Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

CNN International: New York Times: Trump Pressured Former Aide to Lie; Hunter Biden to Plead Not Guilty in Gun Possession Case; War in Ukraine Dominates Meeting of World Leaders; Growing Diplomatic Rift Between Canada and India; Evan Gershkovich Appeal Denied, Will Stay Behind Bars; Residents Left Devastated After Flood Kill Thousands in Libya. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 04:00   ET



LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Laila Harrak in Atlanta in for Max and Bianca. Just said on CNN NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: According to "The New York Times," Trump specifically told Molly Michael, his former assistant, to play dumb if she was questioned by federal officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a difference between loyalty and, you know, breaking the law. And that's not the line she was going to cross.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Hunter Biden's lawyers are saying in a new filing is that he plans to plead not guilty to all of the charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the whole point is just put Hunter Biden out there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ever since this meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau, tensions between the two nations have escalated even further.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's an open declaration of diplomatic war.


HARRAK: It's Wednesday, September 20th, 4:00 a.m. here in Atlanta and Palm Beach, FL, where there is some damaging new information about Donald Trump's handling of classified documents. "The New York Times" and ABC News report Trump asked the former assistant in the White House and at Mar-a-Lago, Molly Michael, to lie to or mislead investigators. According to the "Times," when Trump learned that federal officials wanted to speak with Michael, he told her, quote, you don't know anything about the boxes.

And those would be the boxes that according to a federal indictment, were openly stored in Mar-a-Lago ballroom and bathroom, among other places. CNN asked former Trump White House attorney Ty Cobb what he thought when he heard the reports.


TY COBB, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I hear. Trump, you know, really for the first time in terms of the way this evidence has rolled out, you know, speaking in the terms of a mob boss. You know, giving a direct order to somebody that he probably should have no reason to believe, you know, would lie for him, but expecting her to do so.

It's not like, you know, Nada who would do anything for him and you know, other people who is -- whose loyalty he, you know, had procured or never doubted. You know, Molly's highly regarded person, very loyal to the president, but there's a difference between loyalty and, you know, breaking the law. And that's not -- that's not a line she was going to cross. So it really is Trump, you know, directly ordering obstruction. And that will certainly be helpful to enhance the credibility of others who will testify about the obstruction, like Mr. Tavaris with regard to the destruction of the videos.


HARRAK: Well, you as President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, is asking for his initial court appearance in his gun possession case to be held remotely. His attorney says Hunter Biden will plead not guilty to the three federal charges and that he's not seeking any special treatment by requesting the remote hearing. They argue it would lessen the burden on government resources since Biden is protected by the Secret Service, and the courthouse would need extra security.

Prosecutors opposed the request. Meanwhile, House Republicans are expected to grill U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland about the investigation into Hunter Biden's taxes later today.

A whistleblower from the IRS alleges the years long Justice Department investigation was tainted by political influence. However, new testimony from a number of FBI and IRS officials cast doubts on some of the whistleblower's key claims.


JOE WALSH, FORMER U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN: The whole point is just put Hunter Biden out there. The boogeyman out there to go after Joe Biden and throw as much crap as you can out there without any evidence. And then when the evidence begins to come in, it doesn't matter. They learned this from Trump. Just put it out there and never apologize or backtrack. So they won't.


HARRAK: Well, the White House is lashing out at House Republicans over their plan to start an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. The House Oversight Committee plans to hold its first hearing next Thursday, days before the government will shut down if Congress fails to pass a funding bill.

[04:05:04] The White House says Republicans are trying to avoid blame for that possibility. Spokesperson Ian Sams said extreme House Republicans are already telegraphing their plans to try to distract from their own chaotic inability to govern, and the impacts of it on the country while staging a political stunt hearing in the waning days before they may shut down the government reveals their true priorities. To them, baseless personal attacks on President Biden are more importance than preventing a government shutdown and the pain it would inflict on American families.

The government's authority to spend money expires on September 30th. A small number of Republican hardliners are demanding massive spending cuts and new border security measures, and they're blocking attempts to pass a funding bill. The current Republican plan gives the hardliners some of what they've asked for. But the hardliners appear poised to reject even that. And even if it passes, it has no chance in the Democratic controlled Senate. So some moderate Republicans now are talking about the possibility of making a deal with Democrats to avert a government shutdown.

World leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York will hold a high-level meeting in the coming hours to discuss Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The war dominated the opening session with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy drawing vigorous applause in his first in person address to the General Assembly since Russia's 2022 invasion. He accused Russia of terrorism, genocide and weaponizing the global food trade.

U.S. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, urged members to stand firm in their support for Ukraine. Mr. Biden says if Ukraine can be carved up, no countries independence is secure. More now from CNN's Kayla Tausche.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow leaders. We gathered once more at an inflection point in world history.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. President Joe Biden, urging the United Nations to stand with Ukraine as war with Russia drags on, and he battles for more aid money with his Congress.

BIDEN: But I ask you this. If we abandon the core principles of the United States to appease an aggressor can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If you allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? I'd respectfully suggest the answer is no.

TAUSCHE (voice-over): The message, meant to galvanized many war weary countries nearly 600 days after Russia's invasion that Ukraine could be any of them. Poland, Ukraine's neighbor to the West, knows that all too well.

ANDRZEJ DUDA, POLISH PRESIDENT: On 1st September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded my homeland, Poland. The Second World War broke out. On 17 September 1939, we received a blow from another direction. The Soviet Union also made an onslaught on Poland. This is precisely why we understand the tragedy of Ukraine better than any other country in the world.

TAUSCHE (voice-over): Poland has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine providing military aid, transportation and refuge for thousands.

DUDA: Upon Russian aggression on Ukraine, the Poles have once again illustrated that solidarity is not only the great history. But that solidarity lives in us.

TAUSCHE (voice-over): Ukraine's president, making his first in person visit to the forum, called on all countries to join the fight.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We must act united to defeat the aggressor and focus all our capabilities and energy on addressing these challenges.

TAUSCHE (voice-over): And that the founding principles of the United Nations must be upheld.

ZELENSKYY: Weaponization must be restrained. War crimes must be punished. Deported people must come back home. And the occupier must return to their own land. We must be united to make it, and we will do it in Ukraine.

TAUSCHE: Amid high profile absences such as that of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, growing questions about whether the United Nations remains an effective and relevant forum for international cooperation. At least for his part, the President of Poland says, yes, the UN is very much needed and there's no better system to deliver assistance and aid to those in need,

Kayla Tausche, CNN, traveling with the president in New York City.


HARRAK: And Ukraine has liberated 54 percent of the territory Russia occupied since it invaded in March of last year. And that's according to the top U.S. general. But the battle lines now have largely been entrenched for months, occupied since it invaded in March of last year. And that's according to the top. U.S. general.

But the battle lines now have largely been entrenched for months, and though Ukraine is recapturing villages in the Donetsk region, the fighting is tough and slow. CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelenskyy whether he could see a breakthrough on the frontlines this year. Here's how Mr. Zelenskyy answered.


ZELENSKYY: I think nobody knows really, but I think that we will have more success and really we see it now on the east direction, on the south really totally mine fields. But we go slowly, but we go forward. Very important information that initiative in our arms in all the direction. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRAK: CNN investigative producer Katie Polglase joins me now from London. Very good morning, Katie. Mr. Zelenskyy delivered an impassioned speech before the UN General Assembly warning of the danger Russia poses. How have his pleas landed?

KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Absolutely. It was very impassioned, as you say. And clearly there is still a lot of support from the Western allies, perhaps unsurprisingly. Zelenskyy made the point really that not only is it the Western allies that should be supporting him, but there are global implications to this conflict, not only for his country, but looking at food supply. Mentioning the blockade of Black Sea ports and how that has affected the world's food supply over the past year.

Also mentioning the energy supply to European countries. For example, with oil and gas disruption from Russia. All of this really to make the point that this is something of a global concern and a lot of countries around the world should care and should be backing Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

Now clearly the Western Allies' support is unsurprising. Biden also giving a very strong speech in support of Ukraine. But what is really coming next is the more difficult part as he moves on to DC and away from New York. Because there he is going to see a lot more division, a lot less unity. And the concern really is that because of the division in the House, the lawmakers are not decided on numerous issues in the United States, not just the war in Ukraine, a lot of domestic issues as well.

But funding for Ukraine is one of the issues of concern. And as the U.S. government now heads potentially to a shutdown, funding for Ukraine, U.S. military funding for Ukraine could be disrupted and that really is a very urgent concern for Zelenskyy, particularly as we head into the winter months and the counteroffensive gets more and more difficult.

Now clearly, a lot of this funding is already in Pentagon stockpile, so that is not necessarily going to be disrupted. But there is clearly a broader concern here because it's not just lawmakers. It's U.S. public support as a whole. Clearly there is now a concern that U.S. public support is declining somewhat for the funding of Ukraine, and if that is the case, it could change the counteroffensive and its future quite considerably.

HARRAK: Katie Polglase reporting in London. Thank you so much, Katie.

President Biden is meeting with two world leaders separately in New York today. First, he'll hold a bilateral with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the morning, and then in the afternoon he'll attend a meeting and workers rights event with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. President Biden wraps up his day with a pair of fundraisers before heading back to the White House.

Canada's Prime Minister is trying to lower the temperature with India without letting up on its investigation into the murder of a Sikh leader on Canadian soil. Tensions spiked after Justin Trudeau suggests that the Indian government could be behind that killing. And that allegation did not go over well with New Delhi. CNN's Vedika Sud explains.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Ever since this meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, tensions between the two nations have escalated even further. Modi conveyed strong concerns over anti-India campaigns and violence by Sikh hardliners in Canada, home to almost 800,000 members of the religious community, a significant voting bloc.

SUHASINI HAIDAR, DIPLOMATIC AFFAIRS EDITOR, THE HINDU: The first reason is obviously Prime Minister Modi's own political capital, which comes from him being a tough leader, especially on issues involving terrorism and separatism. The second part of it is the particular attacks, the targeting, the vandalism on Hindu temples, on Hindu community centers and that is a real worry again for his particular vote bank in India, but also in terms of taking care of the Indian community in all these countries.

SUD (voice-over): For decades, separatists have demanded an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan, to be carved out of the Indian state of Punjab.


The Sikh fundamentalist movement launched a violent insurgency in the 1970s after massive crackdowns and the deaths of thousands of Sikhs. The government banned the movement. Decades later, the most vocal supporters are still among the Indian diaspora. One of them was Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh leader, and Canadian citizen, who was gunned down outside a temple he led in British Columbia in June.

In a stunning accusation, the Canadian Prime Minister now says these credible allegations linking New Delhi to Nijjar's murder, a claim that the Indian government has strongly denied. Saying:

Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India's sovereignty.

Relations between the two nations, now at a new low.

HAIDAR: I think what you're looking at is not just a deep freeze, it's an open declaration of diplomatic war and the next few days and weeks could see more of that.

SUD (voice-over): And we have. In a rare move, both nations expel key senior Indian and Canadian diplomats. With the national election coming up in months, Modi wants to be seen as a leader who talks tough on terror and separatism. But for Trudeau, the expectation back home from a sizable Sikh

diaspora is justice for Nijjar. This is one diplomatic row that allies will be watching closely.


SUD (on camera): And while the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday did say that there were no efforts really to provoke or to intensify the problems with India at this point, it already has, Laila. You heard the Prime Minister on the floor of the House on Monday making a very serious allegation, which of course, India has completely rejected calling it unsubstantiated. And going ahead and even calling it motivated. In their statement, they've also gone ahead and said that Canada is sheltering extremists and terrorists who've been involved and indulging in anti-India activities.

Now Trudeau did say that he is hoping and expecting India to cooperate with the investigations. But in that statement from India's Ministry of External Affairs that there has been no word on cooperation. Which in a way could perhaps indicate that India does not want to play ball on this for now. Back to you.

HARRAK: Vedika Sud reporting in New Delhi. Thank you Vedika.

And still to come, the detention of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich in Russia apparently won't be ending anytime soon. Details on his latest legal appeal in Moscow.

Plus, there are growing fears of a new health crisis in Libya as bodies remain trapped under mud more than a week after catastrophic flooding in the country.

And concerns are growing that the migrant crisis may be heating up again at the U.S. border with Mexico. We'll have a report for you from El Paso, Texas.



HARRAK: "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich will remain behind bars in Russia after a Moscow court refused to hear his latest appeal against his pretrial detention. CNN's Matthew Chance was briefly allowed inside the courtroom Tuesday and has the latest from Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: While the "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich, who's been held in Russia since the end of March on charges of espionage, made a brief appearance in a Moscow Court House earlier today to appeal his detention. He's the first American journalist to be accused of spying in Russia since the end of the Cold War. Allegations denied by both his newspaper and the U.S. government. Well, we were given very brief access to Gershkovich inside the court

and managed to see him and say a few words before being kicked out. Take a look at that.

OK, we've been let into the courthouse where you can see Evan Gershkovich is in there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE: Are you holding up all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).

CHANCE: No questions?


OK, well, there he is standing there. You can see him looking relaxed, all the cameras being allowed in to take a close up look at him. The security is very tight here. What's the problem? It's a vast motion, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE: It's a vast motion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE: Yes. Go to Evan. Go to Evan.

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE: What do you want us to do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE: OK, what do you want us to do? Max, Max, it's OK. It's OK. What do you want us to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE: OK. Let's go back.


HARRAK: Matthew Chance reporting there with the court's latest decision Gershkovich will remain in jail until at least November 30th, according to Russian state media.

Officials in Libya are considering whether to isolate some of the areas hardest hit by devastating floods last week amid growing concerns about a secondary health crisis. The health minister says there could still be many bodies trapped under the mud in the city of Derna. And there is concern around water borne diseases being easily spread. Nearly 60 rescue and recovery workers were hospitalized on Tuesday. Meanwhile, a UN humanitarian team says it was prevented from

delivering aid to the city, allegations the Libyan government denies.

Officials have restricted the number of journalists allowed in Derna. Among the small number allowed to stay is CNN's Jomana Karadsheh.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bit by bit, they begin to clear what's left of Derma's battered streets and buildings. But for its people, it's too soon to move on. It's all still so incomprehensible.


KARADSHEH: What happened here, residents say, was a disaster of epic proportions. It was like a bombing, an earthquake and a tsunami all in one. A wall of water as high as six stories, submerged buildings and crushed almost everything in its path and split this city in two.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Divers combed the Mediterranean for the remains of men, women and children swept away into the sea with their home. It is now these waters that tell the stories of lives that ended too soon.

Survivors still cling on to the hope their loved ones are just lost in the chaos. Outside schools turn into shelters, people scour through lists with the names of survivors inside. Salma's been searching for her parents and her brothers, but the gut-wrenching reality is starting to sink in.

A single mother is now homeless, living in this school. What happens to them next keeps her up at night.

KARADSHEH: Salma says it feels now that life has no meaning anymore. That life is over, she says.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): For the youngest survivors, life goes on. Makeshift swings enough to distract them and help them forget. But Derna's nightmare is far from over. Warnings of a looming health crisis have everyone on edge. Access to the disaster zone is now restricted as they fumigate the area to wash away the stench of death and the ills it may bring.

The once bustling streets around Derna's old city, now almost deserted. Defiant residents who've returned to their homes are now being asked to leave. Muftah survived ISIS that once ruled his city. He's also been displaced by civil war just a few years ago. He refuses to live through that again.

I would rather die here than leave, he tells us. He doesn't trust the same powers that failed them to now protect them.

Shock and grief have turned into anger, with calls for accountability for a calamity brought by Mother Nature compounded by man. It's years of negligence, neglect, mismanagement, corruption and a failed state, they blame. A resilient Darna and its soul have been crushed. No one knows how they or their city will ever heal from this.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Derna, Libya.


HARRAK: Well, the torrential rainfall that caused the flooding in Libya was made many times worse by human caused climate change. That's according to a new scientific analysis from the World Weather Attribution Initiative. The study found that planet warming pollution made the extreme rainfall in Libya to 50 times more likely to occur and 50 percent more severe. And the heavy rain that hit Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria with 10 times more likely to happen. While studies have found that for every one degree Celsius of warming the air can hold around seven percent more moisture.

Still ahead this hour, CNN speaks exclusively with Iran's president about the deal that freed five Americans and freed up billions in Iranian assets.

Plus, the University of Colorado coach Deon Sanders speaks out after a player for a rival Colorado State began receiving death threats over a hit that injured one of Sanders star players.