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Trump Attempts To Steal Spotlight Amid Fraud Ruling; US Army Private Returns From North Korea; Senator Menendez Pleads Not Guilty on Bribery Charges; Government Shutdown Looms. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 27, 2023 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: No debate, but a primetime appeal to Michigan voters and a brutal ruling from a New York judge. How former President Trump is attempting to steal the spotlight from his primary contenders on debate night after a judge says he's been a fraud for decades.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus back in US custody after a mad dash into North Korea what we're learning about US Army Private Travis King's strange trip to the Hermit Kingdom and why he could be facing trouble here at home. And not guilty Senator Bob Menendez entering his plea on bribery charges. He's out on bond, but a growing number of his Democratic colleagues want him out of the Senate. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right now to CNN News Central.

KEILAR: Former President Trump heads to Michigan tonight to give a primetime speech and make a play for working-class voters there. He'll take the stage in front of current and former union workers. But that means he won't be on stage at tonight's Republican presidential debate as with the first GOP debate Trump is skipping the second showdown in California. This as the former president's business empire is under a major threat after a New York judge ruled Trump and his adult sons committed fraud. For years by overvaluing their properties to get favorable loans and insurance deals.

We have reporters covering all of these stories CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes is in Michigan ahead of his speech tonight. We have CNN senior national correspondent Kyung Lah in Simi Valley; California, the site of the Republican debate and we have CNN national correspondent Brynn Gingras in New York covering the Trump org fraud case. Kristen gonna start with you here. What more can you tell us about this effort by Trump tonight to court blue-collar voters even though he's going to be at a non-union location.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Brianna the fact that President Biden was here yesterday, the fact that former President Trump is here today is not a coincidence. And it goes to show you just how important these working-class voters are going to be in a general election in 2024.

Now, of course Trump is not the nominee, but he is the front-runner and this is really the clearest signal we've had from the Trump campaign that they are looking ahead to a general election. Now where he's going to be tonight As you mentioned, this is a non-union shop. It's called Drake Enterprises. It's in Macomb County and he is expected to get a warm welcome here. It's a county that he won both in 2016 and in 2020. But when we look at why exactly he chose to come here to a swing state to talk to working-class voters, that shows you what they are looking at trying to pick off certain groups of voters ahead of 2024.

We know that this group of voters Michigan particularly carried Trump or at least helped carry Trump to the White House in 2016. They also helped carry Biden to the White House in 2020 and Trump believes that they can siphon off some of these voters. That they can drive a wedge between union leadership, which has essentially condemned Donald Trump.

They have said that his administration was anti-worker, anti-union. It was pro-business. They can separate them from the rank-and-file and I did speak to a couple of workers who are coming tonight who told me that some of the reason they're coming to support Donald Trump has nothing to do with unions or working.

It actually has to do with having conservative values and that's why they would be here tonight. But Brianna, we will keep an eye on this. We're going to be talking to the people here seeing who exactly shows up. Why exactly they're here, if they're going to come out and vote in 2024. It'll be interesting to see but again he's not going to get the same warm welcome, at least from union leaders that we saw President Biden get yesterday.

KEILAR: No, they have had some very harsh words for him indeed Kristen Holmes. So Kyung you're in Simi Valley. What are we expecting to see tonight when the runaway front-runner is not even going to be there.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDNET: Yeah, he may not be there in body but at least one of these candidates says that they're gonna make sure that his presence in this room is felt. Chris Christie former, New Jersey Governor has said to CNN that he fully intends to make tonight about Donald Trump telling CNN quote "this is going to be about Trump" and that he plans to try to force that contrast between Trump and his rivals. So, his presence if Chris Christie has anything to say about it is certainly going to be felt. Underscoring all of this was something that he tweeted today as well.

It's a light-hearted tweet referencing the weekend viral moment with Taylor Swift when she showed up at a Kansas City football game. But it underscores his strategy tonight. He tweeted quote "after tonight Trump will know we are never, ever getting back together". I was gonna sing that but my producer Anamaya (ph) says I cannot. Let's give you a look at the stage tonight based on polling position at the center is Ron DeSantis. He is still in this tier at the very top. He's going to be flanked by Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley. On the outside of them, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, and on the very edges, Mike Pence and Doug Burgum.

[14:05:09] So, the overall dynamics of this race right now, Brianna, they have

not changed. But those little movements, those breakout moments, that's what this room is going to be looking for, at least the candidates on the stage tonight.

KEILAR: I wish you had sung that. You have many talents, Kyung. Dancing is one of them. I don't know. I think you're probably a pretty good singer. Brynn, to you in this fraud case, I mean, this is a big deal. This judge's ruling really cuts to the heart of Donald Trump's identity.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and it will kneecap his businesses here in New York if they actually go through it. There's an if there because, Brianna, there's still a lot of appeals in this process. But let's get to the core of what this New York judge decided, essentially saying that Trump, his two sons, and Trump Organization committed fraud for almost a decade, over-evaluating his properties to really amass his fortune that we all are very much familiar with because he talks about it all the time, right?

Give you one tangible example of what was in this ruling. It talks about how Trump said his Trump Tower apartment here in New York City, it was three times bigger than it actually is in square footage, basically over-evaluating up to $207 million. And the judge, not mincing words, essentially saying a discrepancy of that by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of a decade can only be considered fraud.

So what's the result of this? Well, a judge has handed down some hefty penalties, essentially canceling business certifications of Trump entities that are named as defendants in this civil suit that was brought by Letitia James, the AG in this state last year. It also is impacting Trump Org, two specific properties, one here in New York, 40 Wall Street, also a family estate in Silver Springs in Westchester County, New York, and an independent party is going to be appointed to dissolve these entities.

Now, how that's going to look, it's going to take time to figure exactly that out. The judges have to decide that. But listen, this is just one part of a number of issues that Letitia James brought in her civil suit, and that is expected to get started next week.

It's going to be dealing with financial issues. But listen, this ruling yesterday ahead of the start of that suit really clears the path for James to get what she wanted originally when she brought this, which was basically to make the Trumps, the sons and Trump himself, never do business again here in the state of New York. Also, they may be owing New York a lot, a lot of money based on this ruling yesterday. So, we're going to wait to find out. But again, there's a lot of appeals in play right now, Brianna, that we're keeping an eye out for.

KEILAR: Yeah, this is huge, and we will keep watching. Brynn, Kyung, thank you so much to both of you.

We do appreciate it. Boris. SANCHEZ: New today, the U.S. Army private who ran into one of the most repressive nations on earth on purpose is now back in U.S. custody. More than two months ago, Travis King raced across the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, while on a public tour of the joint security area that separates North and South Korea. Now, this picture is of the back of King's head, and it was taken shortly before he made a run for it. Of course, this release is a rare move considering North Korea's brutal record on human rights.

Let's take you now live to the State Department and CNN Chief National Security Correspondent, Alex Marquardt. So Alex, walk us through how this all went down.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDNENT: Well, Boris, we are learning a lot more about this decision by North Korea to suddenly expel Travis King. This was something that was not expected, but we're told that in the last few days, this is according to the State Department spokesman, Matt Miller, that Sweden came forward to the United States and made it clear that North Korea was interested in releasing Private King.

Now, why Sweden? Well, because they represent US interests in North Korea where the US does not have an embassy. Now, Miller said that this is not evidence of any kind of breakthrough between the North Korea -- the Korean regime and the United States. He said that it was essentially a one-off, but that it does follow months of what the Biden administration has called intense diplomacy by multiple countries since Miller really bolted, sorry, excuse me, since King bolted across that border into North Korea on July 18th.

How King specifically left North Korea and is making his way home, this is what the spokesman, Matt Miller, had to say just moments ago.


MATTHEW "MATT" MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Earlier today, he was transported to the border between North Korea and China, where he was met by our ambassador to the People's Republic of China, Nicholas Burns. He then boarded a State Department OPMED plane and flew from Dandong, China to Shenyang, China, and then on from Shenyang to Osan Air Force base in South Korea, where he was transferred to the Department of Defense.


And we thank Sweden and the People's Republic of China for their assistance in facilitating that transfer. He is now on his way to the United States and we expect him to arrive in the coming hours.


So multiple stops for us for Private King to get home. I asked Miller whether North Korea had asked for anything or whether this was any kind of exchange, whether they'd gotten anything out of this. He and other officials in the Biden administration are being very firm that no concessions were made to North Korea in order to get Private Travis King home. We have heard from a spokesman for King's mother.

I want to read a part of that statement. She says she will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners. Now, when King arrives back in the United States, he is going to Texas, to San Antonio, to a medical center called the Brooke Army Medical Center where he will get evaluated and treated both physically and mentally. He will be put into what's essentially a reintegration program to get him used to normal life again. There are, of course, questions, considering the fact that he went AWOL and was being sent back to the US back in July for disciplinary reasons, whether he will face any kind of court-martial. Those questions, we are told, will be addressed once he has gone through that treatment in Texas. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, those legal questions still looming over his return. Alex Marquardt from the State Department. Thank you so much. Let's get you out to Seoul, South Korea now with CNN's Paula Hancocks. So, Paula, what is Pyongyang saying about the release?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORESPONDENT: Well, Boris, what they said just a couple of hours, really, before US officials confirmed that he was in US custody was that they were going to expel Travis King. This was all through state-run media. They said that he had confessed to illegally intruding into the country. Now, I should say this is all North Korea's words.

We have not heard from or seen Travis King since mid-July when he ran across the border. But North Korea also claims that Travis King said that he wanted to go across the border because of what he thought was an unjust US society. I'll read you part of the state media quote here. He harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US army and was disillusioned about the unequal US society.

Now, again, this is Pyongyang's words, not Travis King's. I'm sure we will be hearing from him at some point in the future. But from North Korea's point of view, it was an interesting decision to expel him. In their words, as opposed to trying use him as any kind of bargaining chip. I mean, in the past, they have managed to secure some very high profile US visitors to Pyongyang to negotiate for the release of a US citizen. In fact, they've had former US presidents going to Pyongyang for that reason.

Experts I've spoken to say that is significant because at this point, it shows they have no interest whatsoever in speaking to Washington. With the visit recently by Kim Jong-un to Russia to meet the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, he has made his diplomatic priorities very clear. Interesting as well that we hear from the US side that they don't believe this is any kind of significant breakthrough. So we are seeing something a little different to what we have seen in the past with US detainees being sent back. There was no high profile visit.

The general assumption is he would have been questioned significantly, extensively while in North Korea for the North Korean officials to hear anything that he may have known, although there is an assumption that he may not have known anything of significance or concern. But of course, the North Koreans would have debriefed him extensively to find out anything. And potentially, they knew as much as they thought he knew and then they wanted him to go home.

SANCHEZ: Nice. Paula Hancocks in Seoul, South Korea. Thank you so much, Paula. We have a lot more news to get to on CNN News Central. As more than half of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate call for his resignation, New Jersey's Bob Menendez and his wife make their first court appearance on bribery charges and enter a plea. We'll take you live outside the courthouse in just moments.

Plus, turbulence ahead on Capitol Hill. That's how one Republican congressman is describing the looming government shutdown. We'll speak to a member of Congress in just a few minutes. And later, a manhunt underway for the suspect police say is wanted for the murder of a Baltimore-based tech executive. You're watching CNN News Central. We'll be right back after a quick break.



KEILAR: Arraigned but unfazed. Senator Bob Menendez and his wife spent their morning in federal court where they entered not guilty pleas to a slew of bribery charges. On the legal front, Menendez is accused of receiving gold bars and wads of cash in exchange for Egyptian military aid and providing information to the Egyptian government. He maintains his innocence. On the political front, he's facing near total isolation.

At least 30, at this point, of his fellow Democrats in the Senate are now calling on him to resign. That is more than half of the caucus. He's expected to address the group tomorrow. I want to go to CNN's Kara Scannell. She is outside of the courthouse. She was inside during the arraignment. Tell us about what happened.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Brianna, so Senator Bob Menendez, he walked into court today holding his wife, Nadine Menendez's hand in a sign of solidarity. She is not only his wife, though she is a co-defendant in this case. Prosecutors say his partner in crime is part of this bribery scheme. So the court proceeding, the arraignment, took only about 30 minutes of time.

The senator entered a plea of not guilty, as did his wife and two of the business associates who were accused of paying bribes to Menendez in exchange for favors. Now, during this hearing, Menendez really showed no emotion. He sat straightforward looking at the judge with his hands clasped and on his lap, only answered a couple of questions, yes, your honor, about whether he understood what was happening there today.


And then after he entered that plea of not guilty, the judge released him on bond. And the terms of his bond, he has to pay $100,000, the personal reconnaissance bond. And then he has to surrender his personal passport. He was allowed to keep his official passport and he is allowed to travel internationally with pretrial services approval. And otherwise, his travel is limited to the domestic US.

Now, he also is one of these conditions is not allowed to have any contact with any members of his staff, any staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or any political advisors who have personal knowledge of this investigation without the presence of attorneys there. So a signal that it's possible that some of his staffers could potentially be called as witnesses. Now, after the hearing wrapped, Menendez left the courtroom again holding his wife's hand. He didn't answer any questions thrown at him by reporters. Needs to back in court next week. Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Kara, thank you so much for that. I want to bring in national security attorney Bradley Moss. Now, he's a partner in the law office of Mark Zaid. Bradley, I want to dig into some details here. If you look at the timeline of the relationship between Bob Menendez and his wife, and then we look at some of the wrongdoings here, the alleged wrongdoings, February 2018, they start dating according to this indictment. Shortly thereafter, Nadine Menendez informs Will Hanna, who's also indicted here, that she's dating the senator. Just by the next month, they're arranging dinners and meetings without staff between the senator and Egyptian officials. What questions does that raise for you about the possible scenarios here of whether she is being exploited, she is being used to exploit him, she is exploiting him? I mean, what do you think?

BRADLEY MOSS, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: Yeah, well, you noted in that lead up reporting that they showed up to court, hands held closely together, a show of unity. How long will that unity last? Because there is a concern here based off these factual allegations in the indictment. If she was being exploited, if she was ultimately using this as a means to advance her own interests at the expense of her husband, that's going to come up at some point. If you think about past corruption trials that have involved spouses, think back to Bob McDonald in Virginia a number of years back. His lawyers ultimately sort of threw his co-defendant wife sort of under the bus, basically pushing all the blame onto her.

Now it didn't ultimately hurt him in the end because of the Supreme Court ruling that former President Donald Trump likes to talk about. But that is where this could very well go, depending on how this proceeds towards trial, that there may be a legal split between these two co-defendants, despite the fact that they're husband and wife.

KEILAR: Let's look at another part of this timeline. In June of 2019, Freddie Mac starts foreclosure proceedings on Nadine Menendez's home. Around the same time, she informs her business, and I'm using air quotes there, strategic international business consultants, because it seems the allegation here is that it's not really a business. The next month, you have Hannah, who is paying, having his company pay $23,000 to bring her mortgage current. The company earlier in the year had obtained a monopoly on halal food exported from the U.S. to Egypt, which Nadine texted the senator about at the time, saying, quote, it might be a fantastic 2019 all the way around. What does that timeline tell you?

MOSS: It shows me that the family, at least she, not possibly them jointly, but at least his wife was under some kind of financial stress. And this is the concern you always have with public officials, is that with the exception of some who are particularly excessively wealthy, most do not have 20, 30, 50 million dollars sitting in the bank. They came from modest, usually working class or middle class means.

And so once they start facing this issue of potential financial issues of their own, they're at particular risk. Now, there are always those, you know, we've seen this throughout history. We're willing to sell the integrity of the office anyways. But for the remainder of public officials and their spouses, there needs to be a better system in place. There's got to be better guidance on what to do, recognizing the exposure these individuals have to not only individuals in the United States who want to exploit them, but foreign influences such as what we had here.

KEILAR: Well, and that's sort of my question is, should he have known to you? Because CNN's John Miller wrote about this, quote, "the possible subtext of this story is that Cairo may have used agents in the U.S. to try and recruit the top elected legislative official with influence over foreign policy to be its puppet". He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He's got a security clearance. He knows how foreign companies, foreign countries try to get at people with influence like him. Should he have been smart enough toknow what was going on? Would you expect that he obviously knew what was going on if what's detailed in this indictment is all true?


MOSS: Yeah, I think what the prosecutors intend to demonstrate is that he knew full well what was going on and didn't appear to care that he was willfully taking in the money, recognizing the counterintelligence threat, recognizing how they were exploiting him and his wife. And you can't account for that. There are going to be public officials who will be willing to sell the dignity of their office like that.

But that does going back to what I was saying, that does go to this larger point. Are these officials truly cognizant of this all the time? Bob Menendez may have understood it and didn't care. Do the rest of his colleagues fully grasp the exposure they have? And do they have sufficient safeguards in place to protect themselves when approached like this?

KEILAR: Yeah. Sharing sensitive information about U.S. embassy staff in Cairo. It's really alarming stuff in this indictment. Bradley, thanks for going through it with us. We appreciate it.

MOSS: Any time.

KEILAR: Still to come, we are just four days away from a government shutdown, and Speaker McCarthy says it's President Biden and the Senate's fault. We're going to speak to a Republican congressman about that next.