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Escaped Inmate and Suspected Accomplice on the Run After Hospital Ambush; Trump Faces Monday Deadline to Post $464 Million Bond; $1.2 Trillion Government Funding Unveiled as Shutdown Deadline Looms. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2024 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Busted from prison and on the loose, a frantic manhunt for an escaped convict with ties to a white supremacist prison gang, three corrections officers ambushed.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Panic mode for former President Trump, the reporting now on how he is struggling to post nearly half a billion dollar bond that he needs in order to appeal the civil fraud case in New York.

And the White House trying to get a step ahead of A.I., how disruptive the Biden administration thinks artificial intelligence could be for the American worker.

I'm Kate Bolduan with John Berman. Sarah is out today. CNN News Central starts now.

Breaking overnight, they are dangerous and they are armed. A manhunt for two men involved in a brazen ambush that freed an inmate who was allegedly a white supremacist prison gang member. Three corrections officers were shot during a transfer from a hospital.

Now, there's a warrant with a $2 million bond and an urgent chase for Nicholas Umphenour and Skylar Meade, who was serving time for shooting a sheriff and had tattoos representing the Aryan Knights.


CHIEF RON WINEGAR, BOISE POLICE DEPARTMENT: We believe that this was a coordinated attack ambush on the Department of Corrections officers and certainly a planned endeavor to free him from custody.

They are dangerous, they are armed and they have shown a propensity for violence.


BERMAN: They have shown a propensity for violence.

CNN's Whitney Wild all over this story this morning. These two men, you get the sense, authorities desperately want them back in custody. WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John, because the big concern for law enforcement here is if they're willing to shoot a police officer, they are willing possibly to shoot anybody. And so that is why the urgency here cannot be overstated.

Let's talk about Skylar Meade, and I'll just give you the context here of who Skylar Meade is and what was going on in this moment that this brazen shooting happened. Skylar Meade was serving time in prison. He wasn't even supposed to be out, John, until 20:36, serving time in prison for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer.

Again, as you mentioned, he's a documented member with the Aryan Knights. This is a white supremacist prison gang that began in Idaho in the early to mid 1990s, according to the Department of Justice.

He -- basically, what happened here, John, is that while he was in custody, he was taken to the hospital for self-injurious behavior. When prison staff evaluated him, they determined that he needed to go to the hospital.

And it was as he was being discharged, as he was preparing to leave the hospital with law enforcement with these officers from the Idaho Department of Corrections, that's when, police say, Nicholas Umphenour, his associate, busted in, began shooting and was able to help Skylar Meade escape in this 2020 Gray Honda Civic.

Here's how law enforcement described the location that Skylar Meade was in at prison. This gives you some context about what police believe that was necessary in order to keep him away from other members of the prison population.


JOSH TEWALT, DIRECTOR, IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION: Skylar Meade was in was an administrative segregation. There's not a higher custody level that we manage at the Department of Correction.

It's a form of restrictive housing that really is reserved for those people in our custody who have proven they can't be housed without being a danger to themselves, staff or other people in our custody.


WILD: John, that gives you the context here of how dangerous law enforcement already thought Skylar Meade was while he was in custody, let alone on the loose with no law enforcement in sight.

Now, let's talk about Nicholas Umphenour. He is the associate here. Law enforcement has determined that he is a known associate of Skylar Meade. He is now charged with aggravated battery against law enforcement. He's also charged with aiding and abetting an escape.


He is also considered armed and dangerous. This man hunt certainly underway, John, and now the question is, where are they and how quickly can they be brought back into custody?

BERMAN: Yes, what a toxic combination. You have a guy in prison for shooting a cop. Three corrections officers shot in the process of this escape, which certainly seems to be coordinated. You can understand why authorities are so concerned.

Whitney Wild, thank you very much for that. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Let's talk more about this. Joining us right now is CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst and former Deputy Director of the FBI Andy McCabe. It's good to see you, Andy.

So, as John and Whitney were talking about, police call it an ambush and a coordinated attack that started with this inmate, Meade, harming himself in order to be taken to the hospital. What amount of planning would be needed to pull an escape, an ambush, an attack like this off?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, that's a really remarkable point, Kate. And when we look at these situations, that's one of the first things we look for, signs of organization and planning, because it tells us that this was something in the works for quite some time.

It also tells something about the offender. This is a guy who has the kind of mental, organizational abilities and discipline to pull something like this off. It requires all sorts of things. You have to have friends, you have to have people, you have to have access to a network of people who in this case are willing to put their own lives at risk and attack law enforcement to get him out. You have to have the ability to communicate surreptitiously with those people.

Most of these prison escape plans fall apart at the planning stage when prisoners do things like talk on monitored telephones to people outside of prison who they need to help them. Those calls are, of course, always monitored, and that's usually when these sorts of plots are uncovered, but not this time. This guy seems to have done a really adept job at talking to the right people, setting this whole thing up, enlisting the support of people who were willing to assault law enforcement and potentially die in the conflict.

BOLDUAN: And there's a lot that needs to be figured out, and that's even separate from this manhunt of how this actually happened, but let's get to that. I mean, these men are clearly dangerous. What do law enforcement need to doing right now, not just to catch them, but to figure out how they did this?

MCCABE: You know, we've been in these manhunt situations before recently, right? And so the basics are the same. They are going to, with the help of intelligence analysts, understand this person, Skylar Meade's network, who are his known associates inside prison, outside of prison, family members, maybe former work associates. They're going to identify locations for all those people. They're going to start to identify communications facilities for those peoples. So, those are telephone numbers, email accounts, social media accounts. And they're going to start monitoring all of the places and individuals who might help him in this escape. This particular escape is greatly complicated by the fact that Meade is a member of a white supremacist prison gang called the Aryan Knights. So, he has access to a group of people that are committed to these sort of crimes and willing to die for him.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about that aspect of it, which I think is an important aspect of it. The Aryan Knights, this is a prison gang that Meade is affiliated with. We know that white supremacist violence and threats is on the rise across the country where you know, that from the FBI, but this area night's prison, gang, what should people know?

MCCABE: You know this is that's absolutely true. The current threat assessments about white supremacist and white separatist activity in the United States are on the rise. But this right in the wheelhouse of what group like this does, right?

The Aryan Knights are a prison gang. They were kind of started in the Idaho correctional facilities. As of 2021, they were estimated to be about 100 members strong. They engage in all sorts of activity in prison, like drug trafficking, illegal gambling, engaging in intimidation, violence, assaults on other prisoners, things like that.

In 2021, everyone there, the head of their organization, a man named Harlan Hale was actually convicted and pled guilty to a RICO account offense, which is significant because it's a public acknowledgment of the fact that he was running a criminal enterprise, the Aryan Knights, and he is now serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary.

So, this is a group of very hardcore, violent, experienced individuals. Part of problem with prison gangs is they are not just in prison. Once you join a gang in prison, after you leave, you're still affiliated with that group, still have loyalty to the group.

So, clearly, what looks like happens here is Meade is relying on likely other Aryan Knights members in the community who've helped him plan this escape.

BOLDUAN: Andy, thank you so much. Manhunt underway as we speak. John?

BERMAN: All right. Donald Trump needs half a billion dollars in days.


Could he file for bankruptcy by Monday?

And then hiding out in the airplane bathroom, no ticket for the flight, so how did a man manage to get on?

And a scandal swirling near the highest paid athlete on Earth, gambling debt, and now accusations of theft.


BERMAN: So, this morning, Donald Trump needs half a billion dollars, and it's not at all clear where or how he going to get it and he needs it by Monday or else. [07:15:00]

Although we're also not sure what else is this morning. This is all to cover the huge New York civil fraud penalty so we can appeal the case.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is with us this morning. Katelyn, the clock is ticking.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: It is, John. When you lose a lawsuit and you have a judgment like this, you don't have a lot of options. You either allow the people who won the lawsuit, in this case, the New York Attorney General's Office to come in and collect, or you put up that amount of money to assure them that you have it and continue your appeals.

Right now, Donald Trump is taking the appeal route. Not only does he want to appeal that final judgment and the loss of his case, he's appealing to try and get a court's intervention in New York to put a pause on him having to put up the money.

He has the assets in that he says he has the real estate that would cover about $500 million, half a billion dollars for a bond. But the people that he's going to, the companies, insurance, or underwriters, they are not willing to give him a bond of that amount and would require him to put up not real estate or any assets he has, but cash. That's a lot of money in cash.

And so Trump has said to the court, he's having trouble. He's asking the appeals court for intervention. They still could step in and do something. But Letitia James, the attorney general, her team also is writing to the appeals court and they're saying, this is getting to the end of the line. He has some options here. He could try those, asking insurance companies to come together and pool enough money for him to post the bond, or he could provide more evidence. He could put his real estate holdings with the court.

They, though, are making quite clear when Monday comes along and that money isn't there in a bond or given to them, they are ready to move and put liens on his assets.

BERMAN: And, again, that is coming Monday.

Bankruptcy isn't a financial and legal option for Donald Trump but it's a tough political option and one that, according to all the articles we're reading say, his team does not want to take, but that is out there also.

Katelyn Polantz, thank you very much for all that.

Developing this morning, a different money story involving Donald Trump, this one, political fundraising. Brand new fundraising reports show that the Trump campaign has half the cash on hand as President Biden's campaign. That is a big, big gap.

CNN's Isaac Dovere here with the latest on that. You know, cash on hand is one of the most coveted things in politics, Isaac. EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: It is. And for Joe Biden, the fundraising is continuing at a pretty high rate. It's all building up to what will be a -- what may be the biggest fundraiser ever that's going to feature Barack Obama and Bill Clinton at Radio City Music Hall with him next week.

But for Donald Trump, he is scrambling to raise campaign cash. There are signs from the Trump campaign that they feel like they've been more successful lately. He's also building up to a big fundraiser. In April, $250,000 a ticket for a lot of that, and then there's a chairman level that's $814,000 of donations to get there.

But that's all coming as his leadership PAC that's supposed to be spending money to help him get elected president spent more money on legal bills in the last month than it did on -- than it brought in overall.

There is a lot of money that is needed to run a presidential campaign to do things, from advertising to hiring campaign workers. And so far, Joe Biden is keeping a big edge over Donald Trump on all of that.

BERMAN: Yes. And where and how you raise the money dictates where and how much you spend. Also, Biden has an edge when it comes to that as well.

Isaac, it's something that we will watch with these huge fundraisers, as you said, coming up. Thanks so much for your reporting on this. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Hours left before government shutdown, and the new deal being struck -- new deals being struck to try to get Congress to avoid the next mess.

And the moment a state lawmaker shares why she plans to get an abortion in a state currently weighing a near total ban.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After numerous ultrasounds and blood draws, we have determined that my pregnancy is once again not progressing and is not viable. And, once again, I have scheduled an appointment to terminate my pregnancy.



BOLDUAN: So, lawmakers now have a funding bill in hand and they are up against a midnight deadline tomorrow to avert a shutdown. The package includes six spending bills related to defense, Homeland Security, State Department operations and much more important stuff. But is this now enough to avoid another round of shutdown fears and another mess for at least a while?

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, she has much more on what this package includes, what is going on here. Sunlen, what are you hearing? Is the support there to avoid the shutdown?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this is going to be a scramble. This is certainly a major time crunch, even for Capitol Hill. This is a massive bill, 1,012 pages long, and it was released just before 3:00 A.M. Eastern Time this morning. So, lawmakers now are really having to wake up and absorb all the specific details.

This is a $1.2 trillion bill. It would fund a number of critical government operations that needed to happen before midnight on Friday. It increases border funding, as well as protecting women's rights by preserving that travel policy so that service members and their families can access reproductive health care. Notably, those are two key presidential election issues.


And both sides here getting some of what they wanted within this. Republicans, for example, they can out more detention beds for ICE, cuts to foreign aid that only U.S. flags at diplomatic facilities will be flown and prohibiting a federal ban on gas stoves. Democrats, meanwhile, have stuff that they tell, too, from this bill, 12,000 visas added for Afghans, boosting childcare education funding, and notably blocking the Republican poison pills that were trying to be added in there.

And the question now is, how fast can they get this passed? Senator Schumer said that once the House passes it, he intends to move it through quickly.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): As soon as they send us the funding package, I will put it on the Senate floor.

Even with bipartisanship, it's going to a tight squeeze to get the package passed before the weekend deadline. I ask my colleagues to be flexible, to be prepared to act quickly and to prioritize working together in good faith.


SERFATY: Now, typically, members have 72 hours to review a bill text before they vote, though it's possible that rule could be waived. And Speaker Johnson has indicated that he potentially could do so, but a lot needs to happen between right now and midnight on Friday to get all of this done, Kate, to avoid a shutdown, even a partial shutdown over the weekend. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Does this completely -- if they pull this off, and I guess we have to always say a big if until it's done, does this put away -- does this set aside any future messes for the moment, for the fiscal year, for any period of time of another funding battle like this?

SERFATY: That is a great question, because this is something that on Capitol Hill has been haunting them for months. They've passed a lot of piecemeal spending bills in this, addressing six places that they needed to fund in the government. And it does. It pushes that deadline until later in the year, in the fall. So, potentially, lawmakers on Capitol Hill wouldn't have to deal with this part of a shutdown for quite some time if it gets passed.

BOLDUAN: If and when, we will see. It's good to see you, Sunlen, thank you so much.

So, the White House, trying to get ahead of A.I., at least when it comes to the impact that they see in an analysis that A.I. will have, could have on American jobs.