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Special Counsel Election Probe Continues Despite Indictments; First Lady Positive for COVID, President Biden Negative; Kim Jong-un May Meet with Putin for Arms Talks; Escaped Killer Evades Capture Despite 4 Sightings. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 05, 2023 - 06:00   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Let's get things started with "Five Things to Know" for this Tuesday, September 5.


And we start with exclusive, new CNN reporting this hour. Special Counsel Jack Smith is not done investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Now, he's got his sights set on a connection between fundraising and the push to breach voter equipment.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, first lady Jill Biden testing positive for COVID-19. She's doing all right. She is fighting mild symptoms, we're told. She's at home in Delaware. The president has tested negative so far. This, of course, is ahead of his trip to the G-20.

Also this morning, new signs that an alliance between Russia and North Korea is strengthening. Kim Jong-un expected to meet with Vladimir Putin in Russia to further the nation's arms negotiations.

MATTINGLY: And an urgent message from the mother of that escaped murderer in Pennsylvania, all while police report there have been four separate sightings of the fugitive.

HARLOW: Also, a max exodus from the desert in Nevada. Thousands of people finally made it out of Burning Man after days stuck in the money, literally.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

All right. Happy Tuesday, everyone. Hope you had a restful Labor Day. And if you worked, thank you for that.

We've got exclusive new reporting this hour that shows the widening scope of the federal probe into attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Even though former President Trump was charged a month ago with four criminal accounts for orchestrating a broad conspiracy to hold onto power, the special counsel leading that probe, Jack Smith, is still digging. That's according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. And it raises the possibility that others could still face legal peril.

So Jack Smith is following the money. Sources tell us Smith's team of prosecutors has asked two recent witnesses about how money that was raised off baseless claims of voter fraud was spent to fund attempts to breach voting systems in several key states that Joe Biden won.

So we know prosecutors have focused their questions on the role specifically of former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who entered the public consciousness with unsubstantiated claims like this one.


SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: We have mathematical evidence in a number of states of massive quantities of Trump votes being trashed, just simply put in the trash, like you would on your computer with any file. And Biden votes being injected.


MATTINGLY: As Poppy noted, unsubstantiated, an outright lie.

Now you'll remember, Powell was indicted in the Georgia election subversion case, but she remains an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal case.

CNN obtained invoices that show Powell's nonprofit, Defending the Republic hired forensic firms that accessed voting equipment in four swing states: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona.

In Georgia, that access looked like this. The Coffee County GOP chair standing by as others inspect the county elections office the day after the attack on the Capitol.

We want to bring in CNN's Zachary Cohen, who helped break this story. Zach, there's a ton in here. I think that's important to note the full context of things. But lay out what the special counsel has been investigating since the indictment.


Jack Smith is doing exactly what he said he was going to do about a month ago when he indicted former President Trump. He's still digging.

And sources are telling me and our colleague Paula Reid that he's focusing on a few key areas. And one, as you mentioned, is following the number and looking into Sidney Powell and her nonprofit, Defending the Republic.

You'll remember that Sidney Powell raised a lot of money. It's really -- we're not sure how much, but it was a lot. A lot of money based on these lies that the election was stolen.

She then said that this Defending the Republic group was something that could help fund the legal challenges that she and other Trump lawyers were basically putting forward in key swing states, trying to dispute the outcome there.

But, you know, Jack Smith has been asking at least two witnesses about Sidney Powell and whether she was ever able to back up these claims of election fraud. They wanted to know how the money from Defending the Republic went to basically fund these efforts to find any evidence of voter fraud, which -- or widespread fraud, which they did not.

And then these voting systems breaches in multiple states that were part of that hunt. You know, Sidney Powell, as you mentioned, these invoices do connect Defending the Republic directly to these breaches that we've seen investigated at a state level before, but not really from a federal level.


So Jack Smith does seem to still be investigating that -- those two elements of this.

HARLOW: It's really interesting reporting from you and Paula. This is really focused on people outside of former President Trump, Zach. But how does it all connect to the former president?

COHEN: Yes, Poppy. Jack Smith made clear in his indictment, too, right, that Donald Trump sits atop what he'd outlined as a vast conspiracy to overturn the election.

And Sidney Powell, as an unindicted co-conspirator in that case, was part of the effort to ultimately overturn the election, or try to overturn the election on Trump's behalf. So, you know, Sidney Powell has seem to still have, potentially, some legal jeopardy here. Prosecutors still asking questions.

But you know, we -- it remains to be seen whether or not she will ultimately face charges. It's worth noting that in Georgia, the charges that she faces there are all tied to a voting system breach in Coffee County, Georgia, which is a rural, Republican-heavy county in South Georgia.

So Coffee County has come up in some of these witness interviews that have been connected by Jack Smith's team recently, as well as some breaches in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

MATTINGLY: Zach, that's actually something I wanted to follow up on. You, our colleagues, including Sara Murray, broken a ton of news on the Coffee County element, specifically the breaches. What else have you learned? How does this all kind of tie together?

COHEN: Yes. We're, like, three years past January 6th, and we're still learning about, you know, how different people played significant roles in this effort to overturn the election.

And, you know, I learned just recently that another witness came forward in April, sat down with the special counsel's office and said, look, his former boss, a wealthy GOP donor in Pennsylvania by the name of Bill Bachenberg, helped fund a multi-state effort to gain access to voting systems, not only in Pennsylvania, but in Arizona, in Michigan and in Georgia.

So you know, people coming forward, and really, you know, Bachenberg was a fake elector, the top fake election in Pennsylvania. So people have been coming forward and reporting things that they think the feds need to investigate.

Jack Smith has been asking questions about the broader effort to gain access to voting systems and the funding behind it. But it remains to be seen how that might play into a federal investigation or, potentially, criminal charges down the line.

HARLOW: OK. Zachary Cohen, thanks again for the reporting.

MATTINGLY: Well, new overnight, first lady Jill Biden has tested positive for COVID and is experiencing mild symptoms. That's according to the first lady's office.

We're told President Biden has tested negative and is still planning on going to India just two days from now for the high-stakes G-20 summit with world leaders.

Arlette Saenz is live for us at the North Lawn of the White House. And Arlette, I think there's the two elements here. The first lady's health, but then also a very busy and consequential week for the president. Where do things stand?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, and a busy week for first lady Jill Biden. She was actually set to begin teaching at the community college here near Washington, D.C., just this week.

But now she will remain at their home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, after receiving that positive COVID test on Monday evening.

Now, they had -- she had spent the weekend there with her husband after they had traveled down to Florida to survey the damage after Hurricane Idalia. And the White House says that after the first lady received that positive diagnosis, the president went ahead and tested, and he tested negative.

Now White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says that the president will continue to maintain a regular testing cadence throughout the week and monitor for symptoms.

But there are questions about what this will mean for the 80-year-old president and his incredibly hectic schedule. If you take a look at what he's planning for this week, a bit later today, he is set to host a Medal of Honor ceremony here at the White House.

On Thursday, he departs for India, where he'll attend the G-20 summit, and on Monday, he'll -- over the weekend, he will also travel on to Vietnam.

So the White House will be closely monitoring how the president is doing in the wake of his wife, first lady Jill Biden, receiving that positive COVID diagnosis. Now this is the second time the first lady has tested positive for

COVID. Her husband had tested positive last summer in July. She tested positive in August. Both of them had undergone Paxlovid and then experienced a rebound case.

We're still waiting to hear from the doctor whether they might go down that route and use the Paxlovid treatment once again.

But for the time being, she remains in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and White House says the president will continue to test throughout the week, as he has that busy events on his schedule.

MATTINGLY: All right. Arlette Saenz for us at the White House, thank you very much.

HARLOW: All right. Coming up for us, U.S. officials say Kim Jong-un is planning to meet with Vladimir Putin in Russia. This is a big deal. They're going to talk about supplying weapons in the war against Ukraine.

MATTINGLY: And the Senate is coming back to work today, with several major issues looming over Capitol Hill, including a potential government shutdown and concerns over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's health. We're going to break down a huge month ahead. Stay with us.



HARLOW: So a really significant development on the world stage overnight. This morning, we're learning that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin pretty soon to advance ongoing arms negotiations.

U.S. officials say the potential deal could see Pyongyang providing significant ammunition for different kinds of weapons to support Russia's war on Ukraine.

The Kremlin has just declined to comment, but U.S. intelligence is indicating this.

And the timing of any Putin/Kim Jong-un meeting is not confirmed. However, "The New York Times" this morning says it is expected to take place mid this month.

Kylie Atwood joins us live at the State Department with more. If this happens, it's a huge deal, especially the fact that Kim Jong-un would travel out of country to go do this.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And that's why U.S. officials are actively telling North Korea to cease these conversations with Russia at this time. We've heard that from U.S. officials quite frequently over the last week or so.

But this is significant news, that they think it's actually getting to a leader-level engagement, a leader-level potential decision, with NSC spokesperson Adrian Watson telling us that it is Kim Jong-un who is expecting to meet with President Putin, to engage with President Putin in Russia.

Now, as you said, we don't know the exact timing of this actual, potential engagement. "The New York Times" is saying that it could happen as soon as this month in the far East, in an area in Russia where, actually, Kim Jong-un has travelled in the past. He's traveled there by train.

But the backdrop here is that North Korea has sold infantry weapons to Russia throughout the course of this war, dating back to last year. And what the U.S. is looking for now is the potential for a new arms agreement between the two countries, with the NSC spokesperson top official, John Kirby, saying last week that the expectation is that this would include a significant amount of ammunition from North Korea to Russia, to be used in multiple different types of weapon systems that Russia has, and also the possibility of raw materials for Russia's defense sector.


We know that that's a key area, as well, just because of how many sanctions are on Russia right now as a result of their invasion of Ukraine.

We have seen a flurry of activity between the two countries in recent months, with the Russian defense minister visiting North Korea in July; a follow-up meeting by additional Russian officials to North Korea.

And we also know, according to NSC, that Kim Jong-un and Putin have exchanged letters in recent months, talking about deepening the relationship between the two countries -- Poppy.

HARLOW: So many of those steps leading up to what appears to be this meeting in just a matter of weeks.

Kylie at the State Department, thanks very much -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Well, let's bring in CNN political and national security analyst and "New York Times" White House and national security correspondent David Sanger.

David, I want to start with White House officials have been warning about the possibility of this, have been signaling this was a potential likelihood over the course of several months, obviously, as Poppy and Kylie just laid out, the progression that we've seen on a bilateral basis between Russia and North Korea.

Why now, though, in terms of actually moving forward on these weapon sales and deliveries?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Phil, it's a really fascinating question. And I think the answer is that the Russians are probably running low on ammunition, just as Ukraine did. You'll remember that when the United States needed to find artillery

shells for Ukraine, it got them from South Korea. And that's because the Korean Peninsula has basically armed up with the kind of artillery on both sides that the Russians need, that the Ukrainians need.

So I think from the Russian perspective, there's a little bit of you're going to go to the South. We'll go to the North.

But there's something else that's going on here, as well. While I think the Russians have a fair bit to gain, as Kylie described, not only weapons but raw materials, the North Koreans have a huge amount to gain, Phil.

What do they -- can they get from this? They can get oil, something that's hard to come by for North Korea. They can get help on their ICBMs, which have been impressively tested over the past few months, including some that can probably reach the United States. Obviously, an area that Russia knows a lot about.

And finally, Phil, they get legitimacy. There's a super power that actually needs them.

HARLOW: David, you've termed this the Axis of the Aggrieved, pointing to North Korea, Iran, Russia and China. And that, I think, begs the question of is this a one-time meeting to serve a one-time purpose? Or is this the beginning of something that should be much more concerning to the West?

SANGER: Oh, I think it's concerning. This Axis of the Aggrieved is something that we've really seen come up as a reaction to the United States, NATO, the rest of the West, rallying behind Ukraine.

We've seen China, Russia, Iran and North Korea forge a new relationship. That BRICS meeting that took place the other day was an effort by China to begin to have a counterweight to a U.S. and Western consensus laid group.

So we're seeing the world come together more in blocks than we really have at any time in the post-Cold War period, Poppy. It's really a remarkable reshaping. And it may be the biggest geopolitical result of the Ukraine war.


MATTINGLY: David, one of my questions when this reporting came out yesterday, when the White House basically declassified intelligence and released this, is this follows what has been a fascinating and very kind of on their front-foot strategy the White House has pursued since before Russia invaded, in terms of declassification and release of intelligence in advance, trying to kind of utilize that either to postpone or hold off actions or to kind of galvanize allies.

What's the rationale here? I understand you declassify to try and keep China from making a move. I understand you declassify to either try and keep Russia from making a move or to try and convince your Western allies that they're about to. North Korea, I don't think cares if -- if there's public perception of

wrongdoing or going against what they had publicly said beforehand. Why -- why this?

SANGER: You know, I think that the best you can say for it, Phil, is that it puts a spotlight on them that makes it hard for others around who deal with North Korea, Russia, China to continue trade with them and so forth.

But let's face it. This has been a remarkable strategy, as you have said, that has only worked sporadically. They revealed Russia's war plans. Russia invaded anyway.


They revealed that Iran was getting ready to ship drones to Russia. They've continued to ship drones.

It's really only with China, which has the most to lose with their own trade relationships, that they've had some success in getting them to -- to restrain what it is that they're shipping. And that's why Putin is going to the North Koreans, because he can't get this stuff from the Chinese.

MATTINGLY: Yes. That's a great point. David Sanger, appreciate it as always, my friend. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks, David.

SANGER: Thank you.

HARLOW: What officials in Pennsylvania are now trying to do to convince an escaped convicted murder to turn himself in.




HARLOW: We'll explain what you're hearing after the break. It's a plea from his mother, broadcast from a helicopter over the search area. We'll take you live near the prison where he escaped.

MATTINGLY: And video shows the moment a crowded pier in Madison, Wisconsin, collapsed in the lake. You're watching it right now. Six people were hurt.

Officials say 60 to 80 people from the University -- University of Wisconsin were crowded onto that pier when it gave way. We'll be right back.


HARLOW: So the state of Pennsylvania on edge right now, because despite four credible sightings in the state, an escaped killer is still on the loose this morning.

He escaped from a prison near Philadelphia on Thursday.

Let's go to our colleague, Danny Freeman. He joins us pretty near the prison.

Four credible sightings. And now a really creative effort to try to get him to surrender?


DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. As you mentioned before the break, police are right now using a broadcasted message from the suspect's mother in Portuguese. They're sending it from helicopter. And that message is urging Danelo Cavalcante to surrender.

Police still, at this point, hoping they can bring him in peacefully.


FREEMAN (voice-over): Overnight, law enforcement officers fanned out in search of escaped convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante, blocking off roadways and scouring neighborhoods and thick woods within a two- mile radius of the prison he escaped from last Thursday, near Pocopson Township in Pennsylvania.

LT. COL. GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: There's every reason to believe he remains in this area.

FREEMAN (voice-over): As the search stretches into its sixth day --


FREEMAN (voice-over): -- police broadcasting a message from the fugitive's mother across the search area.

ROBERT CLARK, SUPERVISORY DEPUTY U.S. MARSHALL: As desperate as he is, maybe he has a change of thought. And here's his mother telling him to surrender and his family cares about him. He's desperate. He's hungry. He's been in the woods. He's dirty. Perhaps this is what puts him over the edge where we can get a peaceful surrender.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Cavalcante has been spotted four times since his escape, most recently on Sunday.

BIVENS: There was a trooper, actually, that observed him at some distance. Gave chase but was unable, because of the terrain and some other obstacles there, was unable to get to him before he disappeared.

RYAN DRUMMOND, FUGITIVE ENTERED HOME: Oh, my God, this guy is down there.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Ryan Drummond says the fugitive was in his home on Friday night.

DRUMMOND: I woke up my wife. I said, Hey, I think there might be somebody downstairs. You know, get on the phone.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Drummond says he saw Cavalcante leave, walking back into the woods after taking some food.

DRUMMOND: Peaches, apples, green snap peas have been missing.

FREEMAN (voice-over): A couple hours later, a residential surveillance camera picked him up at 1:43 Saturday morning, wearing the same prison-issued clothes and carrying a backpack police think he may have stolen.

BIVENS: He'll make mistakes. He'll show himself. He's already shown himself, we believe, a few times. We'll contain him, and we will eventually catch him.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Cavalcante was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2021 murder of his former girlfriend.

BIVENS: He is desperate. He does not want to be caught. He has very little to lose at this point.


FREEMAN: And Poppy, I just want to emphasize the terrain around this prison really is quite diverse. There are a lot of wooded areas. There are creeks. There are even corn fields. And that is really what has made this search so challenging for police. Law enforcement officials say there are just a lot of places to hide -- Poppy.

HARLOW: I mean, to hear them say that one of the law enforcement officials, Danny, saw him on foot and just couldn't get to him because of the terrain just speaks to the difficulty, because they're trained for this stuff.

Please keep us posted. Thanks very much.

FREEMAN (voice-over): Well, at any moment, a decision could come down on whether to move former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows's election subversion case out of Fulton County and into federal court. We're going to discuss the likelihood of that happening. That's next. Stay with us.