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Impeachment Probe, Shutdown Talks Stoke DC Tensions; Kim, Putin Meet As U.S. Warns Russia Seeking Arms Deal. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 13, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Rolling out an aggressive messaging strategy and wooing high-dollar donors, how President Biden and his team are planning to navigate an impeachment inquiry as Speaker McCarthy deflects on why he flip-flopped amid pressure from the right flank of his party.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: "Candid exchange of views," that is how Russian president, Putin, is describing his five-hour-long meeting with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. How the U.S. is responding amid fears of an arms deal between the two nations.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus, thermal heat technology and a police dog, how (inaudible) escaped murderer who evaded them for two weeks and had a community on edge.

We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: Right now, we are tracking a president who is facing an impeachment threat from House Republicans and a House speaker who may have to decide between keeping the government funded or keeping his gavel.

SCIUTTO: (Inaudible) political implications here. On the White House side, President Biden's surrogates are criticizing Speaker McCarthy. Here was his Press Secretary just in the last hour.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He didn't even put up for a vote, as you all know, because he knows that even his own members weren't going to support this. So that's why we call it baseless, that's why I just called it baseless, because they have said themselves that there is no evidence. There does not - the evidence does not exist and this is a political stunt.


SANCHEZ: Lost in the scrum, the prospects for a budget deal, if Speaker McCarthy can't juggle the Republican infighting and the numbers, we could be headed for a government shutdown on October 1st. Let's discuss all of this and more with CNN's Kayla Tausche, Kristen Holmes and David Chalian.

First, let's start talking about Biden trying to keep the focus on policy. Of course, Kristen, for Trump, his fingerprints are all over this.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. So what we do know is that on Sunday of this week, he had dinner with Marjorie Taylor Greene, a representative who he is very close with, somebody who - they talked about this impeachment with - during that time. We also know that he talked to the House GOP chairwoman, Elise Stefanik, who he's very close with after McCarthy made that announcement about this impeachment.

Now, a number of my sources say that while Trump has talked about this, while he has encouraged this, this really isn't the top of his list of things that he obsesses over. Mostly that is his impending legal issues that he has, but it is something that he's watching carefully and he's watching to see who has his back when it comes to this impeachment.

The other part of this is that even if he's not obsessed with it, it is very clear that he is going to be somewhat at the center of this because he is at the center of the Republican Party. And when I talked to one member, they told me the other day, two days ago, that it doesn't really matter whether or not Trump is pushing and encouraging and twisting someone's arm, what matters is that if Trump says he wants something done, they know what he wants done and they're going to do it. He doesn't have to force them.

SCIUTTO: Kayla, the White House, of course, wants to keep focus - the focus on policy here. The trouble is the polling doesn't show great public support for Biden's policies so far. So how do they plan to navigate this?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly they think that all they need is time for the messaging to sink in. That's why President Biden tomorrow is set to deliver yet another speech on his economic programs to try to draw a contrast between what he has passed and what Republicans platform is.

And just moments ago at a White House press briefing, they had the top White House economist talking about inflation and demands from autoworkers and a top national security official talking about that meeting between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin.

But White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, was also asked repeatedly about this impeachment inquiry, which the White House continues to call baseless, to call illegitimate. And so I asked if it is illegitimate, will the White House be complying with any requests for information or subpoenas that are issued to bolster their argument up until this point that there is no evidence to support that the president did anything wrong. Here's Karine Jean-Pierre.

[15:05:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEAN-PIERRE: ... to them.

TAUSCHE: You've suggested that there's no evidence to back up the Republicans' effort here.

JEAN-PIERRE: Which is true. I'm not suggesting it, that's actually a fact.

TAUSCHE: If they are seeking information (inaudible) ...

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes. And that is something that the White House counsel is going to deal with and it's not a suggestion, it's actually an actual fact. When you have Republicans saying that there is no evidence, it doesn't exist. They have said that.

I mean, again, they couldn't even put it up for a vote because they didn't have the vote. So it's not a suggestion. It's actually the fact. That's their own words that I'm repeating back.


TAUSCHE: So declining to say that the White House would provide information to back up their argument thus far and pointing to the White House Counsel's office to field any of those inquiries. Meanwhile, the Biden campaign is using this impeachment inquiry to try to drum up small dollar donations, which so far have been lagging this far in this cycle.

An email that was sent out to those on President Biden's reelection listserv earlier today said, "Pitch in $5, $10, $25, whatever you can afford to fight back against Kevin McCarthy and Marjorie Taylor Greene's vicious lies and baseless attacks on the president."

That effort coming as the Biden campaign is set to corral high dollar donors in Chicago this week, trying to re-energize them ahead of a critical end of quarter fundraising deadline as the campaign zeroes in its messaging on this battle between Biden and his predecessor.

KEILAR: David, there have been - there's been a lot of investigating on the legal front. Like a lot of this we're talking about is political. Legally, there's been a lot of investigating. Hunter Biden does not come out of this smelling like a rose, Hunter. The proximity of that to then Vice President Biden, that's not great, but there is not this link that you have some Republicans really trying to draw here. The question is going to be politically, does this stick and cause problems for Joe Biden.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. I mean, the investigation, the legal investigation is actually ongoing now with a special counsel into Hunter Biden. But even to that, we've had no reports out of that investigation that there's some looking at potential wrongdoing of President Joe Biden. You're right to note that and there hasn't been that direct link yet made from House Republicans even in their more politically tainted investigations. But the White House has a big perception problem. I mean, the work of the House Republicans is having some impact, right? We see in our polling that a majority of Americans believe that President Biden has acted inappropriately in this current investigation. And as it relates to his relations to the business dealings of Hunter Biden back when he was vice president, we saw nearly six in ten Americans in our poll believe that.

And that includes a majority of independents. So there's clear perception work and that is why you are seeing the White House becoming aggressive out of the gate instantly with this, because they want to make sure they're pushing back and changing that perception.

SANCHEZ: We want to take a moment and go to Capitol Hill now, because CNN's Lauren Fox is getting the latest from lawmakers there.

And Lauren, even if you hear from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, people that have been investigating Hunter Biden, potential links to Joe Biden, Congressman Ken Buck, for example, he says he does not see any specific evidence tying the president to his son's business dealings overseas.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. And we've been talking about this, but there is a reason why House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not bring a vote to the floor of the House of Representatives to open this impeachment inquiry, despite the fact that just 12 days ago, he was arguing that impeachment was so serious, that an impeachment inquiry was so serious, that he would bring this to the floor of the House for a vote.

The reality is there were many Republicans in his ranks who had concerns about launching this impeachment inquiry, in part because there is no direct evidence, but also in part because once you start an inquiry, despite the fact that leadership is arguing this is just an initial step, this isn't a formal impeachment, it is very hard to backtrack. It is very hard to not finish the job, in part because not finishing the job, not holding a vote on impeachment, potentially could exonerate the president, and you can bet that Democrats would campaign on that.

So that's part of the dynamic here for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but his conference is still very divided. Here's what a couple of lawmakers said today.


REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): Well, it certainly didn't help Democrats. I mean, I haven't seen anybody do too well after an impeachment process, didn't do well for us in 98 with President Clinton. I don't see it as good politics. I do, though, think there's enough stuff here that deserves to be looked at.

REP. NICK LALOTA (R-NY): I think that we need to be balanced in this approach. I don't think that impeachment ought to be used as a political tool or a weapon, especially around election year. I think we need to be in a quest for facts. REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): I think this impeachment is long overdue. The people in my district have had enough, the border crisis in particular, the 13 Americans that were killed. I think we should have impeached his ass a long time ago.



And some of the most skeptical Republicans up here on Capitol Hill are over in the U.S. Senate, James Comer and Jim Jordan, the chairman who are leading this impeachment inquiry. They went to the Republican Senate lunch today to try to lay out their case, give a sense of where their investigation is going in hopes that they could garner more support from Republican senators who, to this point, largely have been skeptical of the fact that there is a lot to do right now in Congress, including funding the government. Their argument is that an impeachment inquiry could be a distraction from doing that work, Boris?

SCIUTTO: David, devil's advocate for a moment here, because if you go back to McCarthy's run for speaker, there was a lot of talk for a long time. He didn't have the votes. He made it through on the budget plan. He pushed that through. He eventually got the votes. Is it possible that he musters the votes eventually here to move forward?

CHALIAN: For impeachment?


CHALIAN: Possibly. I mean, it's - he clearly didn't have the votes yesterday ...


CHALIAN: ... to launch an inquiry or he would have put it on the House floor and they would have launched the inquiry. He doesn't have the votes to avoid a shutdown yet, right?


CHALIAN: Because they had to actually postpone and reschedule the defense spending bill. They can't even get defense spending alone today. So he doesn't have those votes. But, of course, with time, with arguments, if there is more evidence, you can see some of these members. And we saw this, by the way, with the Democrats four years ago. There were Democrats not willing to get on board with the notion of impeaching President Trump initially for the Zelenskyy phone call.


CHALIAN: But as more developments came out and as the investigation began, some of them moved, so certainly it is possible.

I will just say this, Kevin McCarthy is doing something that the folks in his conference who are the majority makers from very consequential districts that will determine control, they are the ones that are not eager, like you saw the New York congressman there, to not do this. That was not the case four years ago.

Nancy Pelosi moved forward once the majority makers, those freshman Democrats from very borderline districts, got on board with it. That's when she moved forward with it. Here, Kevin McCarthy is being dictated sort of by the base, not by his majority makers.

KEILAR: When you look to it, some very outspoken folks like Matt Gaetz on the spending part of this, because all of this gets related to each other in a complicated way, he's talking about getting rid of entire agencies and this and that, stuff that is never going to make it through Congress. I mean, how tricky is this for Kevin McCarthy to navigate this when he has members who are demanding things that are, quite frankly, just impossible to deliver?

CHALIAN: I mean, to Jim's point, I - we saw 15 rounds of tricky back in January. They - Kevin McCarthy is in a very tough spot. There's no doubt about it. And he is making these constant daily choices of how to navigate this conference that threatens to potentially take the gavel away from him, create more chaos for the party.

And I just think that what you're seeing McCarthy do on a daily basis right now is how he - can he survive in this position that he has long sought and now been in for the last many months.

SANCHEZ: Let's go back to the White House now with Kayla Tausche, because Kayla, this is obviously something that is very personal for President Biden. McCarthy has brought no new allegations against the president. We should be clear about that. Nevertheless, Biden being hesitant to speak about his son publicly, up until now, we haven't seen much of that. Do we expect that's something that's going to change, especially as he's more called out by Republicans for their allegations of wrongdoing heading into 2024?

TAUSCHE: Well, the White House is going to have to thread the needle here because President Biden's preference up until this point has to remain above the fray and above what they see as drama on Capitol Hill and within the Republican Party. And they've tried to draw a distinction between the allegations and the situation ongoing with the president's son, Hunter, and the special counsel's case there, and have been very careful any time that topic has come up to defer to the Department of Justice and the independent investigation there.

But the White House and senior Biden aides have suggested that impeachment is a political animal. And so they will be treating that differently, and they will be much more aggressive when it comes to messaging, if not on the legal front, when it comes to impeachment. The problem is the impeachment inquiry is based on the Republicans seeking out of information about Hunter Biden and the attempt to tie the president to Hunter Biden's business dealings.

And so you do get a situation where there is a little bit of muddy water there and so how the White House decides it wants to engage doesn't appear clear yet, but they're working on that behind the scenes. SCIUTTO: Kristen, one might imagine politically that there's an attempt here to dissolve or underplay Trump's own legal troubles by creating legal troubles for Biden, regardless of the degree of the evidence here.


And by the way, it's a playbook we've seen before in Washington many times before. Is there a Republican response to that argument?

HOLMES: I think the Republicans are and we have seen this, as you said, time and time before, very good at messaging. And Donald Trump himself is very good at taking control of a narrative and I will tell you that when I talk to voters, even if they do not necessarily support Donald Trump, Republicans, they have told me that there is a two-tiered justice system. That is coming straight from Donald Trump's camp and Republican camp, saying that this is because Hunter Biden is not getting the same treatment, the Bidens are not getting the same treatment that Donald Trump himself is getting.

That is a narrative that is breaking through to voters and Republican voters. And when you talk about the fact that Kayla was just mentioning about them trying to ramp up their rhetoric in the Democratic side, that's why, because some of this Republican messaging is, in fact, breaking through. So regardless of whether or not Trump is behind it, and if it's a way to deter from Donald Trump or if he is the one that's creating it, it is working with Republican voters. And that is also why we're hearing so much from Democrats who say they want a stronger approach from the White House on this, because they want a counter-narrative.

KEILAR: Yes, they are needing one. It's very clear.

Kristen, David, thank you so much, as well, to Kayla Tausche at the White House for us. We appreciate it.

Coming up, back behind bars and a huge sigh of relief for the community in Pennsylvania after police there captured this escaped murderer who had been on the run for two weeks.

Plus, a five-hour meeting with global consequences. What we are learning about the summit between Russian president, Putin, and North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

And later, it's me, hi, I'm the writer. It's me. Why all you Swifties might want to dust off your resumes, Gannett is looking for a Taylor Swift reporter.

All these stories and more coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



SANCHEZ: The Biden administration says it is watching very closely what comes out of today's summit between Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong-un. The two leaders met face-to-face earlier today in Russia's far east as U.S. officials warned that the two countries could soon strike an arms deal. North Korea is reportedly looking for help with its space and satellite program, something that Vladimir Putin has hinted he is willing to do.

Russia meantime, they're in major need of ammunition for the war in Ukraine. At their state dinner, Kim pledged his full and unconditional support for Russia.

CNN's Will Ripley joins us now live from Taiwan.

So Will, what is the Biden administration saying about this meeting?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they don't have a whole lot of leverage, Boris. This is the problem because what Russia and North Korea are possibly able to do by creating this partnership is they use the things that they have to help the other out. You scratch your back, you scratch your back. So North Korea provides weapons for Ukraine. Russia provides sanctioned components and information that are needed for North Korea to build these nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

So they both are sanctioned. They're both outcasts. Once a great superpower, Russia, and its president, Putin, now basically at the same level as the North Korean leader who's been kind of grinding his way up the diplomatic ladder, if you will. And so what the United States is threatening to do is something that they've been threatening all along, which is sanctions. Sanctions that North Korea has clearly shown it can get around, but this is what they say.


MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: When you see Kim Jong- un vowing to provide full, unconditional support for Russia's so- called sacred fight to defend its security interests, which, of course, is not what it's doing with respect to the war in Ukraine. That, of course, is troubling. When you see what looks to be increased cooperation and probably military transfers, as we've said for some time, we have reason to believe they were going to discuss military transfers, that is quite troubling and would potentially be in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

We have taken a number of actions already to sanction entities that have brokered arms sales between North Korea and Russia. And we won't hesitate to impose additional actions, if appropriate.


RIPLEY: But all of those steps have done little to slow Kim's nuclear program. And with Russia's help, he can actually speed things up at an even faster clip than he's ever been able to do before. And so, essentially, what the U.S. says and what they try to do at the United Nations, Russia and China can veto, and North Korea launching ballistic missiles unabated, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Will Ripley reporting live from Taiwan, thanks Will. Jim? SCIUTTO: Joining us now, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

General, good to have you back.

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Great to be with you, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: So we know Russia needs North Korean ammunition for its war in Ukraine. We know North Korea wants a lot in return, including missile technology. Are they likely to get it? And if they do, how destabilizing is that?

HERTLING: Yes, I believe that there is that strong possibility, Jim, based on the coordination that Mr. Putin and Mr. Kim have made over the last several days. But isn't this somewhat historically reminiscent of a Stalin-Hitler or Hitler-Mussolini kind of act, not really interested in the national security of the other country, but certainly, as Will just said, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Russia desperately needs more ammunition. They can't produce it. But they're going to get a lot of artillery ammunition of the old type, area-fired imprecise weapon system. I think, truthfully, North Korea has the most to gain and they've been showing Kim around the different sites that will provide him the kinds of things he's interested in, not only ballistic missile guidance - ballistic missile guiding systems, potential to put ballistic missiles on submarines.


And, in fact, that's the thing I'm most concerned about.

But also just some of the capability that Russia has advanced technologically that Korea just has not been able to master, even though they have been firing the missiles.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's why it's notable that they went to a Russian space launch facility, because as you and I well know, that's not about peacefully exploring space. That's a good way to develop an ICBM. Is Russia likely to provide ICBM technology to North Korea, perhaps even weaponized satellites?

RIPLEY: Yes, I think they can certainly provide the information that are behind both of those things. Russia has very good capabilities in those areas. Unfortunately, they have not - Russia has not proven themselves to have as good a capability on the military front. And that's what they do actually share in common with North Korea.

North Korea and Russia's army are both second class. They have a lot of artillery. They use that to their advantage. That's part of their doctrinal way of fighting. So certainly, you would see that kind of exchange of munitions, but not much more that was going to - is going to help Russia. And as I said, Jim, this is an alliance that is somewhat dysfunctional from the very beginning, even though in the past Russia has, for instance, forgiven a lot of North Korean debt. They have been partners with them, using those kind of relationships as an advantage over China. But in this case, what you're seeing is two very strange bedfellows coming together on a strategic alliance, getting both what they want.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and they don't have a lot of - Russia doesn't have a lot of friends, kind of like China. They're stuck with North Korea. Before we go, you and I regularly talk about the progress of the war in Ukraine. How significant is North Korea's help to Russia in terms of continuing that war?

HERTLING: Well, it is going to give them the ammunition that they need. And what we've seen, the reports have shown that Russia has been degraded in their artillery capability, not only because Ukraine has been striking their artillery systems with precision weapons, but also because they've just been using so daggone much. They fired a lot of rockets and artillery rounds, and that's what they hope to get resupplied.

But you're talking about a base of support from North Korea. They have to transport that either across the mainland of Russia over 11 time zones, which consists of the Russian mainland or they're going to have to ship it by sea. And both of those will be subject to interference or blockades and there is a potential for different policies that the Western nations and the U.S. can actually put that go beyond just sanctioning North Korea or Russia and I think we're going to see more of that in the future.

SCIUTTO: Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, thanks so much, as always.

HERTLING: Pleasure, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Brianna?

HERTLING: Thank you.

KEILAR: Up next, two weeks on the run. It's all over now for that escaped murderer in Pennsylvania, how officials were finally able to capture him and where he is headed now.

Plus, a shocking announcement from Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney, he is not going to run for reelection in 2024. What is behind his decision ahead?