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McConnell's Health Top of Mind; Judge to Rule on Meadow's Case; All-American Quarterfinals in U.S. Open; Musk Threatens to Sue ADL. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 05, 2023 - 06:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Recess is over on Capitol Hill and the Senate is back to work today. Hopefully your kids are back in school, by the way. There are a number of items on their short list to address, including avoiding a government shutdown in less than a month. Top of mind is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's health. The Republican senator has frozen twice in front of reporters this summer, raising questions about his age, his health and his ability to effectively lead.

CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona joins us now.

It's been really fascinating to follow the Republican leadership response to this, Melanie, since it happened last to Mitch McConnell. And the fact that he's going to talk to them, obviously. But already talked to a number of them on the phone about this over the recess.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right. There's a lot going on this month. Recess is over. Reality is starting to set in.

Top of mind right now, of course, is the health surrounding GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. And he is going to deliver his weekly press conference tomorrow. He's going to deliver his floor remarks later today. So, his performance, of course, is going to be heavily scrutinized.

And then he's also going to be facing his own members for the first time. They have their weekly party lunches. There could also be a special conference meeting to specifically talk about his leadership and his health. And members still have a lot of questions about what is really going on and whether he is up to the job of leading them. So, this is going to be just a critical moment for Mitch McConnell to really tamp down speculation about both his health and his political future.

But politics aside, there's also a ton of legislative business. Congress is racing to avoid a shutdown at the end of this month. And they are nowhere near close to completing their work on their annual spending bill. So, a short-term spending patch is going to be needed. But even that is proving to be complicated, guys, because one of the chief sticking points right now is whether a supplemental funding package, that includes both disaster aid and Ukraine money is going to be attached. So, it's going to be a huge showdown between House conserves and Senate Democrats and Republicans.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Mel, one of the other outstanding issues that Congress is going to have to figure out, and one that the legislative history, I'm not going to take you down the rabbit hole as much as I know you and I would like to, but it's on a firefighter pay increase. There has been a push forward, there hasn't been a clear pathway forward in terms of pay raise for wildland firefighters. What's the latest on that? I know you have new reporting.

ZANONA Yes, so this is one of the critical issues that is at stake in these funding fight. The bipartisan infrastructure law included a temporary pay raise for wildland firefighters of up to 50 percent, but that is set to expire at the end of this month. And so if Congress were to let that lapse, it would be potentially devastating. I mean you could see mass resignations in the height of wildfire season. That is not something anybody wants to see.

Now, I am told that Speaker Kevin McCarthy committed to extending this in a short-term funding bill if - we'll see if they can actually get that passed. But it is less clear whether or not they're going to do a permanent, long-term solution. Even though there's bipartisan support for this, and even through Kevin McCarthy himself is no stranger to just the effects of wild fires -- California, of course, is home to many wildfires -- this is an issue that has run into political headwinds because of conservative hardliners and their demands to cut back spending.


So, it's another issue to watch. A smaller issue, but an important one nonetheless, guys.

HARLOW: Buckle up. What a month ahead.


HARLOW: Melanie, thanks for the reporting.

MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, we're also closely watching for a major ruling out of Georgia. At any moment a federal district judge could rule on Mark Meadows request to move his election subversion case out of Fulton County and into federal court. Both Meadows and DA Fani Willis gave the judge the additional briefs he asked for last week. Now we're just waiting to see how the judge rules. Before now, Meadows is set to be arraigned in court tomorrow, along with any of the other defendants who haven't waived their right to an arraignment. As we reported last week, Donald Trump has waived his and submitted a not guilty plea in writing.

Let's bring in former senior investigative counsel for the January 6th Committee, and former federal prosecutor, Temidayo Aganga-Williams, and deputy chief of staff for former Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Maura Gillespie, and former executive director of the New York City Democratic Party, Basil Smikle.

Guys, thanks for joining us.

Temidayo, to start with you. Remind people what's at stake here in this Meadows element of the Georgia case specifically. Why we are waiting, to some degree with baited breath, in terms of what will happen next.

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JANUARY 6TH SELECT COMMITTEE: So, there's a criminal statute that allows an individual charged with state crimes, if that person is a federal officer and is charged for a crime that was conducted under color of law, meaning they -- they basically did the thing they're charged with because they were a federal employee, they can go to a court and say, I want to remove that case to federal court for basically a neutral jury, a neutral forum. And you can think way back when, more old time days, where folks were really concerned that states wouldn't be fair to the federal government.

So, Mark Meadows is saying, I want my case out of Georgia court. Doesn't make it a federal case. He's going to have the same prosecutors. He's going to have the same criminal exposure. But it does put it before a different jury that's going to be likely a little bit more conservative than a Fulton County jury. It's going to be in the federal court, which is not where Fani Willis and her team are used to practicing.

Why it's very important is that once it gets into federal court, one of the reasons why it would be in federal court is because he is what's called a colorable federal defense, which basically means there's some basis for him to have a defense in federal law against these state law charges. That's super important because once he gets to federal court, the court has acknowledged that he has at least a potential federal defense.

Now, when he's there, he's going to assert that defense, which he already has. And if he's successful, that means those charges are fully dismissed. Now that becomes even more important because former President Trump is watching. Other federal employees, like Jeffrey Clark, who were also charged with crimes in Georgia, are going to be keeping an eye on that. And if that's successful, Fani Willis could have a whole swath of her cases removed and then dismissed in federal court.

But it is a close call. I mean the judge has asked for supplemental briefing, which for lawyers, if a judge asks for you to brief an issue even more, that means the judge thinks it's not clear. He's basically say, I need your help. Go and dig deeper into case law. Find me support so I know which way to go. But I think everyone right now pretty has what's effectively a coin toss here to see whether this case is going to move or it's going to just stay in state court and proceed as expected.

HARLOW: But, big picture here for the former president is that if Meadows is successful, this could mean that Trump would be successful moving there and potentially getting it dismissed too. I mean this could put Fani Willis' whole probe in peril, no?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: It puts - it potentially could. I think the difference, though, that the former president has from Mark Meadows is that he has far more charges, right? So it's not - you're going to be looking at each act and each charge to see whether it falls under the gambit of this statute. So, I think the former president is in a different situation here because these charges are far more expansive and include a lot of conduct.

If you remember, Mark Meadows has said, I just made a phone call here, and that's my job. I set up a meeting. I was just being chief of staff. But I think it's going to be tougher for the former president to look at all this conduct he's charged with and saying, I was faithfully executing the laws of the United States, because as many folks will know, the federal government doesn't have a role in conducting Georgia state elections, right?

HARLOW: Right. The state has that role.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: The state has that role. So, I think he's going to have a tough -- he being former President Trump, saying that I wasn't acting as candidate Trump, but as President Trump -

HARLOW: President.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: When I called the secretary of state and said, find me 11,000 -- whatever vote. He wasn't calling and saying, follow federal law. I'm calling as the head of the executive branch. He was really calling as candidate Trump to say, I want you all to do x, y, z.

So, I think President Trump has a far, far more uphill battle here, which is, I think, incredibly unlikely to be successful.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it will be fascinating to watch.

Maura, I want to ask you, our colleague said - broke some news, actually cracked the window open a little bit on what Jack Smith, the special counsel, is still looking into despite the indictment of former President Trump on January 6th related election subversion cases.


Following the money, Sidney Powell, the lawyer, and the kind of outside group that was aligned with her, the January 6th Committee, where you worked, and Temidayo worked as well, did a lot of work on this front as well. Where do you think this heads from a federal perspective?

MAURA GILLESPIE, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF, FORMER REP. ADAM KINZINGER: There's a lot they can uncover here that the January 6th Committee also did. And we presented - you know, laid out in those hearings through the summer. So, they'll probably follow those through that process.

I would also --

MATTINGLY: Do you think you gave a road map for them on this specific issue?

GILLESPIE: I - oh, absolutely. I think we did. I mean - and, you know, we can discuss that, too. I think they did. I think one thing I point out about some of the things that were uncovered in the hearings is that there was some things - and we talked about it before with Mark Meadows, that weren't necessarily handed over to us. So, I'll be interested to see what Jack Smith can uncover as we kind of see how this plays out.

But there were certainly a lot of things that we were able to present to the American people. And I think in a sequential manner. But I'm interested to see what Jack Smith turns out.

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, as I'm listening to both of you and thinking about all the work that was done, what an incredible narrative that was laid out for the American people, right? And so when I think about what might happen to Mark Meadows and then what Trump is looking at, as you said, the concern that I have is, will the American people, particularly the voters in Florida, feel as accountability has been -- that there's accountability here. Do they -- will they feel that he going to federal court, whether it's Meadows and/or Trump, if they feel that hear again the ring leaders of all that we witnessed on January 6th are not being held accountable and, by the way, the folks who say, well, I did what I was told are the ones that are going to be punished and effectively let the ring leaders, if you will, off the hook. I do get concerned about that because what that does is it sort of tamps down enthusiasm for all the work that you did, but also for the votes that any potential Democrat can get going into 2024.

HARLOW: And yet, Basil, despite all of this, Biden, you know, the Democrat here at the table, Biden is tied with Trump and the new "Wall Street Journal" polling.


HARLOW: And Biden's really not doing well on the economy, 58 percent of folks say it's gotten worse under him, and age. Seventy-three percent of voters say he's too old to seek a second term. Only 47 percent of voters think the same of Trump. How do you fight those two things?

SMIKLE: Well, a couple of things. If -- first of all, I understand to some extent if -- even if the numbers are better, people don't feel as though it's better. If you're a millennial, you have high mortgage costs, you feel that the American dream is --

HARLOW: Your rent is too damn high.

SMIKLE: Your rent is high - it's too damn high. I understand. I honestly understand the concern. But think about what the Biden/Harris team was elected to do. It was elected to run the bureaucracy, engage in good governance and bring the country back to normalcy. They've actually done that.

HARLOW: Can I just ask you, though -


HARLOW: If perception is reality. Perception is everything. So, if you were running the show, you're a Democratic strategist, what would you change so that people feel what's actually happening, so that those young Democratic voters feel it and vote that way?

SMIKLE: Well, he's done a couple of those things, meaning he's talked about student loan forgiveness, right? The young voters really are attracted to that policy issue. We continue to talk about climate change. And, by the way, continue to talk about the economy itself. As we looked over the last few cycles, the number of swing states and swing state voters has actually decreased. We don't talk about Ohio and Florida, for example, as swing states anymore.

So, if we're talking about a smaller number of states, and voters who are either disaffected Republicans or independent voters, that economic message is really going to hit home.

On the other stuff, particularly what was created after the -- or during the January 6th hearings, I think is really built in with Democrats and Republicans. They're - they're - they are where they are. And likely unmovable. But that persuadable I think does get persuaded by an economic message.

MATTINGLY: All right, guys, Basil, Maura, Temidayo, thank you, guys, very much. You two are coming back with us, whether you like it or not. We appreciate it.

Thanks, guys.

HARLOW: It is an all-American quarterfinal matchup. Two of the three remaining American men will face off in the U.S. Open. A preview next.

MATTINGLY: And look at this big guy. Yikes. A group of Mississippi hunters have broken the state record for the longest alligator ever captured. Why you want that record, I have no idea. It's more than 14 feet long and weighs just over 800 pounds. Congratulations to those guys.



MATTINGLY: Well, the men's semifinals at the U.S. Open are guaranteed to include at least one American. Two of the three remaining will face off tonight.

Coy Wire joins us now with a preview.

Coy, are U.S. men's tennis back after the women have carried the entire weight for the last decade? COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, that's right, they're catching up.

They're catching up. Good morning, Phil and Poppy. It's been two decades since an American man last won in front of a home crowd at the U.S. Open. That was Andy Roddick in 2003. But we have a chance for the first time at any major since 1968. We'll see two black American men in the quarters. Tenth seeded Frances Tiafoe and unseeded Ben Shelton. They're going to play each other tonight. Tiafoe's in the quarters for a second straight year. He's only dropped one set in four matches so far. But he's never faced Shelton as a pro or his powerful serve. Just 20 years old. He fired off a pair of 149 mile per hour serves in his match on Sunday. The fastest of the entire tournament. Look out.

The third American is ninth seeded Taylor Fritz, who will play 23-time major champ Novak Djokovic for a chance to advance to the semis. This is the first time since 2005 that three American men have advanced this far in singles at the Open.

It was a late night Labor Day thriller for reigning Olympic champ Alex Zverev and world number six Jannik Sinner last night.


Four hours, 41 minutes long. Sinner got cramps. He had to get up off of his feet. But he would rally to force a fifth set. And his Italian fans, the Corona (ph) boys, who follow him around, they were jumping around to give him life. Apparently Sinner snack on carrots during matches. But at 1:40 in the morning Eastern Time, Zverev finally triumphed, calling it the longest match ever but that he's back and this is what he lives for. An absolute battle. Jannik's face in his hands as he talked off the court. But Zverev and the crowd applauded him. He'll face world number one Carlos Alcaraz in the quarters.

And Duke went into last night's college football game as 12-point underdogs at home against number nine Clemson. But somebody must have forgotten to tell the Blue Devils because they were lights out, especially Duke quarterback Riley Leonard, whose mom texts him before every game, I quote, "you suck," as motivation. He wears it on his wristband.

Well, mom's mind games work. Her little boy making the biggest play of the game in the third quarter. He breaks loose from a would-be tackler. And there he goes, down the sideline. Looking like Phil Mattingly in some football pads. Touchdown for the lead. On defense in the second half, Duke served up a big old goose egg. Two goal line stands. Three turnovers, including Dorian Mausi's interception. Outscoring Clemson 22-0 in the second half. Duke wins 28-7. Look at the fans rushing the field. That is what it's all about.

But, Phil, Poppy, how about Mr. Riley Leonard's mom and that motivational mind technique she has?

MATTINGLY: Moms, man. Moms know. It may not make sense to us, but if the mom's doing it, it's working. Clearly, it's working.

Coy, I appreciate you as the professional football player thinking I, who topped out as a high school football player, could do anything like that in pads.

Coy Wire, thanks my friend.

WIRE: You got it.

HARLOW: Elon Musk threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League. Why he's blaming them for his platform's slump in ad sales.



HARLOW: This morning, Elon Musk threatening a new lawsuit. This one against the Anti-Defamation League over their reporting on his platform X, formerly known as Twitter. In a post yesterday, Musk claimed the ADL was driving advertisers away, saying since the acquisition that the ADL has been trying to, quote, "kill this platform by falsely accusing it and me," Musk writes, "of being antisemitic. He added, quote, "to clear our platform's name on the matter of antisemitism, it looks like we have no choice but to file a defamation lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League. Oh, the irony."

In May, we should note, the ADL published a report finding antisemitic content on Musk's platform after he reinstated several accounts with a history of posting hate.

MATTINGLY: Now, a spokesperson for the ADL told "Axios" they don't comment on pending legal matters. But after the hash tag, quote, "ban the ADL" started trending on X over the weekend, they released a statement saying, quote, "ADL is unsurprised yet undeterred that antisemites, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and other trolls have launched a coordinated attack on our organization. This type of thing is nothing new. Such insidious efforts don't daunt us. Instead, they drive us to be unflinching in our commitment to fight hate in all of its forms and ensure the safety of Jewish communities and other marginalized groups.

Well, joining us now is CNN's senior media analyst and senior media reporter for "Axios," Sara Fischer.

Sara, I think, you know, there was a follow-up tweet from Elon Musk where he says, to be clear, I'm not antisemitic, but he's also pro- free speech. And I think that line in between there, that gray area, it's at the heart of this issue right now. What are the ramifications given the way this has continued to evolve?

SARA FISCHER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA ANALYST: Yes, Phil. Well, for Elon Musk, this has big ramifications. And that's because Twitter is still very heavily reliant on advertising from big brands, Fortune 500 companies. Those are the types of companies that reputationally cannot afford to take the risk if a third-party group like the Anti- Defamation League is saying that aligning their ads against content on this platform could be potentially antisemitic.

If you take a look at other big platforms, Meta and YouTube, they also have faced threats from the Anti-Defamation League and other civil groups around hate speech and policing it. But the difference, Phil, is, those platforms are so heavily reliant on ads from small and medium size businesses that aren't going to be called out, and so they haven't had big impacts on their businesses when there were boycotts and threats.

For Elon Musk and Twitter, this is a serious business problem. The vast majority of Twitter's revenue comes from those big brands that can't afford to ignore messages like this from the ADL.

HARLOW: What's interesting is that Musk also tweeted, Sara, that their revenue -- ad revenue is down 60 percent and he directly tied that to this ADL report. But the new CEO of X, Linda Yaccarino, in that interview with CNBC about a month ago, basically said they're doing great. She also said they're pretty close to break even. Which is it?

FISCHER: Well, they're a privately owned company, so they don't have to publicly disclose anymore, Poppy. But if you were to take a look at what financial analysts are saying, for the past few months Fidelity actually marked up the value of Twitter. Granted it's way down from when Elon Musk bought it for $44 billion, but they were doing OK.

However, I think a series of unforced efforts, for example, calling out the ADL, is going to make it hard for analysts to continue to project that Twitter is moving in a positive direction, especially when Elon Musk is says that ad revenue is down 60 percent. That's just astronomical.

MATTINGLY: Sara, I want to switch topics for a second because you've got new reporting. I think it's one that Democrats outside the Biden campaign operation, the re-election effort, will be pleased to hear to some degree because they've been wondering, when is this kind of heavy blitz of spending. When are they going to start going on air in a major, significant way? What are they doing here?

FISCHER: Yes, so the Biden campaign is going to run a brand new ad this Thursday during NFL season opener between the Detroit Lions and the Kansas City Chiefs. And a campaign source tells me that this ad, which is going to be heavily focused on the economy, is going to be bolstered by about seven figures worth of spend over the next few months.

Now, this is part of a broader $25 million campaign from the Biden administration, mostly touting his economic achievements. But it's notable, Phil, because at this time the Republican Party is sort of battling it out with each other. You'll notice that Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, most of their spend is targeting Donald Trump, not those Biden administration where the state of the economy. Of course, Donald Trump's spend is mostly targeting his indictments. And so the Biden campaign is going to sort of blitz the air ways, taking advantage of this unique opportunity while its competitors in the GOP are fighting with each other.

HARLOW: Sara, thank you.

FISCHER: Thank you. Good to see you.

MATTINGLY: And CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Putin calling in back-up. The Russian president may soon meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-un to make a plea for more weapons.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. is urging North Korea to cease any arms negotiations with Russia.