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Wagner's Africa Operations Future After Prigozhin; House Oversight Panel Plans First Hearing September 28; Michigan State Moves To Fire Head Football Coach; Crews Working To Recover Debris Of Missing F-35 Fighter Jet. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 19, 2023 - 15:30   ET



FIDELE GOUANDJIKA, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: So Mr. -- Mr. Putin give us some help with Prigozhin.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So aren't you nervous, now that he's dead, that things might change?

GOUANDJIKA: But Mr. Putin called our president. He told him that everything will be like yesterday. Nothing will be changed. Nothing.

WARD (voice-over): But according to a diplomatic source here, hundreds of Wagner fighters left the Central African Republic in July after Prigozhin's failed mutiny. Those who remain, including his top lieutenants, have agreed to work for the Russian Ministry of Defense. Fighters have already been pulled back from frontline outposts to population centers in an effort to cut costs, the source says.

What's less clear is what becomes of Wagner's civilian presence here. This is one of the last places that Prigozhin was seen alive, during his final tour across Africa. It's called the Russian Cultural Center. Only it has no connection to Russia's official cultural agency and was run until recently by Prigozhin's closest associate here.

Photographs taken on that visit show a new face, a woman known as Nafisa Kiryanova.

After days of asking for permission to visit, we decided to film covertly.

WARD: So you were here, then, when Yevgeny Prigozhin when he was here, in the photographs. There's the photographs of you with Prigozhin together.



WARD: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was just over in that corner.



KIRYANOVA: OK, OK. That's good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is Mr. Prigozhin, no?




WARD: Do you think he knew they were going to kill him?

KIRYANOVA: My gosh. What is the question there? Who knows such things?

WARD: What does it mean for your work here? Does it change anything?

KIRYANOVA: Does it change anything if, I don't know. If the president of your country dies? Does it mean that your country stops to exist?

WARD (voice-over): She shows us one of their daily Russian classes. As we step back outside, we see a Wagner fighter.


WARD (voice-over): You can just make him out, retreating to the back of the center, where according to the investigative group, The Century, Wagner sells its gold and diamonds to VIPs, and manages its timber and alcohol operations.

WARD: Who is that?

KIRYANOVA: A personnel.

WARD: A person?

Can we see what's there? That's weird.

KIRYANOVA: Actually, well, what are you going to see there?

WARD (voice-over): Like most of Wagner's activities here, it's clear there is still so much that is hidden from view. We've pushed the visit far enough. It's time to go.

No matter who takes over here, Western diplomats say they don't expect much to change. At the local Orthodox church, the Greek lettering has been painted over. Its allegiance now is to the Russian patriarchy.

And even in the skies above the empire Prigozhin built, Russia's dominance lives on.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Bangui.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Thanks to Clarissa for that report.

So today, CNN is learning about new testimony that raises doubts about claims of political interference in the Hunter Biden probe. Those allegations come from IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley, but some IRS and FBI officials are painting a very different picture. So let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell. Kara, what exactly are these officials saying that refutes what Shapley presented to Republicans on Capitol Hill?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris, so Gary Shapley, the IRS whistleblower, testified before lawmakers, saying that the U.S. Attorney, David Weiss, who oversees the Hunter Biden investigation, said during an October of 2022 meeting among law enforcement officials that he didn't have the decision-making authority over whether to bring a case. And then he also asked for and was denied special counsel status. So now we're learning through transcripts of interviews that my colleagues, Annie Grayer and Jeremy Herb, read through.

That three top officials, including the head of the FBI office that is overseeing this investigation, his deputy and Gary Shapley's former supervisor, all provided testimony that is casting doubt on that. Because they're saying the specific to Shapley's claim that Weiss said he didn't have decision making authority. They're saying that they don't remember it that way at all.


The top FBI officials saying, in my recollection if he would have said that I would have remembered it.

Now, Shapley's lawyers have said that unlike those officials, Shapley was taking notes during the meeting. He's provided his handwritten notes to the committees, and that he also memorialized the meeting in an e-mail to his supervisor. So they're standing by his recollection of the meeting.

Now these officials don't dispute everything that Shapley said. They say that they do also recall during this meeting that David Weiss said that he couldn't get other U.S. attorneys in either Washington, DC or Los Angeles to team up with him on this investigation. One of those officials said he didn't take that to mean that this investigation wasn't going to go anywhere. But of course, this is still a hot issue for the committees. And there's going to be more testimony in the near future -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Kara Scannell, thank you so much -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The date is set. The House Oversight Committee plans to hold its first hearing in the Biden impeachment inquiry next Thursday. Witnesses are still being finalized, but Chairman James Comer tells CNN he's looking to bring in financial and constitutional experts to discuss bank records and why the inquiry is warranted.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is live for us on Capitol Hill with the very latest here. Obviously, this is going to be something that creates a lot of interest on the right and a lot of dismay on the left.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, Brianna, this is going to be the first public facing step that House Republicans take since they launched their impeachment inquiry one week ago. We know this hearing is going to be held by the House Oversight Committee on September 28th. And we also know it's supposed to focus on allegations of corruption and of abuse of public office. That is how they're framing.

And as you mentioned, the witness list is not yet finalized, but Chairman James Comer said he wants to bring in two different witnesses. One, a financial expert that they hope can speak to the bank records pertaining to some of the Biden family business deals. That's been a big focus of their committee work and investigation so far.

And two, they want to bring in a constitutional expert to try to make the case for why they believe an impeachment inquiry is still warranted. An argument that is not only being aimed at the public but perhaps at some of their own members at well -- as well, who still do not support this impeachment inquiry going forward.

But the committee is also taking some other steps. They want to issue their first subpoenas, potentially as early as this week. They want to get their hands on some bank records and personal records from both Hunter Biden and James Biden, which would be the first direct outreach routine Republicans and members of the Biden family.

But the White House is emphasizing here that Republicans have yet to link President Joe Biden himself directly to any of his son's foreign business deals. And the White House also really sees this as nothing more than a distraction from all the other chaos that's happening in the House Republican Conference right now.

In fact, Brianna, I should mention that just moments ago, they were -- failed to advance a defense bill. It failed on House floor. Because the number of hardliners were in opposition to that funding bill.

But I want to read you the statement from Ian Sams. He is a spokesperson for the White House. He said:

Staging a political stunt -- staging a political stunt hearing in the waning days before they may shut down the government reveals their true priorities. To them, baseless personal attacks on President Biden are more important than preventing a government shutdown and the pain it would inflict on American families.

And no doubt Congress is barreling towards a government shutdown right now, which Kevin McCarthy has warrant would slow down, if not halt, all of their investigations and their impeachment inquiry. But as of right now, Brianna, it is full steam ahead.

KEILAR: All right, Melanie Zanona live for us on Capitol Hill. Thank you -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Still to come on NEWS CENTRAL, the White House changing plans no longer sending a team to Detroit as negotiations between the big three automakers and striking union members show little progress, the latest straight ahead.



SANCHEZ: It's day five of the United Auto Workers targeted strike. While negotiations between the big three automakers and the Union are ongoing, there are no main table meetings with lead negotiators scheduled for today. And the White House just announced it's no longer deploying a team to Detroit this weekend. Instead, the acting labor secretary and a White House senior adviser will speak with both sides, as they have been from Washington. All of this, says UAW President Shawn Fain, issued this warning on what could happen if no progress is made this week.


SHAWN FAIN, UNITED AUTO WORKERS PRESIDENT (voice-over): If we don't make serious progress by noon on Friday, September 22nd, more locals will be called on to stand up and join the strike. That will mark more than a week since our first members walked out and that will mark more than a week of the big three failing to make progress in negotiations towards reaching a deal that does right by our members.


SANCHEZ: The unions next big table meetings are scheduled for tomorrow with GM and Ford. they're going to meet again with Stellantis on Thursday -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Michigan State University moving to fire head football coach Mel Tucker after he was accused of sexual harassment. Tucker was suspended without pay earlier this month after U.S.A. TODAY reported that the school was investigating him. He was given a written notice of intent to terminate his contract Monday with seven days to respond. CNN's Don Riddell has more details for us on this. Tell us what's happening here.

DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Hey, Brianna. Officials at Michigan State say they believe there is enough evidence to fire Tucker with cause because he violated the terms of his contract.


The deal allows the school to terminate an employee for conduct that could, among other things, quote, bring public ridicule to the university.

According to U.S.A. Today, Tucker told investigators at the school that in April of 20/22 he had phone sex with a woman who had previously been contracted by the school to provide sexual misconduct education to Michigan State's football team. Tucker also reportedly told investigators, the call and the relationship were consensual. CNN has not been able to verify the details of U.S.A. Today's report. Tucker reiterated that today releasing a statement that says in part,


Let's be clear -- I don't believe MSU plans to fire me because I admitted to an entirely consensual private relationship with another adult. It goes on to say, I can only conclude that MSU does not care about my rights, the truth, or its future liability for policing its employees' private lives.

Michigan State told CNN after Tucker's statement that it had no additional cost. Tucker was hired by Michigan State in 2020, then signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension the following year. Making him one of the highest paid coaches in college football. The Spartans went five and seven in 2022. They're two and one so far this year, and one-on-one since Tucker's suspension. Losing for the first time this past Saturday. Michigan State will be hosting Maryland this weekend, again without Tucker.

KEILAR: Wow, that is a lot of money at stake. Don, thank you for the latest on that story -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Still to come, the Marine Corps putting a pause on flying after three crashes in the last few weeks, and that fighter jet that was ditched and disappeared finally found. The details moments away.



SANCHEZ: It took just about 24 hours and a plea for the public's help. But a missing $100 million F-35 stealth jet fighter has finally been found. A debris field was located last night in Williamsburg County, about two hours from Joint Base Charleston, where the plane took off. The Marine Corps says it's now conducting an investigation. And it has ordered a pause in flight operations in the wake of that crash, and two others in recent weeks.

Let's get you to the Pentagon now, with CNN correspondent Oren Liebermann, who's been tracking this story. So, Oren, why is this pause taking place?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Boris, the acting commandant of the Marine Corps, General Eric Smith, ordered this two day pause in operations, which is set to take place sometime within the next week. All the different units picking essentially the time that they're able to carry out that pause. Not because there was any link between these crashes or any one reason that caused all of these crashes. But these were all class-A mishaps, according to the Marine Corps, the most serious type of accident that results in a death or in the destruction of more than two and $2.5 million of property.

And because of the severity of these incidents and how seriously the Marine Corps is taking these, General Smith ordered this two day pause in flight operations. During which these different aviation units -- and it's not just the F-35 units such as those that flew the plane that crashed on Sunday -- it's across the Marine Corps. So F-35s FA-18s, V-22 Ospreys, all of these will take this two day

pause to go over safe and normal operations, review policies and procedures. Essentially go over the working order of how to fly and operate airplanes just to make sure that this is done as safely as possible. There's obviously an inherent risk to military aviation. The goal here is to minimize that risk as much as possible -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Oren Liebermann reporting live from the Pentagon. Thank you so much -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Coming up. No suit, no tie, no problem. It's actually Boris's dream, but so far, no luck. How Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is proposing a more casual dress code on the Senate Chamber -- in the Senate Chamber. Could it mean filibusters in flip flops, maybe hearings in hoodies. Maybe we're going a little far but stay tuned.



SANCHEZ: We have an update on a story that really gripped the nation for two weeks. Do you remember the crab walk that went viral? Convicted killer Danelo Cavalcante, escaping prison in Chester County, Pennsylvania, as he puts his feet up against the wall, his hands up against the wall and just shimmies right out of prison. We have an update. That prison is now beefing up security. He was actually one of several inmates that were able to get out in just the last few months. They added a screen to keep any other inmates from crab walking to freedom. Officials there promise there will be future upgrades as well. Probably a good idea if somebody gets out to add more layers of security.

KEILAR: Yes. You think they might have done that before, but alas.

All right, so this next story here, the Senate is relaxing its dress code. Its informal dress code, which has required members to wear business attire. Think kind of like this. Right? Right. All right, so true to form lately, the Senate is pretty divided over it.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Democrat John Fetterman, from Pennsylvania, perhaps unsurprisingly, he's known for his hoodies and shorts, says he's grateful for the update. But he says he doesn't plan to come to work dressed down too often.

KEILAR: Now, some Republicans, they're not too keen on the chain -- change here. You have, Senator Shelley Moore Capito -- there's Fetterman -- she called the update terrible. Senator Chuck Grassley said it, quote, stinks. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy weighed in with it. He said it's embarrassing.


And Susan Collins joked -- and I love this -- she said, I plan to wear a bikini tomorrow.

Senate Majority -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about it today.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Most, if not all Republican senators, that God, dress up to go to work. And so I can't imagine that we're going to be wearing jeans on the Senate floor any time soon.


SANCHEZ: The thing is the definition of business attire has changed considerably. Especially since the pandemic. So board shorts maybe on the Senate floor.

KEILAR: I don't know about that, Boris.

"THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

SANCHEZ: And surprise you, keep it casual.