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Suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Acquitted By Texas Senate Of All Charges; United Auto Workers Union And Auto Makers Negotiate During First Day Of Targeted Strikes Against Big Three Auto Makers; Hunter Biden Indicted With Three Felony Gun Charges; Judge Rejects District Attorney Fani Willis's Proposal To Try Former President Trump And All 18 Co-Defendants At Once in Georgia Election Subversion Case; Nikki Haley And Other Republican Presidential Candidates Campaign In Iowa; Sinking Waters Levels Due To Drought Causing Fewer Ships To Travel Through Panama Canal. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 16, 2023 - 14:00   ET



ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Essentially, what the articles of impeachment have accused him of is abusing the power and his ability as attorney general to craft legal opinions and other sorts of things to be able to help this campaign donor. There was also alleged misconduct in an affair that he had with a woman who was also employed by Nate Paul. So a rather large list and litany of accusations that Ken Paxton has found.

We should remember, this is a political trial, not necessarily a traditional criminal trial, even though it very much looked like one at many points of all of that. But despite all of the evidence that was presented in this case, and all these articles of impeachment were brought by Republicans in the House of Representatives -- remember, Republicans dominate every level of government here in this state. And now here in the Senate, Republican senators siding with Ken Paxton to return him to office.

And just now in the Senate chamber they are beginning to wrap things up. And obviously, many senators will be asked to kind of defend these votes and explain exactly how all of this unfolded over the last day- and-a-half.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And the music resumes. All right, Ed Lavandera in Austin, thank you so much.

Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

And we're also following new developments in the historic auto workers strike that is now in its second full day. Negotiators for the United Auto Workers union and the big three car makers are back at the bargaining table, and there are signs of possible progress. CNN's Gabe Cohen is at the Stellantis plant in Ohio where workers are picketing. What are the signs of progress?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, just in last few minutes we got this first sign of really any progress with any of the big three automakers, this one with Ford who the auto workers union met with this morning. A source with the union telling my colleague Vanessa Yurkevich, quote, "We had reasonably productive conversations with Ford today," reasonably productive. Of course, no deal. But any sign of progress you've got to take as extremely positive, because in the last couple days we heard Ford CEO say that if they were to give in to all of the union's demands, it would bankrupt the company, something that the head of the auto workers union told me directly was a joke and a lie.

And we know that the union said yesterday that they had sent counteroffers to each of the three, the big three automakers, Ford, GM, and Stellantis, and they were now waiting for a response. We understand there were going to be negotiations with Stellantis and GM today. We don't know what the progress is like on those. But as of yesterday, the head of the auto workers union said that up till then, 80 percent of the members' demands had not been met in any of the offers from the automakers. And so we're just waiting to see if there can be progress throughout the day.

In the meantime, I want to show what we're seeing here in Toledo, Ohio. This outside a Stellantis factory where they would typically be making more than 1,000 jeeps every day. But right now we are seeing people picketing at each gate to enter the complex. It is shut down. And this is where they'll be 24/7, each running a ship. These people, these workers are making $100 a day in strike pay, paid by the union, because they're not making a salary. And so many of them have told me they are ready to strike for as long as it takes.

I want to bring in Chris. Chris, can I grab you a second?


COHEN: You said you've been here 10 years.

DENNISS: Yes, 10 years.

COHEN: First off, I want to be clear, you work for Stellantis, not Ford. But we were talking about a few minutes ago this sign of progress, that the union says at least they are seeing reasonable progress with one of the automakers. What's your response to that?

DENNISS: I mean, that's great as long as it's in the right direction. We've seen offers in the past, and it's not what we want, not what we deserve. And look at us out here. We're obviously doing this for a reason.

COHEN: And why are you and your fellow union members out here? What issues that we've talked about nationally are really impacting people here in this Toledo factory?

DENNISS: Just the economy. Everything everything's going up, you can't get a carton of eggs for under $30 it seems. So they're making money, and their salaries are going up, but we're staying the same. Same with fuel, diesel fuel, all that stuff. And I love it out here.

COHEN: Do you feel -- I know it's day two. Do you feel the energy dropping at all? What are you feeling here on the picket line?

DENNISS: No, no. Energy is good. Energy is good. I mean, it's like we got a stunt bike show in the background. Everybody's out here supporting us. And we've got locals from all over coming out here. And it's great. I mean, I hope that they can settle and we can get back to -- get what we want and get back in there, start making these great vehicles.

COHEN: Thank you so much, Chris. Good luck to you.

DENNISS: Thank you.

COHEN: And we have heard from the head of the union, Shawn Fain told us that it is possible additional factories beyond the three that are already on strike here in Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri, additional factories could strike in the days or weeks ahead depending on whether or not they can find any progress with the big three automakers.


But again, Fred, just in the last few minutes, the first sign of progress from any of them. It's got to make these workers very happy, and certainly so many Americans who have been concerned about the economic impacts as this ripples through the manufacturing industry.

WHITFIELD: Right, that just might be encouraging. All right, Gabe Cohen, thank you so much.

President Biden is also weighing in on the auto workers' strike. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is following that for us as well. Priscilla, what's the president saying?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: This is certainly a political and economic test for the president. And he weighed in in remarks just yesterday where he provided an explicit endorsement of the auto workers' negotiating position and made clear to the companies that record profits should equal record contracts. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do appreciate that the parties have been working around the clock. When I first called them at the very first day of the negotiations, I said, please, stay at the table as long as you can to try to work this out. And they've been around the clock, and the companies have made some significant offers. But I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.


ALVAREZ: Now this strike really reveals a tension for a president that has cast himself as the most pro-union president while also taking into account the potential economic ramifications of this strike going on for days or weeks and sort of the destabilizing risk of an auto manufacturing shutdown. Now, leading up to the strike, the president and White House officials

have been closely monitoring the negotiations, and we learned just yesterday from President Biden that he has deployed senior adviser Gene Sperling who had been in touch with union officials, as well as acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to Detroit to serve as a go-between for the administration. So clearly this is a priority for the administration. They are watching this closely in the hours and days to come.

But of course, what can't be understated here is the economic ramifications and what that means for a president that, again, is pro- union, but also campaigning and going into an election talking about, quote, Bidenomics and the strength of the economy. Fred?

WHITFIELD: A lot at stake for everyone. Priscilla Alvarez, thank you so much.

And now to the 2024 race. Much of the Republican primary field is swinging through Iowa today, with a notable exception -- the current frontrunner. Former President Trump is still leading the pack by more than 40 percent points in the latest CNN poll. Joining me right now is CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny who is at a Nikki Haley event in Indianola, Iowa. What are you hearing, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, we are four months from the Iowa caucuses that will kick-off the 2024 Republican nominating contest. And many candidates are in Iowa this weekend, with the exception of former President Donald Trump. Now, there is no doubt he has command of this race. He is leading by major amounts in polls. But when you talk to voters, there is a sense that there are many open minds. Many voters, many Republican voters are taking a look at this field of candidates.

And the former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will be arriving here at a manufacturing facility just south of Des Moines in a short time. And she's been making her way around the state, as has Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Former vice president Mike Pence was at a trap shooting event earlier today. It's all going to culminate into an event this evening where Christian conservative voters will be gathering in Des Moines to hear all of the candidates.

But as we talk to voters, take a listen to Katie Clark. She lives in west Des Moines, Iowa, and she summed up what we're hearing from many Iowans.


KATIE CLARK, IOWA VOTER: I'm open-minded. I'm going to keep my eyes and ears open. It's still early. So I'm not going to just jump right in. But as I said, I've given a little bit of money to her. I want her to be able to stay in the race, be able to be on the stage with the debates, because I do like her very much.


ZELENY: And Katie Clark was talking there about Nikki Haley. She was at an event that she had a little earlier today in west Des Moines, Iowa. And we heard that again and again, that debate performance that Nikki Haley had in the first Republican presidential debate really caught the attention of many Republicans. Of course, the next debates is coming up in a little bit less than two weeks.

So these debates and these events do, indeed, matter, as does campaigning matter. So yes, the former president is in the driver's seat of this race, if you will, but the history of the Iowa caucuses will show that things can change, and the race often breaks late.


So that's why many candidates are still out meeting voters, and the voters are interested in what they are seeing. Of course, electability also a central concern for so many of these Iowa Republicans. So Fredricka, four months from the opening bell of that Republican contest, it starts here, of course, in January in Iowa.

WHITFIELD: Right around the corner. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

All right, the U.S. Justice Department is seeking a narrow gag order in the federal election case against Donald Trump, citing concerns that the former president's rhetoric could prejudice the jury. It comes at a strange moment in American politics as federal indictments against the current president's son, Hunter Biden, will now inevitably factor into next year's election, as well. CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein joining us now. Ron, so how does all this legal mess for both Trump and the president's family impact this 2024 race?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, Fred, I think it reinforces a larger dynamic, which is that we are heading toward an election that the vast -- many Americans, maybe a majority of Americans really don't want to see. I mean, we've seen clearly in polls a tremendous hesitation about being presented with a Trump-Biden rematch among voters. There are many voters who are not particularly enthusiastic about either one of them. We don't have a lot of recent experience in the 20th century with this kind of rematch.

And it's something that's going to create, I think, a very volatile and unpredictable atmosphere when you have this many voters who are concerned about the economy and Biden's age on the one hand, and consider Trump a threat to democracy and to their rights, particularly around abortion, on the other. That's a volatile mix, and I think it's going to make for a long and unpredictable election season for both sides.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And then when also dissecting these legal cases, you know, we saw a judge here in Georgia grant a later trial date to Trump, though we still don't know exactly when that will be. We just know it's not going to be in October. How important is the timing of this trial which the judge seems to pretend is inevitable, but where in the election season might it land is really the big question.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. First of all, there's no equivalents in the legal challenges facing the two leading candidate. Hunter Biden is being prosecuted over telling a falsehood on a gun purchase application, a case that many legal experts have said is extremely rare to be brought against anyone, and the Justice Department might have a hard time proving that they've really done this against any meaningful number of other people.

Compare that to a series of indictments over attempting to overthrow the result of an American election for the first time in our history, certainly for a former president to be accused of something like that. We are not talking about comparable things here.

Look, I think most people in the political arena think the main event in the Jack Smith trial against Donald Trump for attempting to -- for allegedly attempting to overturn the 2020 election, all the evidence that was shown by the January 6th committee, that is now on schedule to begin in March. That is the one thing that may be the most likely to reach a resolution before Election Day in 2024. And I think that is the one that people are looking at in terms of the potential electoral impact. And that may come too late to influence the Republican primary, but if there is a verdict before the election, it certainly has the potential to influence the general election if Trump is the nominee.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Well, you say that these cases are not comparable, whether it's Hunter Biden and all the cases involving the former president. But the former president is going to try to make it such. And the question then will be how convincing, how persuasive might he be able to be.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I mean, look, first of all, the vast majority of the electorate, as we know, is locked down. There are relatively few voters who are genuinely open to switching sides. And they are weighing a bunch of factors. If you look at independent voters, as I said before, there's enormous concern among them that Biden is too old for another term, and that is a pretty settled view now among independents. And there is great concern about inflation among voters. Even if inflation is slowing down, that doesn't mean prices are going down. And the likelihood is that on Election Day in 24, the cost of necessities, as we heard from that auto worker who said that you can't get eggs for less than $30 a carton. Those are going to be higher. That's going to hurt Biden.

But it's also pretty clear that a majority of independents believe that the charges against Trump are serious, believe that his actions after the election in 2020 were a threat to American democracy, and that they support abortion rights.


And those are really big tectonic plates that are pushing against each other. And look, I mean, are there some people who are going to will say, well, Biden, Trump, they're no different because of this? Sure. But is that really going to be I think a decisive number? No. You're looking at a relatively small number of voters in a relatively small number of genuinely contested states who are already weighing and balancing these other big factors of age and inflation versus abortion and insurrection. WHITFIELD: All right, Ron Brownstein, we'll leave it there for now.

Thanks so much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

WHITFIELD: Still to come, an unprecedented drought is putting pressure on a critical international shipping artery. The crisis at the Panama Canal next.



WHITFIELD: A massive drought in the Panama Canal is causing a crisis in the shipping industry, sinking waters levels so low that fewer and fewer ships are able to get through. CNN's Patrick Oppmann joining us now with more on all this. Patrick, what are you learning?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's known as the path between the seas, Fred, one of the seven wonders of the modern world. You think over the last 100 years, thanks to the Panama Canal, commerce that needs to go between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans doesn't need to go all the way around South America. It has a much more direct and quicker route. But now climate change, like so many other things, is threatening the Panama Canal.


OPPMANN: The Panama Canal is running low on water. A persistent drought caused in part by the El Nino weather pattern, has left water levels dangerously depleted. Now the global supply chain is under threat as the holiday season approaches. The 80-kilometer waterway connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and is a vital route for transplanting goods, handling an estimated five percent of world trade. The canal was completed in 1914, revolutionizing how goods could be transported, and further expanded in 2016 to meet the skyrocketing demands of global commerce.

But over the last 20 years, decreasing rainfall has reduced the water level of Panama's Lake Gatun from 27 meters above sea level to 24 meters.

RICAURTE VASQUEZ MORALES, PANAMA CANAL AUTHORITY ADMINISTRATOR (through translator): Call it climate change, whatever you want to call it. The true fact is that precipitation levels are changing. And as I have said repeatedly, the Panama Canal is the only global maritime route that uses fresh water.

OPPMANN: Canal officials have imposed draft restrictions, forcing ships to lighten their load. A ship's draft limit is the minimum depth of water it can safely navigate. And if a ship is carrying too much cargo, it risks getting trapped in the canal. Since May, ships have had to reduce their cargo by as much as 25 percent.

The Panama Canal authority has also limited the number of vessels authorized to enter the canal each day, creating a bottleneck with some ships waiting as long as 14 days to get through. As of Tuesday, 116 vessels were waiting to pass. The canal's administrator warns the number of authorized vessels could decrease further if the drought continues into next year.

MORALES (through translator): In the coming months, I think there's the possibility in March and April, if the rain pattern remains the same as now, there would be possible water restrictions. Now before reaching this point, the Panama Canal would have to make further restrictions on the number of transits. It will depend on the amount of water in the Alajuela Lake, for example.

OPPMANN: This has led to rising freight costs which are likely to continue in the months leading up to both Christmas and the Chinese New Year. The canal's administrator has said the drought could wipe away $200 million in revenue in 2024. And he says they may need to build a new dam or connect the canal to another nearby lake to keep water flowing, as the ever-increasing thirst for global goods crashes into the new realities of climate change.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN.


WHITFIELD: Patrick, thank you so much.

OPPMANN: And some of those new realities are it wasn't that -- sorry about that -- it wasn't that long ago that in Panama the heavy rains were causing problems in the canal with Panama, led to flooding. So that is really the issue. And the scary thing is, Fred, is we're actually in the rainy season in Panama. So there should be an abundance of rain, which there's not right now. As we get into the dry season, that will be -- there will be less rain as typically the weather patterns go, and that will create more problems. So a problem simply that is too big for any one country to solve.

WHITFIELD: Right, and the need for commerce and moving it continues and really only gets even bigger, the demand for that even bigger. Patrick Oppmann, thank you so much.

Coming up, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy launching a formal impeachment inquiry into the sitting president, President Biden, amid increasing pressure from some conservatives. We'll discuss that straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: This week House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced he was opening an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. House Republicans are focusing their impeachment push on allegations that Biden and members of his family have benefited financially in foreign business dealings from his status as a state leader.

With me now to discuss is Lis Wiehl. She is a former federal prosecutor and she also served as the deputy chief investigative counsel for Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during President Clinton's impeachment in 1998. Liz, good to see you. So far the House-led GOP investigations have yet to provide any direct evidence that the president financially benefited from Hunter Biden's overseas endeavors. So does this impeachment inquiry give Republicans additional powers to try to obtain information or evidence that they have yet to have?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Fred, sure it does, because an official inquiry opens all of that up so they can send subpoenas, they can bring in people, they can have testimony, all of that that maybe they haven't uncovered yet.

But we've got to go back to basics for a second. Remember that the standard is supposed to be high, high crimes or misdemeanors. That's the standard for impeachment. And so far, what we've seen is a lot of allegations and very little if no credible evidence that the elder Biden actually benefited from what Hunter Biden did.

Now, did Hunter Biden engage in some things that probably we wouldn't want for our son to be engaged in? Probably. Did he get access to his father? Yes.


But did that translate into actual money in Joe Biden's pocket? And so far, so far, Fred, after a lot of investigation, the Treasury Department investigated them under the Trump administration, so far no findings of criminality, and no findings that Joe Biden actually received any payment from any of these entities.

WHITFIELD: And this inquiry comes without the full House vote which is what the House speaker had initially promised would happen if they would get to this point. So now where does this go now that there seems to be consensus from the House speaker that there will be an inquiry, now what?

WIEHL: Well, now they've opened this up, right. They've sent out all these allegations that Joe Biden got money from Hunter, that all of these other different things, Burisma, all of that. So now they actually have the official impeachment inquiry so they can subpoena people, they can get records, things they can get from the Treasury Department, all of those things.

But again, Fred, this was really alleged and investigated during the Trump administration. And all of these allegations, let's not forget, go back to when Joe Biden was vice president, not president, or wasn't even in office during the Trump administration when the Trump administration was already looking at these different allegations vis- a-vis Hunter Biden.

WHITFIELD: And then would the Department of Treasury step in by saying we already did this, or other federal agencies, we already did this, this is what we found? Or would they be asked to launch any new investigations?

WIEHL: They're not going to voluntarily step forward, right, because I think Joe Biden has to be a little bit concerned about the two things that got both Clinton and Trump, and that was the allegation and, in fact, the article of obstruction of justice. So the Biden administration doesn't want to do anything that is going to have even the appearance of an obstruction charge, right? Do nothing -- not going to tell the Treasury Department to do anything. It's really up for the Republicans and this impeachment inquiry to start that ball rolling, to get the process going. And the Biden administration has to be very careful that maybe there's no allegations that are going to be firm now, but they have to be careful that they don't do anything that's perceived to be obstruction of justice, which, again, got both Clinton and Trump, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And would this happen by way of request or subpoenas?

WIEHL: Subpoenas, primarily subpoenas, because when one receives a subpoena as opposed to just a request, that's a demand, right. And we've seen people actually have been charged for not going replaying to the subpoena and not going forward to the House. So that kind of thing is powerful. And if there is evidence to be uncovered, then that will bring it out.

But it's been -- these allegations have been around -- Fred, this is nothing new. None of these allegations are new. And if the Treasury Department and the Trump DOJ didn't find anything that would stick, why do they think they're going to find something now when there's no -- when there are no new allegations?

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Lis Wiehl, thank you so much. Great to see you.

All right, coming up, Harriet Tubman slays -- slays demons, that is. I'll talk with the creator of a very creative comic book series that is coming soon potentially to a screen near you, next.



WHITFIELD: Let's get back to Texas where the Republican-led Senate has just finished voting on articles of impeachment for suspended Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton. They have actually acquitted him on all 16 charges. Ed Lavandera is back with us now from Austin, and there has been a lot of comment thus far, right, since the vote.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're starting to get some reaction to everything here. In fact, the governor of Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, just now putting out a brief statement saying that the jury has spoken, that Ken Paxton received a fair trial here in the Senate, that he looks forward to working with Ken Paxton once again, and that Paxton has done a good job representing all of Texas.

Paxton's legal team also came out here just moments ago, obviously you can imagine, extremely relieved and excited by this vote that took place in the Texas Senate this afternoon, saying that this is a, quote, total vindication for Ken Paxton. We have heard from some Democrats who blasted the Republican vote, saying that this was just a political vote, that many of these senators essentially pressured into voting to acquit Ken Paxton.

And I just want to go back over the vote here. And this is a resounding victory for the embattled attorney general who was suspended but is now going to be resuming his duties as the attorney general here in Texas. But the House of Representatives here in Austin passed 20 articles of impeachment. This trial only dealt with 16 of those 20. He was fully acquitted on all of them. And it really wasn't close. There were 12 Democrats that mostly voted to convict Ken Paxton, and only two Republicans that crossed the aisle to vote on their fellow Republican. So Ken Paxton needed 10 votes to survive. He got much more than that. So that is why his side is calling this a total vindication of Ken Paxton. But this really does lay bare the political stakes here in the state of Texas in essentially a civil war within Republicans.


And Ken Paxton represents the extreme right wing of the Republican Party here in Texas. And as they tried to argue several times throughout the cases, the more traditional Bush wing of the Republican Party here, this has exposed that fault line between both those sides here in the Republican Party.

And of course, this is extremely significant because Republicans dominate every level of government here in this state, and that's why so many people watched all of this so closely. So a resounding vote here for Ken Paxton this afternoon. The vote took almost two hours to go through all 16 articles of impeachment. But Ken Paxton has been acquitted, and he will be returning to his job as attorney general. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: So Ed, when you mentioned that there were two Republicans that did vote to impeach Paxton, were there ever more than that who perhaps changed their minds and decided to acquit?

LAVANDERA: Well, so if you remember before the vote took place and before this impeachment trial even started, all of these senators could have voted with a simple majority to dismiss all of the impeachment -- articles of impeachment before the trial even started. That vote was 26 -- 24 to six. So there were six Republicans that most people thought were in lockstep with Ken Paxton.

But clearly Ken Paxton got many more Republicans to switch back over to his side essentially with him getting as many Republican votes as he did. So that was a rather -- I wouldn't say shocking. I think a lot of people expected Ken Paxton to be able to survive this. But it was an overwhelming number that switched back over to acquit Ken Paxton here this afternoon.

WHITFIELD: Yes, an about-face for quite a significant number there indeed that ultimately made a big difference for him to get acquittal and be able to now keep his job. All right, Ed Lavandera in Austin, thank you so much.

And this quick programming note. On FAREED ZAKARIA GPS, an exit interview with America's top general, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley one-on-one with Fareed. Hear his take on Russia, Ukraine, China, and allegations that the U.S. military is too woke. This interview airs tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.

We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, you know the story of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, the freedom fighter in the mid-1800s who escaped slavery herself and then carried out dangerous missions to help dozens of black people obtain freedom. Her place in history and her underground railway among other things have been told in history books and movies, on the big screen and small.

Well, now a version of her life and bravery is being told in graphic novel form as "Harriet Tubman the Demon Slayer," a graphic novel portraying Tubman as a ninja warrior who battles vampires, witches, and demons, representative of slave owners and other bad actors. And now the hope is to, at least by the creators, to hopefully put it on TV.

Joining me right now to discuss is David Crownson. He is the CEO and founder of Kingwood Comics, and creator of "Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer." David, good to see you. And oh, my gosh, you've got to unpack all this.


WHITFIELD: I mean, tell us about your venture and how in the world you are merging one of the most important figures in American history with fiction in graphic novel form.

DAVID CROWNSON, WRITER AND CREATOR OF "HARRIET TUBMAN, DEMON SLAYER": First of all, thank you so much for having me. I'm a big fan of you and everything you do. So thank you again for having me on.

WHITFIELD: Glad you're available for us. Tell us, how did this come about?

CROWNSON: Yes, I got the idea when I was traveling. I was in Ghana, west Africa, and basically I was watching a Harriet Tubman documentary because Harriet Tubman's hugely celebrated in Ghana, I think because they recently traced her heritage back to Accra. And so I'm watching this documentary about Harriet Tubman. As soon as it ends, I'm just kind of channel surfing, and I landed on the ending of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" where its' this katana fight scene with Zhang Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh.

And I'm having the time of my life. I'm in Ghana, I'm in Africa, I'm watching this movie, time of my life. And as soon as that ended, I started channel surfing some more, and then I just stumbled on "Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters." I'm like, oh, I'm about to watch this movie. And I think -- I wasn't like -- and this is no disrespect to the filmmakers, because it's really hard to make anything. I wasn't a fan of the movie. So I think later that day I was journaling, because this was my first time outside of America, and I was just journaling about my day. And I did a stream of conscious journaling, and these three things stood out. And it was Harriet Tubman, katana fight scene, and witch hunters.

And I just kind of was looking back at it, and I was like, wait, "Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer." Harriet Tubman, she knows martial arts and like beats a racist werewolf. I don't know.


And I just was obsessed with that setting. And I didn't know what it was going to be yet. And I think when I got back into the States, I just remember having -- it's written down in my notepad, "Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer," underlined, circled. And I think I was stopping at one of those really overpriced bookstores when I was at the airport. And I was like -- so I'm in line to buy a $20 Gatorade, basically. And I saw this book from one of my favorite comic book writers. And it's called "Words for Pictures" by Brian Michael Bendis. And it's a book about how to make comic books. And I was like, wait, that's it. "Harriet Tubman Demon Slayer," I'll make it a comic book. And since I was in the overpriced airport stuff, I went on Amazon and bought the book for nine dollars because I had been living in Ghana, west Africa for months.

WHITFIELD: So what I'm hearing, too, from you is how you are the creative type. You are enamored by the story of this incredible heroine. And at the same time, you're using your creativity to help transform and transport her to a whole other generation of people through your creative craft.

CROWNSON: I think I lost sound for a second.

WHITFIELD: Can you hear me OK now? Because you are frozen, but hopefully you can still hear us? Oh, no. Not right in the middle of it. We just lost him. Well, we are going to try and do this another time, maybe, if we can't get him within seconds. I think we're not going to get him back in seconds.

OK, well, that was David Crownson, and you can see how enthusiastic he is about his venture, and he is hoping to take that graphic novel form to the television screen. But of course, you've got the Screen Actors Guild and the writers guild in the middle of a strike right now, so there are obstacles in which to make it happen. That was also part of our conversation, but at some point, we will try to finish our conversation with him. But all the best to him on this new very creative venture at the same time paying homage to and celebrating one of the most prolific and important heroines of this country and beyond. All right, David, we will try it again.

Still to come, thousands of people paid hundreds of dollars to see him play, but Lionel Messi, guess what. He's now going to be a no-show at Inter Maimi's game in Atlanta this afternoon. We will go live inside the stadium and see how many tears there that there are flowing, next.


WHITFIELD: All right, more than 70,000 fans are expected to be gathered here in Atlanta to watch the United take on Inter Miami. But the biggest attraction won't be joining them, as soccer legend Lionel Messi will skip his first MLS game since joining the team. Why? CNN World Sport's Don Riddell is here to tell us why. And something tells me, Messi, the Inter Miami and the MLS are in a bit of a mess. If you're a ticket holder, you are a little upset. What's going on?

DON RIDDELL, CNN HOST, WORLD SPORT: Yes, the fans are not going to be happy, even though Messi not playing for Inter Miami presumably gives Atlanta a better chance of winning the game. We all know why so many people bought tickets for the match, because of course they wanted to see the GOAT, they wanted to see the greatest of all time. And since Messi has arrived in this country a couple of months ago, he's just been electrifying. He's been absolutely brilliant, and Inter Miami have been transformed as a team.

So everybody wanted to see him. People have been paying hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for a ticket. Now you can get one for about $40 bucks. We kind of got an idea that he wasn't coming last night when he posted this video of a pizza that he had just ordered in Miami, and he was presumably was about to feast on, and this was happening when the team were on their way already here in Atlanta. So we kind of got a sense that he wasn't coming.

And today we've seen absolute proof that he's not coming because he's been out there enjoying his kids' soccer match. He's been literally just sat on the grass by the sideline watching his kids play a game. So Messi enjoying a break. I think people who have looked at his workload over the last couple of months will say he was due one. He was basically playing a game every four days. And he's about to enter a period in which Miami could win their second trophy of the season where he will potentially be playing every three days.

So this break afforded him the opportunity to basically not kick a ball for a couple of weeks. That's probably pretty good for him. Remember, he is 36 years of age. There's all the talk about the astroturf here. He said he would play on turf. This is a turf stadium. He's not here, but they've said it's nothing to do with that. It's literally about giving the man a break.

WHITFIELD: All right, we shall see. We'll see what else people are thinking and feeling when they join you there in the stadium in a bit. Don Riddell, thank you so much.

All right, and this just in. Newly reinstated Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has just released a statement after he was acquitted on 16 charges in his state Senate impeachment trial.