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CNN This Morning

Florida Government Ron DeSantis's Presidential Campaign Launch on Twitter Experiences Glitches; Oath Keepers Leader Stewart Rhodes to Face Sentencing for Seditious Conspiracy Due to His Actions during January 6th Insurrection; Texas A.G. Accuses House Speaker Of Being Drunk In Capitol; Texas House Investigating Ken Paxton Over Whistleblower Settlement; Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers Hand-Wash Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2023 - 08:00   ET



JOHN FOGARTY, WROTE TINA TURNER'S HIT SONG "PROUD MARY": And she turned it into a little movement, a little mini-opera, I suppose. And I liked both ways, the slow and the fast. What a concept. It was an incredible record.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Amazing. Iconic as it was.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: She truly was. Thank you both, so much, for bringing us that view of her that we didn't experience what you did. Our viewers didn't experience what you did. So a real gift that you had that time with her. Thank you both.

FOGARTY: Thank you.

PAUL SHAFFER, COMPOSER AND MUSICIAN: Great pleasure to be here. An honor, really, to be speaking about Tina this morning. I know John feels the same way.

HARLOW: Thanks, gentlemen.

CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry about that. We have got so many people here that I think we are -- we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign.


COLLINS: Is it? I don't want to jinx this, but we've made it on air all three hours this morning, and I feel like -- we still have an hour to go.

HARLOW: It is a pretty good sign. Not sure meltdown is a good sign. But look, that is about how Ron DeSantis launched his campaign. Good morning, everyone, to this hour of CNN THIS MORNING. Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis pushing the reset button on his presidential campaign. He just announced a new campaign kickoff in Iowa that comes after his much hyped launch on Twitter with Elon Musk was derailed by technical difficulties.

COLLINS: Also, lawmakers in the house going on recess as time is running out to reach a deal on the debt limit and prevent an economic disaster. There's a new warning this morning about what could happen in just the days to come.

HARLOW: And the leader and members of Oath Keepers, that militia group, are about to learn their fates. A judge is about to sentence them today for their conviction on seditious conspiracy.

This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

Here is where we begin this morning. Ron DeSantis planning a redo after his campaign launch went awry on Twitter. Watch.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: It keeps crashing, huh?

ELON MUSK, TESLA CEO: Yes. I think we've got just a massive number of people online. So it's -- the servers are strange somewhat.


HARLOW: After lots of hype, his live stream announcement with Elon Musk was full of technical challenges. The audio kept cutting out. The headlines were brutal this morning, and the hashtag #DeSaster was trending last night.

COLLINS: Yes, it took about 25 minutes or so before he was actually able to do that launch. Just a short time ago his campaign announced that he will be doing another campaign kickoff, this time in person in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday. Not on Twitter Spaces, which is where all of those glitches happened last night in that audio-only event. Then the day after that he is going to crisscross Iowa before heading to New Hampshire on Thursday and South Carolina on Friday.

HARLOW: Let's bring in Philip Bump, national correspondent for "The Washington Post," and our very own Abby Phillip, CNN senior political correspondent and the anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY." good morning.


HARLOW: Abby, everyone is talking about the technical glitch. But that's a day or two-day story. The real question is, what does this mean for his campaign? What will Iowa look like? And is the glitch just a one-day thing or is this ominous sign of what's ahead for him?

PHILLIP: That's where I'm at, at this point. I think the glitch was predictable. It was bad. I think we can say that. There is no spin that can spin this as breaking the Internet. It just didn't work. And there wasn't that many people that it should have been broken. But what I'm thinking about is what does it say about his campaign and

his decision-making processes, how they think about what they need to do in this race, and whether they are able to recover from this and learn from it, because they are going to have to do that very, very quickly. They are jumping into a race why they are not -- they are not going up against other candidates who are similarly situated, where they are -- the other candidates in the race are not all introducing themselves to the public for the first time. They are going after one of the most well-known people on the planet, Donald Trump, who was the president once.

And so this is zero fail ball here. You cannot mess this up repeatedly at the beginning. And I think that that's what this is about. I have some questions, also, about whether his message really got through last night. And is his campaign thinking about how effective he needs to be at selling himself to the American people at this moment.

COLLINS: And to that point, if you -- once you could listen to the announcement last night, the one that happened on Twitter Spaces first, there wasn't a lot of talk about inflation or matters like that. They were coming about crypto. They were talking about things that don't rate in the top three things that voters care about, which is unusual for a presidential campaign launch. But the idea that he chose to do it on Twitter, they wanted this buzz, they are making the argument that they are the competence without the chaos, a shot at Trump.


And then he already has chaotic start, and now they're having to do a relaunch on Tuesday. That's not a good sign for the start of the campaign.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Exactly right, and that's the point, right. He is pitching himself, I am the competent leader. I'm the normal guy, I can do this in a way that Donald Trump was so erratic and chaotic he can't, and then he comes out of the gates.

And so Abby's point, yes, it was Twitter's fault it didn't work. But everyone has seen what has happened with Twitter over the course of the past six months and they could have predicted it. And to your point, yes, the conversation that they then had was driven by Musk and Musk's allies about issues that Musk cared about and not about what DeSantis ought to have been talking about.

And people should remember this is -- we used to talk about lanes in the Republican primary. There's two lanes now. There's the Trump lane and there's the not Trump lane. Ron DeSantis is leading in the not Trump lane, but there is only one Trump. Trump is going to stay in the Trump lane, and DeSantis is sort of coasting behind him there. There is 330 million people in America who can be the not Trump candidate. And so if you come out of the gates and you are the guy who everyone is saying, OK, this is the guy that can beat Trump, and that's your launch, that's potentially pretty damaging. HARLOW: Let's listen to this sound, what he said not just on Twitter

when the audio did work, but also on FOX, on this radio interview about executive power and Article Two of the Constitution. Here he was.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: I understand the different leverage points that you would have under Article Two of the Constitution.

We have a bureaucracy that's totally out of control. You need to use Article Two power to bring the administrative state to heel. I will do that.

You also have to be willing to assert the true scope of Article Two powers, and I think a lot of our presidents have not been willing to do that.


HARLOW: Abby, what did you make of that? I guess considering also included in Article Two is advice and consent of the Senate?

PHILLIP: That's exactly what I was going to say. First of all, it's not the first time that we have heard repeatedly about Article Two. This was actually something that a lot of Trump allies who came in with him who were kind of working on the, quote-unquote, administrative state realized that they needed to figure out how to make the executive more powerful. Some of those people, I think, are in the DeSantis brain trust in terms of how he thinks about the federal government.

I think that's all good and well, but DeSantis is, first of all, running his campaign on something that is really the domain of Washington, D.C., think tanks. And I think that it needs to be translated for real people. And then secondly, he is also a governor who has had the pleasure of governing under pretty much one party control in a state he never had to deal with an oppositional Senate and an oppositional House and a vast, expansive federal bureaucracy.

So I think the rhetoric is totally fine. It's not surprising. There is a huge wing of the conservative rightwing that had this is a huge focus. But again, this campaign is going to be fought on the basis of what is important to real people, and I think that is going to be -- that's a next-level thing that does not really have a lot of resonance for people live their day-to-day lives.

COLLINS: And he talked about immigration. He talked about firing the FBI director on day one. He also, how do you think he handled Trump? Because that's, of course, his biggest challenge, obviously. He is still the most formidable challenger to Trump despite the glitches and whatnot. He has got a lot of name I.D. He is established from his time as governor. He has got a lot of money. And he was making arguments last night, taking shots at Trump, saying I think we should debate, making comments like that. BUMP: Yes, I mean, yes, he is still the most formidable opponent to

Donald Trump. But he was about 15 points behind at the beginning of March according to FiveThirtyEight's average, and now Trump is up on him two to one, right. He needs to reverse that trend. And I don't know how last night is going to do that, particularly because he wasn't particularly forceful in going after Trump.

CNN had a poll yesterday that shows that two-thirds of Republicans think the 2020 election was stolen. Are you going to be able to convince those Republicans, oh, Donald Trump a loser? Are you going to be able to convince them Donald Trump is loser and is going to lose elections when you're down two-to-one in the polls against Donald Trump? Like, that's the problem that he has.

And to the point about Ron DeSantis personal -- his persona, if you will, there is nothing about Ron DeSantis particularly that came through last night that's going to have Republicans who really like Donald Trump sort of the way he is and the way he throws punches, I don't think Ron DeSantis is going to be able to overcome that, particularly if he is doing events like he did last night.

PHILLIP: This is why next week is going to be really critical. He has to get out of Florida, get on the ground, and really start engaging. But the engagement isn't just about the interpersonal stuff. The headlines at the local level really matter. This week was a missed opportunity. He could have had a raft of positive headlines out of this, fine. Next week is his next opportunity to reset the narrative, and it's going to have to be reset not just in the interpersonal interactions and diners and whatnot, but in how he manages the overall ethos of this first week. Is he competent? Is it going smoothly? Is he making people feel something? I mean, this is the thing about Donald Trump. You may not like him, but he makes people feel, on the Republican side, feel very excited. Ron DeSantis needs to engender that same kind of thing if he's going to beat Trump.


HARLOW: Abby Phillip, Philip Bump, thank you both very much. Nice to have you.

COLLINS: A lot of Phillips in the house this morning.


COLLINS: Thank you both. All right, just over an hour from now, the militia leader Stewart Rhodes is going to be the first of several Oath Keepers to be sentenced after he was convicted of seditious conspiracy for the role he played on January 6th. Prosecutor are asking for a 25 year prison sentence, and multiple law enforcement officers and two U.S. Capitol staff members stood before a federal judge in Washington yesterday recounting their terror as a mob breached the Capitol, as you can see here, on January 6th.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is tracking this. Katelyn, I think the most significant thing here is how these charges differ and what the sentences could look like and how they could be different from other people who have been sentenced and charged with January 6th.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. Kaitlan, whenever we look back, there are hundreds of Capitol riot defendants, many of whom have been sentenced already, many of whom have served their time because many of them received relatively short sentences or sentences that didn't require them to go to prison. Only one person has gotten a sentence of over 10 years as far as we can tell so far in these cases.

But these guys, they are different, and the Justice Department says that to the judge. This is the first group of people who are set to be sentenced for that seditious conspiracy charge, that idea that they have been convicted by a jury for wanting to, by force, block the U.S. government or wage a war. And the Justice Department doesn't pull any punches whenever they are arguing to the judge already on paper. They do quote somebody who took the stand at their trial and called them a traitor. That is how they start their argument. They say these people are traitors. And then they say that these defendants are unlike any of the hundreds of other defendants who have been sentenced for their roles in the attack.

So they are asking for 25 years for Stewart Rhodes. There's another man, Kelly Meggs, an Oath Keeper, who is being sentenced. The Justice Department is asking for 21 years for him. That is quite large, quite significant. We will see if the judge is going to do that.

But already the judge is looking at that case and spent a lot of time yesterday factoring in a lot of the things, legal and both the personal impact that this case, that these men and what they are convicted of doing, how it affected people. And those two people who were -- there was testimony from many different people who were victims. Two of them said -- or metropolitan police officers testified yesterday saying, "They chose to be part of group that surrounded us, taunted us. My physical scars, bruises, and wounds have healed, but my mental trauma haunts me to this day." And then another U.S. Capitol police agent said, "The violence that the rioters brought to the Capitol never ended for many of us. The trauma reached into our homes, our personal lives, and loved ones." And so that is what the judge has heard going into this sentencing today and is something he will be considering as he makes these decisions.

COLLINS: Yes, powerful words from Christopher Owens and David Lazarus there. Katelyn Polantz, thank you.

HARLOW: Also this morning, there is new U.S. intelligence that it may have been a Ukrainian group that was responsible for that Kremlin drone attack that we covered. You can see that happened near the middle of the night. Putin was not at the Kremlin. So far, though, they have not reached a definitive conclusion. But what does this mean for the future of the war?

COLLINS: And here in the U.S., we will go live back to the National Mall where you saw Jake Tapper. And here's there with a bipartisan group of lawmakers as they mark Memorial Day ahead.


COLLINS: In Texas, a battle that escalating between the state's Republican attorney general as well-known Ken Paxton, and the Republican control the House to where division between a party. And Wednesday, a House Ethics panel heard explosive testimony from investigators detailing what they described and claimed was years of misconduct by the Attorney General. But just a day before that Paxton himself was accusing the Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan of being drunk as he was conducting official house business. CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Houston with the latest. I mean, Rosa, this is just -- I'm fascinated by the story of what's happening here, to see these divisions are merging. And I think the questions that some people would have, are those allegations that we heard from Paxton related to this investigation and the allegations against him?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kaitlan, there's so much to unpack here, in a nutshell. This is a window into Texas politics. And yes, there's a lot of inside (INAUDIBLE) [08:017:56] and you know that the Republicans are in control here in Texas. But there are different factions, there are battles for power and this one is out there for the world to see.


FLORES (voiceover): A Texas sized brawl between two of the most powerful Republicans in the Lone Star State, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton exploding after this clip went viral.

REP. DADE PHELAN (R-TX): Is there objections of the office Amendment? And the (INAUDIBLE) members adopted.

FLORES (voiceover): Phelan, appearing to slur his words last Friday during official house business.

PHELAN: Send Amendment the member that's --

FLORES (voiceover): The mumbling coming at the end of a 13-hour day and sparking a slew of tweets by the state's top law enforcement officer. First, calling for his fellow Republican to resign for quote, apparent debilitating intoxication, though presenting no evidence. Then, asking the house Investigations Committee to open an inquiry into the speaker for presiding and an obviously intoxicated state. Again, presenting no evidence. Democrat House member Terry Canales defending Phelan saying, "I had multiple interactions with the speaker throughout the day and that night. And I can say unequivocally, he was not under the influence.

BRIAN SMITH, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, ST. EDWARD'S UNIVERSITY (voiceover): If there was something else, or it was just that he was tired then it definitely makes Ken Paxton look like a bully.

FLORES (voiceover): Phelan fighting back to a spokesperson saying, "Mr. Paxton statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face about this." UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The committee will meet in a public hearing.

FLORES (voiceover): The Texas House General investigating committee a panel that looks into corruption with a power to initiate impeachment proceedings. Issuing a letter to Paxton demanding preservation of documents and saying, quote, "The house is conducting an investigation related to your request for $3.3 million of public money, to pay a settlement resolving litigation between your agency and terminated whistleblowers."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Each was fired after reporting General Paxton to law enforcement.

FLORES (voiceover): The public hearing Wednesday lasted more than three hours.


REP. ANDREW MURR (R-TX): And you said, of nearly every single person that your team interviewed as part of this process that nearly every single person expressed fear and concern about retaliation from Ken Paxton.

FLORES (voiceover): The testimony by a group of attorneys' stunning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is absolutely accurate.

MURR: Thank you.

FLORES (voiceover): Describing Paxton alleged misconduct related to a whistleblower lawsuit he settled in February. Obligating Texas taxpayers, not Paxton, to pay the $3.3 million settlement. As part of the settlement, the Texas A.G., issued an apology, but that does not constitute admission of liability.

SMITH: This definitely looks like Ken Paxton trying to deflect his own problems onto the Speaker of the House.

FLORES (voiceover): After the hearing, the mudslinging continued. Paxton calling the House Speaker the L word, saying feeling as a quote, "Liberal, that it's not surprising that a committee appointed by him would seek to disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General, and that every allegation is easily disproved." Phelan's communications director firing back, saying, "The Attorney General appears to have routinely abused his powers for personal gain, and exhibited blatant disregard for the ethical and legal propriety expected of the state's leading law enforcement officer."


FLORES (on camera): Now, amid all of these allegations and investigations, including the one by the Texas House, which asked the Texas Attorney General to preserve documents, there's this. Take a look at this video, this is a dumpster fire at the Texas A.G.'s office happening yesterday. This video first started circulating on Twitter then, the Texas A. G.'s office also tweeted it from its official account. And we contacted the fire department in Austin, and they say, that they responded, they were there for a few minutes, they are investigating. Now, there's an open investigation into this dumpster fire. Kaitlan and poppy, so, a lot there, we're going to continue monitoring to see at least.

COLLINS: I mean, a literal --

HARLOW: Literal dumpster fire.

COLLINS: Words aren't even needed Rosa Flores, thank you for that.

HARLOW: So, coming out, we're going to take you live to the National Mall this morning. Just a few days ahead of Memorial Day. Our very own Jake Tapper with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. We will show you how they're choosing to honor our nation's heroes.



HARLOW: Memorial Day is only a few days away and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are gathering right now to honor our nation's veterans. They come together to handwash, look what they're doing, they're handwashing, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that list of names of the more than 58,000 lives lost in that war.

And our Jake Tapper, CNN Chief Washington Correspondent and Anchor of The Lead and State of the Union is there with him. Because you were always there for things that honor our veterans, Jake. I know it's important for you to be there this morning. Tell us more.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, THE LEAD & STATE OF THE UNION: Well, I'm here with a bipartisan group and by bipartisan, I mean Army and Marines. But also, Republican and Democratic Congressman Mike Waltz, and Congressman Seth Moulton, Florida, Massachusetts. And they are two of the large group of people, a few dozen members of Congress. All veterans who were here rather humbly scrubbing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And Congressman Waltz has been spearheading this for, I guess this is the third year you've done it.


TAPPER: Why did you organize it? And why was it important to you?

WALTZ: Well, I think it's incredibly important for two reasons, Jake. One, it's good for us. It's good for us as members of Congress to come down here to see these 58,000 names. And as my first platoon sergeant used to say, get our minds right, as a reminder of why we're here. And for those of us who are still out on freedoms frontiers, depending on us to do the right things in Congress. And then, number two, this is good for Americans to see, this is good for Americans to see us coming together, setting our differences aside, and appreciating that freedom isn't free.

And especially for our Vietnam veterans, which we still have three in the House of Representatives. We learned so much from them, about what they went through when veterans weren't appreciated, when people literally wouldn't even put on their job application that they are a Vietnam veteran because the country had for the first time in history turned against them. So, all, for all of those reasons, we'll do this every year. And I'll try to do this every year, I'm in Congress.

TAPPER: And it's really moving and Congressman Moulton, the first thing you all did was remove the letters and pictures and gifts that people had been leaving here, put them to the side. So, then you could wash and when you pick up a picture or a letter, it's just, it's so heartbreaking.

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): It's incredibly powerful and to be here this morning, to see that every single one of those names (INAUDIBLE) a father, a brother, a son or a daughter, sister. And to appreciate what they gave to America, what they gave to all of us. To a country that at the time didn't even appreciate their sacrifices. And Mike Waltz's right, it's a reminder of all the young men and women who are still out there standing on the ramparts of freedom around the globe. And are counting on us to come together and do the right thing in Washington.

TAPPER: And who are you -- I mean, I know probably too many people to name but if you had to just say who are like one or two people that you're thinking about this Memorial Day weekend, who would they be?

WALTZ: Well, I'm thinking about my uncle Greg Waltz (PH), who was a helicopter pilot. He lived his co-pilot didn't. His co-pilot on that wall. You know, I come from a long -- even though I defected and when army a long line of Navy and Marine Corps veterans. And so, Seth's right, you're right, when you see those pictures and how young they were.