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President Biden Blasts Russia in U.N. Address; New York Sues Trump, Alleging Massive Fraud. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2022 - 13:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does not translate, that issue, as a plus for Democrats like Marcy Kaptur in the more conservative districts, but even -- in more conservative areas -- but even in some of those areas, I was surprised that Republicans are bringing the issue up as the fact that the party potential has gone too far.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Fascinating to watch as the map plays out.

Thanks for your time today.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you so much for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And we are in unprecedented territory once again. The New York attorney general has just filed a sweeping fraud lawsuit against former President Trump, three of his adult children and the Trump Organization. A.G. Letitia James says they were involved in a decade- long financial scheme that allowed Trump to falsely inflate his net worth by billions of dollars.

James says the investigation uncovered some 200 examples of false valuations of Trump's assets. And she thinks this civil case will have serious criminal fallout.


LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: We show that they violated several state criminal laws, including falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements, insurance fraud, and engaging in a conspiracy to commit each of these state law violations.

We believe the conduct alleged in this action also violates federal criminal law.


CABRERA: CNN's Kara Scannell was at that press conference and joins us now.

Kara, lay out the key pieces of this suit, some 280 pages' long. KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, I mean, the New York

attorney general, Letitia James, just completed her press conference a short time ago.

And she described a sweeping scheme, she says, of the Trump Organization, including former President Donald Trump. His adult children, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump, were all engaged, and they said that they helped the former president enrich his personal net worth by billions of dollars.

Now, according to this lawsuit, the former president and his children are accused of inflating the values of numerous properties. That includes their golf courses, the commercial buildings, and other properties, inflated them, put them on financial statements that were provided to lenders, insurers and to tax authorities.

And, through that, they were able to enrich their personal net worth. Now, some of these examples, as you noted, there were more than 200 specific examples she says that these assets were inflated. And one of them is -- hits close to home. It's the former president's apartment at Trump Tower in New York.

Take a listen to what she said.


JAMES: Mr. Trump represented that his apartment spanned more than 30,000 square feet, which was the basis for valuing the apartment. In reality, the apartment had an area of less than 11,000 square feet, something that Mr. Trump was well aware of.

And based on that inflated square footage, the value of the apartment in 2015 and 2016 was $327 million. To this date, no apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount.


SCANNELL: And so that was just one of the examples that she gave.

Another one, looking at the property that the Trumps own on Park Avenue here in Manhattan. That property, she says, that Trump claimed was worth on these financial statements anywhere from $91 million to $350 million, the reality, she said, was at $84.5 million.

Another example, the former president's home in Florida at Mar-a-Lago. Trump's claim that was worth $739 million. Letitia James' lawsuit alleges that it was really worth $75 million. She said that the former president had inflated the value on claims that they could redevelop and build residential properties on that. But the lawsuit alleges that Trump knew personally, he signed deeds that said that no development was possible, saying that he had intentionally inflated the valuation here.

Now, the former president had tried to settle this lawsuit in advance. Letitia James confirmed that today. She said that her door is open if there is -- if he wants to settle in the future. But these are serious allegations today. And Letitia James said that she has referred the matter to the IRS and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan to explore whether any federal crimes were violated -- Ana.

CABRERA: Again. So, to emphasize the distinction here, this is a civil lawsuit. So what outcome is the attorney general seeking?

SCANNELL: Well, the outcome she's seeking here is fairly serious. She's looking for $250 million from the Trump Organization. She says that is part of the ill-gotten gains they received from benefits they got them on better loan terms and other things, and also the profits that the former president's company got when they sold the old post office building, that Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.


In addition to that, though, she's also seeking to ban Trump and his adult children from serving permanently as a board member or director of any entity registered in New York state. In addition, she is also seeking to stop the Trump Organization from effectively working for the next five years. It would essentially cripple them from doing anything, including receiving rent payments and other business transactions.

So she's really looking for some stiff terms here. She said she's open to a settlement. But the former president has come out today, saying that this is nothing but a political vendetta, although he's not addressed the part of the specific allegations of fraud -- Ana.

CABRERA: He says absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place in the statement that came out during that press conference.

Stay with me, Kara Scannell.

Also joining us is CNN legal analyst, former White House ethics czar Norm Eisen and criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Bernarda Villalona.

Thank you both for joining us.

So, Norm, let me start with you.

James clearly thinks there are criminal violations here, possibly federal crimes. And so why go this route with a civil suit?

NORMAN EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Ana, she has the power to do the civil suit. This is what is within her legal authority.

She has very constrained criminal authority that wouldn't reach here. And the civil suit is devastating. I mean, these are allegations. And we have to emphasize it's just allegations. She -- this case has not yet been tried to a judge and jury.

But these are allegations of a staggering fraud that spread over many years of putting out false financial statements that resulted in allegedly misleading banks and lenders. It's very serious conduct. I think, in its own way, it may be as or more serious than some of the pending criminal cases, because this erodes Donald Trump's financial base, his reputation.

His kids are involved. This is a devastating blow.

CABRERA: So, Bernarda, could any criminal probe ultimately utilize the evidence collected by the A.G.'s office?


Attorney General Letitia James, she went to the extent of what her findings are. And she said doing her press conference, look, I'm referring this to the Southern District of New York, as well as the IRS, as well as the New York County District Attorney's Office.

But let's not forget that New York district attorney Alvin Bragg already has an ongoing investigation. In fact, in August, after Mr. Weisselberg pled guilty, and he's due to be sentenced to five months' jail, he stated in his press release that the investigation into Trump is still ongoing.

So, Letitia James, she laid out the facts and she's moving the ball into your court. What are you going to do, U.S. attorney for the Southern District? What are you going to do, IRS? What are you going to do, Mr. Alvin Bragg? I have laid it out for you. Make a decision.

CABRERA: Kara, what do we know about the status of that Manhattan DA investigation?

SCANNELL: Well, the Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg, recently had just reiterated that that investigation is ongoing.

I mean, you will remember that this investigation was going kind of in lockstep with the civil investigation. And then, when Bragg took office in January, he slowed it down because he didn't think that they had enough evidence to prove that Trump had criminal intent, that he was intentionally violating the law when these assets were inflated, because, in a criminal investigation, they need more evidence.

They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, as compared to a civil lawsuit, where the burden of proof is much lower. So they were -- they don't have an insider. There's not a cooperator. Even in the civil lawsuit here, there's not someone who is explaining how this happened and the steps that various people had taken.

So that was a hindrance in this criminal investigation. Sources have told me they are still working on that. They are still trying to see if there is a possible crime that they could prove. But that has been one of the issues there. And in the federal system, they have different laws than the state prosecutors.

Their laws are often are widely considered to be easier to bring these certain types of financial crimes, such as bank fraud. So it will be interesting to see if any of this does get picked up by the federal investigators, but we do know the Manhattan district attorney reiterating just earlier this month that this -- that their investigation is continuing.

We have reached out to them today for comments. Did not receive anything in response, Ana.

CABRERA: Now, James did claim Trump and his chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, would meet to review and approve the final statements every year.

And she asked both men about this during depositions. Take a listen.


JAMES: When asked about these meetings under oath as part of our deposition, both men, Mr. Trump and Mr. Weisselberg, invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and they refused to answer.


When asked under oath if he, Mr. Trump, continued to review and approve the statements after becoming president of the United States in 2017, Mr. Trump again invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer.


CABRERA: Bernarda, our reporting is that he invoked the Fifth hundreds of times possibly. Can that be used against him?

VILLALONA: Forty hundred and forty times, Ana, that's how many times he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege.

And, absolutely, it cannot be used against him in a criminal case. However, in a civil case, it can and will be used against him. There will be an inference that can be drawn from him invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege and not answering these questions.

And let's not forget, Donald Trump is the same one that, when he was running for president, he said, when you invoke the Fifth, that means you're guilty. So, Mr. Donald Trump, does that apply to you?

CABRERA: Norm, how significant is it if Trump personally approved these financial statements?

EISEN: Well, that is what the A.G. has alleged, after extensive investigation, including millions of pages of documents.

Ana, that goes to intent. So, together with the adverse inference that will be drawn from his Fifth Amendment indication, from Mr. Weisselberg, she will be able to show the judge and jury, if this case goes to trial, that Donald Trump was personally involved in this.

That's why Alvin Bragg's behavior, the Manhattan DA, has been so bizarre. He had two top prosecutors, two of the best in the country, Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, who said there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.


EISEN: When he wouldn't charge, they resigned. He returned the documents to the witnesses.

He had Michael Cohen, among other insiders.

CABRERA: Who is a flawed witness, obviously, given his credibility issues.

EISEN: But we know you can build cases with flawed witnesses. When alleged criminals are involved,, you have criminals testifying against criminals. So that was, in my view, and I have written in "The Washington Post," bizarre that Bragg would not proceed.

Maybe, today -- Fani Willis is proceeding in Georgia. Tish James is proceeding in New York. The 1/6 Committee is proceeding. Maybe that will give Mr. Bragg a jolt of courage. It looks to me like there's powerful proof of criminal intent. And now Tish James has said so in these pleadings.

CABRERA: And it's in court documents. So, thank you both, Norm Eisen, Bernarda Villalona.

Why do I always stumble over your last name? Villalona.

Thank you both so much for joining us. And thank you as well, Kara Scannell.

The other big news we are following, President Biden addressing the United Nations today. What he said about Putin's new nuclear weapons threat and Russia's plan to call up hundreds of thousands of more Russian soldiers for the battle in Ukraine.

Plus, will the Fed finally get inflation under control? It will attempt to do just that moments from now with another massive rate hike expected. When could you feel the impact?

And no power, no water, and now a brutal heat wave. We will take you live to Puerto Rico, where much of that island is still reeling from Hurricane Fiona.



CABRERA: Calling out a tyrant on the world stage, President Biden, speaking at the United Nations this morning, blasting Russia for its alarming new escalation in Ukraine.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine's right to exist as a people.

Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should not -- that should make your blood run cold.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: The president's warning comes as Vladimir Putin calls up 300,000 more troops in Russia's biggest escalation since its invasion.

And Putin issuing an ominous new warning. His threats of nuclear weapons, he says, are not a bluff.

We have a lot to unfold.

CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is at the United Nations. And CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Kaitlan, just hours before President Biden gave that address, Putin raised the stakes. Does the White House believe the president's message lived up to the moment?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they kind of had already had this idea of giving that speech, that forceful condemnation, as you noted, of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with President Biden saying they're violating the core tenet of the United Nations Charter.

They have invaded their neighbor. They are trying to wipe the Ukrainian population off the map. And so they're saying that completely rebukes and goes against everything that this body that is gathered here today stands for.

And so it was kind of already going in that direction. And I think those comments from President Putin in that rare address just a few hours earlier didn't dramatically change the speech, because the White House was aware that Putin could be making this announcement about mobilizing more forces.

But they tweaked certain parts. They emphasized certain parts as President Biden reviewed it this morning with Secretary Blinken and his national security adviser,Jake Sullivan. But it was a very forceful condemnation from President Biden, saying that this is not what Russia can do, and also making the argument that, if Russia is allowed to do this with impunity, to act without any kind of consequences, then it just creates these broader implications on the world stage.


Obviously, we have been talking about Taiwan and China and whether or not China could potentially invade Taiwan and how the United States would respond, so really trying to have this overarching message about the fact that the United Nations has got to work better and work together cohesively to hold Russia accountable.

He talked about calling for reforms to the United Nations Security Council. That's where Russia has that veto power that we have seen them wield time and time again when the United Nations is trying to take action on Ukraine. They have blocked those efforts, so really making that larger argument, and also saying the idea of what Russia is doing here should make people's blood run cold, as President Biden framed it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

The five permanent members of the Security Council just reaffirmed that commitment in January. But, today, we're seeing disturbing trends. Russia shunned the nonproliferation ideals embraced by every other nation at the 10th NPT Review Conference. And again, today, as I said, they're making irresponsible nuclear threats to use nuclear weapons.


COLLINS: That's obviously a reference there to what Putin said earlier, reminding the world he too has nuclear weapons.

CABRERA: Let's talk to Ben now, who is in the region in Ukraine.

Ben, what's the reaction there among Ukrainians to both Putin's new escalation and what we heard from President Biden as he addressed other world leaders today?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction of Ukrainians to President Putin's speech was mixed.

For instance, we heard President Zelenskyy say that he wasn't surprised, that this is what happens when the Russian forces are in disarray with desertions and whatnot. And, certainly, what we have seen in the Kharkiv region in the first two weeks of September was, in fact, the Russian army was in complete disarray.

We saw them abandoning basically functioning equipment and trying to get away as quickly as possible. Now, the foreign minister of Ukraine, reacting to President Putin's speech, said that this means that the West needs to redouble its provision of high-quality, high-precision sophisticated weapons to the Ukrainian army.

That's been a theme that the Ukrainian government has been stressing on for quite some time. Regarding the reaction to President Biden's speech to the United Nations General Assembly, I have to tell you, not much reaction. There hasn't been any official reaction yet.

But one Ukrainian told me: Look, we don't have much faith in the United Nations as a body. We care more about actions, rather than words -- Ana.

CABRERA: Ben Wedeman, Kaitlan Collins, thank you both for your reporting.

Let's continue this conversation.

And joining us now is Robin Wright. She's a distinguished fellow at the U.S. Institute for Peace in the Woodrow Wilson International Center. And Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN military analysts and former member of Joint Staff of the Pentagon.

Robin, Putin calling up 300,000 reservists, what does that tell you?


As Ben pointed out, this is an army that has suffered serious losses, both in manpower and in territory. This is a turning point for Putin, for his country, for his military initiative, and I think for his political future.

This is a dangerous moment in this war, particularly because he has now more than once talked about invoking all the weapons in his arsenal, which include nuclear weapons. And that would change the face of the war. It would change the nature of it.

It's already, in practice, kind of a mini-world war. But this would then pose a threat to NATO allies in ways that we haven't seen in over 70 years. So, this is a -- this was a real moment. He clearly was trying to steal the bluster of an American president at the United Nations laying out his agenda and U.S. goals in Ukraine and basically in taking on the other great powers.

But the timing is no accident. That's for sure.

CABRERA: Colonel, the White House is calling this mobilization expected and a sign that Putin is struggling.

Can you walk us through why this was expected, the losses, and why Putin is doing this?


And when you look at -- this is the status of Ukraine right now. And when you look at the different areas, the area around Kharkiv, you look at -- which the Ukrainians have recaptured. You have got the northeastern area, the Donbass area, and, of course, this land bridge that goes down from here to Crimea.


All of this is really critical as far as the Russians are concerned, because, Ana, what they want to do is they want to keep this area and incorporate that area into the kinds of Russian geographic and political areas that border the Ukrainian state.

So this is one of those things where they are expanding their territory, or at least seeking to expand their territory. And, of course, the Ukrainians are resisting that.

CABRERA: And, Robin, this is putting more pressure on Russians.

Today, demand for flights out of Moscow saw a sharp rise. We also know now about 100 arrests already being made at protests across Russia. Just how vulnerable is Putin to retaliation from within now?

WRIGHT: Well, I think, when you look at the number of protests and the number arrested, it's still pretty small. Some of the protests were as far away from Moscow as Siberia.

So, we all like to focus on what's the potential for Putin to be replaced or to be contained politically at home, and I think that still remains rather remote.

I think one of the things he knows is that the world is -- has so far not fully united against him. He knows that there are -- because of, for economic reasons or because of Russia's arms export, that he still has allies who don't want to join the United States in sanctions and still want to do business and give him an economic out from punitive sanctions by Washington.

So, whether it's Brazil or South Africa or India, there's still major players around the world who are not willing to join in with the United States. And I think his message announcing this to his country, the mobilization, putting Ukraine and the West on notice, was also designed to say that he was still a player and still the strongman that he remains to some of those who are willing at least not to oppose him...

CABRERA: Colonel...

WRIGHT: ... at home or overseas.

CABRERA: Colonel, strategically, what should Ukraine's military do right now in response?

LEIGHTON: So, this is going to be interesting.

When you look at the land regained here, Ana, this is actually quite important. The Ukrainians have already gained this land starting in April. This is the area around Kharkiv, which they were able to regain in their first counteroffensive, we will call it. The second counteroffensive, right around Kharkiv, is what they have just recently regained.

And then, of course, they're working in the southern area right here toward the city of Kherson, which is right here. So, given all of those things, what the Ukrainians need to do is, they need to maintain their momentum. And that's going to be the critical thing, because, if they can maintain their momentum, the Russians won't be able to bring in any of those 300,000 troops that they have just called up, that Putin has just called up as part of his effort to ramp up this war.

CABRERA: Robin, why does Russia have so much power still at the U.N.?

WRIGHT: Well, it doesn't have power so much at the U.N.

One of the problems is the U.N. doesn't have much power anymore. This is a place that was supposed to be able to take action in preventing aggression against sovereign nations. And it has been very ineffectual when it comes to countering Putin, because Russia has a veto.

CABRERA: Exactly.

WRIGHT: It's one of only five nations that can veto any resolution by the Security Council.

So, as I said, whether it's the members of the General Assembly or members of the Security Council, Russia is still a player that can contain efforts by the international body to do anything. And that gives them a leg still to stand on.

CABRERA: And so what are the options, then, in terms of being able to either punish Russia or apply more pressure to change their course of action?

WRIGHT: Well, I think the -- what we have seen today from President Biden does not reflect what's probably going on in the background.

I suspect there's a lot of talk, again, among NATO members, among Western allies, among supporters of the Ukrainian government about what they can do. I suspect the intelligence operations are ratcheting up as well to see what's going on with Putin's nuclear arsenal.

So far, U.S. intelligence believes that he has not moved any of his tactical or strategic nuclear weapons. That's a good sign. We hope that this is just rhetoric that's designed to intimidate.



WRIGHT: The fact that he keeps invoking the idea of introducing nuclear weapons is scary.

And so the United States doesn't want to give weaponry that might lead the Russians to then attack the wider NATO, wider NATO membership. And so there are some dangers here, in terms of, what can you do to limit him? And you have to hope that the Ukrainians keep up a very noble effort to push the Russians back.

CABRERA: Robin Wright and Colonel Cedric Leighton, I really appreciate both of you.

Thanks so much for offering your insights.