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Trump to Skip Second Republican Presidential Debate; Interview With Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst; President Biden Addresses U.N. General Assembly. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2023 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Back on U.S. soil and finally free, the emotional homecoming for five Americans wrongfully detained for years by Iran, the moment they see their families for the first time.

SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: Former President Trump once again skipping the Republican presidential primary debate. This is his second time trying to do counterprogramming. It didn't work the first time. Will his new plan work this time?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Moments ago, President Biden address the United Nations General Assembly right here behind me, a strong message for Russia, trying to gather support for the efforts to defend Ukraine.

I'm John Berman at the United Nations, with Sara Sidner and Kate Bolduan. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

Just moments ago, President Biden finished his address to the 78th gathering of the United Nations General Assembly. The president said, we are at an inflection point in world history. The key tenets of the United Nations, sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights, they are at risk.

And he made the case they are at risk because of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. That would be Russia, nearly 600 days since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and President Biden said Russia alone is responsible for the war there, Russia alone is responsible for the aggression.

And the world, he said, must get together and react accordingly, a very important speech, not just for the world, but also domestically as well, obviously, President Biden very much in the midst of a reelection campaign, implications both here and abroad.

A lot to discuss.

Here with me now, CNN senior White House correspondent Kayla Tausche.

Kayla, a very important speech, a speech the White House had worked on. And I want to start with some sound from the president talking about Russia. Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia believes the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence.

But I ask you this. If we abandon the core principles of the United States to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? That's why the United States, together with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the brave people in Ukraine as they defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity and their freedom.



BERMAN: With Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the audience, you can see there, Kayla, President Biden making the case, if it can happen to Ukraine, it can happen to you.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And President Biden trying to strike a very delicate balancing act, to not only highlight the continued importance of Ukraine and the corollary that Ukraine could represent for many nations in the world, and the need to marshal resources to help Ukraine defend itself, but also the fact that many countries around the world, especially in the Global South, have grown weary of the war and the attention that it's taken off their issues, like climate, food security, and sovereign debt relief.

With interest rates going up for the last year, many countries unable to pay the debt that they borrowed from other wealthier nations. President Biden began his speech by talking about many of those issues, essentially a nod to those countries' concern saying: The United States hears you. We care about what your concerns are. And we're focused on continuing to invest in those priorities.

But it was the fact that he spent the last call it eight minutes or so of his address talking about Ukraine, talking about the risks to the world order if the Russian aggression in Ukraine is allowed to continue unchecked that tells you that the president wanted the audience to take away a lasting impression about the importance there.

Zelenskyy will be giving his own address later today. You can expect yet another impassioned plea to the United Nations General Assembly and specifically to the Security Council, where there have been questions about whether President Biden and Zelenskyy would have a meeting of the Security Council, but none of the other permanent members are in attendance, which really presents a problem here, when they're trying to generate support.

But the administration says that it's still important. It's an essential forum, and that the president was coming here to show that he cares and showing up is half, if not more of the battle.

BERMAN: Showing up is more than half the battle, particularly when four out of the five members of the permanent members of Security Council aren't even here. [11:05:03]

You bring up a great point. For 20 minutes, he was talking about other things. That was something for the rest of the nations here to listen to. That was a gift for them in a way: I hear your concerns.

But then he ends on Ukraine for eight minutes saying: You know what, this is all of our concern.

And, Kayla, you have also brought up a great point consistently all morning. Yes, this was a speech to the world, but it also aligns with his domestic priorities and his reelection campaign, some of the things he's been saying on the campaign trail.

TAUSCHE: There are two specific things that stood out to me on that front, on the way that he's essentially nodding at domestic politics.

The first is his continued overtures on democracy. We knew that democratic values would figure in this speech. Administration officials had suggested that they would, especially because there's been this bigger theme of democracy versus authoritarianism for the duration of Biden's presidency.

But it comes on the heels last night where President Biden was speaking to donors here in New York City. And he once again made the point for the first time in several months that it is President Trump here in the United States that presents a threat to democracy and saying that, in 2024, democracy is again on the ballot.

Reporters who were in the room suggested that this is Biden road- testing a new message, trying to sharpen that message as he prepares to go out and deliver stump speeches and rally voter support in the next few months. But, certainly, he's trying to take direct aim at the former president on that front, even as he's largely here in New York to address the world stage.

BERMAN: No, it's interesting. When you take that campaign event last night with what he said here behind us today, you do see a consistent message there and some common threads.

Kayla Tausche, great to have you. Thank you so much for being here.

TAUSCHE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Want to bring in Jill Dougherty, a CNN contributor.

Jill, thank you for being with us.

What did you hear from President Biden in this speech? And, as we kept on looking at the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in the hall listening, what do you think he heard, and was it enough for him?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think what Biden was doing, in addition to the really strong statements like naked aggression by Russia, et cetera, I think what Biden was doing is really trying to make the pitch to the developing countries. And he talked about them in the beginning of his speech, expanding the

Security Council. These are countries that arguably have left out -- been left out, and that's what he said. So what he's making the argument about, that quote that really stuck with me is, if we allow Ukraine to be carved up, what -- is any nation safe?

And I think that's a really compelling point that hasn't really been very successful. And one of the reasons it hasn't been successful is because Vladimir Putin right now is positioning Russia as the friend of the developing world.

This is a huge narrative that Russia is pounding right now in its relations with Russia and other -- with Africa and other countries. So I think Biden is saying, look, if it happened to Ukraine, it can happen to you.

And I think that could be a powerful way of broadening support for Ukraine at the United Nations.

BERMAN: Jill, stand by for a moment.

With me here outside the United Nations, Ambassador John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Thank you so much for being with us.


BERMAN: Sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights, President Biden kept on leaning into those as key tenets of the United Nations and said that those are tenets that Russia is violating.

Why was that important for this audience to hear?

HERBST: Because the entire world depends upon the inviolability of those principles.

If Putin is able to impose his will on Ukraine, then what's to prevent him from imposing his will on Niger or in the Democratic Republic of Congo? And the leaders in the Global South need to understand that.

So, the president was making the pitch for the rules-based international order, which has underscored relative stability and prosperity over the past 70 years. In 1950, 70 percent of the world's population lived in absolute poverty. Because of the absence of major war, today, that number is under 10 percent.

People need to understand the relationship between these rules and the benefits they enjoy.

BERMAN: Jill, how convincing is any of these messages if some of the key leaders in the key nations didn't bother to show up? The prime minister of Britain, the president of France, the prime minister of India, not to mention the Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, they weren't here.



And where was the Chinese foreign minister? He was in Moscow, coordinating between China and Russia on their policy about a lot of things, including Ukraine.

I think a lot of these -- as the ambassador is indicating, a lot of these institutions that came about after the end of World War II are really, let's say, being perceived as not being effective and not giving an answer to countries that want to get into the door.

They want power, to Brazil, India. All of these want more power than they have and influence. And that is right. So I think Biden is talking about that. But what we have right now is a lack of faith in international institutions, most of which were started by the United States after World War II.

So, Biden really has to repair the belief, bring back the belief and include more people in these institutions, so they can do something. The problem is, Russia is there as a permanent member of Security Council and can stop almost anything that goes against its wishes.

BERMAN: Ambassador, one of the striking things here in the atmospherics was that President Biden was behind the lectern talking about Ukraine when President Zelenskyy was in the audience, listening to him.

We are going to hear from President Zelenskyy for the first time since Russia invaded his country. He will walk into this hall and address the gathering later today. How do you think his message will align with what President Biden said? Will there be similarities, but also differences?

HERBST: Look, on the basic principles that Biden laid out, Zelenskyy could only applaud them, and he will.

There are some differences between the White House and the Ukrainian White House, Bankova, regarding how strong the United States should be in helping Ukraine defeat Moscow's aggression in Ukraine. But on these broad principles, they align completely.

BERMAN: How nervous does Zelenskyy get about wavering support, not just around the world, but here in the United States, where there are some Republicans right now, they're having a fight in Congress shutting down the government because maybe of too much aid for Ukraine?

HERBST: Well, we know that there's a small faction of isolationists in the Republican Party which have no clue about how important defeating Kremlin aggression is.

Republicans still overall support, but not as highly as they did a few months ago. I think, if the president laid out in a very clear fashion how American interests are at stake in Russia's war on Ukraine, he would rally support, greater support at home, including among Republicans.

The points he made today to the U.N. audience about the international order are fine, but what Americans need to hear, if Putin wins in Ukraine, he's coming for our NATO allies, and we're going to have to spend more money to defeat Putin and American lives will be at stake.

What we're doing now is a smart way to secure America's interests in Europe.

BERMAN: Ambassador John Herbst, Jill Dougherty, thank you both so much.

Again, the speeches here at the United Nations continue. Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be speaking this afternoon -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, we will get back to you. Thank you so much, John.

Coming up for us, also this: Donald Trump is skipping the second Republican presidential primary debate in California next week. Ahead, what the Republican front-runner says he's planning to do instead.

Plus, the reunion years in the making. What happens when five Americans finally touch down once again on U.S. soil after fighting for years to be released from Iran?

And the U.S. Marine Corps is ordering a full pause on flight operations right now after a third jet crashes in just a span of weeks.

We will be back.



SIDNER: Former President Trump will not be attending the second Republican presidential debate. Instead, he will be giving a prime- time speech to union workers in Detroit in an attempt once again to compete for coverage with his GOP rivals.

It's Trump's second time choosing to skip the debate stage. He missed the first one, despite meeting the polling and donor requirements.

CNN's Eva McKend is joining us now from Washington.

The first time he did this, he went on Twitter and did an interview. That did not go as well as I'm sure he had hoped, because a lot of people were watching that debate. What do you think about next time?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: And no doubt, Sara, a lot of people will watch -- will be watching this second one as well.

But we know that the former president is eying a prime-time speech to an audience of former and current union members. This is on brand for Trump, who relishes counterprogramming and injecting himself into every conversation. He will be speaking to an audience of working- class voters in a pivotal swing state.

He sees an opening here with divisions on the left about the impact of transitioning to electric vehicles and what it will mean for these types of union jobs. But Democrats are already seizing on this, noting that the Trump administration signed executive orders that made it easier to fire federal employees and weaken their ability to organize.

But it does pose a challenge for President Biden, who very much characterizes himself as a pro-union president. He's now in a position of leadership, where he has to do this delicate dance, despite his personal views about the workers on strike.

Trump won the pivotal state of Michigan in 2016, but lost it to Biden in 2020. And though Trump won't be there at the debate, many other candidates will. We know that Governor DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, Ambassador Haley, Mike Pence, Senator Scott, and Governor Christie have qualified and will be there, though Trump is going to skip this one, Sara.


SIDNER: All right, Eva McKend, thank you so much for your reporting, as always -- Kate over to you.

BOLDUAN: Former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark is now forced to wait. The federal judge considering his request to move his case from state court into -- in Georgia over to a federal court said that he will make a decision as soon as he could.

This is after attorneys for Clark are in the courtroom trying to make the case that everything Clark did casting doubt on the 2020 election results had to do with his official job and -- with the Justice Department and as directed by the president, the then-president, Donald Trump.

However, CNN reporters in the courtroom say that the judge seemed skeptical of Clark's argument. That same judge has already denied a similar request from Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Clark is one of Trump's 18 co-defendants charged in the Georgia case and one of five who have requested to have their cases moved to federal court.

Joining us now for more on this is former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland.

And it's good to see you.

So, one of Trump's attorneys was present in the courtroom for Clark's hearing. And I want to read for you some of our reporting from inside court, which was: "At one point, Judge Steven Jones' probing questions directed at one of Clark's attorneys led Trump attorney Steven Sadow, who was in the courtroom, to whisper: 'This is not good.'"

I mean, what could he be hearing that is making him feel that way, again, because the big question is, how would what happens to Clark impact Donald Trump?

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: There's another finger pointing directly at the president.

We hear from Shafer he wants removal because I'm listening to the federal government, but, more specifically, I'm listening to the president and his people telling me what to do. And this is why I responded as I did.

Now we have another person, Jeffrey Clark, who's saying, I spoke to the president, although there was no direct evidence reflecting that, other than an affidavit or declaration, but I spoke to the president, and I'm following the president's orders. And this is my -- quote, unquote -- "lane that" I had to be in.

But, at the same time, you heard from Jody Hunt, saying, no, that's not that lane, because this is not something that we would have done in this capacity with the Department of Justice.

So it's just another finger pointing at the president and another potential denial for removal.

BOLDUAN: So, even setting aside any conversation of this removal request, the removal requests that we're seeing, you think that there's actually evidence showing up here or statements being presented in court that stack up against Donald Trump's and pure -- when it comes to the overall question against him?


I mean, first, setting aside also what the former president said in a recent interview about his involvement and what he did...


SALAND: ... which is a whole separate issue, again, you keep having people saying as part of their defense -- whether they're cooperating or flipping, that's a different story.

But they're saying, hey, I'm acting as I did, and it's being perceived, and, in fact, very well may be, has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, acting well beyond the scope of my position, and I'm doing something to subvert an election. But anything that I'm doing is because of that man, number -- the president.

That's problematic for the president. And that may mean someone's going to cooperate, not necessarily Jeffrey Clark, but it just more fingers pointed at him. It's difficult.

BOLDUAN: So let's see what happens. The judge is going to decide on that.

There's also this new reporting out of Colorado I wanted to ask you about. A judge there now says that they hope to decide by Thanksgiving about a lawsuit brought by a watchdog group. The lawsuit argues that the 14th Amendment, parts of it, the ban on the insurrectionist holding office, means that Donald Trump is disqualified from appearing on the presidential ballot in Colorado.

Do you see this happening?

SALAND: It's an interesting question, whether you engage in or inciting a resurrection and -- an insurrection -- pardon me. And what you don't have to have is a conviction. What you don't have to have is someone taking up arms.

This doesn't have to be the Civil War. We're not talking Jefferson Davis, keeping him from running in the future. But he was on that platform, on that stage. And he was calling out people to take back the country. There were some comments by other people as well. There was statements about the Proud Boys to stand by.

So, he did take some actions that don't require him, again, to be marching with a foot on the ground, breaking a window and entering the Capitol illegally. But it's a real question. It's a -- it's a genuine question. Whether it's survives and whether it passes muster, a lot of people are kicking it.

Department of state -- or secretary of states from each of these particular states are saying, let the courts decide. And it may very well go up to the Supreme Court, and that's why it has to move quickly. Otherwise, it's not going to be resolved before the season starts.

BOLDUAN: That's right. Right, exactly, because we're already in the thick of it. Super interesting.

Let's see where that one goes as well. Thanks. It was nice to see you, Jeremy.

SALAND: My pleasure. You as well.

BOLDUAN: Thank you -- Sara.

SIDNER: Thanks, Kate.

A beautiful moment. Five Americans wrongfully detained in Iran are back on U.S. soil this morning. Ahead, you will see the absolutely heartwarming homecoming.

Plus, CNN has a rare look inside a Moscow court, as detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich appeals his detention.


We will have all that coming up.


BOLDUAN: The first real breaths of freedom and the first hugs from their families.

Five Americans touched down in the United States just before sunrise this morning -- you're looking at the video that came in early this morning -- free after being wrongfully detained in Iran for years, Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and two other Americans who declined to be identified coming down.