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Rudy Giuliani Sued For $1.3 Million in Unpaid Lawyer Fees; Republican Infighting Escalates; Freed Americans Return Home; Interview With Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 19, 2023 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The world is waiting to hear from Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And we will be hearing Zelenskyy speaking at the U.N. here in moments, with the future of Ukraine's counteroffensive potentially on the line.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: And as President Biden sees it, the fate of the free world may also be on the line.

In his speech at the General Assembly, the president reiterated America's commitment to Ukraine specifically and to democracy globally in the face of authoritarians on the march.

Our colleague Jim Sciutto is at the U.N., where all of this is going down -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: That's right, Boris.

The message here today -- and it was a firm one from the U.S. president -- is that Russia's aggression in Ukraine will reverberate far beyond Ukraine's borders, beyond Europe's borders.

But he lamented that, after two years of brutal fighting there, a steady flow of aid as well from Washington and allies in Europe and around the world, cracks in the West's unified front are emerging to some degree. More than half the American public now opposes sending more aid to Ukraine.

Now some House Republicans are using those funds as a political bargaining chip. President Biden argued that the fate of Ukraine is the fate of every free nation.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia believes that 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? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? I would respectfully suggest the answer is no.


SCIUTTO: My colleague Kayla Tausche is here with me at the U.N. in New York. Our friend Fred Pleitgen, he's on the ground in Ukraine joining us there.

And, Kayla, it struck me, as we listened to the American president speaking to the leaders of nations around the world, that this was a plea for Ukraine's support, but also something of a scolding, saying that, if we, as a world, let this stand, Russia invading another country, violating another country's borders, that then threatens the borders, the sovereignty of many other nations around the world, that this building, this organization was founded to prevent wars exactly like this one.

And he was exhorting them to continue to unite around Ukraine.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was meant to be a galvanizing message.

He was very firm in that message and used very emotional language, as he often does. But he was addressing an audience of member states, many of whom have grown war-weary and feel like the focus by the U.S. and by the West on the war in Ukraine is detracting from other issues at hand.

President Biden finds himself making that pitch, the need to continue supporting Ukraine's defenses, while the country remains under siege, not only on the world stage, but also here at home. And that's the case not just for the war in Ukraine, but also for another issue.

Here's what the president said about democracy.


BIDEN: We will not retreat from the values that make us strong. We will defend democracy, our best tool to meet the challenges we face around the world.

We're working to show how democracy can deliver in ways that matter to people's lives.


TAUSCHE: The president says this is one of the core principles of the U.S.' founding, says that the U.S. can be an example in that regard.

But it comes, Jim, after just last night making some comments to donors here in New York that democracy is again on the ballot in 2024 and that former President Donald Trump and his MAGA movement are set to destroy democracy, in the president's words, and urging donors to join him in that fight.

SCIUTTO: It's a framing we have heard often from the U.S. president and other administration officials, and that is that the world has this dividing line, in effect, today between democracies, liberal democracies, the U.S. and its allies, against authoritarian states like Russia and China violating borders, but also breaking other rules that, again, Biden was making the argument these are rules that you in this building, you support, and it's in your interest, in effect, to defend them.

Kayla, so good to have you here.

This is, of course, happening -- and President Biden noticed -- noted this -- as the war in Ukraine continues, a Ukrainian counteroffensive under way not, moving as quickly as Ukrainians hoped, and certainly many Western nations, Western officials noted or hoped.


I spoke to the U.K. foreign secretary about this, and I challenged him. I said, is it making the progress? He said, Ukraine, in his view, is winning. Have a listen.


JAMES CLEVERLY, U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY: What we have seen is that the period of Russian occupation in the eastern, but particularly the southern parts of Ukraine, the Russian military have taken that time to dig trench systems, lay minefields, put tank traps, which has very significantly slowed the Ukrainian's advance.

But they are still advancing. They are still taking ground. They are still pushing the Russian forces back slowly, methodically, but consistently. And we should recognize that the Ukrainians are winning, even though slower than perhaps we would hope.

Now, they don't have to physically fight for every inch of territory in order to win this conflict, but they do have to put enough pressure on Russia to bring Vladimir Putin meaningfully to the negotiating table. And that's where we play a part, because we need to help them maintain that pressure on Putin.


SCIUTTO: That's, of course, before M1 Abrams tanks have arrived, continuing debate about the timing of F-16 jets there.

Our Fred Pleitgen, he's in Ukraine.

And I wonder. As you watch events unfold on the ground there, you speak to Ukrainian officials, do you, do they agree with that assessment from the British foreign secretary that Ukraine is winning the war and winning this counteroffensive?


And I think one of the things that they would also agree with is that the counteroffensive, as they see it, is certainly not going as fast as they would like it to have gone, and certainly not progressing as quickly as they wanted to.

And one of the things they say is, look, the Russians have had a long time to build up a lot of those minefields and trenches in the south of the country, which, quite frankly, makes it very difficult for them to advance.

But I was able to speak to a presidential adviser to the Zelenskyy administration. And he said, look, one of the things that you have to keep in mind is that, when this war started, when Russia started that full-on invasion of Ukraine, everybody was afraid of the Russian military. And now what we have is, we're talking about a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive on multiple fronts and the Russians simply on the defensive.

That is certainly something that many people would never have expected. So the Ukrainians believe that they can continue that. They say the momentum is on their side. And, certainly, when we look back at the past week of the events that have been unfolding, Jim, we do see that, around the Bakhmut area, the Ukrainians say that they have made some gains which are small in scale, but certainly very significant for them.

They say it will help them to take under fire some of the logistic routes that the Russians have near Bakhmut. And, certainly, if you look at the Ukrainians right now, they believe the momentum is on their side. And they certainly right now say that they want to take back all of their territory.

It's probably one of the messages that Zelenskyy is going to be putting out there as well, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And that's quite a message, an important one.

Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much.

And, Boris and Brianna, I have to say, when I have spoken to U.S. and Western officials on that question of Ukraine taking back all that Russian territory, of course, they support that goal for Ukraine, but, privately, they express doubts as to whether that's possible, at least in the near term, particularly when you speak about Crimea.

So there's a public message you often hear, but also a private one that perhaps is less sanguine than some of the words we're hearing from the podium here.

SANCHEZ: Yes, major questions about whether Ukraine could have enough resources from the West to retake and hold Crimea.

Jim, please stand by for us.

We want to expand the conversation now with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, who's here with us.

William, great to see you, as always, Ambassador.

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Thanks, Boris. SANCHEZ: What are you expecting to hear from Volodymyr Zelenskyy

today? Is this potentially a make-or-break moment when it comes to him asking the West for help?

TAYLOR: I wouldn't say make-or-break. I would say it's an important moment for him.

He's going to make a strong case for continued support. He's going to make a strong case to the other nations around that table, in that hall that this is important to them, that it's important that Russia not be able to, or any big nation, not be able to invade and take territory from a neighbor, a smaller neighbor.

He's going to make the case that this matters to each one of those. He will also thank all of the supporters. As you have indicated, there's been a lot of support going into Ukraine. It needs to continue. He will say, thank you. Please continue.

KEILAR: And that taking land from one of its neighbors, in principle, Crimea is a big part of that. But is it realistic, as you hear Zelenskyy talking about, no, this is what we are going to do, that he would actually be able to take back Crimea, hold it, that he would be able to move towards some sort of resolution without ceding some territory?

TAYLOR: I think it is possible, Brianna. It is possible. The Ukrainians have ways to do this.


They're looking at exactly this question. How are they going to take back Crimea? And they don't have to actually push every soldier, every Russian soldier out. What they have to do is cut off the support to all those Russian soldiers. If they cut that bridge coming across, which they have attacked a couple of times, if they cut the land bridge, and there's no support coming into Russian soldiers, and they -- and the Ukrainians continue attack into Crimea, that could cause the Russians in Crimea to crumble.

SANCHEZ: Couldn't there be some contention, some conflict between Ukraine and officials here in the United States over this specific issue?

If there's a discrepancy between what winning looks like for one side, Ukraine, versus the side that's providing the mass amount of arms that the West is, that has to get ironed out before this war ends, ultimately, right?

TAYLOR: It does have to get ironed out.

And, so far, there's not a crease. And, so far, there's not a difference between the Americans and the Ukrainians. The American government -- and there's been a lot of voices out there, but the American government has been very clear. They support Ukraine in its effort to push all the Russians out. Tony Blinken has said that. Jake Sullivan has said that, push all the Russians out of Ukraine. That's the goal. That's what Zelenskyy is going to say here today.

KEILAR: What is Zelenskyy balancing internally with his audience versus externally with the audience of benefactors who are supplying him with arms?

TAYLOR: Brianna, the amazing -- I was just there last weekend. I was -- the amazing thing is, there's no difference between President Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine. They are like this.

They support each other. He supports them. They support him. And they are united that they're not going to give up territory. They're not going to give up land to the Russian invasion.


Zelenskyy has also made the point repeatedly -- and we should anticipate he will likely say the same today -- that it doesn't end with Ukraine. If this continues, if this war continues, Vladimir Putin will be emboldened. This war could go elsewhere in Europe. Do you see that as a potential threat?

TAYLOR: It could easily go elsewhere.

I was also -- just before I was in Kyiv, I was in Tbilisi, Georgia. He has already occupied -- Putin has already occupied a fifth of Georgia, just like a fifth of Ukraine. So that could easily be the next thing. It's easy for him to take over Belarus. No one would even notice. But he could then go after Moldova.

And then you have to worry about the NATO nations that are right on the border. The Baltic states are right there.

KEILAR: They are watching very carefully.

Ambassador, it's always great to have you on this. Thank you so much.

Today, the dreams of five detained Americans came true. They took their first steps on U.S. soil after years under wrongful imprisonment in Iran. In the case of Siamak Namazi, seen here in glasses, it was nearly eight years.

Listen to the joy as they walked off of the plane this morning in Virginia.




KEILAR: The five men were released yesterday from Iran as part of a wider deal that included the release of five Iranian nationals who were detained in the U.S. and also the unfreezing of the $6 million (sic) in Iranian funds for humanitarian use.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand joins us now.

So, Natasha, what happens to the freed Americans now? Obviously, they have a long road to recovery, even as they are obviously very happy to be home.


As you said, all of these five Americans, they have been imprisoned there in Iran for at least five years. In the case of one, Siamak Namazi, he has been there for over eight years. And so now it's a really long process for them to reacclimate into society, readjust to normal life after being held captive, essentially, by the Iranians for so long.

And that is the message that the U.S.' special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, really conveyed to them when he spoke to them after they all landed on U.S. soil early this morning at Fort Belvoir. He said, look, we really do encourage you to take advantage of the Army's post-isolation support program, which can help you readjust to society.

He also said this morning that the whole scene, the whole thing from beginning to end, when he first saw, of course, these Americans being freed in Tehran and then making their way to Qatar, he was with them pretty much the whole way, and he said it was extremely emotional. He said that he probably hasn't cried this much since he was a little kid.

Here's what he said this morning.


ROGER CARSTENS, U.S. SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS: I can say I probably haven't cried this much since I was a little kid. It was a chance to watch five different people interact, seven people in total, interact in a way that was very amazing.

I mean, this is the first time that they have had a chance to talk without being surveilled by the Iranian government in years, so to watch them kind of relax, lighten up, share laughs.



BERTRAND: Now, obviously, Brianna, this deal has sparked a lot of criticism among Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail, who say that providing Iran with $6 billion, even if it is only -- should -- can only be used for humanitarian purposes, could possibly free up money that Iran could use for other things, so some concern that this could also lead Iran to potentially be incentivized to capture Americans in the future.

But Carstens there, he reiterated this morning that the administration does think that, in the end, this was a very good deal -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much.

Still to come on CNN NEWS CENTRAL: A clown show, that's how one Republican describes the infighting in the House over a bill to fund the government. At the same time, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is still facing threats to his leadership. We will take you live to Capitol Hill.

Plus, more drama over Rudy Giuliani's legal bills, a law firm now suing him for unpaid fees, and that tab is pretty hefty.

That's still to come on CNN NEWS CENTRAL. Don't go anywhere.



KEILAR: To Capitol Hill now, where GOP leadership just canceled a key vote on a funding plan.

This is coming while House Republicans are fighting behind closed doors and fighting just plain out in the open.


REP. STEVE WOMACK (R-AR): It's an unmitigated disaster right now on the majority side.

REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): Unfortunately, we spend very little time dealing with our main functions, and everyone does a lot of entertainment. We cannot do politics in circuses.

REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): This is not conservative Republicanism. This is stupidity. It's a clown show.

REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): What we have to do is, we have to lock everyone in a room and nobody comes out until there's white smoke.


KEILAR: Well, this clown show clock is ticking. Congress has just 11 days to reach a deal before the government shuts down.

So let's head to Capitol Hill and CNN's Lauren Fox, who is watching all of this drama.

Lauren, a key vote here canceled. What happens now?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right now, there are Republicans in the whip's office as they are trying to sort through how to salvage their plan to avert a government shutdown.

We should remind people that this is just a Republican plan to stop a government shutdown. And it would only fund the government for about a month, Brianna. And yet they are having all of these issues with their right flank, as members say that there are not enough cuts.

They want to see broader spending contours before they sign on to any deal. They are trying to work through this right now with members from all different corners of the Republican Conference. But there is a long way to go. And as you noted at the top, House leaders had to pull a planned procedural vote for this bill, teeing it up for Thursday.

Now, it's very unclear what the schedule and timing would be. Meanwhile, you have some Republicans who are beginning to signal to their conference that they may try to cut a deal with Democrats if Republicans are not going to get on board. Now, they would have to use a very arcane procedural step to do that. It would be a very big long shot for Republicans to take that gamble.

And you can bet that any moderate who crossed the aisle and tried to force a vote on the floor with Democrats, they would face intense backlash from conservatives, but it is a potential option if Republicans can't find a way forward on their own.

Right now, of course, it doesn't look like they can, and this is just a continual issue we are seeing from the Republicans over and over again. Meanwhile, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he thinks Republicans can get there.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Our job is constant improvement. I think what they have written is very good right now. I don't know that you need a lot of changes. Some members had some concerns, so we explained it to them.

It might be exactly as it is. But if there's a tweak or something, I think people in the room themselves were willing to listen to people.


FOX: And just some context.

Last week, Republicans had to pull a defense spending bill because they couldn't coalesce around that. This week, they're having issues with this one-month stopgap measure. It's really unclear if they're going to be able to rally around anything at this point -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, very unclear on Capitol Hill.

Lauren Fox, you are not. Keeping it very clear, this lack of clarity. We appreciate it -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: So, they say money can't buy you happiness, but for Rudy Giuliani, it would definitely help.

His former attorneys are suing him for more than $1.3 million in legal fees that they say he never paid. This is only the latest chapter in Giuliani's ongoing struggle with mounting legal bills, one source telling CNN his tab could be up to $5 million.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has been covering this.

Katelyn, that is quite the tab that Rudy Giuliani has rung up. And his legal troubles aren't going away.



POLANTZ: Right now, he has a lot of things on his plate.

And this was the law firm -- this law firm that wants $1.3 million ordered by the court for Giuliani to pay them, they had ushered him through a lot of his legal issues, all the major legal issues since basically 2019 until this summer.

And -- but that includes things that are still ongoing. So the things that Giuliani is going to keep incurring legal debt very likely around will be this Georgia election case, where he's criminally charged.


POLANTZ: He had to post bond. Going to trial is what he's doing right now. That's not cheap. On top of that, he lost a defamation case from two Georgia election workers. There's a damages trial coming up that he's going to have to stand for, where there will be a jury deciding how much he owes them in punishment for what he said about them after the 2020 election.

On top of that, there's this hanging cloud of the special counsel investigation. He was interviewed there. He has disbarment proceedings. There are other lawsuits. There are unpaid cell phone bills. There's so much here.


So far, with these lawyers, Davidoff Hutcher, that's the law firm, and Robert Costello, his attorney, he's only paid them about $214,000 of the total bill. So, $1.3 million is what's outstanding for him.

SANCHEZ: And this is now personal for him too, right?

POLANTZ: In many ways, it appears to be.

I mean, Bob Costello, his lawyer since 2019, and Giuliani, they go way back.


POLANTZ: And he did give us a quote yesterday through a spokesperson.

So, Rudy Giuliani said: "I can't express how personally hurt I am by what Bob Costello has done." Excuse me. "It's a real shame when lawyers do things like this. And all I will say is that their bill is way in excess to anything approaching legitimate fees." Now, he's also been appealing to close allies. He made a personal appeal to Donald Trump. He's been doing fund-raisers that Trump has been helping him with. But, at the end of the day, this law firm says he had a retainer agreement with them, never took any issue with these legal bills.

And they earned a judgment against Steve Bannon, another client of theirs, for $500,000.

SANCHEZ: Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much for the reporting -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Outrage in Canada after a prominent Sikh leader is killed, and the Canadian prime minister points the finger at India. Calls now for immediate action to be taken.

Plus, the border city of El Paso says it is on the cusp of a third wave of migrants. And local shelters are already overcapacity. We're going to take you there ahead on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.