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Auto workers strike as President Biden backs fair wages, CEOs respond to union demands amid record profits. Hunter Biden faces gun- related charges with potential additional tax charges looming. Study examines the impact of the auto workers' strike on the economy. Jury acquits three men in the Michigan kidnapping plot case. Former President Trump's history of making legal promises to testify under oath. Senate takes action after CNN report exposes sexual assault cover-ups by the Coast Guard. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 14:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: On strike, workers walk out at three plants belonging to all three of the big three at the same time. That had never happened until now. President Biden is backing the union's call for a fair share, as they say. But the auto companies say they'd go bankrupt if they met all of the UAW's demands. We're going to break down where the talks go from here. Coming up.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ACHOR: Prosecutors may not be done yet. Hunter Biden is already facing three gun related charges, but more could be on the way. Some new reporting on what those charges could be.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ACHOR: And a new study may provide some answers about what it's like to die. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us to discuss. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN News Central.

SCIUTTO: Signaling support today, President Biden speaking for the first time since thousands of auto workers walked off the job without a new deal. Biden called on the big three automakers to give their workers what he called a fair share.


JOSEPH BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Auto companies have seen record profits, including the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of UAW workers. Those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers. The bottom line is that auto workers help create America's middle class. They deserve a contract that sustains them in the middle class.


SCIUTTO: Of the UAW's 145,000 members, just about 13,000 are on strike right now, a little below 1 in 10. This at assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri. More, though, could be joining if those demands continue not to be met. CNN's Gabe Cohen is on the scene in Toledo, Ohio, inside a local UAW headquarters. I wonder, as you speak to workers there, are they in this now? Are they in it for the long haul?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that is what every single one of the workers we have spoken with have said. They told me they have been saving money, waiting for this moment, knowing that it was very possible that they were going to go on strike. You can see behind me hundreds, thousands even of these workers are 5,800 members here who are attached to that Stellantis factory just about three miles from where we are. They're all here today signing up for their strike pay.

And take a look down this line. You can see just the scale of how many workers are being affected by this right now here in Toledo. Again, they knew this might be coming, but it is no doubt going to be a difficult task living off $100 a day for the foreseeable future. It's unclear at this point how long this could last. We know that right now there are about 15 picketers outside each gate by that Stellantis factory. They're preventing anyone from getting in or out, and they are going to be there, they say, 24-7 in the coming days.

I actually want to bring in one of these workers. Abby, if I can bring you in real quick. This is Abby Ryan and your daughter, --


COHEN: -- Journey.

RYAN: Right.

COEHN: You are a single mom. You said you work at the Stellantis factory.

RYAN: Yes.

COHEN: What do you do there?

RYAN: I'm a production worker for the Gladiator.

COHEN: First day of strike, signing up for your strike pay. How are you feeling right now?

RYAN: A little overwhelmed, a little stressed out. But overall, I got to do what I got to do.

COHEN: Why do you say you're stressed out?

RYAN: Just don't know what's going to happen. Don't know what the future is going to hold for me and my kids. So, yeah, pretty much that. And like I said, I've never been in a strike before, so this is all new to me.

COHEN: And you told me you were preparing for this moment. Why do you believe in this strike?

RYAN: Because it's been long overdue. Stellantis is not being too fair with us as far as pay and, you know, just like eliminating jobs and so forth. So I think it's time to make a stand against a company that makes a lot of money.


COHEN: You said you're a single mom of three, is that right?

RYAN: Yes.

COHEN: Have you found it to be difficult to raise your three kids by yourself on the income that you currently make?

RYAN: Not necessarily. It all depends. As of right now, since it became Stellantis, our hours have been fluctuating. So one week we'll get 40 hours, next week we'll get 50 hours, if that. Sometimes we have to go home due to part shortage or something. But no, as of right now, not really. But since the cost of gas and groceries and everything else, yes, it's starting to get more and more.

COHEN: It's getting tougher.

RYAN: Yeah. It seems like I buy $100 a week in groceries and it's nothing. It's like two meals.

COHEN: Are you going to be out on the picket line?

RYAN: Yes, absolutely.

COHEN: When?

RYAN: Sunday will be my first day.

COHEN: Okay. Well, best of luck to you. Thank you so much. And again, Jim, that gives you a sense of what so many of these strikers are now in for in the coming days. But we have heard it again and again. People feel they have not been properly compensated. And this is what it has come to.


SCIUTTO: And that $100 you refer to, that's union pay, in effect, to help bridge the gap between now and whenever they go back to work. Gabe Cohen in Toledo, Ohio. Thanks so much. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Meantime, CEOs for the big three are speaking publicly about what they say are unrealistic demands by the workers union. Here's Ford CEO Jim Farley with CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich.


JIM FARLEY, FORD CEO: Forty percent will put us out of business. We would lose $15 billion. We would have to -- cut people, close plants. What's the good of that? It's not a sustainable business. There is a fine line here that we won't go past, which is we want everyone to participate in our success. But if it prevents us from investing in this transition to EVs and in future products, like the ones we have now, like the new F-150, best-selling vehicle in the world, -- in the U.S., then everyone's job is at risk if we don't invest. So there's a line. The line isn't for us to go bankrupt. The line is somewhere in the middle. And the only way to resolve that is to actually negotiate.


SANCHEZ: And this morning, the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, told CNN this about the strike.


VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: He said that if Ford meets all of the demands that the union has, that Ford would go bankrupt. Is that the same case for General Motors?

MARY BARRA, GENRAL MOTORS CEO: When you look at the original demands, they totaled over $100 billion. That's more by quite a factor than we've made over the life of this agreement. And frankly, more than almost double the market cap of the company right now. So that's why we have to have a realistic offer. We want to make sure we reward the hardworking men and women of General Motors and the work they do every day. And we think that's what we have on the table.

YURKEVICH: But is that bankruptcy-level demands?

Well, if you're asking for more than the company made, I think that's not a good position.


SANCHEZ: Let's break down these competing demands with CNN economics and political commentator, Catherine Rampell. Catherine, great to see you. So you've got this claim from the CEOs that a 40% pay raise would put them out of business. Sean Fain, the president of the UAW, says that's a lie. So who's right?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the way to think about this is that we're coming off of a couple of years of really strong demand in the United States for cars. So we have had record profits. These companies have been very profitable. So the pie's gotten bigger, and we have the two sides fighting over how to divide that pie. And I'm very sympathetic to the workers wanting a bigger slice of that pie, looking around and seeing prices going up. Other workers at other companies seeing their wages go up and say, we deserve that, too.

The area where I'm a little more sympathetic to the companies, and I don't know about the specific claim about bankruptcy, where I'm more sympathetic to the companies is that we don't necessarily know that the pie will continue growing as quickly --



RAMPELL: -- in the future, particularly since it looks like for some of these companies, profits may have already peaked. We're in the middle of a big EV transition. There are a bunch of startups that are just frankly eating their lunch right now. Tesla makes like 10 times as many cars, EVs rather, as GM. And so the question is, how do these companies remain competitive given the set of demands from the workers, which are not just about wages, by the way.



RAMPELL: There are also a bunch of other things that are costly. So I do think that the workers deserve a raise, but if you're talking about like paying workers even if plants are shut down, which is one of the demands, for example, I think it would be very difficult for these companies in this transition to maintain the level of market share that they have today.

SANCHEZ: There was also a statement from the CEO of Ford, Jim Farley, that sounded a bit like a threat. He talked about offshoring some of these plants. How realistic is that?


RAMPELL: Well, look, cars are big, heavy things. They're easier to make, you know, closer to the customer. And so even foreign companies have obviously set up plants here in the United States. That doesn't mean that parts can't be offshored or nearshored, to use the term of art. You know, there's a lot of trade that goes over the border with Mexico, for example, as well as with Canada. So I don't think that's out of the question.

But I do think, you know, these companies are worried about how they will fare in this transition, given not just, I mentioned Tesla, there are a lot of other upstarts here in the United States, there are a lot of upstarts in China, in Vietnam, in lots of other countries that are trying to grab this market share that don't have the same legacy structure with Union. So it's not just about, like, will the companies move abroad? It's can they hold on to or can they reclaim --



RAMPELL: -- more of this customer base here?

SANCHEZ: Yeah, technology disrupting this industry as it is so many others, right? The other question, how is this going to impact the broader economy? We heard that it could cost some 5.6 billion dollars if the strike goes for at least 10 days. Is that accurate?

RAMPELL: There's a range of estimates, and it depends on what happens with other companies throughout the supply chain, right? There are a lot of companies that sell to the auto industry. The auto industry also has downstream firms that depend on them. Dealers, for example, you know, people who service cars. So, you know, there's a wide range of estimates.

I think at the very least we could expect some pain locally where these plants are, depending on how long the strike goes on and whether the union decides to expand it. Because right now it's pretty surgically targeted. --



RAMPELL: That could be much more disruptive and cause a lot more economic pain, not just where the plants are in places like Michigan, but throughout the country.

SANCHEZ: Catherine Rampell, appreciate the perspective as always.

RAMPELL: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Brianna.

KEILAR: One day after being indicted, we are learning that President Biden's son, Hunter, could still face more federal charges. Special Counsel David Weiss has a roughly one-month window to decide whether or not he'll file tax charges against Biden in California or Washington, D.C. And Weiss has hinted that he may do this. All of this coming after Weiss indicted Biden on three felony gun charges just weeks after a plea deal fell apart. CNN's Kara Scannell joining us now on this story. Kara, what do we know about these possible new charges?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, you know, Hunter Biden's been under investigation for several years about whether he did not pay his taxes on time over a multi-year period. And Special Counsel David Weiss's team has said in court filings that they may seek to bring those charges after a plea deal where Hunter Biden would have pled guilty to two tax misdemeanors had fallen apart, and they could bring those charges neither Washington, D.C. or California.

And so what we know is that for one of the years that's under investigation, the statute of limitations, that is, the period that they can look back on this where they could still bring a case, would expire next month. So that certainly starts the clock on how quickly we may see some additional movement here, possibly other tax charges. You know, they said that they may bring them. We don't know if they will or what they will look like, but it's certainly something that is now right around the corner, particularly on the heels of the indictment yesterday where Hunter Biden was charged with three felonies. Two of them for falsifying an ATF form that said that he was not using drugs or addicted to drugs at the time he bought the gun in October of 2018, and then providing that form to the dealer, essentially giving a false statement to that dealer, as well as the charge of possession of the gun while he was addicted to or using an illegal drug.

Those are all serious crimes. And the combination of the two, both the gun charges now on the table and the possibility of tax charges, you know, that's a real big reversal from where we are just a few weeks ago when it looked like there wasn't going to be a gun charge and the tax charges were going to be put out to a misdemeanor. Now, Hunter Biden's attorney, Abby Lowell, was on Aaron Burnett last night, and he was saying that he can only speculate as to what the reason is, but he thinks it has to do with politics. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABBE LOWELL, HUNTER BIDEN'S LAWYER: You have to ask what changed and what changed you also just talked about. It is the folks like Chairman Comer and the Republican MAGA crazies who have been pressuring this U.S. attorney to do something to vindicate their political position. And guess what? They succeeded.


SCANNELL: Now, Lowell says that they are going to fight these charges both on the facts as well as try to enforce that deal that they had where Hunter Biden would have avoided prosecution if he abided to certain conditions for a 21 month period. He also says that some of these charges may be unconstitutional given some recent rulings by federal courts, including by the Supreme Court. But Brianna, you know what we have here is is that the president's son in a historic moment is facing charges and he could be on trial next year during his father's re-election campaign. Brianna.

[14:15:39] 452

KEILAR: That is some timing. Kara Scannell, thank you so much. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Former President Trump says in a new interview that he would testify in his classified documents case. We're going to look back at what history tells us about the actual likelihood he would follow through on that promise. Plus, they were accused of plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan, the jury's verdict that had the defendants visibly emotional today. And later, the action the Senate is now taking after a CNN report on the Coast Guard's handling of a secret years-long investigation into sexual misconduct. That's ahead on CNN News Central.


SCIUTTO: A batch of Donald Trump's Twitter DMs are now in the hands of the special counsel. Newly unsealed court filings show that the social media company handed over at least 32 of the former president's direct messages after getting what was a secret search warrant earlier this year. Those messages were sought in the federal election probe of Trump. One of the four indictments now facing the former presidency, and Kristen Holmes is here now. Why these messages? What's their significance?


KIRSTEN HOLMES: Well, we don't know right now because all we know is that they turned over these 32 messages. We're not really sure how they played into this investigation. When we look at this indictment against Donald Trump, there is no message, there is no reference to these direct messages. But one thing to keep in mind here is just what a prominent role Twitter played in all of this. When Trump was trying to overturn the 2020 election results, he did much of it in public and much of it on Twitter, promoting these conspiracy theories.

So we're trying to figure out obviously more details as to what exactly was in these 32 direct messages and how it could have played out, but that's where Twitter was. And the other thing I want to point out here about this unsealing of these documents is we learned just how secret, extraordinarily secret, the steps that they took to make sure that Trump did not know about this, to keep this under wraps. Because remember, Twitter wanted to tell Trump that these existed just in case they wanted to eventually appeal it or say there was executive privilege,--



HOLMES: -- but they were barred from doing so.

SCIUTTO: Just briefly do we know if they were messages to or from him?

HOLMES: We don't know --



HOLMES: We don't know. Just direct messages.

SCIUTTO: So the other case of course that the former president is facing and that is his alleged mishandling of classified documents, he made some very public comments on the case yesterday.

HOLMES: He absolutely did and he talked about wanting to testify. He essentially said that it was not true, that he had directed anyone to delete the footage and that he would testify to that fact.


KRISTEN WELKER: A new charge suggests you asked a staffer to delete security camera footage so it wouldn't get into the hands of investigators. Did you do that?



WELKER: Would you testify to that under oath?

TRUMP: -- I'm gonna -- I'll testify to that under oath. It's a fake. The tapes weren't deleted. In other words, there was nothing done to him. And they were my tapes. I could afford them. I didn't even have to give them the tapes, I don't think. I think I would have won in court. When they asked for the tapes, I said, sure, they're my tapes. I could afford them.


HOLMES: Obviously a very familiar argument. They're my tapes. But keep in mind there were multiple federal subpoenas to get these tapes. It's not as though Donald Trump just willingly handed them over. And we talk about him wanting to testify. This is something we have heard before. I have seen no indication that he wants to testify, that he will testify, that his lawyers would allow him to testify in this case, open him up to a whole bunch of legal liabilities.

SCIUTTO: Kristen Holmes, thank you. And that's why Brianna is gonna look into what the former president's actually done when he's made similar promises in the past.

KEILAR: That's right. As former President Trump tells NBC's Kristen Welker that he would testify under oath, that he did not direct one of his employees to delete security footage at Mar-a-Lago. The question is, will he make good on that promise? Because he has failed to in other cases, and he has a complicated history with sworn testimony. Take the E. Jean Carroll defamation and sexual abuse civil case. Trump initially indicated through his lawyer that he wanted to testify, but in the end he never took the stand. He did have to go under oath when Carroll's lawyers deposed him, however, and his sworn testimony there raised questions about his truthfulness.


TRUMP: The only difference between me and other people is I'm honest. She's not my type. I would not, under any circumstances, have any interest in you.


KEILAR: That was Trump saying that E. Jean Carroll wasn't his type, even though in that very same deposition he mistook this photo of E. Jean Carroll from the time in question for someone who was very much his type. His wife at the time of the incident, Marla Maples.


TRUMP: I don't even know who the woman, -- Let's say -- I don't know who --It's Marla.

UNKNOWN: You're saying Marla's in this photo?

TRUMP: That's Marla, yeah. That's my wife.

UNKNOWN: Which woman are you pointing to?

TRUMP: Here.

UNKNOWN: The person you just pointed to was E. Jean Carroll.

TRUMP: Who is this?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: So this past May, a jury looked at that and other evidence and found Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll in a New York City department store in the mid-90s and for defaming her by saying that she made it up.

Then there's the January 6th Select committee. In October of last year, the panel subpoenaed Trump for a deposition. He reportedly told aides he wanted to testify as long as he could do it live, but later he sued to fight it and the committee ultimately dropped the issue saying they ran out of time. And during special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia election interference investigation, Trump said he would quote, love to testify. Well, he never did. Instead, he submitted some written answers. Now, Trump often does not testify.

We've seen that even when he says he will, but there are depositions that he cannot get out of, as we've also seen. Though he does find ways to get out of answering questions under oath in them. Like in August of last year, when Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination nearly 450 times when he was deposed in New York Attorney General Letitia James' civil probe of his business practices.



TRUMP: I declined to answer the question. I declined to answer the question. Same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer.


KEILAR: James has accused Trump of falsely inflating his net worth by billions of dollars. Trump denies these claims. He took the fifth to be clear his right, but it is a right that he himself once said only a mobster or guilty people use. Boris.

SANCHEZ: There are some new developments and a twist in the final trial over a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. A jury acquitted these three men of all charges. They are the last of 14 total defendants tried in state and federal court. Nine of them were convicted. In fact, the plot's ringleader was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Now, while today's verdict is not what Michigan's Attorney General had hoped for, she says the case still succeeded in sending a clear message. Quote, acts of domestic terrorism will not be tolerated. CNN's Brynn Gingras is here. So Brynn, walk us through the charges that these men were acquitted of.

BYRNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Boris, so we're talking about three men, Eric Molitor and brothers William Null and Michael Null. Now, the charges that they were facing were one count of providing material support for a terrorist act and also possessing a firearm when committing or attempting to commit a felony. They were facing up to 20 years in prison on those charges. And this was a case that played out in front of a jury for more than two weeks.

And I gotta tell you, they were quite emotional, as you can see there in the video, when the jury acquitted them of those charges. So going back to 2020, you probably might remember there was this plot to kidnap Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer. And now these three men sort of played on the lower level, if you will, according to the government as to what part they played in that,-- executing that plot of those 14 people that you just described. But this group of militia, Wolverine Watchmen, of course, this was a anti-government sort of militia that recruited each other through social media, would train together. And then were actually trying to execute this plot of kidnapping the governor.

According to the government, these three men were actually supposedly doing surveillance on the governor's vacation home there in Michigan. And of course, now a jury's saying that they really didn't have much part in that plot, even though people that were with that plot were convicted, as you just mentioned. 14 people were brought on charges in this. And most of them, though, were convicted and found guilty by juries. But this, again, a win for these three men, who again, were very emotional in court today once that jury made that decision, Boris. Byrnn Gingras, thank you so much. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Right now, a hearing for three former officers accused of beating Tyre Nichols to death. Why? They are seeking to separate their cases. Plus the action the Senate is now taking after a CNN report exposed sexual assault coverups by the Coast Guard. That's coming up next on CNN News Central.