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Capitol Physician Says, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Medically Clear After Freezing Again; Ruling Expected Soon in Meadows' Bid to Move Georgia Case to Federal Court; Hilton Head, South Carolina Woman in Legal Dispute Over Land Owned by Family Since 1800s. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 01, 2023 - 07:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald Trump pleading not guilty in the Georgia election subversion case. The judge says this will be televised.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: His attorney has moved to sever his case from other co-defendants.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: What Mark Meadows is doing is rolling the dice. If he wins that, he's in good shape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitch McConnell now medically cleared to keep working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you hadn't seen the video, you would never have known anything had happened.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The big question right now on Capitol Hill is exactly how long Senator McConnell can continue to remain as Republican leader.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Law enforcement agencies are now engaged in a manhunt for a convict described as, quote, extremely charges after he escaped from a prison outside Philadelphia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Using K-9s, drones and helicopters in the search.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: The prison is under pressure because of staffing levels, funding levels.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is someone who has nothing to lose. I don't know what he's capable of doing.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is officially disclosing private jet trips in a vacation that was funded by a Republican mega donor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These were trips he had to disclose. There was far less wiggle room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's better to have the transparency that we didn't have in the past. But there is the core issue of the gifts themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Josephine Wright says her family's home has been on this land since the civil war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our blood, sweat and tears are in this land. My ancestors are buried here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Community members say development threatens those families who still call it home.

JOSEPHINE WRIGHT, HILTON HEAD ISLAND RESIDENT: Why should we give up such a precious gift that God has given us?


MATTINGLY: Well, a good Friday morning, everyone. Audie Cornish is with us. A lot of news to get to throughout the course of this day across several fronts across the country.

But we're going to start this morning on the questions that are swirling around Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has been medically cleared by the U.S. Capitol physician to continue his schedule after freezing in public for the second time in just weeks. Watch.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): What are my thoughts about what?

REPORTER: Running for re-election in 2026.


AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: Now, McConnell froze for more than 30 seconds in front of reporters in his home state of Kentucky, Wednesday, that followed a similar incident at the Capitol in July. President Biden said that he's been in contact with the minority leader, Biden commented while visiting FEMA headquarters after Hurricane Idalia.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I spoke to Mitch. He's a friend. And I spoke to him today. And 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 the recovery. And so I'm confident he's going to be back to his old self.


CORNISH: We've also learned that while McConnell will face Republican senators in a regular meeting next week, there's also the possibility senators could call a special conference meeting to discuss his ability to lead, because there's been some chatter among rank and file Republicans whether to force an internal debate about their leadership's future. This is according to a person familiar with the matter.

Now, so far, no meeting has been cleared. It's unclear if there even will be one. But it takes just five GOP senators to call for such a meeting.

MATTINGLY: Now, it's worth stepping back. McConnell is one of the most powerful and consequential Republican senators certainly in modern history, perhaps all time depending on how you look at things. He may have gotten the all clear from the Capitol physician. But questions about his ability to lead the party, they linger.

Editors for the conservative magazine and website's National Review are calling for him to step aside, writing, quote, this obviously is not normal and affects his ability to function as a leading representative of his caucus, and added, proven some realism have been hallmarks of his leadership and are now called for in considering his own future.

Joining us now is the editor of the National Review, Rich Lowry. Rich, I appreciate your time because I think it's important to point out to people that McConnell is often a lightning rod in conservative circles. He's often a convenient punching bag for kind of the far right conservatives of the party. You guys are not that traditional with McConnell.

You had a call in 2020 that McConnell world was very pleased with, the title, I think, was McConnell, master of the Senate, kind of walking through the way he operates and why he's been successful, from your perspective. What led you to this moment? What led the editors to this moment in the National Review?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes, this gives us no pleasure to say this. I think he's the most effective in memory but these incidents are not normal and even if it's light headedness, he's clearly, visibly aged since his bad fall back in March.


And we just think it behooves him for his sake and the sake of his colleagues to go out on his own terms.

Now, this isn't an urgent crisis. It doesn't need to happen today or tomorrow or next week, but we think he needs to make the decision that it's time to step aside and then set the wheels in motion. And I'm sure he thinks -- as you know, he thinks carefully about everything. He probably has shrewd thoughts about how actually to carry it out. But it's our view it's time to get the wheels in motion.

MATTINGLY: You're a keen observer of Washington and power dynamics. You set that in motion. You start a transition process and the theory of the case is you undercut yourself and your power. He has got 3.5 years left on his term. He has got until the end of this Congressional session or this Congress as leader. Why would he do that to himself?

LOWRY: Well, because you don't want to suffer any more humiliating incidents and you want to go out on your or terms. Now, by all accounts, what Joe Biden said there is correct. He is completely lucid but that's the time to go out on your own terms.

And this will be a private thing. He is not going to be pushed. There's not going to be a special meeting that's going to push him out. It has to be a personal decision. His colleagues, most of them, love him and respect him and they are going to give him a lot of space, which he deserves. But it's our view that he should, as we say, be prudent and realistic about this the way he has so many other things over the course of his career.

MATTINGLY: You make a good point, especially as the reporting about a potential special meeting to consider his leadership is being talked about right now. If they put this up for a vote, again, McConnell would easily defeat pretty much anybody who goes against based on where he stands in that conference.


MATTINGLY: And I think that kind of gets to the point. One of the things that McConnell does, maybe people don't appreciate as much on the Republican side, is he defends his conference. He takes the heat for his conference. He doesn't move forward on things that he doesn't think his conference is ready to move forward on.

The decision to leave, are there any concerns about what that would do to the conference, who would step up, who would fill that void?

LOWRY: Well, he seems to have a pretty good cadre of lieutenants there, John Cornyn or John Thune, who would be suited to take up the mantle. But, look, this is a hard choice. These are really plum jobs. He's worked really hard in his entire adult life to get there, and he has done a good job since he's been there. But he's not the only old political leader in the United States, right? We have Joe Biden, who I think at the moment, is not in the kind of shape that you would want for Senate leader, but is in the most demanding job on the planet.

And we're urging McConnell and Republicans to be realistic about this but the entire Democratic Party has their heads in the sand about state of Joe Biden, who is really declining in front of our eyes. And they want us to believe he can carry out the most demanding job in the United States for another 5.5 years or whatever until age 86. And that's a major political risk for the Democrats and a risk for the country.

MATTINGLY: Rich, I want to play something former Governor Nikki Haley said in a moment kind of the political dynamics here, but I do want to ask you to follow up on that point. Is part of this concern that having McConnell in this place, given what we've seen, undercuts the political argument against President Biden that has been made by Republicans about his age?

LOWRY: I think some Republicans will think about it in those terms, but we think it's just on the merits. He's visibly aged. He's got to go eventually, right? No one is immortal. Age comes for us all and it's time, as I said, to set the wheels in motion.

MATTINGLY: And I do want to play the sound from Nikki Haley last night. Obviously, she's running the Republican primary. She was asked about McConnell. This is what she said.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I will say is, right now, the Senate is the most privileged nursing home in the country. I mean, Mitch McConnell has done some great things and he deserves credit, but you have to know when to leave.


MATTINGLY: Again, it's not a rarity for Republicans to go after McConnell because it plays well particularly with the base audience. But Haley is kind of more of a McConnell Republican, I think, than anyone else. Is this going to become a theme, we're going to see Republican candidates just kind of across the board saying this?

LOWRY: Probably. For her, there's consistency, right? She's banged on how old Joe Biden is, how old Donald Trump is, how there's time for a new generation. So, she couldn't really -- it would be very awkward to turn around and say, no, Mitch is fine and he can stay there as long as he wants. But it's going to be much easier for presidential candidates to say this than any senator except for the McConnell critics within the caucus to say this.


They'll dance around it and I'd say give McConnell a lot of leeway to make this decision on his own.

MATTINGLY: Even the (INAUDIBLE) critics have been noticeably silent up to this point. I think very cognizant of the dynamics right now, which I think are very fluid.

Rich Lowry, really appreciate your time. Thanks for coming on.

LOWRY: Thanks for having me. Go Yankees, even though there's not much room for that (ph).

Thank you. Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: Oh, my goodness.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, Rich.

CORNISH: The Fulton County judge overseeing the Trump election subversion case has just given the green light for the trial to be televised. Those new details next.

MATTINGLY: And the mayor of Uvalde, Texas, believes a cover-up is in the works in the investigation into the Robb Elementary mass shooting. We're going to speak to the mayor later this hour.

Stay with us.


CORNISH: Any day now, a judge could issue a decision in Mark Meadows' bid to have his Georgia election subversion case moved to federal court. The main question, did Meadows actions, like arranging Trump's call with Georgia state election officials, go beyond his duties as chief of staff at the White House?

Joining us now is CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, former January 6th Committee Attorney Temidayo Aganga-Williams, CNN Political Commentator and Political Anchor for Spectrum News Errol Louis, and Politics Reporter for Semafor, Shelby Talcott.


Welcome back. Welcome back, everybody.

So, this was one of the final questions at yesterday's hearing about whether kind of Meadows had any federal authority. That would mean that this case needs to be moved. Is this a significant moment?

HONIG: Yes, it's a very big deal for this case. If this case gets moved over into federal court, watch others to try to follow the same path.

Now, this is going to be a really close decision.

CORNISH: Others, meaning others from the Trump White House?

HONIG: Other defendants.

CORNISH: State officials can't this.

HONIG: It's going to be a lot of people piling on, because Jeffrey Clark, who was a DOJ official, a federal official, has already made this motion. The big question is whether Donald Trump will. He may be waiting to see how does Meadows fare, and some of the others are going to also because they're going to say, well, we were acting at the instruction of federal officials under the authority of the federal government.

CORNISH: What are Little Lawyer WhatsApp group saying about what could happen?

HONIG: Little Lawyer, Temidayo and I have been talking about this.

MATTINGLY: You know everything about these alleged --

HONIG: No, these things -- you're exactly right.

CORNISH: Lawyer LinkedIn.

HONIG: These things do exist. We do have our little text chains. It's a coin toss. I mean, this one feels really, really close to me. And the judge asked for more briefing on this one specific issue. What if some of the actions were inside the role of chief of staff? What if some were outside? That tells me the judge is sort of on the fence too.

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JAN. 6TH COMMITTTEE: Yes, I think that's right. I mean, anytime a judge is asking for more briefing, it's because it's not a clear call. The judge is saying asking the parties, I need more help. I want you to go back, dig deep into the law and see whether you can guide me here.

So, I think it's going to be close, but if I were a betting man, I think it slightly goes against removal. I think if the court were to zoom out here and look at the totality of circumstances, which is often what judges will do --

MATTINGLY: You are saying that as a January 6th committee investigator?


MATTINGLY: So, you -- right, like this is the context which you're looking at.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, I guess what I'm looking at is looking at the facts here as to what Mark Meadows was doing. And I'm avoiding the zooming in and talking about what was this phone call or that phone call, but zooming out and saying, you have a former president who is not acting in the role as president. He's acting the role as candidate. And the chief of staff is not there acting in a White House capacity.

You can look at who was at that call with Raffensperger. It's not White House counsel that's on that call.

You're talking -- Rudy Giuliani, he's not a government employee. Eastman, he's not a government employee.

MATTINGLY: So, these are all the things the judge will be looking at?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: The judge could be, I think, looking at the full circumstance and saying, is this really a White House activity or is it, in fact, political activity about getting Candidate Trump another term as opposed to President Trump enforcing federal law.

MATTINGLY: The lack of precedent in case law here is, I would never qualify for a lawyer, WhatsApp chain, but I just find it fascinating because we don't often have moments like this.

Shelby we have heard a lot from the former president and his team that all of this is just election interference, the timing, when it's happening, Super Tuesday for the case from Judge Chutkan last week, earlier this week, it's been a long week, that we heard about. I want you to listen to something Bill Barr said. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER TRUMP: Basic principle in the criminal justice system is if a prominent person commits a crime and is seeking office, that doesn't give him immunity. If there's enough time to have it resolved before the election, it should be resolved.

Now, you can argue about whether he should have been charged and so forth, but the idea that this is interfering with the election is simply wrong.


MATTINGLY: Look, Barr has made a very sharp turn away from kind of Trump world since he left in, I think, December, at the end of Trump's term. But I think it's an interesting point. One, because he's a lawyer, two, because he's a respected lawyer inside conservative circles, and, again --

CORNISH: And, three, he was asked to look into election.

MATTINGLY: He was there for all of this. But I think, once again, he almost takes point by point that the Trump team puts out and then takes it apart in a media appearance shortly thereafter.

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, SEMAFOR: Yes, you raise a really good point. I guess my question, and I look at it from the perspective of how is this affecting voters and how are voters viewing all of this, I don't know if it matters. I don't know if that argument, however legitimate it is, is going to make inroads with the majority of Republican voters who believe that this entire process is politicized, right?

And to be clear, I don't know if anything would if Trump ends up being found guilty, I think the majority of voters --

CORNISH: Errol, can you jump in here, because people thought the same thing about the January 6th case (ph). This is a political process. It's meaningless. No one will watch it, no one will care. Is that how it played out?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, no, not at all. But it's very interesting because what you see is the Trump team sort of saying one in the same time, they're saying this is election interference. This is designed to hurt us in the polls. And then in probably the same appearance, they'll say, we sure are selling this merch. We're raising a bunch of money.


This is giving us name recognition, and that's why we're so far ahead in the polls.

So, it's like, well, isn't it election interference? Is it hurting you? Is it not hurting you? Is it helping you? Is it not helping you?

I think the simple answer is that they are running a strategy of trying to gin up their base, and they are using these cases as a means of doing that. And so, yes, there might be election intervention, shall we call it, but it's not clear whether or not it actually hurts Donald Trump for the strategy that he has laid out for his re-election campaign.

HONIG: I agree with Errol and Bill Barr, which is sort of a weird sentence to say, but there's no evidence to me that this is intentionally designed to interfere with the election. But I do have to say, the fact that DOJ took so darn long, really did nothing for a year-and-a-half until the January 6th Committee sort of forced the issue, that is what has landed us in this scenario.

Now, there's no reason, in my view, that this couldn't have been charged in late 2021, would have already been tried, but instead, because of DOJ's being dilatory, now we're in this logjam.

CORNISH: I want to get to your reporting in this last block on Ron DeSantis and his super PAC. What's going on there?

TALCOTT: Yes. So, we've learned a few things. So, originally, they had ground operations in 18 states. They really launched with a huge operation, $100 million. And they've now shut operations in four states, North Carolina, Texas, California and Nevada.

And the reason this is important is because, A, it shows how important these early primary states are to Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign. They are planning to double down in Iowa, double down in New Hampshire, double down in South Carolina, but, B, it also shows that the original belief that Ron DeSantis was going to come in and just kind of really take it to Trump has not materialized.

And so they've had to really shift their strategy.

CORNISH: Plus, people have been eyeing the relationship between the campaign and the super PAC. It's been sort of a model of what to do or not to do, depending. So, how is it working out?

TALCOTT: You're right. And what's interesting is I don't know how well it's working out, right, because we talked about this a few weeks ago when the super PAC decided to unveil these lengthy ideas and this plan on how Ron DeSantis should take it to Vivek Ramaswamy on stage, and he did none of that, and he ended up actually doing quite well.

And we talked to the super PAC afterwards and they said, well, yes, I guess he did well. It's probably good that he didn't listen to the advice. So, it's interesting because I feel like they're not always on the same page and we've seen that.

CORNISH: They're not supposed to be in the same --

TALCOTT: But they're trying to be. Like the super PAC is clearly trying to run operations. And, in a way, they have to, because the super PAC is the one with the money.

MATTINGLY: Yes. I mean, I think you made a great point. Legally, not supposed to be coordinating, but if you've decided that the super PAC is going to run your ground operations, run your air operations and campaigns, then you kind of have to have some alignment.

Are you acting like campaign finance laws are actually --

CORNISH: No, no, no, but, Errol, like running a campaign is kind of a signal of whether you can run a country and so far, how's DeSantis doing?

LOUIS: Well, that's exactly right. And, look, let's not absolve him of this. It's not like the super PAC just swooped in and gave him a bunch of bad talking points that he wisely ignored. He funded that super PAC. He took all of this money that he had left over from his state campaign, $36 million or something like that, and sort of got them off to a running start.

MATTINGLY: And he fundraises for them.

LOUIS: He rides on their private planes. He gets on their buses when they want to drive him around Iowa. The campaign is imploding. And I think we're almost at the finger-pointing stage. Somebody is going to have to take the hit when he comes up with few or no delegates out of --

CORNISH: Okay. We're bring you back, strong prediction. We're going to be bringing you back for that.

MATTINGLY: We're out of time but I actually want to bounce that off, Shelby. She's going to be smart enough not to make a declarative statement, given she covers the campaigns, but I want to dig in more on this.

Errol, Elie, Shelby. Temidayo, thank you guys very much.

CORNISH: Now, there's also an intense search underway this morning for a convicted murderer. Who escaped to Pennsylvania prison. Now, where that stands, where he was last seen, we're going to have all the details for you next.

MATTINGLY: And a 93-year-old woman in Hilton Head, South Carolina, is in a bitter legal dispute with a company trying to build in her backyard a home that has been there since the Civil War. The fight to keep her land, that's next.


WRIGHT: Well, let me put it to you this way. I've never backed down on anything that was right.




JOSEPHINE WRIGHT, HILTON HEAD ISLAND RESIDENT: A dispute over legacy and land. That's happening right now on Hilton Island in South Carolina. 93-year-old Josephine Wright is at the center of a lawsuit that's picked up attention nationwide as development goes up around her home. She is literally in the middle of what developers hope could be new home community. But for Wright, it's so much more.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher reports.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are connected to this land. Our blood runs through these trees.

WRIGHT: No matter what, we will keep this land. So, this land is going to be here with us if it's going to be another 200 years. That's the way we look at it.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): But not everyone has that same view. The serene marsh and sandy beaches of Hilton Head Island have been home to the Gullah Geechee community since before America became America. But today, community members say development threatens those families who still call it home.

WRIGHT: Why should we give up such a precious gift that God has given us?

GALLAGHER: Josephine Wright has lived in this house on Hilton Head Island for 30 years. But she says her family's home has been on this land since the civil war, purchased by freed men and passed down for generations.

Her husband, a Gullah descendant, wanted to be sure to keep the land in the family after his passing.

WRIGHT: I feel so much pride and comfort in knowing that this is where I will be for the rest of my life.

GALLAGHER: But the 93-year-old great, great grandmother has felt little comfort here over the past few months.

WRIGHT: This is when we start hearing the trees, the boom, boom.

GALLAGHER: Wright is being sued by a company with plans to build 147 three-storey townhomes along this Jonesville road community, a historic Gullah Geechee neighborhood.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our blood, sweat and tears --