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McConnell Freezes at Podium Again; Military Aid Package for Taiwan; Pro-Ukrainian Russian Guerillas Claim Responsibility for Drone Strike; College Football Kicks Off for Final Year as we Know It. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 31, 2023 - 06:30   ET



CAPTAIN JODY GRIFFIS, OWNER STEINHATCHEE MARINA AT DEADMAN'S BAY: Well, this is, you know, this whole area is hugely affected. Like, I got up on the - I'm up on the fifth floor right now in our little office. And I got up here and although the winds - you know, with all the rain and everything you couldn't (INAUDIBLE) decreased visibility as much I'd like, but you couldn't see land anywhere from the fifth floor up here in the heat when the storm surge was moving in, you know, at its capacity, full capacity.

So, it was - it was unbelievable. I bounced from balcony to balcony, you know, south elevation (ph), because everything happened (ph) so much going on at one time, it was hard to keep everything in the camera. So, I put the wife in the safe room and I went and bounced around while the surge was coming in. And it was, like I said, it was a sight to behold.

Cleanup, it's going to be massive because it did affect the whole county. My neighbor to the west, just west of us, I - I -- we took a pretty good brunt (ph) the way that the river comes in out of the gulf. But Norway's (ph) Restaurant, Miss Linda Wicker (ph) and Miss Nicki (ph), they really got hit hard. I mean they had a whole (ph) real estate area over there. It's gone completely. I got it in some of the footage, I think, floating across the road. So, it was a sight to behold. It will take - it will take awhile.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I am -- I figured it would take some time. I am very happy to see that you are healthy and there and that, while your property is damaged, you are still in a good spot, and your wife as well.

Captain Jody Griffis, we'll be checking in with you to just see how things are going where you are after that massive storm hit y'all. Thank you.

GRIFFIS: We'll be here. Thank you.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, coming up ahead, what new U.S. intelligence is saying about a potential arms deal between Russia and North Korea.

SIDNER: And imagine calling shotgun and losing to this.


SIDNER: A bull.

MATTINGLY: That's America.

SIDNER: I love it too. How far this Nebraska driver got with a bull, no that's not like a stuffed thing, that's a real bull in his passenger seat.

MATTINGLY: A real bull.

SIDNER: I've got to know this guy. We'll have more on that, next.



MATTINGLY: Welcomes back.

And we want to go back to the new concerns -- mounting concerns this morning about Senator Mitch McConnell's health after he suffered yet another health scare. As we mentioned earlier, he froze for about 30 seconds yesterday while speaking with reporters in Kentucky. That's about a month after he did the same exact thing on Capitol Hill during a press conference.

I want to bring in our panel. Senior reporter for "The Root," Jessica Washington, former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland, and political video reporter for "The Washington Post," Joyce Koh.

Joyce, I want to start with you because the first response I think for most people, I hope, is, there's a human response of that's scary - it's scary to watch. It's scary to watch. I know his team feels the same exact way. People who don't like him feel the same exact way for political reasons, feel the same exact way from a human reason.

But the what's next is, I think, a very real, palpable growing question on Capitol Hill. What's your sense of things?

JOYCE KOH, POLITICAL VIDEO REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, we saw that human response from members of both sides of the aisle. President Biden, yesterday, even responding saying they have political differences, but that he was concerned watching that and he was going to call his friend, Mitch McConnell, later on and check up on him.

And you even hear that from the ground in Kentucky. I was speaking to several sources there, state lawmakers, who watched that and they said their jaws dropped when they saw Mitch McConnell experiencing this freezing episode again.

But, you're right, the big question that comes after this is that Democrats specifically in Kentucky are asking is whether or not there are people around McConnell in his circle, his aides, his staffers that are having these conversations with him on whether or not, you know, he served a very long time, he's been in office in that position since 1985, whether or not he should be resigning at this point seeing that there are these health concerns that are very visible in the public eye.

You know, it also goes to these questions of, he's made no indication that he's going to resign. You know, he said that he's fine. His office has said that it was him feeling lightheaded. But if he were to resign, you know, what would that look like. The formal process in Kentucky now is that the governor of -

MATTINGLY: The Democratic governor.

KOH: The Democratic governor of Kentucky would have to appoint a Republican senator to that position if he were to do that.


SIDNER: Yes, it's really interesting. Speaking of sort of political part of all this, 2024 is coming ahead. And I do want to ask you, Jessica, about the issue of age. Because when it comes to the president, you see a lot of people, especially on the right, really going after him, saying that he is too old to do the job that he's doing. But you have Mitch McConnell, which you don't hear that form the right, and you have Dianne Feinstein, who where - who has also been attacked. She has said she's going to - she's not going to run again. But she's still in her position.

What's going to happen? Is this going to play into the 2024 presidential race you think?

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, "THE ROOT": Yes, I think there's potential for it. The fact that age is becoming salient, certainly people were talking about Mitch McConnell's multiple episodes. I think there's deep concern, you know, are these people cognitively able to do the job, particularly with Mitch McConnell, where we can see it visibly. I think with Biden we haven't seen these same episodes. So, I do think this is going to play into it.

And we've already seen it in polling. I mean polling, both among Democrats and, you know, Republicans, they're saying, you know, Biden might be too old for this job. I don't think that means that Democrats are not going to pull the lever for him. We haven't had any indication that they're going to say, I would rather have Trump or another Republican in office over Biden because of his age, but certainly this seems like a salient issue in the election.

SIDNER: And just to quickly follow up. It's not about age, it's about competency, or at least it should be. People can see a number. I know an 85-year-old who's sharper than I am, which I know is insane, a whole lot, but still, you know - watch it, Phil.


SIDNER: I knew you were going to do it, so I did it for you. But truly, like there are people who are very sharp and are still capable of doing the job. And if that's the case, the age shouldn't matter. But you know how we are.

MATTINGLY: Well, but there's also generational -

SIDNER: That's right. That's -

MATTINGLY: And I think to your point on the polling, when you have the frontrunner for the Republican nomination is in his mid-to late 70s, when you have President Biden, when you look across the Senate and if you're a younger person who is a significant part particularly of t he Democratic coalition, you're looking around going, who represents me? And I think it's an issue we're going to be talking about a lot.

Jeremy, though, I do want to swing over to legal issues.


There are a couple Trump things (ph) we want to want about, but I want to start with Giuliani, the opinion (ph) that we saw yesterday in terms of the lawsuit from the two Georgia election workers. What the judge decided to do was to basically say, and you can correct me if I'm wrong as a non-lawyer, but like we're not even going to give you - you have been so bad and so unresponsive, we're not even going to give you a chance anymore. This is done. Fair?

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: Absolutely. You know, with the man's experience in law, it comes as a shock, but then again maybe it shouldn't with all the things we were learning about Giuliani and Trump and Eastman that he is intentionally withholding this evidence and this discovery that will allow the plaintiffs here of Moss (ph) and Freeman (ph) to say, this is what happened to me. These are the damages. These are the moneys you have. These are the text exchange. He's been holding all of that in an effort to avoid responsibility, not just in the civil matter, but arguably more so to protect himself potentially in the criminal matter because there is a nexus. Even though one is civil, there's a very tight knit between the two.

MATTINGLY: And just to follow on that, he had stipulations where he basically acknowledged that he had defamed them.

SALAND: Right.

MATTINGLY: But the judge, I believe, referred to it as swiss cheese in the 57-page opinion. Why?

SALAND: You know - you know, similar, you know, you thread a needle to try to work both sides. I mean that needle has no hole to thread. He's basically saying, I want to avoid the sanctions. I want to avoid that -- the monetary damages. But I want to protect myself in the event that this comes up in the criminal trial, which it very well could as part of this subversion, whether in Georgia or elsewhere. So, it is absolutely ridiculous. You don't find people in a defamation admitting to defamation per say and saying, yes, I defamed this person, but at the same time I had a constitutional right to defame them and there was no injury and then I'm not going to tell you and give you the evidence. It's just an effort to escape responsibility on its face.

MATTINGLY: Real quick. Last one of this before we have to go.

The lawyer for the two election workers said tens of millions of dollars is what they're going to be seeking and may be able to get. Do you think that's a ballpark?

SALAND: I mean it's bold. It's very bold. But you're not going to undercut yourself. Why would you say anything less?

SIDNER: Right.

SALAND: So, I don't put too much weight into that at this point in time.


SALAND: Yes, we'll learn. And, if we don't, the jury has said that the jury can be, you know, advised that, again, Giuliani's withholding this evidence of his monetary ability to pay.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Well -

SIDNER: Well, and we know he's in trouble, though, so it will probably be -

MATTINGLY: With actually - yes, his financial situation. Also, I'm not sure if you can quantify the damage done to two people that we've seen.

SIDNER: Right, a very long time (INAUDIBLE). Right. Right.

MATTINGLY: All right, Jessica, Joyce, Jeremy, thank you, guys, very much, as always.

SIDNER: All right, overnight, in South Africa, more than 70 people are dead after a fire ripped through a building there. We'll take you live to Johannesburg.

MATTINGLY: And the Biden administration has approved the first ever transfer of U.S. military equipment to Taiwan under a special program. What's in it and how China is already responding. That's next.



SIDNER: The Biden administration has approved the first ever transfer of military aid to Taiwan through a State Department financing program typically reserved for a sovereign nation. The package totals $80 million and U.S. taxpayers will, of course, be footing the bill for that.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us live from the State Department.

What can you tell us about what this - what this is and the timing of all of this is significant as well? KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a few things about this

new type of military assistance that the U.S. is giving to Taiwan that are pretty significant, Sara. First of all, this is typically a program that, as you said, is for sovereign nations. And so this is the U.S. providing military support to Taiwan, as it has in the past, but through this new program. And because the U.S. is going ahead and providing this assistance with this new type of program, it's likely to enrage China, because we have seen China be infuriated in the past when the U.S. has provided military support to Taiwan. But because they're using this different kind of program, typically for sovereign nations, of course China doesn't view Taiwan as a sovereign nation, it's likely to see China pretty enraged by this situation.

The other fact that we need to consider is just, you know, what make this is program different than the other types of military sales that the U.S. has given to Taiwan in the past. The difference here is that this financing for this program is actually paid for by U.S. taxpayer dollars. So, Taiwan isn't going to be paying for this military equipment. It's the U.S. government, U.S. taxpayer dollars that are going to be paying for this $80 million in new military equipment going to Taiwan.

Now, when the State Department alerted Congress earlier this week that they were moving ahead with this funding, here's what they said. Quote, "FMF, which is Foreign Military Financing, will be used to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities through joint and combined defense capability and enhanced maritime domain awareness and maritime security capability.

Now this alert didn't say exactly what kind of military support Taiwan is going to get with this new financing, but there are a whole host of options that could be included, like drones, like military training, like missile defense programs, a lot of options that Taiwan is now going to be open to because of this new financing.


SIDNER: Yes, and it's not just by the financing. It's about the fact that it's for sovereign nations, which is really a signal to China that the U.S. is going to support Taiwan if there is some sort of attack. That's what it's going to look like for sure to China. We will wait and see what China's response is.

Kylie Atwood, thank you so much. Appreciate your reporting.

All right, this morning, new U.S. intelligence reveals Russia and North Korea are actively advancing negotiations for a potential arms deal. Russian officials have visited Pyongyang twice in the last month. The National Security Council also says North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been exchanging letters pledging to increase their bilateral cooperation. The newly released intelligence is the latest indication that the Kremlin is trying desperately to get more ammunition for its faltering invasion of Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: Now, this is a story that really caught my attention this morning.


A group of pro-Ukrainian Russian guerilla fighters claiming responsibility for a drone strike on Russia's Kursk region on Sunday. They're called the Russian Volunteer Corp. They say the attack struck a residential building. A claim Russia is currently denying. Now, the guerilla group also says they work in tandem with Ukrainian - with the Ukrainian security service.

CNN's Melissa Bell is live for us in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, with more.

Melissa, what do we know about what's called the Russian Volunteer Corps?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, Phil, this is one of two principle paramilitary groups that are based inside Ukraine, made up of Russian citizens who are not just opposed to the war, and I think this is interesting, but also more broadly to Vladimir Putin's rule, determined to bring it to an end.

And what we've seen in these last few months are a number of incursions on their part across the border to carry out attacks. Now, this one, as you mentioned, hit a residential building. They went across the border, and with their drones say they also managed to attack an airfield, causing damage there.

Now, Russia has denied and said that it managed to push off -- foil those drone attacks, but it is important, not only because of the political aspect that began this Russian group functioning from within Ukraine's borders, but because of the increasingly obvious porous nature of that border. One thousand 200 miles that separate Ukraine from Russia that have increasingly seen not just attacks by these particular paramilitary Russian groups, but, of course, also by Ukrainian forces over the course of the last few months.

We saw overnight, on Wednesday, the largest drone attack on Russia since it war began. And that's important because it is about taking out Russian capabilities even as Russia tries to resupply its lines just south of here in Zaporizhzhia where Ukrainian forces have continued to make such progress. Small progress in terms of the land they've retaken. Significant progress because of the bridge heads (ph) they're creating and the momentum that they feel they now have.


MATTINGLY: All right, Melissa Bell for us on the ground in Ukraine. Thanks so much.

Well, college football, as we know it, is in its final season. It also starts tonight.



MATTINGLY: You know, Sidner, if the -- the world feels like it's in a better place today.

SIDNER: Well, hello, Gator fans.

MATTINGLY: It's because tonight is week one of the college football season. It kicks off. Week zero was a couple days ago. This is the real start. But it will also be the start of the final college football season as we know it. Conference realignment and the growth of the playoff field will bring major shakeups to the sport.

SIDNER: My Florida Gators, ladies and gentlemen - that's not them. But my Florida - that was also not them. Florida Gators are playing tonight against 14th ranked Utah Utes in Salt Lake City. This is a big game. Huge.

Andy Scholes, please tell me my Florida Gators are going to win this one. What are the predictions?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: We'll see. They're underdogs, but, you know, you know, guys, you know, this is actually - Sara, this is the first time your Gators are playing a non-conference road game outside of the state of Florida since 1991. It's kind of crazy to think about. But, you know, we all do need to cherish this college football season because between conference realignment and the expanded playoff, yes, things are going to look very different next year.


SCHOLES: The tradition, the rivalries, the passion, there's nothing quite like college football. And this season will mark the end of an era for the sport.

NICK SABAN, ALABAMA HEAD COACH: There's a lot of traditions that we've had for a long time in college football. And some of those traditions are going to get sort of pushed by the wayside, I think, and it's sad.

SCHOLES: Conference realignment was the harshest it's ever been this summer. The biggest blow to the PAC-12, where this season will be the last for the conference as we know it.

PAT CHUN, WASHINGTON STATE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR: It isn't one singular thing that led to the destruction of the PAC-12 as we know it. It was - it was a bunch of decisions and, you know, failed strategies that put us in this place.

SCHOLES: A year after USC and UCLA announced their intentions to move to the Big Ten in 2024, the PAC-12 completely crumbling this summer as Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah left for the BIG 12, and then Oregon and Washington jumped ship joining USC and UCLA in the move to the Big Ten.

DEION SANDERS, COLORADO HEAD COACH: All this is about money. You know that. It's about a bag. Everybody's chasing the bag. Then you get mad at the players when they chase it.

SCHOLES: Legendary broadcaster Brad Nessler, who's been one of the voices of college football for the past 30 years, says it's unfortunate how things have transpired.

BRAD NESSLER, CBS SPORTSCASTER: When you've got UCLA or USC going to play Rutgers, or, you know, whatever the case might be, it's - it's really going to be different. And, you know, you're going to lose a lot of rivalries. And to see a whole conference blow up like that was sad.

SCHOLES: This will also be the last season for the Big 12 as we know it. As founding members Texas and Oklahoma play one more season in the conference before making the move to the SEC, that means this season will be the last for one of the best rivalries in the sport, Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State.

MIKE GUNDY, OKLAHOMA STATE HEAD COACH: The (INAUDIBLE game is over because Oklahoma chose to leave the Big 12. Period. It's got nothing to do with Oklahoma State. So, do I like that? No.

SCHOLES: This will also be the last season for just four playoff teams. Next year it moves to 12 teams, the largest field college football has ever seen.

NESSLER: It's going to be really different. I think even with 12 teams, I personally think that there's about six teams, maybe eight teams that have a chance of winning the national championship. So, I think that -- the cream of that crop is always going to rise. But, you know, if it helps a Tulane get in or a Boise State or a Cincinnati, you know, I'm all for that. I think it still might expand even more than that in years to come.


SCHOLES: Yes, and Georgia, once again, starts at the top, ranked number one. The Bulldogs trying to win their third straight title. Something that hasn't been done since Minnesota won three in a row in the 1930s.


But again, you know, guys, I'm really going to cherish this season because I'm not a fan of 12 teams making the playoffs. You know, the college football regular season, it's arguably always been the best because each game every week means.