Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Trump Pleads Not Guilty in Georgia Election Case; McConnell Cleared by Capitol Physician after Freezing Again; Biden Admin Seeking Additional $4 Billion for FEMA's Disaster Fund; PA Escapee is Convicted Murderer and 'Extremely Dangerous.' Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 01, 2023 - 06:00   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Poppy is off this week. Audie Cornish is with us.


And let's get started with "Five Things to Know" for this Friday, September 1.

Former President Trump pleads not guilty in the Georgia election subversion case. That means he'll skip his arraignment next week. He also wants to separate his case from his co-defendants, who want a speedy trial.

And two leaders of the Proud Boys were sentenced to long terms in prison for their role in the attack on the Capitol. Top lieutenant, Joseph Biggs, whom you see here, was sentenced to 17 years. Zachary Rehl got 17 years.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: An urgent manhunt is underway right now after a convicted murderer escaped a Pennsylvania prison. The district attorney says the killer's depravity knows no bounds.

And breaking overnight, President Biden is asking Congress for four more billion dollars to refill FEMA's disaster relief fund after a string of natural disasters, including Hurricane Idalia. And he prepares to visit Florida tomorrow.

MATTINGLY: And how did you spend your wedding day? In a battle between the best teams in baseball. Superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. decided to celebrate his wedding day in the grandest way possible. You're seeing him right there, hitting his 30th homer of the season, a grand slam that helped the Braves take down the Dodgers.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

Well, good morning, everybody. Welcome. Good to see you. We're going to dive right in with former President Trump, who's pleading not guilty to 13 felony counts in the Georgia case, charging him and 18 co-defendants with interfering in the 2020 election.

Now, Trump is also choosing to waive his right to appear at his arraignment in Atlanta next week. That hearing was set for Wednesday, and cameras would have been allowed in the courtroom.

Now, this marks the fourth time Trump has formally denied criminal charges since leaving the White House. Several other defendants, including Sidney Powell, Trevian Kutti, and Jenna Ellis, have entered not-guilty pleas in to avoid their in-court appearances.

CORNISH: Now Fulton County D.A. Attorney Fani Willis is asking the judge to expedite the case and for all 19 defendants to stand trial together beginning October 23.

However, Trump is seeking to separate his case from his co-defendants, who want a speedy trial. His legal team argues they would not have time to prepare by October 23, and forcing them to do so in less than two months would violate Trump's constitutional right to a fair trial and due process.

We're going to get to CNN's Zachary Cohen with more.

So Zachary, this is the fourth not-guilty plea for the former president. What can you tell us about what's going on?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, guys.

Trump's lawyers making clear they want to slow things down here and arguing that it would be unconstitutional to force Donald Trump to go to trial on October 23 of this year. That's when Fani Willis wants to try all 19 of the defendants in this case, including the former president.

But look, they're arguing that they need time to prepare. There's another case that his -- Trump's lawyer has to deal with. And he's saying that would prevent him from prepping an appropriate defense for the former president.

Now look, we also got a ruling yesterday that any trial proceedings in this case will be televised. You know, the judge saying that this is essential for transparency.

But this only does apply to Georgia court. And in the state of Georgia, and as you know that there are several defendants in this case that are trying to move their case into federal court, where there are no cameras allowed.

So as of now, we may be seeing a lot of Donald Trump on televised -- when this goes to trial. But if it gets moved to federal court, we may not see what's going on there.

MATTINGLY: Zack, there are a lot of kind of procedural machinations that are playing out right now down there, but there's one decision I think everybody is waiting on. It could come, really, at any moment at this point.

Mark Meadows trying to move his case to federal court. There was another filing last night. Any word on when we may get a ruling from the judge? COHEN: Yes, Phil, there's a lot of moving parts here. But you're

right: Mark Meadows, at any moment, we could learn if he's going to get to move his case to federal court or not.

And, you know, the both sides -- prosecutors and Meadows's attorneys -- filed additional briefs yesterday, essentially arguing their side as to why or why this case shouldn't be moved.

But you know who's watching this decision -- for this decision very closely is Donald Trump's lawyers. He's expected to also file a motion to try to move his case to federal court. But he's going to wait and see what happens with his former chief of staff first, it looks like.

CORNISH: Zachary, thanks so much.


MATTINGLY: So Trump may be pleading not guilty, but it's important to step back here. I think CNN's Steven Collins and our great digital writer really does that in his piece this morning, saying, quote, "A net of justice is tightening around 2020 election deniers."

What's he actually talking about here? He's talking about this week's legal losses for people who tried to overturn the 2020 election results.

Top Proud Boys lieutenant, Joe Biggs, now facing 17 years in prison. Biggs led the march to the Capitol on January 6 and was convicted of seditious conspiracy.

Former Marine Zachary Rehl, president of the group's Philadelphia chapter, is looking at 15 years. He broke down in tears during his sentencing and told the judge, quote, "For what it's worth, I stand here today and say that I am done with it all. I'm done with politics. I'm done peddling lies for other people who don't care about me."

And then there's Rudy Giuliani, who also notched his first legal loss this week. He's found liable for defaming two Georgia election workers who he very falsely accused repeatedly of tampering with the 2020 election results.

And then there's former White House adviser Peter Navarro's contempt of Congress trial. A judge ruled this week that he cannot use executive -- the executive privilege defense for failing to answer a House January 6 Committee subpoena. His criminal case, that goes to trial next Tuesday.

CORNISH: A Capitol physician has medically cleared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to continue his work schedule. This after a concerning moment on Wednesday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): My thoughts about what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Running for re-election in 2026. MCCONNELL: That's right.


CORNISH: As you can see there, McConnell froze for more than 30 seconds while speaking with reporters in his home state of Kentucky, and it was the second such incident in about a month.

CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona is in Washington.

And Mel, I just want to start with what the Capitol physician had to say? What did he talk about?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so the Capitol physician said he consulted with both Leader McConnell and McConnell's neurology team, and determined that McConnell was good to go.

I want to read you part of the statement from the Capitol physician. He said, "After evaluating yesterday's incident, I have informed Leader McConnell that he is medically clear to continue with his schedule as planned. Occasional light-headedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery. It can also be expected as a result of dehydration."

As a reminder, Mitch McConnell tripped and fell at an event in March and did suffer a concussion. Now, this letter doesn't really reveal a whole lot, but it is notable that Mitch McConnell's team is the one who was releasing it.

Because after his first freezing episode in the Capitol last month, they wouldn't even say whether Mitch McConnell saw a doctor or got any medical treatment.

So clearly, they are trying to be more transparent in a bid to tamp down this growing speculation about McConnell's health and his political future. And yesterday, McConnell received some notable backup from President Joe Biden. Let's take a listen.


BIDEN: I spoke to Mitch. He's a friend. And I -- I spoke to him today, and, you know, he was his old self on the telephone. It's not at all unusual to have the response that sometimes happens to Mitch when you've had a severe concussion. It's part of -- it's part of the recovery. And so I'm confident he's going to be back to his old self.


ZANONA: Of course, Biden himself facing questions about his age as he runs for re-election. But with Mitch McConnell, this issue not going away anytime soon. And there are growing doubts about whether he will continue to serve as leader beyond 2024 when his current term as leader expires.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Now, and driving those growing doubts, Manu Raju and Burgess Everett over at Politico kind of the deans of the Senate reporters covering Capitol Hill, have reporting that Republicans could call kind of a special meeting to discuss his ability to lead him.

I know that's still kind of a work in progress. It's very fluid. But I'm going to break some news here, Mel. If he steps down, the replacement will almost certainly be named John, right?

ZANONA: That is exactly right. So there's long been speculation about who might succeed Mitch McConnell whenever he does decide to step aside. And the three top contenders are all named John.

There's John Thune of South Dakota, John Barrasso of Wyoming, and John Cornyn of Texas. All in and around leadership very close to Mitch McConnell.

But, as you said, they could call a special conference meeting next week when they return to the Senate from their August recess. It would take five Republicans to force such a vote.

But that would just be a meeting to talk about their leadership. There is no mechanism to force a vote. And so really, this is going to be a conversation about who succeeds McConnell after 2024.

CORNISH: Melanie, thank you so much.

MATTINGLY: Well, just moments ago, we learned the Biden administration plans to ask Congress for additional funding to replenish FEMA's disaster relief fund.

Now remember, CNN reported earlier this month the fund is already running out of money in a year that's setting records for billion- dollar weather disasters, from catastrophic flooding, tornadoes, wildfires in Hawaii. And just this week, a hurricane ripping through Florida's West coast.


Well, President Biden is set to visit devastated communities in Florida tomorrow, but first, he's asking for Congress to help out. CNN's Arlette Saenz is live for us at the White House. Arlette, what's striking to me is, it was just a few weeks ago that an emergency disaster funding request was made, $12 billion.

Now they're adding another $4 billion on top of it. Does that kind of underscore the urgency here?


This is certainly one of the most pressing issues facing President Biden right now, is they're trying to ensure that FEMA not just has the resources to respond to Hurricane Idalia and those wildfires in Maui but also to respond to future disasters.

And that is why you see President Biden this morning, upping his request for Congress to fund the disaster relief fund, initially $12 billion, now adding on another $4 billion onto that for a total of $16 billion. Now, it comes at a time when FEMA is significantly strained. FEMA

administrator Deanne Criswell earlier in the week said that they only have $3.4 billion in their existing disaster relief funds.

The agency has already shifted into this immediate needs funding mode to try to focus simply on those lifesaving activities. She's estimated that they will run out of funding at some point in September.

And that is why the administration is going to Congress to ask for more money in this moment. And it comes as there have been record weather-related disasters facing this country.

Data from about mid-August said that there were 15 weather-related disasters that exceeded $1 billion in damages. That didn't factor into account the Maui wildfires or this hurricane down in Florida.

And of course, now there are still several more weeks left of hurricane season, highlighting some of the urgency facing this moment.

One of the challenges, as the Senate's returning next week, the House after that, is that the initial request was tied to Ukraine funding, something that there has been some opposition on up on Capitol Hill.

So that will be one of the challenges that the administration faces as Congress is considering this request. Of course, President Biden will get a firsthand look at some of FEMA'S efforts as he travels down to Florida tomorrow.

MATTINGLY: Yes, the urgency is clear. The pathway to actually getting that money still very up in the air. Arlette Saenz from the North Lawn, thank you.

CORNISH: And one inmate is dead, two others have been injured in a stabbing at the same jail where Donald Trump surrendered just a week ago. We'll have those details ahead.

MATTINGLY: And an urgent manhunt is underway in Pennsylvania this morning for an escaped inmate who's being described as, quote, "extremely dangerous."


DEB RYAN, CHESTER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: His depravity knows no bounds. And this is someone who has nothing to lose, as you indicated. So I don't know what he's capable of doing.




MATTINGLY: Welcome back. Georgia's Fulton County Jail once again in the spotlight this morning, not for a Trump-related reason. This time, police say a detainee killed and two others injured after a mass stabbing on Thursday. This is the fifth death of a jail inmate there since the end of July.

The Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into the jail for dilapidated and unsanitary conditions, as well as violence against detainees.

It's also, of course, the same jail where Donald Trump turned himself in last week and had his first-ever mug shot taken there after being indicted on criminal charges in the Georgia election subversion and racketeering case, to which he's now pleaded not guilty.

CORNISH: So joining us to talk more is Temidayo Aganga-Williams, who served as a senior investigative counsel for the January 6th Committee. He's currently a partner at Selendy Gay Elsberg.

Also, a national political writer for the Associated Press, Michelle Price; and Amie Parnes, chief White House correspondent at -- and political correspondent at "The Messenger."

So I want to start with you, Temidayo, because while prosecuting a president is unusual, RICO violations are not. So help us understand why lawyers would be saying we should sever his case from the other defendants.

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JANUARY 6TH COMMITTEE: So there are several reasons why you may want to sever your case. One is that you want to go more quickly than others. And here, for example, Kenneth Chesebro, he's saying, Judge, I want to activate my speedy trial rights act now. I want to move forward as quickly as possible. I want a trial in October.

CORNISH: But why? What's the benefit to any given defendant for going faster?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: You're going to be testing the prosecutor's case. Is Fani Willis ready to try this case right now? And that's what they want to know. And generally speaking, a criminal case only gets worse for a defendant as it goes on and on and lingers. It does not get better, typically.

CORNISH: So you want to be in the front of the line?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: You want to be in the front. But there are dangers to that. If you're moving first, that means you may not get to file the same number of motions. You may not be able to challenge your case the same way. And, frankly, your lawyers don't have the amount of time to prepare.

So there are dangers to moving quickly here. But I think what he's doing is testing the case. And, frankly, President Trump is not going to want to do that himself. He's saying, I want to delay, delay, delay. So of course, there's some tension there.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask, along those lines, you know, what would it do to the prosecution if the cases are severed, if the individual cases are split apart? AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, it means that Fani Willis is going to have to

try these cases separately, and that's OK. In a case like this, with 19 defendants, it's -- I think it was likely not feasible that all 19 would go together. I think the most likely result would be some separation.

The danger for the prosecutor here is that she has a bad result in an earlier case. If you have a hung jury or an acquittal, that's going to set the tone going forward. It may impact the jury, meaning folks are going to see one case went forward, didn't get a conviction. When a later case comes up, the general jury pool might be aware of that fact. And it's harder to get another conviction.

CORNISH: I want to bring Amie and Michelle in here for a second, because while we're talking about D.A. Willis, the governor, Brian Kemp, has basically rejected calls from state lawmakers, who say they want to impeach her or pull her from office. I think we have a clip.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Up to this point, I have not seen any evidence that D.A. Willis' actions, or lack thereof, warrant action by the prosecuting attorney oversight commission, but that will ultimately be a decision that the commission will make.

Regardless, in my mind, a special session of the General Assembly to end run around this law is not feasible and may ultimately prove to be unconstitutional.


CORNISH: Now, there's a rash of laws around the country trying to say that you can pull a D.A. you disagree with, but what's significant about this moment?

AMIE PARNES, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT & SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE MESSENGER": Well, I think it's interesting, because you have these two men sparring, and clearly, Governor Kemp and Donald Trump, he -- he's on the other side of Trump on this, and they have been sparring since 2020 over this.


And obviously, he does not want to -- he wants to uphold the law. He does not want to make this a political moment, and he's going up against other Republicans who are saying in the presser, Republicans who are saying, Come on, do this. So this is obviously not a good moment for the former president.

MATTINGLY: It's always fascinating. Repeatedly, Brian Kemp does the thing that is normal and hews to the law; and, therefore, is at odds with a large swath of the Republican Party and former president.

Michelle, one thing I want to ask you. The judge in the Georgia D.A. case, the Fulton County case, said it's going to be -- it's going to be televised. Right? You're going to be able to watch. We assumed that was going to be the case, confirm that. It's going to be live- streamed.

What does that do, given that most of what we've seen has been behind the scenes up to this point?

MICHELLE PRICE, NATIONAL POLITICAL WRITER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right. I mean, this is the former president is going to be on trial on YouTube, basically. And this is going to be -- you know, from his camp, from a political standpoint, this is basically campaign footage for them.

They are treating these trials as his campaign that he is being politically persecuted, is the argument they're making.

In the primary election, that does seem to be helping him. But in the general election, this does not seem to be helping him. And you know, airing all this evidence, having him sit there at -- at a witness table where he can't speak, where people are presenting evidence about things he did, might actually be very harmful for him.

CORNISH: I mean, he can speak and go on the stand at some point. Temidayo, can you talk about the pros and cons of having all of your information kind of public, right, which is what happened with the January 6th Committee?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: As far as the evidence?

CORNISH: Being on TV.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Being on TV. Well, I think it's -- you know, if you're the prosecutor, you have to shut all that out. Because what happens is -- what concerns a prosecutor is not the American people watching. It's going to be those 12 people in the jury box. That's going to be the focus.

And we've seen it with other high-profile cases, from celebrities. It can be a lot of public interest, a lot of public opinions, and then, but those verdicts are going to be what they are. And that's why we're often shocked by them.

MATTINGLY: Can I just fill in, though? You were on the January 6th committee. The entire perception of the committee and what it was working on changed after the first hearing, like, unequivocally. I was in Washington, so at least in our bubble to some degree it did. Did you feel that? Did you see that that changed how you guys operated with the investigation itself?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, I think the change of perception was planned. I mean, the hearings were crafted to be a kind of public trial. They were made to impact public perception and public opinion.

So I think we looked at that at our hearings as a kind of jury trial for the American people as the jury. But I think that's going to be slightly different in the courtroom.

We were thinking about what's going to make good television and what's going to make people who may not otherwise be interested focus on our substance? If you're in the jury trial, you're thinking about what are the

elements of the crime? How do I prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt? You're thinking about the rules of evidence. You're thinking about the judge's perception.

CORNISH: A different threshold.


CORNISH: Thank you all so much for speaking with us.

MATTINGLY: Well, there's an intense search underway this morning for a convicted murderer who escaped a Pennsylvania prison. Where that stands and where he was last seen. We've got more on that next.

CORNISH: And anti-LGBTQ bills have been one of the few -- sorry, have one of the few pediatric heart transplant cardiologists in Louisiana leaving the state.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is going to be a hole that's left when I leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much is that weighing on you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By far, the hardest part of this decision was thinking about my patients.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is terrifying. I've never been a part of anything like this before.

He could be in the woods anywhere, so, you know, not knowing if he's hiding somewhere waiting until dark to come out.


MATTINGLY: This morning a massive manhunt is under way in Pennsylvania after a convicted murderer escaped a prison outside of Philadelphia.

Now police say Danelo Cavalcante is extremely dangerous. He was last seen about 30 miles West of Philadelphia, wearing a white T-shirt, gray shorts and white sneakers.

CNN's Danny Freeman joins us live from Philadelphia.

Danny, the way he's been described, the reactions you heard from residents there, very unsettling, ominous. What's the latest on where this stands? DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely unsettling, definitely

ominous. And law enforcement officials have really been very clear this is an extremely dangerous man who has escaped this prison in Chester County. And that's why we're seeing this multi-agency manhunt now continue into its second day.

Phil, I want to go back for a second and just describe exactly how all this started and what we do know at this point.

Law enforcement officials say this started yesterday, Thursday morning, around 8:50 in the morning. That's when Danelo Cavalcante escaped from the Chester County Prison. As you said, it's about 30 miles West of where we are here in Philadelphia.

He was last seen, though, around 9:40 a.m. And I want to repeat what you said. He was wearing a white T-shirt, gray shorts, and white sneakers.

And, Phil, the reason that's important is because police believe that he may have changed out of his prison garb into those clothes after he escaped the prison.

Now, Phil, you might be wondering why are people -- or rather law enforcement agents so emphatic when describing the suspect. It's because just two weeks ago, this inmate was convicted of first-degree murder, and just last week he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

And that was because he was found guilty of stabbing his former girlfriend 38 times, killing her in front of her children. Prosecutors say the motive for that killing was the girlfriend had discovered that this man was actually wanted for murder in Brazil, a separate murder.

So, again, that's why we're hearing such urgency from law enforcement. Take a listen to what the D.A. of Chester County had to say yesterday afternoon.


RYAN: His depravity knows no bounds. And this is someone who has nothing to lose, as you indicated. So I don't know what he's capable of doing. If he's already engaged in a murder in broad daylight in front of her two children, there's no stopping him from doing anything more egregious.


FREEMAN: Phil, at this point, at least a dozen agencies are helping in the search. We're seeing K-9s. We're seeing drones out there. We're also seeing helicopters.

But I should say, Phil, we still do not have an answer from law enforcement.