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CNN This Morning

Feds Interview Vet Accusing Rep. George Santos (R-NY) of Stealing Funds for Sick Dog; Fed Chair Says, It's the Job of Congress to Raise the Debt Ceiling; Black History Month Begins with Tragedy, Culture Wars. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 02, 2023 - 07:00   ET





JIMMY FALLON, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON: You can tell it is almost Groundhog Day because Tom Brady announced he is retiring again. Yes, everyone got emotional watching the heartfelt message. Even Bill Belichick's shirt holes grew three sizes today.

Brady is done in a related story. Tickets to next year's the Buccaneers games are now free.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: That was funny. That's a good one about the Groundhog Day. I didn't think of that one.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I like the Belichick.

LEMON: Clever there, Jimmy Fallon. I like the holes.

Good morning, everyone. We're going to speak with Robert Kraft a little later on in the show. You can see Poppy and I are in New York. Kaitlan is in Capitol Hill, because there is a lot going on there. We need to talk about the U.S. military though has sealed a huge deal to ramp up troops and firepower on China's doorstep now. Beijing is responding.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Don. As you mentioned, a busy day here on Capitol Hill. The president is actually going to be arriving soon. He is facing a series of investigations, of course, into the documents or the investigation into his classified documents, and also a standoff potentially that could tank the economy. We're going to actually speak to Republican Senator Rick Scott of the budget committee and Democratic Congressman Dan Goldman. Both will join us here live on set.

HARLOW: And it appears this morning George Santos' problems could be getting a lot more serious. Federal agents are now investigating claims that he stole donations from a military veteran's dying -- care for a military veteran's dying dog.

LEMON: But, Poppy and Kaitlan, first, just days after an American general warned of a potential war with China, the U.S. is expanding its military presence in the region as fears grow of a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. In a deal with the Philippines, American forces will get access to four more bases in the country and a strategic advantage on the southeastern edge of the disputed South China Sea close to self-rule Taiwan.

The announcement coming as the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, met with the Philippines president, Austin reiterating the U.S. commitment to the defense of its Southeast Asian ally. China was quick to respond to the move, accusing the U.S. of endangering regional peace and stability with its selfish agenda. We have a live report from China straight ahead on CNN This Morning.

COLLINS: Yes. A busy day here in Washington as well, as we have that report, President Biden will be on Capitol Hill soon to attend the national prayer breakfast. But it comes at a turbulent time for the White House and for lawmakers. The president is facing the investigation by the special counsel, that probe over the classified documents. You saw the FBI searching his home in Rehoboth yesterday. He is also engaged in a political standoff with House Republicans when it comes to potentially threatening to crash the economy if the United States doesn't meet its financial obligations.

CNN's White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz is with us now. Arlette, you know, all of this is happening this morning. We saw that sit-down with Speaker McCarthy and President Biden yesterday. McCarthy seemed pretty optimistic coming out of it, but what are White House officials saying behind the scenes and what their expectations are?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he did, Kaitlan. And, really, this prayer breakfast up on the Hill that President Biden will be speaking up, will offer him a bit of a bipartisan moment, a bit of a respite from those looming battles he has with Republicans.

And chief among them is that standoff over the debt ceiling. President Biden and Speaker McCarthy met for roughly 90 minutes here at the White House and they really entered that meeting and left that meeting still with completely different viewpoints. McCarthy insisting they will not pass a clean debt ceiling increase without cuts to spending and President Biden still sticking by his stance that there is no negotiations over that issue.

He did say in a statement afterwards that he would be open to separate discussions when it comes to reducing the deficit. But, clearly, these two men are going to face a long standoff battle over the next few months.

COLLINS: Yes. And, Arlette, it also comes as we saw Hunter Biden, the president's son, last night in his team of attorneys calling for a criminal probe into Trump allies over the laptop scandal. Has the White House commented at all on that?

SAENZ: Well, Kaitlan, you know, the White House has been very careful to try to have the separate lines when it comes to the legal strategy of Hunter Biden. The White House has been preparing for investigations up on Capitol Hill. But when it comes to the legal strategy in defending him, that is actually something that they tried to leave to the attorneys.

But this is something that is a very personal matter for the president.


He has often defended his son and has said many of the investigations into him he believes to be politically motivated. So, we'll see how this all plays out as Hunter Biden's team is now taking a more aggressive approach.

COLLINS: Yes, definitely more aggressive and also acknowledging for the first time that that information that's been out there is Hunter Biden's. Arlette Saenz, thank you for that report. Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: Thank you, Kaitlan.

This morning, we're learning that federal investigators interviewed a Navy veteran who says he was scammed by embattled Congressman George Santos. Rich Osthoff claims that Santos stole money that was donated to help save his dying dog in 2016. The veteran says Santos set up a GoFundMe then made off with $3,000 intended for the dog's life-saving surgery. Here's what Osthoff recently told you, Don, when he was on the show just a few weeks ago.


RICH OSTHOFF, DISABLED VET WHO SAYS GEORGE SANTOS SCAMMED HIM: Santos really took a piece of my heart when he did this. My opinion of humanity was very, very extremely diminished, crashed into the floor.

I don't want you to hurt anyone like you hurt me again, George. And nobody else should ever have to go through that. I almost killed myself when that dog died.


HARLOW: Let's bring in our Kara Scannell for all -- I mean, this probe is so much bigger now because this is federal investigators and it's about money.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, sources tell CNN, is investigating Santos. And there is everything that we're learning from the questions around the campaign finance and those filings and now this.

So, Rich Osthoff, the Navy veteran, told CNN that he spoke with two FBI agents yesterday who told him that they were there on behalf of the U.S. attorney's office, said he cooperated with them and he handed over the text messages that he had exchanged with Santos who is using the name Anthony Devolder at the time. And Santos had set up this GoFundMe, said he was going to raise money to help Osthoff, you know, have enough funds to pay for this life-saving surgery for his pit bull. There you can see her. Her name is Sapphire.

So, what happened was that he said -- Osthoff told CNN that when it came time to get the surgery, that Santos had become uncooperative. And he said that, you know, in these text messages, he was telling Santos he felt jerked around. He never did get the money and Sapphire eventually did pass away.

Now, Santos was chased by reporters in the halls of Congress yesterday. He was dodging questions on this. At the time, he said that he had no clue what Osthoff was talking about when Osthoff came forward with this information and that he said that he was defending his work with this pet charity.

LEMON: Did you see how cute Sapphire? I mean, just adorable.

SCANNELL: So cute.

LEMON: So then what are the consequences? What happens if they do find out that he indeed did this?

SCANNELL: Well, I mean, you know, they look at the books here. I mean, one of the common charges that you see when someone raises money and solicits money and then doesn't use it in the way that they intended, I mean, that is often a classic wire fraud charge, and that's a serious charge. that can carry a lot of prison time if it were to go to that.

I mean, this is the federal case you're talking about. The New York attorney general's office is also looking at this. They have a charities bureau that does these consumer-type cases. So, I think we're going to see this play out over the next couple weeks.

LEMON: All right, and this and more. Thank you, Kara, I appreciate it.

So, there is pivotal new evidence in the Alex Murdaugh trial, double murder trial. Prosecutors played video that was taken from one of the victims' cell phones that say places Alex Murdaugh at the murder scene around the time that his wife and son were killed. Murdaugh had told investigators previously on at least two occasions that he was not there. Here he is talking to investigators on the night of the killings.


ALEX MURDAUGH, MURDER SUSPECT: Maggie is a dog lover. She fools with the dogs. And I knew she had gone to the kennel. I was at the house. I left the house and went to my mom's.


LEMON: Left the house and went to my mom's, that was his quote. Now,l listen carefully to this video evidence they played in court. Prosecutors say you can hear three different voices. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He got a bird in his mouth.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that a guinea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a chicken.


HARLOW: So, after that video was played, two family friends testified that one of the voices heard on that video was Alex Murdaugh. Listen to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many voices did you recognize on that video?

WILL LOVING, FRIEND OF PAUL MURDAUGH: Paul Murdaugh, Maggie Murdaugh and Alex Murdaugh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how sure are you?

LOVING: 100 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recognize Paul's voice?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recognize Maggie's voice?


GIBSON: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recognize Alex's voice?

GIBSON: Yes, sir.


GIBSON: Yes, sir.


HARLOW: Joining us to talk about what they see in this, CNN Legal Analyst and Criminal Defense Attorney Joey Jackson and also Criminal Defense Attorney Stacey Richman. Guys, thank you very much for being here.

Stacey, let me just begin with you because you think this is detrimental to the defense. Why?

STACEY RICHMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, certainly, it's detrimental to the defense because it places him at a scene where he denies being shortly before the murders. But it's not as if the defense didn't know about this. If you listen to the opening, it's a fact beyond change, it has to be dealt with. It's not the best fact but there are other facts to counter it.

HARLOW: What are they? How would you defend this?

RICHMAN: Well, his defense counsel has thought through this. If you go back to the opening, you find out that there is other cell phone evidence that takes him off property. Maggie's phone is thrown away about of a quarter mile in a different direction. So, they're going to be pairing and comparing where was he. And the fact that he didn't bring this up before, defense has already previewed he was in shock. It was too much for him. Clearly, he's there before the killings. But it's 4.5 minutes timed that out. How big is this property? Where could he get to?

HARLOW: The defense wants to take the jury there.



LEMON: Good morning.

JACKSON: Listen, spoken like a fantastic defense attorney that Stacey is, known her a long time. This is damming evidence and it's crucial for the following reason. Listen, when your defense attorney and there is no eyewitnesses, Poppy, you have a clear road. There is no DNA on any weapons or anything, clear road. There is no indication, right, that you're at the scene or anything else based on surveillance. You're good to go.

The problem with this is the following. Number one, he gives the indication, Mr. Murdaugh, that he is napping, right? Well, it would seem to contradict that you were napping and not there in the event that your voice is there. Your voice is DNA, not actual DNA but it's figurative. So, it connects you and it puts you at the specific scene.

What else is problematic? It's problematic that just after -- we have to look at the timeframe involved. Just after that, the son's communicating with a friend, guess what? His phone is not working anymore. That is troubling as well. And so to the extent that you give an alibi that you weren't there, have no clue, you know, nothing to see here and then there is your voice on a particular tape right around the time that it occurs and it goes out and then there is more. You're calling your wife to fabricate an alibi after the fact all of those things are problems.

So, certainly, it's not -- you know, without question, it will be defended, Stacey just did a great job of, but I think it raises critical issues and it gives the jurors reason to say, you know what, you're guilty.

LEMON: So, okay, you said DNA, right?

JACKONS: Yes, sir.

LEMON: And you also said contradiction. I'm wondering, is it -- if you have that strong evidence or DNA, is it a contradiction or is it just a flat out lie? And if you were -- because you're both defense attorneys, what would your strategy be and you would let him take the stand?

RICHMAN: I think that he's problematic taking the stand. I think that he's an erratic character. There's always the choice of the defendant but --

LEMON: So, what's your defense then?

RICHMAN: The defense is going with the facts, embracing the facts, just as the defense opened with, okay? And as my father always says, you know, when you have one murder is great because you have one less witness, here you have two less witnesses. But times have changed. Video evidence is a problem for him. Audio evidence is a problem for him. So, you embrace the facts. The one thing is one phone is thrown over here. He's in the car. It's the distance. Can he make it those 4.5 minutes or is it all made up?

JACKSON: I'm also attacking the motivation. I don't get this motivation as to, you know what his financial issues, he was going to be outed. You have a spousal privilege involving your wife. Your wife is going to testify against you. You love your son more and your son loves you more than anything in the world. Your son is going to turn states evident against you? There are two guns involved here. And, certainly -- and there was an admission that there could be two shooters. So, there is somewhere to go.

But I did not like, I'll tell you, and I think it is damning as it relate yesterday, which his voice is there. And if you want as a jury to connect you, right, to connect the dots, that connects him.

The last, last point, we talked about this concept of reasonable doubt, right? Stacey will tell you. The jury is instructed. It's not a mathematical certainty, right? It's not you have to establish beyond all doubt. It's reasonable doubt. And with this introduction of this tape, is it reasonable not to believe that he did it? It's a problem.

HARLOW: And you've got to get unanimity in that jury. So, thank you Stacey, thank you, Joey. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Thanks so much, Don and Poppy.

Here on Capitol Hill this morning, we're hearing from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who was not mincing words about the debt ceiling.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: There's only one way forward here, and that is for Congress to raise the debt ceiling so that the United States government can pay all of its obligations when due.

[07:15:03] And any deviations from that path would be highly risky.


COLLINS: Joining me now to talk about all of this and those warnings is Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who is a member of the budget committee, and last week was one of two dozen Senate Republicans who sent a letter to President Biden, they would not back a debt ceiling increase without major spending cuts. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. What are those major spending cuts that you want to see?

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Well, what we said was either we have got to -- this should be all hands on deck. It's not a partisan issue. This impacts every American family. Look at the interest rates right now, on mortgages, credit cards, and also just look at inflation. When you go to a grocery store, look what it costs you to get eggs or meat and things like that.

Constantly increasing our debt is putting our fiscal house at risk. So, what we have got to do is either we've got to reduce our costs, okay, grow our revenues responsibly, not raising taxes or what we've got to do is we've got to have some sort of structure reform so we know we'll get there down the road. So, that's what we propose.

I have a variety of things. I think people ought to get back to work. If you don't have young children, you're able-bodied or dependent adults, get back to work. We have to make sure we never default on our debt. We can prioritize our payments to make sure we never default as we come to an agreement on what we're going to do. So, I want to responsibly raise the debt ceiling.

COLLINS: But what areas could those cuts come from? That's been big question that I feel like people don't feel like Republicans have been clear on, is where exactly the cuts you can afford to cut.

SCOTT: So, here's what we have to do. We have to preserve the benefits of social security and Medicare. We've got to preserve those benefits. But what I did discover, I worked on the budget deficit, you vote every line. You don't just say there's just blanket costs. What you do is you take every line. You say, where are things we don't need, nice to have but we don't need?

So, we have got to have real budgets and we have got to go through every line just saying there is just one. We clearly know there is ways, there is fraud and abuse, there is -- you know, we can do things more efficiently. There is ways to deliver the services of our federal, state and local governments more efficiently. That's what we've got to do.

COLLINS: But should any mandatory spending for the social safety net be on the table, you think?

SCOTT: No, and you don't have to. I mean, look, people paid into the social security program. We have got to make sure we preserve that. Medicare, preserve it. Now, is there ways that we can address the delivery system in Medicare? Absolutely. We can make it more efficient. I was in the hospital business. I know there are ways we can do that more efficiently, but benefits, no way.

COLLINS: One thing you've been saying recently is talking about Medicare, and you've been making this claim that Democrats have cut Medicare by $300 million or so. But that is not the case. That is not what happened with the Inflation Reduction Act. So, what is your point with saying that?

SCOTT: Well, they cut $280 billion out of Medicare. They did it.

COLLINS: But I saw that you said this. They didn't cut it. Basically, what essentially it was, it was part of being able to negotiate the prescription drug prices. So, changing what they are spending on it is not equal to cuts, right?

SCOTT: Okay. So, if that's true, then every time you figure out how to save money on Medicare, that's not a cut. But that's not what the Democrats say. So, $280 billion reduction in spending in Medicare --

COLLINS: Because it's allowing the government to spend less on these medications.

SCOTT: But let's remember what it's going to do. It's going to make sure that there are new life-saving drugs that are not created. Why would we do that? I mean, you can figure out -- there is efficiency you can create. But you don't just say, I'm just going to cut $280 billion and we're going to make sure that we don't get some life- saving drugs. It's going to happen. It's already starting to happen. It could be, you know, anybody's grandparent or parent.

COLLINS: But you can see that it is misleading to say that they cut $300 million when it's a change in how they're negotiating with drug prices, right?

SCOTT: If you cut $280 billion out of what you spend, which is what they did, that's called a cut, and what it is going to do is it's going to make sure those companies don't have the money to invest in new life-saving drugs. That's a cut. And that is a potential, most likely reduction in the benefit. A Medicare recipient is going to give them a life-saving drug that could save their life. That's a cut.

COLLINS: CNN fact-checked this. They said that that framing it is a cut is nonsense, they believe. But I want to I want to move on, because one big question has been when Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell is going to get involved in these talks on the debt ceiling. Do you think it's time now for him to get involved?

SCOTT: I think everybody up here ought to be involved. Every senator will be involved. Every House member ought to be involved. I mean, this is impacting every district, every state. We all have to -- put our idea out there. And let's figure out, let's get the best ideas out there. This is not a partisan issue. We have $31.5 trillion debt. If we don't address it now at 35, at 40, 45, 50, and how are we going to get interest rates down if we don't address the debt ceiling? How are we going to get inflation down? We have got to figure this out. We have got to get our fiscal house in order.

When I was in governor, I balanced the budget every year and paid off (INAUDIBLE) debt. And guess what? My revenues grew even though I cut taxes and fees 100 times.


We can do the same thing here. We have got to get more jobs. We have got to get more -- we have to grow our economy. If we don't, we'll never have enough money to take care of the programs we care about. If we care about Medicare and social security, we have got to figure out how no responsibly live within our means.

COLLINS: Speaking of McConnell, he pulled you yesterday from the powerful commerce committee that you sat on that came on after you challenged him for the Republican leadership in the Senate. What is your reaction to that?

SCOTT: Well, I'm going to keep doing my job. So, I put out a plan. You know, he completely opposed me to put out a plan. I believe that everybody, everybody up here, this is not a Republican-Democrat issue. We all ought to be putting out ideas and fight over ideas up here. He didn't like. I opposed him because I believe we have to have -- fight over ideas.

And so he took Mike Lee and I off the committee. I'm going to still do my job. Ted Cruz is the ranking member. I have got a relationship with him. But I don't think it made any sense. I am responsible for the third biggest state in the country. I probably run the biggest company in my career of anybody in the Senate right now before. So, I bring a lot to the table. But that's a decision he made.

COLLINS: Yes. And you're one of the wealthiest lawmakers here as well. But some people would say, well, what did you expect, because you did go up against him in that bruising battle for the leadership position.

SCOTT: Our job is to represent the people of the country. This is not about winners and losers. It's not about partisan stuff. This is about who are the best people to solve the problems of this country. We have significant problems to our economy. We're not growing full-time jobs, all right? Look at our debt. We have a lot of problems. So, I'm going to keep fighting for them. I don't know why he did it, but that's life.

COLLINS: When it comes to the 2024 race, you said you're not going to endorse anyone until the primary is over. If Trump is the nominee, will you endorse Trump and do you think he should run?

SCOTT: I'm going to work with whoever the Republican nominee is.

COLLINS: And do you think other Republicans should challenge him for the nomination, Nikki Haley maybe running, Ron DeSantis in your home state?

SCOTT: Well, it's not my decision. I think there's going to be a lot of people that are going to get into it. I think elections are about -- they should be fight over ideas. And so that's what everybody is going to get in, we ought to be fighting over who brings the best ideas to solve the problems of this country in '23 and '24.

COLLINS: Senator Rick Scott, thank you so much. You have also announced you're running for reelection in 2024. Of course, we'll watch that as well. Thank you so much. Don, Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: Another fascinating interview. Kaitlan, thank you very, very much.

A California community outraged and a family is now claiming excessive force after a double amputee who was armed with a knife is shot and killed by police. We'll take you live to Los Angeles.

LEMON: Plus, hear the messages of hope and resilience at Tyre Nichols' memorial service.


KEYANA DIXON, TYRE NICHOL'S SISTER: All I want is my baby back.

BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY: Every time you kill one of us on video, we're going to see the legacy of Tyre Nichols is that we have equal justice swiftly.





ROWVAUGHN WELLS, TYRE'S MOTHER: The only thing that is keeping me going is the fact that I really truly believe my son was sitting here beside me from God. And I guess now his assignment is done. He's been taken home.


LEMON: That's the mother of Tyre Nichols as black history month begins. One state is pulling books off shelves to comply with a law that bans critical race theory. Florida also blocking an A.P. African- American studies course. And now, the governor is also pushing a ban on diversity programs in public universities there, saying that they discriminate.

Also as black history month begins, the nation is mourning another black man's death in the hands of police, as the life of Tyre Nichols was celebrated in Tennessee. Reverend Al Sharpton invoked did Martin Luther King Jr. who was assassinated not far from where Tyre Nichols was beaten by those five officers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) REV. AL SHARPTON, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, NAN: Dr. King got in the car by himself and rolled over to Mason Temple and he started speaking that night. And something came over him. He said that I don't fear any man. He said --

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We have got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now because I've been to the mountain tops.

I just want to do God's will and he has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the promise land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promise land.

SHARPTON: I believe when he looked over, he could see a Barack Obama become president. I believe when he went to the mountain top, he could look over and see a Kamala Harris sitting as vice president. I believe when he looked over from the mountain top, he saw black police chiefs. He didn't expect you to disgrace him. He expected you to bring us on to the promise land.

That's why I'm still marching. I'm a mountain climber. I expect stumbled to come my way. I'm a mountain climber. You can disgrace me. You can discredit me but I'm going to keep on climbing. I'm going to climb until Tyre Nichols gets justice. I'm going to climb until Eric Garner gets justice. I'm going to climb until we change the laws. We're mountain climbers. We're not bait traders. We're mountain climbers. And God before us is more than the whole world against us. He walks with me. He talks with me. He tells me that I'm his own.



LEMON: Man. That was such a moving service.