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Judge Rules Trump Committed Fraud In Real Estate Empire; Trump Skips 2nd GOP Debate To Court Michigan Voters; North Korea Expels Travis King, Now In U.S. Custody; Federal Government Could Shut Down In Less Than Four Days; Menendez Expected To Address Senate Dems Tomorrow As Majority of Caucus Calls On Him To Resign. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 27, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It's debate night in California, but not for the Republican presidential front-runner. Former president, Trump, is rallying for support in Michigan, but is he giving his rivals an opening to take on his growing legal troubles?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: And a U.S. Army private who crossed into North Korea is now back in U.S. custody. The intense diplomatic work it took to bring Travis King home and why North Korea agreed to expel him with no concessions from the United States.

Plus, party hardliners are clashing with Speaker McCarthy in this funding fight and he is blaming President Biden.

We're following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: Former president, Trump, will visit the battleground state of Michigan tonight, while seven other Republicans battle it out at the party's second presidential debate in California. Trump's skipping tonight's debate, instead giving a primetime speech in front of current and former union workers. This as the Trump family business is reeling right now after a major legal blow.

A New York judge ruling that Trump and his adult sons committed fraud for years by overvaluing their properties to get favorable loans and insurance deals.

We have CNN's Kristen Holmes who is in Michigan ahead of Trump's speech tonight.

All right. So what more do we know about the campaign strategy to skip the primary debate for the second time?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, look, this is the clearest signal we have seen yet that the campaign is looking beyond the primaries at the general election. If this was just about the primaries and just counter-programming, you'd likely see him in a state like Iowa or South Carolina or New Hampshire.

But instead, he is looking at this battleground state. When we talk about working class voters from Michigan, this is the same group of people who helped propel him to the White House in 2016. It's also the same group of people who helped propel Biden to the White House in 2020.

And Trump and his team are trying to get some of those voters back. Now, it's going to be a heavier lift this time because he had an administration and union leaders have attacked his administration's policies as anti-labor, anti-union, pro-business instead.

But Trump's team seems to think that they can drive a wedge between the leadership of these unions and the rank-and-file members. They say their support comes from those members that are on the ground, not from the leadership.

And one of the things I want to note is he is here tonight, he is speaking at a non-union shop, it's called Drake Enterprises, just outside of Detroit. But one of the points he wants to make is about electric vehicles.

He has been hammering Biden on his plan to try to make an American fleet of electric vehicles. By 2030, this is one of his big initiatives, saying that it's going to take jobs away from auto workers.

Well, we heard from the president of Drake Enterprises, who said that if that were to happen, if there were to be a fleet of electric cars that took over, they would lose their jobs here. So, clearly there, that's giving you an indication of what the speech tonight is going to look like.

And, Brianna, just one thing to note, he's not the only one that's looking at the general election. Joe Biden released a campaign ad, his first one attacking Trump directly. That aired, not surprisingly, in Michigan today, ahead of Trump's trip.

KEILAR: Yes, not surprising.

Kristen Holmes in Michigan for us, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about this with two former U.S. congressmen, both Republicans, Francis Rooney of Florida, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

All right, Charlie, so you have Trump. He's speaking tonight. As we heard, it is a non-union facility. But of course, he's going to have some fans among union workers there. He's banking on peeling off some of the rank and file. Obviously, the leadership of the UAW don't like him.

Does he have enough of a chance, do you think, to peel off a significant number of the rank and file there?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's safe to say that Republicans, including Donald Trump, have been peeling away a lot of rank and file union voters in recent years. A lot of the white working class, especially, has been trending GOP. So it's a smart play to do that.

And I think it's also a smart play not to go to a non-union shop, because there are a lot more non-union workers than union workers in this country and some people might want to talk to them once in a while, too.

So I think it's a smart play, but Trump looks very presumptuous, though. He's presuming he's the nominee. That's not a really good look, though, for a lot of voters.


You have to ask for the vote. He's bagging these debates. He thinks he can get away with it. But as a candidate, many times, you never presume people are going to vote for you.

KEILAR: You think, Francis, he can get away with it, skipping the debate? Is he being presumptuous here?

FRANCIS ROONEY, (R) FORMER CONGRESSMAN FROM FLORIDA: Well, Charlie's right, history's written with people who got overconfident, ignored the voters and got a bad surprise on primary day. But he has these huge leads on the polls. If the polls are halfway accurate, this thing's over on Super Tuesday.

KEILAR: Okay. So I want to ask you also, Francis, some good economic indicators lately, yes. But you have inflation taking its toll. We have Jamie Dimon who just raised the specter of the 7 percent interest rates. Oil could be very expensive for a very long time, that's very much part of the conversation right now.

And so I hear Charlie's point that Republicans have been making stride with union workers. But what was really lost in 2016, Biden very much rebounded with in 2020. And he had a lot of union support that helped deliver the win for him in places like Michigan.

But when you look at these economic numbers and the fact that he's having a hard time selling his economic message, how problematic is that when it comes to him securing these votes in places like Michigan?

ROONEY: Well, I think it's really problematic because he spent so much money that is driving more and more deficits and inflation and is out of control and he can't do anything about it. He spent the money. Every day you read the paper, they're spending another multibillion dollar grant under those infrastructure bills.

And they've got one more problem, they're kind of in a rock and a hard place with the liberal Democrats and the green movement and electric cars versus the union workers who really get hurt by electric cars. And no one's figured out how to assuage the radical overhaul of the industry that will take place if electric cars really do take off.

KEILAR: Yes, that's a vulnerability for sure. But, Charlie, Trump spent the money, too. And then he told autoworkers in Lordstown, Ohio, don't sell your house. I'm going to get this plant reopened and then he didn't get it reopened, so is Biden really vulnerable to him?

DENT: Well, yes, I think Biden is vulnerable, but we all know the reasons why, because of his age, people are questioning his capacity. Trump is a very flawed messenger. But the economic argument, I think, is really - that's problematic for Joe Biden, it's still inflation. I get it. It's moderated a bit, but it went up so much.

I mean, people - I mean, just go to the grocery store and the gas pump. I mean, that's what people are seeing. And that's why they don't feel so good about the economy. Even though the unemployment rate is low, even though the inflation has moderated, it's still off a very high base.

And I think Biden's vulnerable, too, in terms of the American rescue plan. They overspent by hundreds of billions of dollars on that and that helped juice inflation, too. So I think that's a big problem with the Biden message right now.

KEILAR: Look, no doubt people are feeling that inflation has taken a bite out of their financial picture. They're reporting that, right. The numbers are dismal when you look at how they feel about their individual financial picture.

Francis, we see President Biden going after Trump. He's got this new TV ad, Kristen mentioned that, Trump and Biden, I mean, at this point. Speaking of being presumptuous, I suppose it's okay for Biden, but they both seem pretty presumptuous. It's going to be Trump versus Biden.

Any hope for these seven candidates on this debate stage tonight? Because that's normally, in a normal world, that's what we'd be talking about, a big debate tonight. Do you think they can break through?

ROONEY: I don't know. Nikki Haley had a bit of a breakthrough in the first (inaudible) when she called out the Republicans for their excessive spending, too, which is a problem that I certainly found revolting when I was in Congress. We spent as much per day when we had all three branches of government as Obama did and that's repugnant to me.

And certainly Trump (inaudible) a lot of that and now Biden spent even more than him. I think those are real weights around all their necks. And I'm glad to hear you say the hubris cuts both ways for Trump and for Biden.

KEILAR: It does, hubris does always tend to cut both ways, but nonetheless, what are you looking for tonight?

DENT: Tonight, I want to see which one of these candidates is going to draw a hard contrast with Donald Trump. And I suspect because of Trump's abortion comments, calling the six-week abortion ban a mistake, which I think he's right on. But I'm curious to see if maybe Mike Pence or Ron DeSantis chooses to make that an issue to try to help elevate themselves with a key primary demographic. It's a bad general election issue for Republicans.

But I'm anxious to see if one of them tries to really draw that hard contrast, because right now they're all fighting for second place, which one of them is going to emerge. It's - Haley had a really good night, but they're all kind of still stuck in the high single digits, his opponents, so who's going to break through? Because right now, Trump's going to coast as long as we've got seven or eight candidates still trying to take him down.


KEILAR: Speaking of hubris, I try never to have the hubris to think that I have any knowledge, fore knowledge of what is going to happen in a debate because you never know what moment is going to pop. But that is entirely a huge opportunity to see if one of them will seize on.

Charlie, Francis, thank you so much to both of you. We appreciate your time.

ROONEY: Brianna, thanks for having us on for us.

KEILAR: Boris?

SANCHEZ: New this afternoon, American Travis King is on his way home. North Korea has released the U.S. Army private who fled on foot to one of the most repressive nations on Earth.

Remember, more than two months ago, King raced across the demilitarized zone, the DMZ, that separates North and South Korea. King, who you see highlighted the back of his head in that photo, was on a public tour of the joint security area and this photo was taken moments before he darted across that marker.

The release coming about 10 weeks after he fled into North Korea is considered extraordinarily rare.

Let's go to CNN's Oren Liebermann, who's at the Pentagon for us and Will Ripley is in Taipei, Taiwan.

Oren, let's start with you. How did this release exactly come about?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Boris, the story of how Private Travis King got out of North Korea is almost more bizarre than how he initially got in to North Korea by skipping his flight home, taking a private tour of the DMZ and then running across into North Korea.

On his way out, as we've learned from U.S. officials, the U.S. was in touch with Sweden and Sweden was in touch with North Korea. North Korea, as we learned earlier today, made the decision to expel him after concluding their investigation into King. But what that investigation was based on or what it found or what they were looking for, that part remains unclear.

And yet earlier today, we've learned that a Swedish convoy in North Korea took Private Travis King to the Friendship Bridge, which is on the North Korean-Chinese border, and took him across that bridge. At that point, he had met the U.S. military defense attache to China and was once again in U.S. military custody.

He took a flight from China into South Korea and from there is expected to be on his way home, landing sometime later tonight or early tomorrow morning. So the big mystery is, what was North Korea's motivation here.

That part remains unanswered. But the important part here is that King is on his way home. He has spoken with his family, his mother, releasing a statement thanking the U.S. Army and the effort to bring him home. And meanwhile, the U.S. senior administration officials such as Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser, putting out an almost interesting statement thanking China for their role in this, in his transit through there. So very interesting indeed, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Oren, we'll let you get to that phone call. I'm sure it was a source reaching out.

Oren Liebermann from the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Let's get you now to Taipei, Taiwan, with CNN's Will Ripley. Will, you have reported from North Korea multiple times. You know its history well. How unusual is this release, given that the United States has said they made no concessions to secure it?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very unusual, although not surprising, given what's been happening with North Korea in recent months. You have Kim Jong-un really turning his diplomatic focus to Russia and China. In fact, he was just at that summit in Russia with President Putin, where they talked about a deepening military partnership that some analysts feel could include Russia actually sharing its nuclear and ballistic missile secrets with North Korea, helping Kim grow his program in exchange for weapons from the North Koreans that can help Putin on the battlefield in Ukraine.

So frankly, right now, they're not particularly focused on diplomacy with the United States. They don't have anything that they're asking the U.S. for, aside from what they're always asking for, which is the lifting of sanctions. And perhaps they just didn't feel that they were going to get a whole lot out of this by holding on to Travis King for a longer period of time. He didn't commit any crime in North Korea, per se, aside from illegally entering the country.

Presumably, he didn't do anything to disrespect the North Korean leadership, which certainly would have gotten him in a whole lot of trouble. Think about Otto Warmbier, who was accused of taking down a propaganda poster and served 17 months, most of that time in a vegetative state, we later learned, because doctors in North Korea may not have known how to properly care for him and yet they still held on to him for about a year and a half.

State Department also saying, Boris, that this really doesn't indicate a breakthrough, the fact that King was released so quickly.

SANCHEZ: Will Ripley, very much appreciate the perspective. Thanks so much.


MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: ... first crossed the border into North Korea. We tried to reach out a number of occasions. They rejected our direct approaches and ended up talking to Sweden, and Sweden talked to us and helped negotiate this transfer. But I would not see this as the sign of some breakthrough. I think it's a one-off with them being willing to return this private.


RIPLEY: And, of course, the only question was going to be, where would Travis King go next. Now that question has been answered, Boris. He's back in American custody, headed back home to see his family and presumably also face military punishment because that was what was supposed to happen when he was on that flight out of South Korea back in July, Boris.


SANCHEZ: Will Ripley reporting from Taiwan, thanks so much.

Still ahead, Congress is on the clock. We're going to take you live to Capitol Hill for the latest on talks to avoid the government shutdown that's looming in fewer than four days.

Plus, New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, appearing in federal court to face bribery charges. The calls for him to resign are growing.

We'll discuss next on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


KEILAR: There are fewer than four days to stop the government from shutting down. If no funding measure is passed by 11:59 PM Eastern on Saturday, then more than a million members of the military, air traffic controllers and TSA staffers will be forced to work without pay. Thousands of others will be furloughed among multiple other negative consequences and there is a bipartisan deal in play that Senate leaders just reached. But in the House, hardline Republicans say it's dead on arrival.


Let's turn to our CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, to talk about this. He also anchors INSIDE POLITICS Sunday, of course.

So, Manu, Sen. McConnell just spoke to reporters. Tell us what he said.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is defending the Senate's approach. In fact, he said that he is comfortable with it, even as it has come under withering criticism from House Republicans, particularly conservatives in the House. The Senate (inaudible) that was cut between McConnell and Chuck Schumer would extend government funding until mid-November. Also would include $6 billion in aid to Ukraine, another $6 billion dollars in disaster relief.

It does not include border security money. It has come under criticism for the lack of money dealing with the border, as well as including money for Ukraine. Something that Speaker McCarthy himself said should not be part of this round of talks. McCarthy has indicated to his conference that this bill, this Senate proposal, will not move forward in his chamber, even as McCarthy doesn't have the votes himself to pass a Republican-only plan.

The Speaker is still planning to try to move forward on Friday with the proposal to keep the government open. But he includes border security provisions and spending cuts, but that doesn't have enough support within his own conference. This all comes as there is finger- pointing that is happening on both sides, within the Republican Party.

Some of the moderates pointing fingers at the hardliners in the House GOP for holding things up and some top Senate Republicans are concerned about Speaker McCarthy's handling of this, particularly his decision to walk away from a bipartisan spending deal that the Speaker himself cut earlier this summer in an effort to try to stave off a shutdown, now seeking deeper cuts that senators from both parties can't accept.


RAJU: Do 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've seen in the deal that he's cut with Sen. Schumer. It's definitely not a representative of this body here in the House of Representatives.

Sen. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-WV): If you make a deal, you've got to stick to the deal. And I understand that the Speaker has a lot of pressures on him, so I don't want to judge why he's doing what he's doing. But I think if we'd stuck with the original deal, what - but that was going to be impossible, too, from what we hear from the House.


RAJU: And that was the deal that I was referring to about the one that Speaker McCarthy did cut with the White House that was intended to kind of avoid the situation that we're in now, but he faced pressure from his right flank to seek deeper spending cuts, something that Democrats and Republicans say they can't accept and neither can the White House.

So, Brianna, just a lot of questions at the moment about how this will be resolved and whether a shutdown can be averted. The expectation, though, in the Senate and the House is that it can't be averted and a shutdown will happen as soon as Sunday. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. The clock is certainly ticking and nothing appears to be changing, as you said.

Manu Raju live for us on Capitol Hill, thanks. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Staying on Capitol Hill, New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, has been indicted and he is increasingly isolated. A majority of his Democratic colleagues want him to resign now that he's facing bribery charges for the second time in 10 years.

So far, he's dismissed those calls and he's expected to address the caucus tomorrow.

Earlier today, he was in federal court entering a not guilty plea. The judge releasing him on one hundred thousand dollars bond and ordering Menendez cannot have any contact with Senate staffers who know the details of his case unless attorneys are present.

Let's discuss with former U.S. attorney Michael Moore.

Michael, thanks so much for being with us. I am wondering that specific condition of his release, does it indicate to you that some of those aides are potentially witnesses?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm glad to be with all of you. It does indicate that. I mean, typically for a judge to enter some type of order like this to, in essence, prevent a defendant from talking to people that they've already got some heads up that those folks may in fact be witnesses for the government as I think it's likely in this case.

Look, these charges are serious and it's a real case. There's no reason to run from it or to somehow claim that this is just the politicization or weaponization of the Justice Department or something.

These allegations, if they are proven, are in fact serious allegations and you can look and see how the government went one extra step to do a DNA analysis on some of the items recovered from the senator's home. That removes an argument. It removes a line of defense to, in fact, say that we have DNA evidence from those folks who we are claiming are involved in this case with you own this money. And that's - that changes it from looking like a bank deposit somewhere or some money you're holding out for a rainy day fund.

So he's got an uphill battle and I think he's probably and will likely spend some time on messaging going forward. Whether or not he survives politically, that's a question for him, I guess, and his family and consultants, but these appear to be very serious allegations.


SANCHEZ: Michael, I'm also curious about a unique aspect to this case and that is the spouse factor. How does it impact the prosecution and the defense that there is a husband and wife simultaneously on trial?

MOORE: Well, there are a lot of folks who will be familiar with sort of a spousal or marital privilege, whether or not that comes in. And the problem I think that they're going to have going forward is it seems that they probably have communications not only between the spouses, but they have communications between third parties and other alleged co-conspirators in the case, independently of communications between husband and wife.

And so, as they move forward, sometimes a spouse may be indicted and charged, not only because they are complicit in a crime, but that perhaps because the government knows that there may be some leverage to be obtained or they may come to Sen. Menendez at some point, I have no inside knowledge about this or these particular facts of either one of their alleged involvements, but besides that they came to him and said, look, you're clearly the one in trouble. You're the United States senator. We'll let your wife take something much less if you'll just fess up to what you've done.

That's certainly a pressure point, I think, that defendants have to consider. And he certainly will have to consider if they come to him on - with that kind of information or proposed plea deal at some point.

SANCHEZ: Michael Moore, we've got to leave the conversation there. Appreciate your perspective as always.

MOORE: Glad to be with you all.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Still ahead, bracing for the end of a pandemic era child care support program, how millions of kids and their families are going to be impacted.