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CNN This Morning

Democratic Congressman's Staff Attacked by Man with Baseball Bat; Today, Biden to Hold Debt Ceiling Negotiations with Top Lawmakers; Special Counsel Says, FBI Shouldn't Have Launched Full Trump-Russia Probe. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2023 - 07:00   ET




It's where they get 90 percent of their socialization for the day. And we can't shut down every conversation every child has.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for being with us this morning. Keep us -- I'm sorry to interrupt. Go ahead.

BARBEE: No, it's okay. She's pointing fingers, but what she's saying is that we are indoctrinating by showing these things. But actually we're just showing a representation of our students that are already there. Indoctrinating is going around and telling you, you can't do all these things. She's pushing the beliefs that all these things are wrong, and that is indoctrinating.

HARLOW: Jenna Barbie, thank you very much. And I would note we did reach out our team to Shannon Rodriguez. She's welcome on the show, of course, any day as well. We appreciate your time this morning.

BARBEE: Absolutely. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you. CNN This Morning continues, right now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are learning more about the man in custody accused of attacking a staffer and an intern for Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly with a baseball bat.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The suspect enraged, unimpaired (ph) and didn't have any particular motivation.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): We're going to have to reassess the security we provide or don't provide district officers.

LISA GARDNER, SPOKESWOMAN, CITY OF FAIRFAX POLICE: It is very concerning and it's, quite frankly, scary.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The clock is ticking closer to what would be the first debt default in American history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't actually know what the economic impacts will really be, and that's the scariest part. But the fact of the matter is they're now negotiating, and they have to.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We've got to have something done by this weekend, and we are nowhere near any of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After four years and millions of taxpayer dollars, the Durham report is out.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: He's got his own information, which is this information, plus, plus, plus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This report does nothing. It is absolutely a big zero.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to launch his White House bid by the end of the month.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We've had three election cycles in a row where we've had poor results. I mean, that's just the fact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is whether he can prove he's the right man for the job.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Martha Stewart is the oldest Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover model.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here's someone who really has it going on in more ways than one. And let's celebrate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To be on the cover at my age was a challenge. All of us should think about good living and not about aging.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: I love that Martha Stewart's story. We're going to get to that in a moment because it's really good and you're going to want to see that.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. There're a lot of headlines, though, going on, especially out of Washington.

HARLOW: A lot of headlines and very sad news. Two congressional staffers are now out of the hospital, at least. But this is after a man with a bat, a baseball bat, attacked Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly's office in Virginia. Connolly says the suspect attacked an intern who was working the front desk and then struck a senior aide in the head with his metal bat.

CNN has obtained surveillance video. It appears to show that same suspect chasing a woman in his neighborhood just minutes before the attack. After that incident, police say the suspect drove to Connolly's office, which was about six miles away, and the suspect's father tells CNN his son has mental health issues. Connolly says the suspect had previously contacted his office to ask him to help with something, and he made some, quote, bizarre statements to Connolly's staff.

So let's bring in Washington Correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. This is terrifying and it raises real questions about security at congressional offices, not just on Capitol Hill, but those field offices.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Poppy. This was such a brazen attack. And, notably, the two staff that were hit with that metal baseball bat, they have now been released from the hospital. In an interview with CNN, Congressman Connolly says it was only the quick thinking of his staff that prevented many more from being injured in this incident. And he says the suspect entered his office filled with an out of control rage, demanding to see him.

The Congressman said that this is a person that had contacted his office in the past. He reached out for help on an issue, and his staff did sense, he said in talking to him, that he was engaged in some bizarre statements, but he never made any threats like this violent attack.


SERFATY (voice over): Terrifying video caught on a home security camera. Neighbors say it shows the man now accused of attacking a Virginia congressman staffer allegedly chasing a woman with a bat minutes earlier.

CONNOLLY: I don't think there is a motivation. I think we're talking about real mental illness.

SERFATY: Several neighbors heard the commotion. Daniel Ashley says it wasn't until he heard about a possible connection to the attack on the congressman's office that he started looking through his security camera footage.

DANIEL ASHLEY, NEIGHBOR: That was the clip that had the woman running away from the guy with the baseball bat. She's screaming and terrified. I heard about the Jerry Connolly thing on the news, but I had no idea that I was so close to home.

SERFATY: Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says Monday morning the alleged attacker walked into his district office in Fairfax in an enraged state.


CONNOLLY: It turns out that he had already use that bat to like destroy older woman's windshield out further west. So he was on a terror (ph).

GARDNER: He did arrive here in a vehicle, and he walked to the office and began swinging the bat, striking two staff members.

SERFATY: The congressman telling CNN he wasn't there at the time.

CONNOLLY: A man had come into our office with a metal baseball bat and asked for me. And when told that I was at an event, he proceeded to attack the young intern who was at the front desk on her first day.

And then when the noise and commotion became clear, others came running out of their offices, and he attacked my outreach director and hit her badly on the back of her head.


SERFATY (on camera): And the suspect's father told CNN he has tried to get help for his son in the past. The 49 year old was also known to law enforcement. He was charged in January of 2022 with felony assault on a law enforcement officer, among other charges.

Now, the district attorney at that time declined to prosecute for this incident. He is facing charges for one count of aggravated malicious wounding and one count of malicious wounding. Poppy?

HARLOW: Sunlen, thank you for the update. I hope that those staffers fully recover.

COLLINS: Yes, we're thinking of them.

Also happening today in Washington, it is round two of debt limit talks that are going to take place between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Other top congressional lawmakers will be in the room, but those are the two will be the ones that make the decisions.

Last night, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reiterated her warning that the U.S. is not going to be able to pay its tab potentially as early as June 1, just 15 days and 16 hours or so away. Of course, that comes as Speaker McCarthy says he does not seem optimistic about the talks as they progressed so far.


MCCARTHY: You're only a couple of weeks away, but if you look at the timeline to pass something in the House and pass something in the Senate, you've got to have something done by this weekend. We are nowhere near any of that.


COLLINS: We are nowhere near any of that, he warns.

Joining us now, CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz. Arlette, obviously there's a big question here because of the timing, given how long it does take anything to get done on Capitol Hill, as McCarthy was noting there. Also, as you know, President Biden is set to leave tomorrow. So, what are the questions looking like when it comes to what the White House is willing to move on? Because it does appear they're negotiating now, at least having these discussions with Republicans.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, the question about whether they can actually reach a deal could get its next big clue this afternoon with that face-to-face meeting between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

You heard McCarthy there saying that he believes there needs to be a deal by this weekend, though the White House has yet to put any type of public timeframe on that, but we all know how long it takes to move legislation through Capitol Hill, as well as trying to corral each of the caucuses together.

Additionally, they're facing that time constraint with President Biden set to leave for Japan tomorrow, and aides I've spoken to have acknowledged the very real possibility that he could leave without an agreement and with those staff level talks continuing.

Now, the public messaging on both eyes has been wildly different, President Biden really striking this optimistic tone, saying that there's a desire from both sides to try to reach an agreement, while you heard McCarthy there saying that he hasn't seen any movement himself in these discussions.

But sources have told us that behind the scenes that those staff level talks have been continuing in earnest, with each side describing them as constructive. You've seen items that the White House and officials on Capitol Hill have put on the table, including permitting reform, as well as trying to claw back some of those COVID relief funds. But there are still some real sticking points when it comes to the duration of spending caps and also work requirements for certain government aid programs.

So, a bit later this afternoon, all eyes will be on President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, as they are really the two men who will have to finalize any type of agreement when it comes to raising the debt ceiling with that X date of June 1st quickly looming.

COLLINS: Yes. And, Arlette, you mentioned work requirements there. I saw President Biden over the weekend seeming to leave the door open to maybe being on board with stricter work requirements for some of these benefits, the food stamps and SNAP benefits that go out. Is that something, though, that progressive Democrats would be on board with? It seems like that's what we've heard some criticism already so far from that. What is the White House saying about it?

SAENZ: Yes, you've already seen some progressives coming out expressing some frustration with those comments. The President had noted that in the past, he has voted for some work requirements, but he simply said that when it comes to Medicaid, that it would be very difficult to get him on board with that.


You quickly saw the White House issue a clarification, saying that the President would not support any work requirements, which would push people into poverty or take away Americans' health care. So, for the time being, the White House has been saying that he will not agree to those work requirements when it comes to Medicaid and potentially food stamps. But those are all items that Republicans have really been pushing for in these negotiations as they're trying to get to more spending cuts.

COLLINS: All right. Arlette, we'll see what happens at 3:00 P.M. today during that meeting at the White House. Thank you.

HARLOW: Also this morning, the Durham Report is out. It marks the end of a four year investigation into the origins of the FBI's Trump- Russia probe. The Special Counsel John Durham was handpicked by Bill Barr and the Trump administration. And this report cast doubt on the FBI's decision to even launch that full investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. But it also, we should note, fall short of proving that it was nothing more than a political witch hunt.

Durham's report is at odds with the 2019 Justice Department Inspector General probe, which acknowledged problems of the Mueller investigation, but ultimately concluded there was sufficient justification to do the probe, to open the inquiry. And that's a big difference.

Let's get context and some background here from our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig. He is also former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and a prosecutor. Good to have you.

Okay, so just get us to why we're here, who John Durham is, what the assignment was.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Poppy. So, our story begins four years ago, spring of 2019, when a different special counsel, Robert Mueller, was wrapping up his report. Now, I know you'll remember, Robert Mueller found that Russia did try to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and the Trump campaign knew about and expected to benefit from that experience. However, Mueller also found there was no criminal conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russians.

Well, Trump very quickly declared victory. He claimed no collusion. No obstruction. Not exactly an accurate take on Mueller's findings. And Donald Trump began this refrain, investigate the investigators. What happened a couple weeks later? Sure enough, Donald Trump's attorney general, Bill Barr, named John Durham and told him to look into the origins of the Russia investigation. Durham, by the way, had been a Trump appointed U.S. attorney, but also had been a federal prosecutor for 35-plus years.

HARLOW: And also been praised by Democrats, like Chris Murphy and Merrick Garland, the attorney general, Joe Biden, the president left him in place for all of this. Walk us through his findings.

HONIG: Yes. So, big report yesterday, 300-plus pages. Here are the key findings by John Durham. He found there is no actual evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia at the start of the investigation. Now, you're never going to have all the information right up front, but Durham says that this thing should have ended and never become a full blown investigation.

Durham also criticizes DOJ and the FBI. He says they relied on raw, unanalyzed and uncorroborated intelligence. He said they should have done more diligence before they relied on some of the things they relied on, including the infamous Steele Dossier. And Durham notes that there was a predisposition to investigate Trump by some members on the team.

Durham does cite email and text exchanges between certain members of the team that clearly show they were anti-Trump and wanted him to leave the election.

HARLOW: Yes, they do. And we'll get to those with Andy McCabe, who is on the team, who's named 60 times almost in this report, what he thinks of those text messages.

But before you go, there is a departure in the Durham report from the Mueller report.


HARLOW: How do you square the two? Can you? What should Americans take away this morning when they say, well, the Mueller report told us this, but the Durham report tells us this?

HONIG: Yes. So, the Mueller report said this investigation was properly predicated. We were right to go ahead. Also DOJ's inspector general said there were problems with some of the things the FBI did, but the investigation was properly predicated and should have gone forward.

Also, let's remember the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee in 2020 found that there was ample basis for this investigation to move forward.

HARLOW: Okay. Elie Honig, thank you for helping us digest it. I appreciate it very, very much. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Also this morning, we're tracking some outraged parents in New York are pulling their children out of school after the city's move to start housing asylum seekers in a handful of standalone public school gyms.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm taking them home. Why should they be in there with those adults? Those are men and women. We don't know where these people come from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just hope they take the proper measures of security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They should have a different type of building or something for adults. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: This comes as the mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Denver and Houston are all now asking for a meeting with President Biden as their cities are struggling to find space for the influx of migrants that are being bussed to their cities from the southern border each day.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in McAllen, Texas, with more. Rosa, obviously, this is a question, and I think that we should note the reason this is happening is officials in these border towns, people like Texas Governor Greg Abbott say that it's unfair that their cities have to deal with the majority of the stress of this.


But the big question is, these officials in these other cities, what is their solution here for how to handle this influx and the surge of migrants that they have to deal with?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kaitlan, that surge related to Title 42 happened May 9th, when I was doing live shots for your show, and there were hundreds of migrant who were sleeping in the streets of El Paso. Right now, what's going on in the border is, yes, there is a strain of resources because a lot of migrants entered that week. But now what we're seeing is that those numbers are not materializing. The expected thousands of migrants who were waiting in Mexico, who were going to rush into the United States after Title 42 lifted, has not happened.

Now, the administration did see a setback overnight after the DOJ asked for a stay in that federal case out of Florida, and that stay was denied, which means that the Biden administration can no longer release migrants into communities without court dates. So, that creates a further strain. Does it create a bottleneck? Absolutely. But there has been such a reduction in the number of migrant encounters on the border by 50 percent or more that at this point is manageable.

Now, the big question is what happened? Why are these thousands of migrants who are waiting in camps on the Mexican side not crossing over? What I'm hearing from officials and community leaders on the Mexican side is that the tough talk by the Biden administration and the transparency by the Biden administration, in essence, delivering the message to migrants about the border being closed, the legal consequences, the fact that they would be barred from reentry for five years, Kaitlan, that message is resonating on the Mexican side by these migrants because they're seeing it on their social media now. They're seeing images of migrants being shackled and being boarded on planes and deported back to their home countries, that appears to be resonating.

Now, how long will this last? We don't know, but we're going to be monitoring it.

COLLINS: I know you'll be monitoring it closely, Rosa. Thank you. HARLOW: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis apparently days away from launching his 2024 presidential campaign. We'll talk about his strategy ahead.

COLLINS: Also, we have a live look at Louisville, Kentucky, as voters are heading to the polls today to decide which Republican nominee, which Republican candidate is going to face off against the current Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, who is up for reelection? A lot of Republicans are running. We'll tell you what the voters are saying.



HARLOW: My favorite songs, one of my favorite movies. A live look this morning at Philadelphia, where voters are heading to the polls in the mayoral primary races. Nine Democrats are running for their party's nomination. There's only one Republican candidate. Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one in the city of Philadelphia. Whoever ultimately merges as the winner of the mayoral race will likely be a player in the 2024 presidential election, with Pennsylvania poised to be one of the biggest prizes.

COLLINS: Of course, that is not the only place where voters are going to the polls today. Republicans in Kentucky are also doing the same thing this morning in a race that is going to test for President Trump's influence over the Republican Party against other potential 2020 rivals -- 2024 rivals of his. Voters are deciding who is going to take on the current Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, this November. The election could set the stage for what's to come in 2024 as well.

It is 12 Republican candidates who are on the ballot today. Three of them have made their way to the front of the pack. And our CNN National Politics Reporter Eva McKend is in Louisville this morning tracking all of these candidates, not just those 3, all 12.

Eva, what's the sense? What are you hearing from voters this morning as they are deciding which Republican they want to go head-to-head with the current governor?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, good morning to you, Kaitlan. It's been a bit slow here at this polling location in Louisville this morning, but about 2,000 polling sites across the state, I'm told. And it has just been a bruising battle between these Republicans as they try to figure out who best to put up against popular incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear.



MCKEND: State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a former staffer for Senator Mitch McConnell and a rising star in the party after his 2020 Republican convention speech.

CAMERON: That's why I am voting for Donald Trump for President. MCKEND: Cameron is considered a top contender, along with Kelly Craft, who served as Trump's Ambassador to Canada and later the United Nations.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Kelly. You're doing fantastically well.

MCKEND: But Trump has endorsed Cameron, joining him in a tele-rally Sunday night.

TRUMP: I have no doubt he's going to be a fantastic governor.

MCKEND: The endorsement resulting in bitter barbs traded between the two candidates.

CAMERON: And then I got the endorsement and your team has been scrambling ever since.

MCKEND: And in T.V. ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only one candidate for governor has been endorsed by President Trump.

MCKEND: While Craft has focused in on Cameron's ties to McConnell.

GOV. CANDIDATE KELLY CRAFT (R-KY): My opponents career politicians who'd rather follow than lead.

MCKEND: And his handling over the Breonna Taylor case, allowing the Justice Department to investigate Louisville's Police Department. They failed Kentucky's law enforcement.

MCKEND: Craft, who is the wife of a billionaire coal magnet, has loaned her campaign more than $9 million, while Cameron has raised a total of nearly 1.5 million.

PENNY GERTING, KENTUCKY VOTER: They both are cutting each other's throat. That's what I think.

MCKEND: And you don't like that?

GERTING: No. They're slandering each other.

MCKEND: Cameron has focused on a law and order message and would make history as the first black Republican governor elected in the U.S.

Why do you think that you are best suited to take on Governor Beshear?

CAMERON: We've seen a governor who has sat idly by as the far-left has tried to move into our state. We need us to have a governor that says enough and will stand up for the values of Kentucky.

MCKEND: Craft has centered her campaign on culture war clashes.


CRAFT: We have to take woke not only out of our education but out of our government, out of our family, out of our business.

MCKEND: Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has focused his campaign on rural areas of Kentucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me be the candidate that unites our state.

MCKEND: Hoping to win over voters who may be turned off by Craft and Cameron's Trump-fueled fight law.

TRES WATSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Our politics is local. That's kind of a test here. Can you still run a campaign in the state talking about local issues, running a very localized campaign and win or have we entered an era on politics where if you're running for local office, you have to have a position on Ukraine?


MCKEND (on camera): So, Cameron expected to vote here a little later this morning. Unfortunately, the forecast calls for rain, and already these primaries are low turnout affairs. 10 to 15 percent of registered voters, about 3.4 million registered voters in Kentucky, only 10 to 15 percent typically turn out for these primaries. The secretary of state's office hopes that their own projection is wrong and that more people, Poppy and Kaitlan, do turn out to vote.

COLLINS: Yes. Eva McKed, we'll see how many people do come out to vote. It might be more people running than voting.

HARLOW: That's such a low percentage. Thank you, Eva.

HARLOW: Joining us now, National Correspondent for The Washington Post Philip Bump. Great to have you. Good morning.


HARLOW: What do you make of this? You've got DeSantis choosing not to back Cameron, DeSantis choosing to back Craft, and so that's where he and Trump are departing on this one. What does it tell you?

BUMP: Yes, it's interesting. I mean, I would say there's probably two factors at play here. The first is, it's important to remember Trump is now the Republican establishment, right? And so if you want to run or establish yourself as being against the powers of being a Republican Party, to some extent, you have to challenge Donald Trump.

And so I think Ron DeSantis is making a play here to not only stand against Trump, but also stand against Mitch McConnell, who's seen as being allied with Cameron, who is the front runner in most polling. But also, you know, Craft has a lot of money. And if you are running for president and Craft is not likely to win, according to the polls, it doesn't hurt to have an ally in Kelly Craft.

HARLOW: There you go.

COLLINS: It's just also interesting because, obviously, Kelly Craft worked in the Trump administration. He nominated her to serve as his ambassador to Canada. So, we'll see what Republicans decide here. But it is this proxy war between Trump's influence, DeSantis' influence, so DeSantis' endorsement was kind of quiet.

But the Florida governor, we are now told, is basically just days away from finally, officially jumping into this race. He is still using the power of being governor of Florida to advance what that campaign is going to look like. Yesterday he signed this legislation. It would basically prevent public schools and colleges and universities in the state of Florida from funding diversity, equity and inclusion programs. This is what he said about what he was signing yesterday.


DESANTIS: We are supposed to have this big red wave. And other than like Florida and Iowa, I didn't see a red wave across this country. And so I think the party has developed a culture of losing. I think that there's not accountability.

What results are you producing for people? That's really what matters. You can sit there and talk about cable news, social media, all these other things that people are fixated on. How are you going to be able to actually bring about big change to make people's lives better?


COLLINS: So, that was while he was making these comments about this, that was his referencing what he keeps jabbing at Trump, saying there's this culture of losing. The Republican Party basically saying Trump is to blame for it.

BUMP: Yes. I mean, look, it's a tough argument to make when Trump is beaten by 20 points in most national polls, right? I think that his launch, which we expect to be imminent here, is really a key, key moment for DeSantis. I mean, obviously, it is for all candidates, right. But if he doesn't show that he can gain ground against Trump at this point in time, he is the guy who the people who don't like Donald Trump are pinning their hopes on. And that depends on them thinking he can beat Trump.

If he doesn't get a big boost from this, if he doesn't actually close that gap, they're going to start looking around saying, is there someone else that can be our anti-Trump guy, if it's not Ron DeSantis.

HARLOW: What was the front of the New York Post, remember, a few months ago, and no one's going to remember this, DeFuture.

BUMP: Oh, yes, right. Yes. Well, that was right after the 2022 election.

HARLOW: Yes, but I'm saying what -- right. It's amazing to see the gap now between them and the polling. I know he's not officially running it, but I wonder what you think of what caused that.

BUMP: Well, I think there's a couple of things. I mean, that was immediately after the 2022 midterms, when Donald Trump was getting a lot of blame for the underperformance of DeSantis, just mentioned there, and DeSantis had just won this huge, massive victory.

But now what we're seeing, too, is that, you know, for DeSantis, a lot of his politics were centered on COVID. COVID is not as salient as it used to be. And at the same time, Donald Trump is very effectively parlaying, you know, the indictment in Manhattan, these other -- you know, the Durham report, he's going to start seizing on, of course, as, hey, look, once again, they're coming to get me because they really want to get you. That's always a shtick and it resonates.

COLLINS: And it is still early, though, we should note. We still have some time to go. And what you hear from DeSantis' allies is, well, look how handily he won reelection and how his political success has changed from when he first was re-elected to when he was re-elected, and the question.