised the political stakes in Washington this morning. He officially kicked off the process to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Biden.


KEVIN MCCARTHY, HOUSE SPEAKER: Today I am directing our House committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. This logical next step will give our committees the full power to gather all the facts and answers for the American public. That's exactly what we want to know.


SCIUTTO: The investigation is cantered on the GOP's allegations that Biden engaged in corruption while vice president. Some lawmakers to McCarthy's right have threatened to strip him of his speakership if he did not make this move. The White House is calling the step extreme politics, but just about everyone in Washington expected something like this to happen, just not this soon. Let's begin with CNN's Melanie Zanona at the Capitol. Melanie, tell us about McCarthy's timing here, but also his decision to skip a vote because as I remember it, he pressured Nancy Pelosi to have a Congress wide vote in 2019.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah, you're exactly right, Jim. The timing here is very notable. It comes as the House is returning after a six-week recess and pressure has been growing on Kevin McCarthy from his right flank to begin impeachment proceedings. There's also been renewed threats to his speakership, including from Congressman Matt Gaetz, but he is making clear that he is not completely satisfied. In fact, he took to the House floor just an hour after McCarthy made his announcement and had this to say.


MATT GAETZ, CONGRESSMAN (R) FLORIDA: Moments ago, Speaker McCarthy endorsed an impeachment inquiry. This is a baby step following weeks of pressure from House conservatives to do more. We must move faster.


ZANONA: Now, on the other end of the spectrum are a number of moderates in the party who are still not sold yet on the idea of impeachment. In fact, it's important to remind viewers that the House Republican conference has not yet proved allegations that Biden directly profited off of his son's foreign business deals or that he made policy decisions because of them when he was vice president.

And so that dynamic right there, Jim, I think really explains the predicament that Kevin McCarthy is in and also why he is deciding to skip a floor vote on a formal inquiry. He is moving ahead without getting buy in from his full conference, directing the committees to proceed. But he has not yet put a timeline on how this process is going to play out.

SCIUTTO: So, you're saying he's skipping a floor vote because he's not certain he has the votes to win that vote?

ZANONA: Yes, exactly. Exactly. The votes are just not there yet, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yeah. Melody Zanona, thanks so much. The math matters. Let's get White House reaction to this. Kayla Tausche, the White House had some expectation that was coming, perhaps not today. So how are they responding and what's their plan -- what's their plan to deal with this going forward?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the White House sees this as a stark about face by Speaker McCarthy, whose own declaration just two weeks ago that he would seek that formal floor wide vote to move forward with an impeachment inquiry, piqued their interest into whether or not he could generate the votes. And now the change in position is seen by the administration by as an admission by McCarthy that he doesn't have the votes or the evidence yet to get them. Ian Sans is the spokesman for the White House on oversight and investigations and earlier today he posted this on social media writing the House Republicans have been investigating the president for nine months and they've turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.


His own Republican members have said so. He vowed to hold a vote to open impeachment now he flip-flopped because he doesn't have support this is extreme politics at its worst.

Since Republicans retook the house the White House Counsel's Office has amassed a team of two dozen experts in legal, communications and legislative fields in advance of this expectation that there would be this growing move toward oversight and even impeachment that they expected would reach a fever pitch going into the 2024 election. But they are now unbowed in their work based on this evolution in the house and officials are pointing to some of the statements by McCarthy's own conference. Some members moderate members from blue districts saying that you know House Republicans simply aren't there yet.

And Jim we're just at this hour getting a new statement in from the Biden re-election campaign tying McCarthy even more closely to former President Donald Trump and saying that this latest move by McCarthy just cements his status as a Trump super surrogate. Jim.

SCIUTTO: And perhaps those Republicans in blue districts fear the same fate of Republicans in moderate districts who lost their seats after voting to impeach Trump. Kayla Tausche, the White House. Thanks so much. Brianna.

KEILAR: On the run and now armed, the escape murderer in Pennsylvania who broke out of prison 13 days ago now has a rifle with a scope and a flashlight on it. That's according to Pennsylvania State Police they say that Danelo Cavalcante got away with this weapon after he stole it from an open garage last night. Police say that the guns owner was actually nearby was in the garage and fired several shots at Cavalcante with a handgun. They do not though think that Cavalcante was hit by any of those bullets we have CNN's Danny Freeman who has been tracking every turn of this manhunt. Danny we're getting a new view into Cavalcante's mind, as well from his sister's testimony during his murder trial, as we see these new developments that he's armed.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that's right Brianna and let me just tell you about where I am right now and then I'll get right to that new information that CNN is reporting about his sister. But just to paint the scene right here, we're just outside of the main perimeter right now. Right outside of South Coventry Township we're on route 123 and it is a show of force out here. Nearly 500 law enforcement officers, we've seen many on horseback, others coming in armoured vehicles, we see helicopters continuing to circle the sky. That's the show of force ever since that news we got confirmed today that Cavalcante has become armed and is considered armed and dangerous now.

But to your point Brianna we got some new information about Eleni Cavalcante that's the sister of Danelo and she became an interesting player in this story because we learned just a few days ago that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has actually detained her because she overstayed her visa that's according to state police and they said that she was not helpful at all to their investigation of Danelo Cavalcante's escape her brother though they wouldn't say specifically if she was ever accused of helping him.

However, she did testify as a witness for the prosecution in her brother's murder trial which just happened about a month ago and CNN was able to obtain the transcript of her testimony I just want to highlight it because like you said it shed some light on the mindset during or in the process of Cavalcante's prior attempt to evade law enforcement so this is Eleni Cavalcante speaking on the stand and she had just said that Danelo her brother had told her that he had indeed stabbed Deborah Brandao.


She responds to prosecutors "Yes, however he did not know if she, if she Brandao, the victim here was dead or alive". The prosecutors then press "was he calm, was he angry, was he sad? How would you describe his demeanor?" His sister responds well "I couldn't really identify because he's always had a calm demeanor. He seemed okay to me". The question continues "So, his demeanor was the same during this phone call that it has always been with you?". Sister responds "Yes". "Did he slur his words?" asked the prosecutor. She says "it was very quick. I didn't have a chance to notice much". The prosecutor asked "but to be clear, he sounded the same to you as he had the other day?". "Yes" is the response that Eleni Cavalcante gives.


So, again that's a moment where Danelo Cavalcante is calling his sister telling her he has just killed his ex-girlfriend or stabbed his ex-girlfriend. Eleni Cavalcante testifying under oath just a month ago or so that he was calm throughout that entire experience now he's escaped from prison 13 days we're in this manhunt. He's armed and dangerous. Brianna.

KEILAR: Yeah and we-- we learned from that trial he stabbed her dozens of times and yet it sounds like he was pretty matter-of-fact about it. Danny Freeman with the very latest in this situation that has taken quite a more dangerous turn. Boris.


SANCHEZ: We are following breaking news just into CNN. Five former Memphis police officers involved in the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols have just been indicted by a federal grand jury. Let's bring in CNN's Nick Valencia, who's following this story for us. So, Nick, these five officers are also facing state charges in Tennessee. Those were brought earlier this year. Now they're indicted on federal charges as well.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and we just got our hands on this indictment. It includes two charges, two counts of witness tampering and two counts of deprivation of civil rights. And excuse me while I go through this indictment, which we just got printed out here.

That count one of deprivation of civil rights. The DOJ goes on to say that these five former officers unlawfully assaulted Tyre Nichols and wilfully failed to intervene in the unlawful assault, which led ultimately to his death. It goes on to say in count two that they failed to render medical aid to Nichols, failing to advise the MPD dispatcher and emergency medical personnel of the circumstances surrounding Nichols' serious medical need. And in relation to those charges of witness tampering or obstructing justice, conspiracy to witness tamper rather from the Department of Justice, they allege that these five former officers deliberately and corruptly persuaded, their words, the intent to hinder or delay the truth by trying to corruptly persuade their supervisor as well as the individual who wrote the incident report and what happened there with Nichols.

You remember the police report was riddled with inconsistencies when we initially got it. After a fact, we saw video of how it all played out, and it was riddled with inconsistencies. Two other counts relation to this witness tampering also goes on to say that they withheld information and also deliberately misled information. Again, this is just coming out to us. This indictment just released, and we are standing by for a press conference from the Department of Justice as well as a US attorney from the Western District of Tennessee to formally announce these charges.

And as you mentioned, Boris, they're still in state court. They're expected to appear in state court sometime later this month. All of this happening as a patterns and practices investigation was announced in July by the DOJ into the Memphis Police Department. They alleged that black motorists were disproportionately targeted there in Memphis. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, we should point out the officers in the state case have all pleaded not guilty. Nick Valencia, please stand by. You'll bring us the latest details as we get them from the indictment.

VALENCIA: You bet.

SANCHEZ: Let's go now to CNN senior law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey. Sir, thanks so much for being with us. Your reaction now to these federal indictments of the five officers in Memphis?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I mean, I'm not surprised. The only thing surprising, quite frankly, is it took this long for them to actually indict them on federal charges. What they did was absolutely wrong. Whatever happens to them, believe me, they deserve it, both at the state and the federal level. It is just tragic what they did to that individual, Mr. Nichol.

But it's also tragic what they did to the entire profession of policing. I mean, it damaged all of us by just looking at that video. And they need to pay for it. I know you're innocent until proven guilty. But quite frankly, I'll be, I'll be shocked if there's anything other than a guilty verdict when it comes to trial.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, incredibly difficult video to watch of Tyre Nichol's final moments. Chief, let's take a step back and talk about the manhunt in Pennsylvania. State police were answering questions from reporters today. And there was one specific question that seemed to frustrate the lieutenant colonel that was speaking with reporters. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDO CLIP)

GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE (LT. COL.): I don't know why you would think something has gone wrong. Our law enforcement people have done an amazing job tracking him and locating him, that proverbial needle in the haystack. And they've located that needle repeatedly.


SANCHEZ: He was asked what has gone wrong in the search for that, again, proverbial needle. The problem is that needle keeps getting away. And it's now armed with a rifle. So, what's your assessment of how officials have handled the situation?

RAMSEY: Well, first of all, I understand why he's frustrated. I've had similar frustration on occasion with big cases and press conferences and so forth. You do the best you can with these things. I mean, this isn't television where everything gets solved in an hour with commercial breaks. I mean, this is real. And it's very, very difficult to have a manhunt and actually search someone, especially search for someone, especially with the kind of terrain that they had to deal with.

Now, obviously, they wish they had caught him earlier. They wish a lot of things. But it doesn't mean that something went wrong. They're doing everything that they possibly can. Now, they'll debrief afterwards. And they'll take a look at the entire operation to see whether or not something could have been done differently. But I understand his frustration. I mean, he wants to catch this guy as much as anybody.


All those officers that are out there combing the area now trying to find him. And I might add, do so at great personal risk. This guy now is armed, we know, with a rifle, with a scope. He has absolutely nothing to lose. He's killed twice, and he will not hesitate to kill again.


RAMSEY: And so, these officers, knowing that, are still going to go in after him. And that takes an awful lot of courage. And no question about that.

SCIUTTO: Some 500 officers out there searching for someone who is armed and dangerous and who, we should note, has killed before. Chief, you mentioned the terrain, and -- it's terrain that you're somewhat familiar with. You were the commissioner of police in Philadelphia, not that far from where they're searching for Danelo Cavalcante. The terrain specifically, there's a network of underground tunnels, large drainage ditches, thick vegetation, a lot of places to hide. Talk to us about those challenges.

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, it's very challenging because he's got the upper hand in terms of where he goes. You're guessing whenever you're trying to find someone. Now, I've been to Longwood Gardens on multiple occasions, certainly not in the tunnels and some of the areas that he would be in. But it is very heavily wooded in some areas. It's just very, very difficult to do a search. And then when you have that undergrowth of brush and so forth, it's real thick.

He's a small guy, easy to hide. Even the dogs weren't able to really pick him up. So, it was very tedious. It was very difficult. He moves mostly at night. So, he was able to slip through. And when people think about a perimeter, you're talking about an eight square mile area. That's a huge area to search. And even if you have 400 people, you're not standing shoulder to shoulder. And so, he finds one weakness somewhere, one gap. That's all it took for him to be able to get out.

But again, the public needs to be careful too. He's been able to steal a car because someone left the keys in it. He's able to go into a garage and now he's got his hands on a rifle. People need to lock their stuff up. This guy is dangerous, and he is desperate right now and he'll do anything to get away. He's got absolutely nothing to lose. In fact, now that he's got a firearm, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he decided to try to take somebody with him.

SANCHEZ: Wow. An important warning from Chief Charles Ramsey on day 13 of this manhunt. Chief, always great to see you. Thanks so much.

RAMSEY: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course, Brianna.

KEILAR: It is deadline day for the Fulton County DA. Fannie Willis has to tell the judge how she plans on trying all 19 defendants together. Plus, during a 9-11 memorial speech yesterday, President Biden claimed that he was at ground zero the day after the attack. But was he? Daniel Dale is here to fact check. And we're following the desperate search for earthquake survivors in Morocco. The window to find them is closing. You're watching CNN News Central.



SCIUTTO: Big day in the Fulton County election interference case facing Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants. District Attorney Fannie Willis is on deadline today. She must lay out a roadmap for the judge showing exactly how she plans to try all 19 defendants in one sweeping RICO trial, as it's known, and why that should happen, as the court is currently scheduled in just over a month. As she makes her case to the judge, former President Trump has asked the court to toss out all of his charges, very unlikely to happen.

And Mark Meadows is asking the court to pause his case while an ongoing appeal of moving this case to federal court plays out. CNN's Sara Murray is tracking all of this. Lots going on. So just in terms of her plan, 19 co-defendants, including a former president currently running for office, some demanding a speedy trial, some not demanding a speedy trial, sweeping charges here. How does she plan to lay that out in the time frame she's asked for?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they essentially have to make their best argument to the judge about why they think all 19 of these defendants really should go together and again, how you do that logistically on such a short time frame in 40-something days. We know the judge had a number of concerns in a hearing last week about how this would be handled logistically. And so, he's asked her to sort of lay that out in a filing that we're waiting for. I mean, one thing is clear. We know that Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell, two attorneys who worked on Donald Trump's efforts to try to overturn the election, they're hurtling ahead. They're going to trial in October of 2023. The question is, are the other 17 going along with them, or does the judge try to divvy up this block of 17 into even smaller groups?

As you pointed out, there have also been motions from people like Mark Meadows and others to try to move the case to federal court. We still believe Donald Trump's team is likely to try to do that at some point. And the judge raised concerns specifically about how you deal with that group that's going to have these challenges going on in federal court at the same time as the state court proceedings are moving ahead.

Now, as you pointed out, Trump's team is also trying to fight these charges in state court, making this initial effort out of the gate to have the charges against him tossed. Like you said, that's going to be a high bar, but it does sort of show you the two tracks that these defendants have to work on if they're planning on trying to fight these charges in state court while potentially trying to get this moved to federal court.

The good news is we will hopefully have some clarity on all of this by later on this week. The state judge said he wants to issue some scheduling orders, get things organized by the end of the week.

SCIUTTO: Can I ask a basic question? If those two, Powell and Chesbrough, they're going to have their trial next month, they've asked for a speedy trial, but it's assumed then that they can get a fair and speedy trial. Does that case affect the others claiming they need all this extra time for their own trial to be fair?

MURRAY: No, I mean, not necessarily. Look, you can make an argument if you're a lawyer for another defendant that I need more time just because maybe Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell feel like maybe there's a narrower case against them. Maybe their attorneys have clearer schedules. If they feel ready to go ahead, they can go ahead.


But if you're an attorney for another client, you can say, look, you know, we've been accused of participating in all these schemes that we want to do more research on. We need more time to go over the discovery. Maybe we have other things that are going to trial in the meantime. So, there's any number of arguments you can make.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, we know you'll follow them. Thanks so much, Brianna.

KEILAR: President Biden is facing criticism for falsely claiming that he was in New York City at Ground Zero the day after 9-11. These are comments that he made yesterday during a speech to military and first responders as he was marking the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks.


JOSEPH BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ground Zero in New York, and I remember standing there the next day and looking at the building. I felt like I was looking through the gates of hell. It looks so devastating because the way you could see where from where you could stand.


KEILAR: But that's not actually true. And now the White House is weighing in. For more on this, let's turn to CNN's Daniel Dale. He is here with a fact check. When did Biden actually visit Ground Zero?

DANIEL DALE, CNN FACT CHECKER: He went nine days after the attack, Brianna, September 20th, 2001, when he went with a bipartisan delegation of senators. I asked the White House last night about this claim. They provided a photo of him there on September 20th, reiterated that he was there that day. I think some people might say, OK, you know, he was there.

It's just days, a matter of days later. Maybe he forgot. And maybe he forgot. But look, it's 9-11. It's sensitive. He's speaking to military and first responders. So, I think the facts matter.

KEILAR: And he has done, I don't know if it's similar things, but he's sort of told some stories that don't line up quite like this before.

DALE: Yeah, this president has a pattern at this point of either inventing or embellishing stories about his own past, his biography. He did it three times in one speech last month alone. He claimed he had witnessed a bridge collapse in Pittsburgh when he actually showed up about six hours later.


He claimed that his grandfather had died just days before he was born himself at the same hospital. In fact, his grandpa died more than a year before in a different state, not the same hospital. And he also repeated a favourite false story that I and others have debunked over and over again about a supposed conversation with an Amtrak train conductor he was friends with, who was actually deceased at the time the conversation would have had to take place.

And that's not all. There are some more serious ones, in my view. Previously in his presidency, he claimed at one point he'd been arrested during a civil rights protest when, in other versions of the story, he just said an officer had taken him home from a protest. He said he had visited the Pittsburgh synagogue where worshippers were killed in a 2018 mass shooting.


In fact, he'd actually spoken to the rabbi, but never went. And he's made a whole bunch of others, too. He said at one point, Republicans like to bring this up. He said that he used to drive a tractor trailer, used to drive an 18-wheeler. Never happened. The White House later clarified he used to drive a school bus at one point as a job, briefly. School bus, of course, not an 18-wheeler.

So, whatever his intentions, whether it's foggy memory about stuff that's going on decades ago or deliberate embellishment, this is an unfortunate pattern that keeps coming up again and again with Joe Biden.

KEILAR: Daniel, thank you for taking us through this. We appreciate it. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Still to come in New England, a flash flood emergency issued today for parts of Massachusetts after more than half a foot of rain came down. Details from New England when we come back.