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Congress Faces Friday Deadline To Avert Partial Shutdown; Ukrainian Forces Retreat From Donetsk Village As Russia Advances; Aide: Prisoner Exchange In The "Final Stage" Before Navalny's Death; Trump Files Appeal Of $454 Million Civil Fraud Judgment Against Him. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Congress in Chaos: With just five days to avert a partial government shutdown, lawmakers currently don't have a plan to fund key departments. Can they find a clear path before Friday's deadline at midnight? We're going to take you live to Capitol Hill.

And former President Donald Trump making it official, he's now appealing his $454 million civil fraud judgment in New York. On exactly what grounds, though? We're going to tell you what his lawyers are claiming.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And Running Out of Water: Mexico City, one of the world's biggest cities, is facing a severe water crisis and may just be months away from running out entirely.

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

SANCHEZ: Lawmakers are heading back to Washington this week, and they'll be racing against the clock the moment they step foot on Capitol Hill. That's right. We're doing this song and dance all over again. A partial government shutdown will happen on Friday without a funding deal. The short-term compromise that just barely made it under the wire last time around is set to expire. And this time, the White House is adding to the stakes, pushing for that major foreign aid bill to pass.

Tomorrow, President Biden is set to meet with the four top members of Congress, hoping to figure out a path forward. We have full coverage.

Let's start with CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what's the outlook that something gets done before Friday at midnight?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very murky right now. It's possible things could come together very quickly. It's also possible that Congress could stumble into a partial government shutdown. And remember, this was supposed to be done to fund the federal government by October 1st of last year, but at that point, there was no deal.

The then-Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, agreed to allow a short-term extension of government funding to be approved by Congress with the support of Democrats. That cost him his job, a historic, unprecedented ouster of the sitting Speaker, leading to chaos within the ranks of the House.

Ultimately, Mike Johnson became the new Speaker. He then agreed to another short-term extension of government funding until early January. And at that point, they kicked the can down the road again to this Friday. And now that's what their deadline that they are racing to try to avert. But in a very bad sign last night, Mike Johnson faced some criticism from the Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer. They traded bar back and forth.

Schumer and Johnson have been negotiating for weeks to try to figure out a way out of a possible shutdown. And negotiations are still taking place. And there's still some hope that they can resolve some of these last issues that are still sticking points between the two sides. But even if they get a deal by the middle of this week, the mechanics of getting legislation through Congress are very difficult. It takes time. It takes a lot of cooperation, particularly the United States Senate, which is leading to a lot of questions and concerns about the possibility of a shutdown this week and maybe even next week, too, because that's the second deadline for the rest of the federal government.

So, so many questions here and looming over all of this aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel, aid to Taiwan, all of that was tied together in a separate spending package, $95 billion that was approved by the Senate earlier this month. Johnson has said that bill will not pass the House because it does not include border security measures. Of course, Johnson killed a bipartisan border security deal that was drafted in the Senate because he said it did not go far enough here.

So you can see the complications that Johnson faces, that Congress faces as they return from a two-week break, trying to figure out if they can resolve these major issues or stumble into crisis, Boris.

SANCHEZ: A lot to sort out in a very short amount of time.

Manu Raju live from Capitol Hill.

Let's get the White House perspective of all of this with CNN's MJ Lee.


MJ, what is President Biden hoping to get out of tomorrow's meeting?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, we certainly expect that a number of issues will be up for discussion tomorrow when these four congressional leaders come here to the White House to meet with President Biden, including, of course, border policy issues, particularly now that we know President Biden is set to travel down to Texas on Thursday. We also expect the looming partial government shutdown deadline that Manu was just talking about to come up as well. That deadline, of course, is on Friday.

But as far as the White House is concerned, the primary focus of tomorrow's meeting from their vantage point is going to be pressing the importance of passing Ukraine aid. They are going to be talking about this national security package that had some $60 billion of aid for Ukraine that is being held up in the House, though it did pass in the Senate.

U.S. officials, of course, in recent weeks have been trying to drive home this point that without additional U.S. aid, we are seeing detrimental effects on the battlefield for Ukraine as it continues to fight off Russian aggression. And we saw Jake Sullivan, the President's National Security Advisor over the weekend, telling our Dana Bash that there is bipartisan support in the House for Ukraine aid and that it is really all eyes on Mike Johnson right now. Take a listen.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There is a strong bipartisan majority in the House standing ready to pass this bill if it comes to the floor. And that decision rests on the shoulders of one person. And history is watching whether Speaker Johnson will put that bill on the floor. If he does, it will pass. We'll get Ukraine what it needs for Ukraine to succeed. If he doesn't, then we will not be able to give Ukraine the tools required for it to stand up to Russia. And Putin will be the major beneficiary of that.


LEE: Speaker Johnson, of course, faces tremendous pressure from members of his own caucus. And he has so far said that he's just not interested in trying to address Ukraine until border issues get dealt with. Well, the White House would certainly say in response to that that he had an opportunity to do precisely that, but has passed on that opportunity as well.

So a lot of sort of thorny politics and political issues to come up at tomorrow's meeting. We'll see whether any progress comes out of the meeting that happens here at the White House tomorrow. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Yes, MJ, razor-thin margins for Johnson, not just to pass any kind of legislation, but just even to keep his job. MJ Lee, live from the White House, thanks so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: After two years of war in Ukraine, today Russia is intensifying attacks in a brutal march west. Ukrainian forces had to pull back yet again as Russian troops captured another village in the eastern Donetsk region. This latest retreat happening, as President Zelenskyy warns, millions will be killed if U.S. lawmakers do not approve that aid package proposed by President Biden.

We have CNN's Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Nick, what is the latest there that you're seeing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, the news today, again, bad for Ukraine. Two Saturdays ago, they voluntarily withdrew out of Avdiivka, but frankly, that was after months of intense fighting with the Russians. They simply didn't want to hold on to those positions. The fear had been on both sides of the lines, frankly, that we would then see Russia continue to move forward, keep its momentum going.

Well, this morning, that quite clearly realized in the admission by Ukraine that they're pulling out of a village called Lastochkino. Now, that is essentially three miles to the northwest of Avdiivka, but key, frankly, because it is a sign of Russia's continued momentum. Now, some analysts say Ukraine was never going to hold there. They were looking to pull back a bit further to more easily defendable positions, but it is essentially the realization of fears that Russia may continue to move. Multiple points along the front line where they're applying pressure against Ukraine.

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, talking yesterday to our Kaitlan Collins about the millions of people who might die if they don't get that extra $60 billion vital aid that's currently held up in Congress, potentially going to be addressed later on this week. But he today said that of the million shells promised by the European Union. Remember, if the U.S. doesn't put that money through, it's going to be Europe that has to desperately, with its meager resources, frankly, try and fill up the gap of the million shells that are so vitally needed by artillery units on the front line by Ukraine that they've been promised by the EU. Only 30 percent have arrived so far.

That's a sign, again, of the ammunition lack they're facing here, the damage that's doing on the front lines. And it is quite remarkable, frankly, to see Ukrainians wrestle with this apathy, frankly, from Washington about coming to their assistance.

Some bad news, though, for Vladimir Putin today, we're finally seeing Hungary, a NATO member, agree to the accession of Sweden to that bloc.


They've become its 32nd member. Finland last year joined. There seems to be some last-minute deal between Hungary and Sweden about some Swedish-made jets being given to Hungary. But ultimately, that is now Putin, who said NATO was a threat, facing an emboldened NATO on a larger stretch of his border, not exactly the outcome he hoped for. Brianna?

KEILAR: No, it certainly is not.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for the latest. Boris?

SANCHEZ: A Western official is confirming to CNN that when Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny died in Russian custody, early talks had been underway regarding a potential prisoner exchange. A top Navalny aide actually went further, claiming that negotiations were in the final stage for a deal to free Navalny and to Americans in exchange for a Russian assassin being held in Germany.

CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in Moscow.

Matthew, what is the Kremlin saying about this reporting?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOGBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Kremlin, as you might expect, are categorically denying, first of all, any connection with the death of Alexei Navalny. They've called that obnoxious and have rejected it out of hand.

But I've spoken to them over the course of the day as well, and they said, look, we haven't heard anything about this supposed negotiation that has been underway between the Russians and the United States and the Germans for a prisoner swap deal that involves Alexei Navalny. It's been well known that the U.S. and Russia have been talking about a possible prisoner swap. The Russians want back this FSB assassin who's serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering a Chechen dissident, Vadim Krasikov is his name. And the U.S., of course, wants back U.S. citizens that are held in U.S. jails, particularly Evan Gershkovich, he was the Wall Street Journal reporter, and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine.

That - those talks have been underway for some time, but this is the first time that we've heard, kind of publicly, at least, it was rumored, but publicly that Alexei Navalny was also part of those talks. That's what Navalny's team are saying. They're saying that negotiations have got to a point that they were at a final - the final phase just the day before Alexei Navalny was pronounced dead inside his Arctic penal colony. And the allegation coming from Navalny's team is that in order to sort of torpedo those negotiations and torpedo a swap, the Kremlin killed Alexei Navalny to essentially take that chip off the table, off the negotiating table.

Again, that's something the Kremlin have pushed back on, categorically deny, in fact. But nevertheless, it is an interesting twist in this very tragic saga about the death of Alexei Navalny.

SANCHEZ: Matthew Chance, live from Moscow. Thank you so much.

So CNN has exclusive reporting on a key part of former President Trump's legal strategy. It involves pitting the two judge overseeing his federal cases against each other. We'll explain.

Plus, one of the world's biggest cities is going dry, running out of water. We'll tell you what can be done and why this is even happening.

And the U.S. is blocking a major merger between two of the largest supermarkets, saying that it's a bad deal for you, for consumers. Those stories and much more coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


[15:17:46] KEILAR: Former President Donald Trump filing an appeal to that massive $464 million civil fraud judgment against him, his sons and two former Trump Organization officials. It's still not clear, though, how Trump plans on coming up with the money that is going to be needed for the appeal.

Let's bring in CNN Correspondent Kara Scannell on this.

Kara, what are you learning about today's filing?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Trump is filing this appeal just the first business day after the judge entered the judgment on Friday. And Trump is appealing not only this dollar amount, but also the other parts of the appeal of the judgment, including the ban on Trump and his adult sons from being officers or directors of the business. So that raises a lot of questions for the future of The Trump Organization and who will be running it, as well as some of the other parts of this judgment, which include continuing a monitor.

Now, the big question here is how and when will Trump address the judgment, the money amount in this case. And that still remains unclear. He can either post the money up front in full, the whole $454 million, that's the judgment plus interest or he can get a bond that can be backed by some kind of collateral from one of these agencies that does that kind of work.

But that is still a substantial amount of money for an individual. And some of the lawyers I've talked to say this is a bit of uncharted ground because usually a judgment of this magnitude is something that a corporation faces where they have lines of credit. They have large cash piles and that is just not clear what The Trump Organization has on hand that it's a private company. There's not a lot of information that is necessarily public. There are estimates of between $200 million to over $400 million in cash. But this is a significant amount of money.

In addition to the 83.83 - $83.3 million he has to post in the E. Jean Carroll case, that was the jury awarded to E. Jean Carroll after finding that that is how much Trump should pay her in damages for a defamation trial, Brianna?

KEILAR: The trial up next here is going to be the Hush Money case in Manhattan. And Kara, what have you learned about a potential gag order in that case?


So prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office have asked the judge in the case to impose a gag order to stop Trump from making any comments publicly about potential witnesses in this case, about members of the prosecution team, excluding the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, court staff members, and the family members of either lawyers involved in the case or the court staff. And Bragg's office is saying they have seen a substantial increase in threats against the office since Trump started making public comments about this case. Now, according to an affidavit submitted in this case, they said that the NYPD's threat assessment, which looks across all the different public agencies, found that in 2022, that one threat against the office out of 483. But by 2023, in March, that is when we were reporting every day about the grand jury hearing evidence in this case, and they were moving closer to the indictment, that they had seen the threats escalate, 89 out of 577 threats were direct at the office.

And as you'll remember, Bragg's office had received letters, two letters, including white powder substances that were deemed to be non- toxic. But included in those letters, there was also one note that said, Alvin, I'm going to kill you. Another of these letters had a photo of Bragg and photo of Trump and said, you will be sorry.

So they're trying to ask the - they're asking a judge to tamp down on what Trump could say, saying that they did see a direct correlation when Trump was making statements on Truth Social about the investigation, about the DA, seeing that correlate to threats to the office of asking for that.

They also say that they want to stop Trump from making any comments about the jury in this case. Certainly will be a high-profile case, the first trial of a former president, Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, Kara Scannell, thank you. Boris?

SANCHEZ: In less than 24 hours, voters will begin casting their ballots in Michigan's presidential primary. And Donald Trump is gaining momentum after defeating Nikki Haley in South Carolina's primary. But Haley is vowing to fight on. Earlier, she was back on the trail in Grand Rapids, where she brushed off a big financial defection after the influential Koch network announced that it would no longer be sending money to her campaign.

This while Donald Trump picks up a new endorsement from Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. He's the number two Republican in the Senate. While it seems that Trump is unstoppable right now, he is facing some looming court dates and trials.

We'll discuss if that might throw a wrench in things, but let's turn now to CNN Crime and Justice Reporter, Katelyn Polantz.

Because, Katelyn, you have new reporting on the strategy that Trump's legal team is employing to try to avoid a federal trial before Election Day.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, Boris. Donald Trump has all these cases and two federal trials that could still happen this year. Now, we know he's going to go to trial in March, at the end of the March, and basically stay in trial probably through mid-May in New York, his hush money case.

But then those two federal trials, his attorneys, according to the sources I'm talking to, are planning on using one against the other to box out the ability of him to go to trial at all. So what they want to do, starting on Friday, is ask to move his Mar-a-Lago documents case trial, so this is the case in Florida, move it from the beginning or the end of May, when it's supposed to start, into July.

And that case is very complicated because of the classified records in it, with the hopes that it'll get on the schedule for July, prevent him from going to trial in the 2020 election case in D.C., and then that case will have to move again, essentially allowing him not to go to trial in either case the whole way through Election Day. If this is going to work, we'll see. But we - it is going to be teed up in something that they're talking about, trial schedule, at a hearing on Friday before Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida.

SANCHEZ: The sheer number of charges that the former president is facing potentially, depending on what the judge decides, could work for him in this case. There's also a new filing in the classified documents case. Katelyn, tell us about that.

POLANTZ: Yes. So this is the case in Florida gearing up for this hearing on Friday. Something they could be discussing is that the special counsel's office just put in a filing where they're trying to fight some of the things that Donald Trump is trying to accuse them of and trying to get access to before the trial.

And the way they're doing that is they're addressing the difference now between Trump's case of mishandling classified documents and obstruction of justice, comparing that to the investigation of Joe Biden, that recent report by special counsel Rob Hur. Nobody in this special counsel's office that's charged Trump has taken this on before and they say it is not even remotely similar. Nobody in American history has done what Trump was doing here, intentionally taking possession of documents and then delaying, obfuscating, disassembling, they're saying all of these things that's very different than what happened with Joe Biden, which resulted in no charges.

SANCHEZ: A significant difference, which Robert Hur, the special counsel investigating Biden, pointed out in his report.

POLANTZ: Yes, he did.

SANCHEZ: Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much. Brianna?


KEILAR: Here with us now to discuss all of this is pollster and communications strategist Frank Luntz.

All right. So Frank, in the Palmetto State, we saw four in 10 Republicans essentially say no, not interested in bringing Trump back to the White House. Do those Haley voters come back to the fold in November or do you think they stay home or even consider casting a ballot for Biden?

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER & COMMUNICATION STRATEGY: Don't forget that in South Carolina, independent, self-defined Democrats can vote. So it doesn't necessarily mean that those are past or present Trump voters that are simply abandoning him. Now, make no mistake, 40 percent - almost 40 percent going to Nikki Haley is significant. However, that is not yet a reflection of people rejecting Donald Trump.

The fact is there are Democrats rejecting Joe Biden because of his age. There were Republicans rejecting Donald Trump because of his these court cases that we have an electorate that's disassembling itself. We have a realignment going on right now in American politics. That's significant. Suburban voters are saying no to Donald Trump, particularly suburban women. You have working class voters, union voters that are saying no to Joe Biden. Latino voters, young African- American men saying yes to Donald Trump, that we have this shifting electorate out of anger, frustration, a feeling that no one's listening and a feeling that no one seems to care, so what we have is, frankly, chaos in the American political system as we close out February of 2024.

SANCHEZ: To the point about chaos, Frank, there was some sound from South Carolina over the weekend that I wanted to play for you. I spoke to a young Trump voter outside a polling site in Rock Hill. Here is some of what she shared with me.


SANCHEZ (off camera): Any concerns about the criminal charges that he's facing and how they could impact the general election?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I think that it's really hard being a young person trying to get a hold of information in the news because there's so many voices and so it's really hard to know what to believe and there's so many theories and stuff. And so I try to do my best to know what I can, but I definitely don't know everything.


SANCHEZ: Frank, does that speak to you of the success that Donald Trump and his team have had in muddying the waters, specifically when it comes to the details of the criminal charges that he's facing?

LUNTZ: Yes, it does. I'm starting to wonder whether if he is found guilty of criminality, not fines, not the ease of business, but of his presidential - these trials about his behavior as president. I'm starting to wonder whether or not they're going to have an impact. That in the end, you support Joe Biden because you're part of that tribe. You support Donald Trump because you're part of that tribe.

But we do know that 15 percent of the Republicans, maybe as high as 20 percent, are looking for something different. We do know that 15 percent, maybe 20 percent, of the Democrats are looking for something different. At the very moment that the intensity behind Donald Trump is at its highest, there are still voters that are looking for change, looking for something that's alternative.

And in every survey that I see right now that's credible, even with these indictments, even with the criminality, even with the extreme language, Donald Trump is beating Joe Biden. And it's got to be something that concerns Democrats because the economy is better, inflation is not where it was. They seem to be getting a message for immigration on the border and yet Trump is leading. And I'm convinced that if the election were held today, Donald Trump would win, even with all of these things that we say about him.

KEILAR: Yes. That really speaks to what voters were telling you, that even a conviction is not going to deter them from voting for Donald Trump.

SANCHEZ: Yes, some of them are relying on the former president to win. Voters of faith especially felt connected to him. There's a lot of concern about the economy. So there's a number of issues, Frank, that fundamentally have the former president well ahead of Nikki Haley. And it seems like she's kind of done, especially because the Koch network decided that they're not going to keep supporting her financially.

LUNTZ: I agree with that. And she was relevant in New Hampshire. She did run a spectacular campaign and did - was the last Republican standing. But make no mistake, this Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump, not Ronald Reagan, not George W. Bush, certainly not Mitt Romney. It's now Trump's party.


Just as the Democrats have aligned behind and rallied behind Joe Biden.