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New York Judge Rules Trump Committed Real Estate Fraud; Senator Robert Menendez in Court; Republicans Set to Shut Government Down?; North Korea Expels U.S. Soldier. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2023 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Seven Republicans will take the stage at the presidential primary debate tonight. Will any of them leave a winner? Who will take on the front-runner most effectively? And how do they do that when the front-runner is skipping the whole thing?

SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: Released by North Korea. A U.S. Army soldier is back in American hands after two months in North Korean custody. New information about Private Travis Harris (sic) and why he was expelled and turned over.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Happening now, Senator Bob Menendez making his first appearance in federal court on bribery charges. The legal reason why he might be reluctant to step down, despite growing calls for his resignation.

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

SIDNER: Developing for you this morning: released by North Korea. Travis King, the U.S. Army private who crossed into North Korea two months ago, is now back in American custody.

He had been held by North Korea since July. But, this morning, they abruptly announced they were expelling him.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon for us this morning.

Can you give us some sense of how this all happened?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's still one of the unanswered questions at this point, because, essentially, the last update we had, in terms of conversations between the U.S. and with North Korea, was that there wasn't really any sort of substantive dialogue, with the U.N. acting as an intermediary there.

There had been a couple of, essentially, acknowledgments from North Korea that there was U.S. interest in securing the release of Private Travis King, but not much more than that.

And then, this morning, just several hours ago, in fact, North Korean state media, KCNA, saying that Travis King had been expelled after a North Korean investigation into him had been concluded, although what the conclusion of that investigation is, that wasn't stated by the North Koreans. And then, shortly thereafter, two U.S. officials confirmed that Travis King was in U.S. custody for the first time in about 70 days.

It was July 18 when he was supposed to leave the country after facing disciplinary measures and charges in South Korea. He was supposed to come to Fort Bliss, so that he could be essentially removed and discharged from the military. And then he left the airport from the flight that he was supposed to get on, went to the DMZ between South Korea and North Korea, and then ran into North Korea, at which point he was in North Korean custody.

From that point on, there were very few updates. So there's a lot of questions here that have to be answered by the U.S., first and perhaps most basically, how did he come out of the country? We're not getting any indication that he crossed the way he came in, that is, through the DMZ back into South Korea.

So did he come out in another direction, through the air, on the ground? Was there anything exchanged or given up to North Korea to secure his release? That's obviously another key question here, because the U.S. had warned that North Korea could use him essentially as a propaganda chip and use him and display him in North Korean state media.


So, at this point, Sara, there are a lot of questions about how this process played out and how we got to this point. Of course, having said that, the priority now is making sure that King, who is now in U.S. custody, returns to the United States.

Presumably, there will be a level of medical checks to see that he's doing OK after nearly -- or more than two months, I should say, in North Korean custody, and then putting him in touch with his family.

So, all of that has to play out here before -- and then we expect some answers from the government on how this process worked.

SIDNER: Yes, we heard from his mother when he first crossed over, and there were a lot of tears. She was just hoping to get her son back.

Oren Liebermann, that seems to be able to happen quite soon. Thank you so much. Appreciate your reporting -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: We also have this coming in, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, facing a judge this hour.

Here's video of him arriving this morning, along with his wife, Nadine, who is also facing federal bribery charges. Now, despite facing a flood of fellow Democrats who have come out to call on him to resign from the Senate since the details of his indictment were released, Bob Menendez remains defiant, declaring to reporters that he is innocent.

CNN's Paula Reid is outside the court for us right now. Paula, what is going to happen today?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, at any moment, Senator Menendez, his wife, Nadine, and two of their co- defendants are expected to appear before a magistrate judge here in federal court in New York.

This is the first court hearing for them since these charges were filed last week. And this hearing comes as more than half of Senator Menendez's Democratic colleagues in the Senate are calling for him to resign. Now, he remains defiant and points to the fact that he has previously faced federal corruption charges if he was not convicted.

He also points to the fact that the Justice Department has a pretty weak record of successfully prosecuting government officials in corruption cases. And, Kate, all of that is accurate.

But what makes this case different, different than Menendez's previous case and different than those other corruption prosecutions, is the fact that, in this indictment, there's an allegation that he passed sensitive information to a foreign government.

The allegation is that he passed along the information about the U.S. Embassy to the government of Egypt against U.S. interests. That is an incredibly serious accusation against a sitting U.S. senator and likely why you're seeing so many of his colleagues calling on him to resign, even though he has not yet gone through the judicial process.

He's really putting his party here in a tough spot. They have, of course, criticized former President Trump for facing criminal charges for allegedly mishandling some of the country's most sensitive secrets and previous investigations into his foreign business dealings.

So to now have one of their own facing this legal jeopardy, it's also really creating a political problem for his colleagues.

BOLDUAN: And we are waiting right now. We're standing by for that court appearance to begin. And Paula Reid is outside of the courthouse for us -- John.

BERMAN: All right, with us now former U.S. attorney Harry Litman.

Counselor, thank you so much for being with us.


BERMAN: More than half of the Democratic senators in the Senate have called on Menendez now to resign. He has not done so, refuses to do so. One can understand why he wants to hang on to his job for political, personal reasons.

But there might be a legal reason here too he might want to at least wait, Harry. What is that?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. Well, look, I think the normal playbook here -- he is in the tightest of tight spots, and the vise goes tighter every day. Of course, we should note presumed innocent until proven guilty, but gold bars with serial numbers on them, it's really kind of mind-boggling evidence.

But I think people know from experience in these cases that, if you can just survive and let the initial pressure kind of abate, and his job is something of a chit here, John. I -- he -- if he gives it up right away, he has much less leverage in negotiations, both on the political side and the legal side.

So, for now, at least, I think he wants to retain it. And that involves continuing to protest his innocence, not withstanding really a daunting set of allegations in the United States' charges against him.

BERMAN: Yes, resignation could eventually be part of a plea deal, potentially, which is why one may want to wait there.


BERMAN: Harry, stand by for a moment, if you will, because there, of course, is other news this morning, this on Donald Trump in a civil ruling against him.


BERMAN: Let's bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras for that -- Brynn.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, a huge ruling that happened, John.

Basically, Trump's of empire is shrinking just a little bit because of this ruling. Let me get into it, basically, yesterday a New York judge saying that Trump and his two sons overinflated their assets in order to get loan. Some of those assets, of course, we know about the golf courses. We know about his hotels. We know about his homes.

Let me give you a tangible example of what was in this court ruling.

If you think about his triplex in Trump Tower here in New York City, according to this ruling, Trump has said that it's three times bigger in square footage than it actually is, overevaluating the estimation of it by $114 million to $207 million, according to this judge, who didn't mince words, and said to that a discrepancy of this order of magnitude -- magnified by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades can only be considered fraud.

Now, what happens next? Well, part of this ruling, the judge basically canceled the business certificates of part of Trump Organization, in -- that is, defendants in this case. And, basically, that means there's commercial real estate here on Wall Street, also a family compound in Western New York, which will be dissolved. According to this judge, there will be a receiver put in place who will work out the dissolving of those properties. So this is a big blow to Trump who of course, has always talked about his wealth and the fact that he is a very rich man. And that's something he would say on the campaign trail as he was getting into politics.

But, certainly, this is something he's not happy about. Let me read you what he said in reaction to this judge's ruling on TRUTH Social.

It says: "It is a great company that has been slandered and maligned by this politically motivated witch-hunt, is very unfair. And I will call for help from the highest courts in New York state or the federal system to intercede. This is not America."

Now, this all coming just a week before the civil trial, which hits on other claims that were filed by the New York attorney general, gets started. But there, as you can imagine, John, are appeals in play right now from Trump, from his attorneys.

So, one of them, we're expecting a ruling sometime this week, so to be determined if that civil case gets started, as it is expected to, on Monday -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Brynn Gingras, thank you very much.

I want to bring in once again former U.S. attorney Harry Litman.

So, he's had his certificates pulled stripped of control of some of the various Trump companies. How big of a deal is that, Harry?

LITMAN: Huge, if it holds up, John.

There will be appeals. As Brynn says, it is a sledgehammer to Trump and the entire organization in New York, including commercial properties on 40 Wall Street. And as of -- when that holds up, if it's affirmed, Trump Organization no longer exists and may not do business in New York.

Now, there may be some kind of -- it's very complicated to dissolve a company. Maybe there's different kinds of corporate little twists and turns that leave him with something. But, basically, for him and his two sons, he -- they are as of -- out of business in the thing that matters most to them.

It's a death penalty for the brand, which next only to his liberty is about the worst thing that can happen. So, appeals will run. But the finding is very strong, $2.2 billion of inflation over this period. The attorney general wants $250 million, but many other people (AUDIO GAP) a point, a receiver could wind up getting it.

The money is just gone and distributed to others with no oversight by Trump as to where it goes. They have to appoint an independent person. It is the death penalty for the brand.

BERMAN: And you say if it holds up. You have read through this?


BERMAN: How much of a chance is there that he could wiggle out of this?

LITMAN: I don't see a lot. He's doing two things. He's personally sued the judge. I see that going nowhere.

And then there's the actual fraud. But it'll be based on the facts. And the facts that Justice Engoron laid out, time after time, where he says he lives in a fantasy world, this is not a subjective difference. As Brynn says, 30,000 feet versus -- 30,000 square meters versus 10,000, that's just a lie.

Same thing with the valuations by factors of 200, not two. I think this case is very strong. And the only issue might be, should the penalty be different? But that's standard New York law, as I understand it. He is in a world of hurt on the business side, stronger so far than anything that's happened on the criminal side.

BERMAN: It's so interesting. This was a bit of a sleeper case, not a lot of people watching a quite as closely.


BERMAN: But, in the end, it could hit him harder almost than anything.


Harry Litman, thank you so much for your analysis.

LITMAN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: And we did just learn that Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democratic senator, has entered the courtroom for his initial court appearance, so we will have much more on what is actually taking place -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Also coming up for us, it is debate day in America. Could it also be the final shot for more than one Republican presidential candidate to save their campaigns?

And instead of joining his fellow Republican candidates on the stage in California tonight, Donald Trump is headed to Michigan. What his message will be in his latest effort to counterprogram the Republican primary.



BOLDUAN: Right now,there is still no deal on Capitol Hill. And there is also now just three days left until the government shuts down, leaving millions of federal workers and so many members of the military in the lurch and so much more. The new approach from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy today, not to work

with Republic -- Democrats that he will need to pass through anything in the end, rather, point fingers at Democrats and the White House.

CNN's Manu Raju is on the Hill.

Manu, what are you hearing now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is just a lot of tension within the Republican Party about how to move forward here and expectation that a shutdown will happen by this weekend because of those divisions within the GOP, not just Senate GOP versus House GOP, but within the House Republican Conference themselves.

There are a number of members who align themselves with Speaker McCarthy who want to pass a Republican-only bill to keep the government open for a short period of time, including some border security measures in particular, but then there are other hard-liners who say that they will not move forward on any short term spending plan at all, wanting to deal with spending in a much -- in a more traditional way, passing yearlong spending bills, not deal with this on a short-term basis.

That means that Kevin McCarthy doesn't have the votes. At the same time, the Senate is moving on a bipartisan track to keep the government open, which includes aid to Ukraine, as well as aid for disaster relief, does not include some of those border security measures House Republicans favor.

And a number of House Republicans are spouting off and critical of Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, for cutting that deal with Chuck Schumer.


REP. MIKE GARCIA (R-CA): It's a very dangerous tactic to take to say, hey, I want to shut the damn thing down, and because it literally benefits no -- and it especially doesn't benefit the conservative platform. This is this is not paralleling or supporting a conservative platform, by any stretch of the imagination.

RAJU: Do you think you have confidence in Senator McConnell?

REP. MAX MILLER (R-OH): No, not at this moment. I have zero confidence in his ability to carry this out with what I have seen in the deal that he's cut with Senator Schumer. It's definitely not representative of this body here in the House of Representatives.


RAJU: Now, behind closed doors, Speaker McCarthy told his conference that he would not get behind that Senate plan.

And then he told reporters later there's no support for moving forward with the Senate's bipartisan proposal. So, where does that leave things? McCarthy will try to have a vote on Friday in the House on the Republican-only plan. That is expected to fail.

The Senate will approve its plan, probably will drag out into the weekend because of opposition in the Senate Republicans' right flank to the -- for the Ukraine aid, in protest. They plan to drag out those proceedings, but it's still expected to pass the Senate.

At that point, Kevin McCarthy will have a decision. Does he try to change the Senate plan, send it back? Does he have the votes to do that, or just he come up with another alternative altogether, all raising the expectations that a shutdown seems imminent here, as divisions within the GOP persist.

BOLDUAN: Yes, the only thing that is clear is, he seems to be left with no good options, at least in terms of his political position right now with his conference.

It's good to see you, Manu. Thank you -- Sara.

SIDNER: Thank you, Kate.

With us now to discuss, our CNN political analysts Laura Barron-Lopez and Zolan Kanno-Youngs.

Thank you both for being here.

I want to talk to you about what we're seeing play out here. The speaker of the House just this past hour or so was literally blaming everyone but himself and House Republicans for the looming shutdown. He was blaming the Senate. He was blaming the president.

But it is Republicans who cannot agree on a bill or even a rule to bring a bill. Is McCarthy's argument one that anyone is going to buy?

I will start with you, Laura?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, you laid it out pretty well there, Sara, which is that, back in May, Speaker McCarthy made a deal with the White House, with President Biden.

So, when you ask the White House if the president is going to meet with McCarthy anytime soon, which McCarthy recently asked for with just a few days to go before the shutdown, the White House says, look, they had their meeting back in May, and they agreed to a bipartisan budget agreement.

They agreed to spending levels, which is what the Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats are working with right now when they reach their agreement. So, the White House, Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats are all in a line right now and in agreement with what they think should be passed.

And in a divided government, the two parties have to come together. But it appears that Speaker McCarthy is trying to just simply appease to his right flank, to those hard-line members, and is more concerned about his speakership than potentially avoiding a government shutdown.

SIDNER: It's a really good point that there was that meeting back in May.

Zolan, now to you.

The Senate, as you just heard, they have agreed on a bipartisan bill. It hasn't been pushed out of the Senate yet. Is there even time for have the House to vote on this bill before a shutdown? We only have three days left.


ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it's unclear whether or not the speaker even has the votes.

I mean, it's -- it actually seems like he doesn't. I mean, what the Senate deal did do is, it ratcheted up pressure on Speaker McCarthy, who really is in one of the tougher spots probably in Washington right now. You have far right members of House Republicans that have said openly that the strategy is to shut down the government, which would undermine any strategy to reach a deal here.

Now, he seems to be saying that he wants to move forward with his own deal that would focus on the border. But, again, it's unclear whether or not he has the votes yet. We know that, in the Senate deal, that had to do with Ukraine funding, and the takeaway being that, for House Republicans, that remains an issue that at this point is still polarizing.

But he's hoping that, for something like the border that they have really seized on to criticize Biden, that he can get the support to pass that bill. But, again, you have members of his own party that have said that the strategy at this point is to shut down the government.

It just doesn't seem feasible that you can reach a deal when you have that dynamic.

SIDNER: You know, Laura, I'm curious. This really does cause real hardship for members of the military and nearly four million Americans who are federal employees.

Some of them have to work, because their jobs are mandatory. Others of them will be furloughed, but who will pay the price for this? Who does the public punish for this true failure of government and, specifically, Congress? It is their job.

BARRON-LOPEZ: In the past, Sara, look, shutdowns are not good for the party that appears to drive Congress into a shutdown. Voters don't reward lawmakers for it.

And, right now, based on voters that I have talked to, they are pointing the finger at House Republicans. I mean, right now, House Republicans can't even agree to pass basic appropriations bills. And that is a sign that they really don't have agreement on anything in terms of their ability to even fund the government for a short amount of time. But the impact is important, Sara. Active service members will not get

paychecks. Food and housing assistance won't go out the longer a shutdown lasts. So there's real-world impacts for everyday Americans.

SIDNER: It is. And then people often see long lines, for example, at the airports. They can't go into public parks, for example, that are national parks. There is pain to be had.

Laura Barron-Lopez and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, thank you both so much -- John.

BERMAN: All right, former President Trump, he will not be on the debate stage tonight. And the newest poll numbers might explain why.

A manhunt for an extremely dangerous murder suspect. Police say he killed the CEO of a tech company, and they warn he could kill again.