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Moscow Court Denies Appeal On Detention Of Wall Street Journal Reporter; Dozens Charged With Working Inside U.S. To Silence Chinese Dissidents; DeSantis Floats Idea Of Building State Prison Next To Disney World. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 18, 2023 - 07:30   ET



GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: -- trying to wrap ourselves as a party around the axle and where we should be on abortion. Look, it should be a state's issue. It should be out -- it is effectively out of the hands of the federal government that we shouldn't be doing national abortion bans or any like that. And every time we talk --


SUNUNU: -- like that and every time we talk about more restrictive laws, we're losing.

HARLOW: Except it's in the hands of a, you know, what the federal judge just did out of Amarillo, Texas -- made it federal. I wonder if you disagree with that in terms of the abortion --

SUNUNU: I -- yes --

HARLOW: -- pill.

SUNUNU: Yes. Look, I completely --

HARLOW: It sounds like you would disagree with that.

SUNUNU: I completely disagree.


SUNUNU: Look, I -- how did one judge start to arbitrarily take away --


SUNUNU: -- what has been around for 20 years? Let's start with that. Who is this guy just, like, doing that? So --

HARLOW: Well, that case was targeted for him specifically.


HARLOW: He's the only judge, as you know, in that county that can hear that. SUNUNU: Judge shopping. Holy cow, do people do judge shopping in this country and it's unfortunate. But on the federal --on the federal circuit, if you will, you can have one individual that isn't elected by most --


SUNUNU: -- of the country. And frankly, I don't think any judge should be elected, by the way. They should be appointed. Because that --


HARLOW: That's a whole other debate for another time that I would love to have with you because I think people don't talk about that enough.


HARLOW: OK, can we just, before you go -- I know we're -- I know we're short on time but you're here at the table. Why --



SUNUNU: I love it.

HARLOW: Why do you want to be president?

SUNUNU: Look, I'm not one of these people that wake up and go this country is going to hell in a handbasket and -- I am very optimistic. I think all these -- do we have serious issues? They can all be fixed. They can all be changed with good leadership.

Never accept that four years isn't enough. Never accept that well, I didn't have my party in power.

I mean, former President Trump had Republicans in power in the Senate and House and still got very little done, didn't drain the swamp like he promised, didn't provide border security like he promised, didn't manage with fiscally responsible means like he promised.

So there's always a way to do it. As a four-term governor, a record of success --


SUNUNU: -- I could work with anyone and solve any issue -- and not because of me, because we build the right teams and come with the right approach.

HARLOW: Do you want to be --

LEMON: So why not just say it?

HARLOW: Hold on one second.


HARLOW: You do want to be president, then?

SUNUNU: I think I could do the job, yes.


LEMON: So why not say --

HARLOW: I mean, that might be the closest that you've come yet.

LEMON: It's just --

SUNUNU: No. Look, I'm looking at it. I'll make a decision.

HARLOW: All right, all right.

SUNUNU: It's a big -- it's a big decision for the family, for the process, for the party.

LEMON: So the same question as her. I'm just going to say why not just say it? We have like one, two, three, four, five cameras.

SUNUNU: So literally, my wife is texting me right now as we are speaking going what is going is going on?


No, look, we'll have the whole discussion. And I'm not here to sell books. I'm not here to sell Chris Sununu. I'm here to sell the opportunity --


SUNUNU: -- that I think America brings. We're the most generous country in the world. Every day we should wake up and be grateful that we get to live in a place like this with the opportunities that we have.


SUNUNU: So I just see everyone being negative and all that kind of negativity and yelling at each other. I think there's hope. I really think there's opportunity. And if it's a Chris Sununu or some other -- some other candidate to bring it to the table, that's a win for America.

LEMON: Poppy, we tried.

HARLOW: Text your wife back.


Look, I'm in the -- I'm in the camp of you decide with your wife before you say anything. I'm with the governor on that.

SUNUNU: There you go.

HARLOW: Hey, it's really nice to have you. I hope you'll come back.

SUNUNU: Absolutely, it's a lot of fun. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you very much.

LEMON: Good to see you. Thank you for coming in.

Just in, a Moscow court has just decided on detained Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich's appeal. What the U.S. ambassador to Russia is saying. That's straight ahead.

HARLOW: Also, the FBI cracking down on a fake police station here in the heart of New York City. This is such an important story. What the Chinese were trying to do in this city to those who don't agree with their regime.

LEMON: So why not just say it?

SUNUNU: I'm not going to do it.

HARLOW: You know what? If --



LEMON: So this is just into CNN. A Moscow court just denied the appeal of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. He was hoping to be placed under house arrest instead of being held in jail. He has been held in Russia for nearly three weeks on espionage charges, which he and the U.S. both deny.

We heard from the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, who was in the court. Here's what she said moments ago.


LYNNE TRACY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I was able to meet Evan yesterday at Lefortovo prison. It was the first time we were granted consular access since his wrongful detention more than two weeks ago. I can report that he is in good health and remains strong despite his circumstances.

We will continue to provide all appropriate support to Evan and his family, and we expect Russian authorities to provide continued consular access to Evan.

The charges against Evan are baseless and we call on the Russian federation to immediately release him. We also call for the immediate release of Paul Whelan. Paul has been held more than four years in Russia. Both men deserve to go home to their families now. Thank you.


HARLOW: That was the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy.

And we're getting new details this morning about an alleged plot by the Chinese government to spy on and also to intimidate Chinese dissidents living here in the United States. So the FBI, yesterday, announced the arrest of two people they say are agents from China who were running a secret and illegal police station right in the middle of New York City -- right in Lower Manhattan. The pair made their first appearance in court yesterday.

The Justice Department also charged 34 officers of China's national police in plots targeting people living here in the U.S.

Joining us now is CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller. John, this has been discussed a lot prior to this. A lot of questions to city officials about whether this was happening here in New York. Now the Feds say this is happening.

Are there more, and what does it mean?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, there's 100 of these Chinese police outposts around the world. A human rights group did a study from the Netherlands, Canada -- wherever there's a significant Chinese expat community one of these quiet police substations has opened up.

LEMON: So during an interview with the FBI, one of the accused agents said that he had established the office to help Chinese nationals living in the United States renew their Chinese government documents. Is this -- what do you think of that explanation?

MILLER: I think that is a perfectly logical explanation. Because if you're trying to gather metadata information, personal information on an expat community saying you can come in here and establish your identification -- name, date of birth -- we'll get your driver's license taken care of back in China.


It's a great way to figure out OK, let's make a list. Who is on the ground? You're getting a lot of data when somebody comes in to fill out a driver's license form.

HARLOW: It's a way to lure them.

MILLER: Exactly. But, I mean, these are very complicated operations. So to understand the breadth of this you have Chinese agents attempting to recruit New York City Chinese police officers as subagents.

You have Chinese police officers going out throughout New York but beyond there into the suburbs visiting Chinese expats, saying you've been posting bad things on Twitter or social media about China and you are in trouble, and this could affect your family at home and you need to stop, or conversely, you need to come back to China or bad things are going to happen to your family.

One of the things that we went through in the NYPD when I was running the intel program there was a lot of work with the Chinese counsel general in New York saying we want to sign an MOU with the NYPD saying that our operations are cooperating. And in discussions with the FBI they said they used these letters across the country with other people to say no, we work with the NYPD. We're here on the ground with permission.

So this is a far-reaching operation.

LEMON: Far-reaching and frightening. Thank you. We appreciate it, John Miller.

It was a tropical music festival that never happened, so why is the man behind the failed Fyre Fest trying to do it all over again? Our one-on-one interview is next.


LEMON: How can you have Fyre Festival II when Fyre Festival I was such a bust?

BILLY MCFARLAND, CO-FOUNDER, FYRE FESTIVAL, CONVICTED OF WIRE FRAUD: Don, before we get there, the overall goal is to pay everybody back while still doing something incredible.

LEMON: Yes, but you still didn't answer my question.





Clip from Netflix "FYRE."


LEMON: It's hard to believe it's been this long -- nearly six years after the infamous Fyre Festival flamed out. The organizer of the party that never was is out of prison and giving it another go, or so he says.

Convicted fraudster Billy McFarland tweeting last week, "Fyre Festival II is finally happening. Tell me why you should be invited." In a follow-up tweet he wrote, "It's in the best interest of those I owe for me to be working. People aren't getting paid back if I sit on the couch." And he owes a lot of victims, as a matter of fact.

McFarland was released last year after spending close to four years in prison. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to two counts of wire fraud for his role in defrauding Fyre Festival investors and ticket vendors of about $26 million. I spoke with Billy McFarland in his first interview since his announcement. Here's our conversation.


LEMON: How can you have Fyre Festival II when Fyre Festival I was such a bust?

MCFARLAND: Don, before we get there, the overall goal is to pay everybody back while still doing something incredible.

LEMON: Yes, but you still didn't answer my question.

MCFARLAND: Yes. So I think the first time around I just didn't understand the magnitude of the vision and probably, more importantly, the magnitude of the logistics that were required to execute that. And I need to go about it completely differently this time around.

LEMON: Well, obviously, it was a colossal nightmare --


LEMON: -- for a lot of people and for you because you were convicted of fraud. You spent nearly four years in prison over this failed festival. So I know you said you want to pay everyone back or what have you. We'll get to that.

Why would any performer, or festivalgoer, or investor, or anyone want to do anything with you considering what happened the last time?

MCFARLAND: So, since getting out of jail I've just been looking at what opportunities I have to pay people back and I have been pitched on every iteration of a Fyre Festival from a local nightclub all the way up to a sovereign wealth fund.

And I put out a tweet a week ago just to really test the waters and see is there still appetite for this idea after six years. It's already been six years. And the response has been insane.

LEMON: That's on social media, you mean, right?

MCFARLAND: That's on social media.

LEMON: Yes, but, I mean, is that the real world? People may say things on social media. You actually think they'll show up for something considering what happened?

MCFARLAND: I didn't know and it was really just to test the validity of these offers I have and to understand what kind of partners I need to do this. And the response is wild. People just want to help --


MCFARLAND: -- from providing catering to performing.

LEMON: OK, so you have investors, you have caterers, you have performers? Who?

MCFARLAND: I can't speak on all of this yet.

But it's really about figuring out what I am good at, focusing on the marketing, focusing on bringing people together, and then just getting help so I don't have to touch the areas where I should not be touching.

LEMON: So you can't name a single performer, or caterer, or any -- or investor at this point?

MCFARLAND: So we have not scheduled a festival. There is no Fyre Festival II on the books at this point. We are literally just like testing the interest in the concept. And I think the whole world saw how wild that went with one tweet and the response has been great. And it just, like, leads me to try to find the best partners first.

LEMON: OK. So then what about a venue then?

MCFARLAND: So I think, like, this time around I am not dealing with any of that. I am just focusing on my skill set. I've been doing marketing. I bring people together and I will allow my great team and my great partners to handle everything else.

LEMON: Wait, you said you are not focusing on any of that. You're just focusing on the marketing.


LEMON: But that was the problem last time wasn't it -- that you focused on the marketing and you didn't focus on the actual carrying out of the event -- the particulars, like shelter, food, performance, and so forth. So aren't you like setting yourself up for the same issue that you had last time?

MCFARLAND: I was a 25-year-old kid who thought that I could figure it all at the last minute and I realize now that there's just so much I don't know and I'm not capable of. And there is no rush. And it's all about me just getting help. And I can't pay people back if I don't try and I just need to try honestly and try to get the best help I can get.

LEMON: OK, speaking of paying people back, you have been ordered to pay back $26 million of investors' and vendors' money. How much have you paid back?

MCFARLAND: I've paid around $30,000 since my sentence ended on August 30. And I've literally gone to the court every three or four weeks and given a check -- 17 checks since August 30.

LEMON: Thirty thousand dollars --


LEMON: -- out of $26 million. MCFARLAND: I have to start somewhere. Unfortunately, I did not come out with any money under my mattress and I'm just doing my best to work and pay people back. And I think one thing that's really interesting is that whenever I do work there is I guess some backlash as to why I'm trying to do anything.

And, Don, I don't even know how to cook cereal so you don't want me making your coffee at Dunkin' Donuts in the morning. You want me out there trying to get the help I can get and going forward.

LEMON: Even if you are a good marketer that doesn't mean that the event is going to run smoothly or even happen.


MCFARLAND: For me, like the hardest part was the trust I violated from the people who I'd known for years, and that's what keeps me up at night. And I can't ask for trust but I can ask for time.

LEMON: OK. Well, speaking of one, one restaurant owner said that -- in this Netflix documentary. Did you see the documentary --

MCFARLAND: I have not watched it.

LEMON: -- about the Fyre Festival -- that she spent $50,000 of her own savings preparing for the festival and was paid nothing from organizers. In May of 2017, she told The New York Times that she was owed $134,000.

So the question is are you going to be able to pay these people back before you launch this festival?

MCFARLAND: So I'm working with Andy King to cook cheese sandwiches and I've been in touch with Mary Ann. Andy really stepped up and was able to raise $200,000 for her, so she has been paid back in full, which is amazing. I believe I still owe her as well on top of that.

And it is my intention to get everybody paid back as quickly as possible but I need to do it the right way. And last time I just tried to go too fast and I can't do that.

LEMON: You talked about the cheese sandwich --


LEMON: -- right? Everyone remembers the food that you served at the Fyre Festival -- just bread with two slices of cheese, soggy lettuce, and a tomato. People paid thousands of dollars for this, Billy, and that's what they got.

MCFARLAND: So I am going to eat my own sandwich. I'm getting behind the griddle this weekend with Andy King and we are going to cook these to raise money for the Bahamas.

LEMON: Have you personally apologized to people for what happened? MCFARLAND: I have and this road is going to take years to really properly apologize. I think I owe trust more than anything else and unfortunately, it just takes time.

LEMON: OK, let's talk about trust because even after the Fyre fiasco you launched a sham ticket scheme. You pleaded guilty. In that scam you sold bogus tickets to fashion, music, and sporting events like the Met Gala here in New York and the Grammys.

So why would anyone --


LEMON: -- trust you operating a legitimate business going forward?

MCFARLAND: I've had years in prison to think about this and I have two options. I could crawl in a hole and admit that everything I did was wrong, which is totally fair, or I can at least try. And I might not succeed and I might fail but I'm going to fail or succeed honestly, and I believe that's how I can find pride.

LEMON: So you created the Fyre Festival with rapper Ja Rule. He tweeted this. I'm sorry, we didn't reach out -- he tweeted. "I don't know nothing about it. I ain't in it!" He doesn't want to do business with you.

Do you think that serious people are going to want to go into business with you?

MCFARLAND: It sounds like he needs a new publicist.

LEMON: What do you mean?

MCFARLAND: He wasn't involved in the first one so he's not going to be involved in the second one.

And I truthfully just didn't know what the appetite would be and after I tweeted, I literally had thousands of people from caterers to music artists, to people who just want to be there all reaching out and saying they believed in version two.

LEMON: People, Billy, are going to say don't you have any shame?


LEMON: And you say?

MCFARLAND: Tons. And, like, I've cried alone in solitary confinement for 10 months. I've ruined the lives and family and friends. So it's going to be a 20-year mountain to try to climb and I might not make it.


HARLOW: That was a fascinating interview. Do you think he's going to do it? You don't know? LEMON: I -- no --


LEMON: -- I don't.


LEMON: I don't think anyone wants to work with him.


LEMON: And why would they considering what happened.

HARLOW: We will watch.

Next, Ron DeSantis taking on Disney yet again. What he says could go next door to Disney World. We have that.




GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: Come to think of it, now people are like well, there's -- what should we do with this land? And so, you know, it's like OK -- I mean people have said maybe have another -- maybe create a state park. Maybe try to do more amusement parks. Someone even said like maybe you need another state prison. Who knows? I mean, I just think that the possibilities are endless.


HARLOW: That is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stepping us his fight against Disney, even floating the idea -- sarcastically, it sounded like -- of building a prison on the land next to the theme park.

This feud between DeSantis and Disney started when Disney took a position against Florida's -- what is called by critics, a Don't Say Gay bill. It limits classroom instruction at a certain age of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Let's talk about where this goes from here. Capitol bureau chief for The Miami Herald, Mary Ellen Klas is here. She's reported extensively on Gov. DeSantis. No better voice than yours to explain to us where on earth -- maybe not the happiest place on earth to be in the middle of this feud. Where does this go?

MARY ELLEN KLAS, CAPITOL BUREAU CHIEF, THE MIAMI HERALD (via Webex by Cisco): Well, the next stop -- the Florida legislature is in session right now and the governor has asked the legislature to come up with some legislation that will take this feud to the next level. And they're going to try and write some legislation that dismantles an agreement the board that controlled the Disney district entered into at Disney before DeSantis controlled that district -- or that board. So they're going to try and dismantle things -- dismantle this development agreement.

It's going to be a tricky situation to write something that doesn't just trigger years of lawsuits.


KLAS: -- and that seems to be kind of where this is all heading. Kind of a big legal battle.

HARLOW: The CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, a few weeks ago called what DeSantis is doing anti-business and anti-Florida. He said this violates their constitutional First Amendment right, right, of speech -- to speak out and take a position on something.

I'm interested if you get the sense or reporting shows that DeSantis is actually willing to harm the bottom line of one of the biggest employers in the state of Florida, or if this is more about politics and optics.

KLAS: You know, I think it's hard to know that because I think the governor is -- has done things -- he's kind of done a lot of brinkmanship and hasn't taken things are far as he could. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that he isn't -- he's not backing down on this fight.

And so, this notion of putting a prison next to Disney property -- it's difficult because first of all, Disney owns this property. And if the governor -- I think he tried to come up with an example that looked pretty harmful -- a prison near an amusement park and a resort.

But in the end, I think his weapon here is on messaging. And if he does ultimately do something that makes it difficult --


KLAS: -- for Disney to operate, it's -- you know --


KLAS: -- that will have an impact and the company may not stay.

HARLOW: It'll have an impact not just on Disney but I think of all these other huge Fortune 500 -- Fortune 100 companies that have flocked there.

I was talking to Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan, and they have a ton of employees in Florida now and he says we're very pro-Florida about this the other week. And he said, look, we're going to continue to stand up for things we believe in, like LGBTQ rights, for example.

Do you think that this will dissuade other big businesses from moving more people to Florida even thought the business and tax incentive is so appealing for them, or not really?

KLAS: You know, it's really hard to tell. I think that right now, Florida is definitely -- it's a very attractive place for businesses. I think -- you know, this is -- this is a fight that I think we're

going to be watching for a while. The governor has decided to take on corporations and he is -- he has decided that corporations don't have a First Amendment right to take positions on policy. And I think that is going to be something to keep watching and following.

He's made it very clear that companies like Disney should just stick to their lane, he says. But what exactly does that mean in an environment that are giving corporate --


KLAS: -- contributions and political contributions?


Also, antithetical to what the Supreme Court has ruled, right, in terms of corporations having a voice --