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Russia Launches Missiles at Kyiv Ahead of Blinken Visit; Special Counsel: Trump Risks Tainting Jury Pool with Daily Statements; 200+ Searchers Trying to 'Stress' Escaped Pennsylvania Murderer; Today: McConnell to Address Health Concerns with GOP Senators. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 06, 2023 - 06:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's the top of the hour. We are so glad you're with us. It's a very busy morning on the global stage.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Global stage and domestic, as well. It's crazy how much news is happening this first week of September.

HARLOW: Kids are back in school.

MATTINGLY: That, too.

HARLOW: The news is back. It is -- it is September 6th. And new this morning, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on the ground. He just got there in Ukraine. He will meet with President Zelenskyy in about a half an hour. The unannounced trip comes as the counteroffensive grinds on, slower than expected.

MATTINGLY: And happening today, we will see the first televised hearing in the Georgia election subversion case, after former President Trump and all 18 of his co-defendants have pleaded not guilty.

What the judge decides could have a major impact on Trump's very busy calendar.

Also today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will talk behind closed doors about his health with the Senate Republican conference after two freezing incidents in just two months. The Capitol doctor says the Kentucky senator shows no signs of stroke or seizure disorder.

HARLOW: More than 200 law enforcement officers are now searching, still, for that escaped murderer a week after he broke out of a prison right near Philadelphia. They have a plan to try to stress him into making a mistake so that they can capture him. Two school districts remaining closed again this morning as this manhunt intensifies.

MATTINGLY: And overnight, the world has just experienced the hottest summer on record, by a lot. The heat is so extreme here in the U.S., it's forcing school closings and early dismissals. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: And here is where we begin following all the breaking news this morning. Right now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Kyiv. This is a surprise visit, his third since the war on Ukraine began.

He will meet very shortly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It's a major show of solidarity from the West during a critical phase of the war, as Ukrainian troops struggle to break through in this counteroffensive.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm here, first and foremost, to demonstrate our ongoing and determined support for Ukraine as it deals with this aggression. We've seen good progress in the counteroffensive, which is very heartening. We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs not only to succeed on the counteroffensive for also what it needs for the long-term.


MATTINGLY: Now right before Secretary Blinken arrived, Russia launched a barrage of missiles at the capital city of Kyiv, a stark reminder that America's top diplomat is very much in a war zone.

Now, his visit also comes as recent polls show American public support for more U.S. aid to Ukraine is starting to wane. U.S. support has been an absolutely essential lifeline for the Ukrainians up to this point.

Melissa Bell is live for us on the ground in Kyiv. Melissa, what are you hearing about the reaction to this surprise visit so far?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, these kinds of visits, of course, are tremendously important to the Ukrainian people, first and foremost, Phil. Because of course, as you mentioned, this grinding counteroffensive, coming as it does, we're now 19 months into a war that is tiring the entire world. The allies, of course, but imagine for a moment the Ukrainian people at this stage.

So it is incredibly important in terms of showing support, but it comes at a critical juncture, first of all, for the counteroffensive. And what we understand is that Secretary Blinken is here, first of all, to hear what the Ukrainian assessment is of a counteroffensive that you heard him speak to there a moment ago.

The State Department's assessment is that the gains have been impressive.

But he's here to hear what the Ukrainians have to say about it, what more help they need, in terms of being able to make progress on the battlefield.

But it also, this visit, comes at a critical juncture in terms of Western continued support for this war 19 months in. Bear in mind that it comes less than a month after President Biden went to Congress to ask for an extra $24 billion of help for this war effort at a time, as you mentioned, Phil, when polls show a softening of support for that.

It's also, of course, timed just ahead of the U.N. General Assembly. And that's going to be about aligning, we hear, the American and the Ukrainian message as Ukraine's president prepares to go and speak to the rest of the world about what is happening with this war and why he needs those 50-plus countries that are currently giving not just moral and financial support, but military support, humanitarian aid, need to stick with it.

So it's about speaking to both publics at an incredibly critical time. There's been this criticism that the counteroffensive hasn't progressed as quickly as it should. And so it's going to be about finding exactly what progress is being made, how they can further it, and bringing that message then back to the United States, first and foremost.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. A really significant day. We're glad you're on the ground. Melissa Bell, thank you very much.

MATTINGLY: We also have a new development this morning in the federal case against former President Trump and his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Special Counsel Jack Smith accusing Trump of making, quote, "daily extrajudicial statements that threaten to prejudice the jury pool." That's part of a court fight that remains largely under seal that Smith is currently battling to put on the public docket, while Trump's team wants it to remain that way, remain sealed.

Judge Tanya Chutkan is now giving both sides until next week to submit their arguments.

HARLOW: Meantime, in Georgia, all 19 defendants in that state election interference case have now entered a not guilty plea. They have waived their right to arraignments.

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadow is among them. He's trying to move his case, remember, to federal court, where it could be dismissed by him invoking federal worker immunity.

Also happening today, the judge overseeing the case is holding a televised hearing -- so that's key -- to address scheduling of this trial, one of four, that could begin as early as next month.

Sara Murray joins us now with more. Good morning to you, Sara.

This -- let's just start with this filing by the special counsel, the lead prosecutor, Jack Smith. It's really interesting, basically saying watch what you say, because what you say can taint a jury pool.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, obviously, some of the underlying fight around this, as you point out, is still a mystery because it's still under seal. But we know that Donald Trump has been out there, making bombastic statements about the charges he faces in a number of these cases, about the prosecutors who are bringing them.

And we saw the special counsel's team make this argument about these kinds of what they call prejudicial statements that Donald Trump is making when they were seeking a pretty quick trial date from Tanya Chutkan, the judge in this case, pointing out that it's going to be really hard to choose a fair jury pool, a jury pool that's not contaminated, the longer that you have the former president out there, essentially railing against the cases against him.

So it's interesting they're again bringing this up in court filings, Poppy.

MATTINGLY: Sara, getting back to Georgia, we're getting our first look at the schedule, the trial. There will be a televised hearing. Your sense? You've done so much reporting on this particular case and the lead-up to it and since the indictment was brought. Just how quickly could this all move?

MURRAY: This is a great question for the judge to work out --

MATTINGLY: I was asking you, though, Sara.

MURRAY: -- because he has to figure out --

HARLOW: You are the judge on this show, Sara Murray.

MURRAY: I've got to tell you, I am not envious of what this judge has to do. He has these 19 defendants. He is buried in paperwork from all of them filing these different motions about when they want to go to trial, or they definitely don't want to go to trial alongside him.

So today is going to give us the first sense, one, from the district attorney of realistically how long does she think it would take to try all 19 of these folks together, versus in different groups? How many witnesses does she think she would she call? How many exhibits does she think she would have?

And then for the judge to give us, maybe, some insight into how he's thinking about this, organizationally, because it -- it's a mess, guys.

HARLOW: It's a mess.

You don't get to go yet. We have another -- But on a serious note, this sentence that came down yesterday. Twenty-two years yesterday afternoon for the Proud Boys leader, Enrique Tarrio. Longest sentence so far of any of the January 6th defendants, seditious conspiracy here. Very significant.

But I was really struck, Sara, by the words that the judge chose to use when explaining the sentence.

MURRAY: Yes, I mean, this is a very interesting sentencing. The judge took a lot more time in laying out his sentence for Enrique Tarrio than he did for some of his fellow Proud Boys, who were convicted and also faced lengthy sentences. They faced upwards of 10 or 15 years.

But Tarrio is the only one who is cracking this 20-year mark with the 22-year sentence.

First, let's just talk about some of the things that Enrique Tarrio said at the sentencing, sort of trying to, you know, defend himself. He said, "I'm not a political zealot. Inflicting harm or changing the outcome of the election was not my goal." He said, "I held myself morally above others, and this trial has shown me how wrong I was."

The judge in this case essentially pointed out that Enrique Tarrio was sort of the ring leader of this. Even though he was not physically present in Washington, D.C., on January 6 -- he had already been ordered to leave the city, because he was arrested on another matter. They still said, you're the ring leader. You're the guy who essentially helped organize this and helped to make this happen.

And the judge said, "It's not my job to label anybody a terrorist. And nothing I do today does that in one way or another."


But he was very pointed in saying that this is not what the founders of our country had in mind. And essentially saying, you know, that -- that Tarrio may view himself as some sort of patriot, but that's not what patriots in this country actually do.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it was a very interesting distinction. Another distinction: Sara Murray is not the judge in the Georgia election subversion case.

MURRAY: We wish, but --

MATTINGLY: But we're going to act like it, because you know all the things. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

HARLOW: All the things.

MURRAY: Thanks.

MATTINGLY: Well, an extremely dangerous convicted murderer still on the loose nearly a week after escaping prison in Pennsylvania. We're going to tell you how searchers are trying to force him to make a mistake.

HARLOW: And just hours from now, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will meet with Senate Republicans. This meeting, though, is behind closed doors. Members of his party have questions about his health.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): I think it's an inadequate explanation to say this is dehydration.



MATTINGLY: Well, brand-new this morning, two school districts will remain closed today as about 200 law enforcement officers search for an escaped murderer in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Now, that manhunt is entering its seventh day. The U.S. Marshals Service says the goal is to, quote, stress him out of hiding.


ROBERT CLARK, SUPERVISORY DEPUTY, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE: This is a dangerous game of tactical hide-and-seek.

This is a dangerous, dangerous man. He's got nothing to lose. But I can tell you this, his desperateness will not outlast the resolve of our law enforcement officers here.



MATTINGLY: CNN's Danny Freeman is outside the prison where Danelo Cavalcante escaped. Danny, where do things stand this morning?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, at this point this morning, convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante is still on the loose.

But Phil, I will say we have some reason believe that this search perimeter may have expanded again. I'll give you a little more information on that in a moment.

But just to back up for a second. Remember, yesterday was the day where police said that they actually caught Cavalcante on surveillance camera, on trail cameras, actually in Longwood Gardens. That's a popular tourist destination. It's a little bit South of here, but it is also outside of the initial two-mile radius that law enforcement officials were seeking.

So Cavalcante was able to slip out from under them, but the police said that that's actually a byproduct of their system working. They're putting a lot of stress on him and forcing him to move.

Of course, they said yesterday that they would have preferred to catch him. But they say that that is a good sign that he is not able to hide. He's actually being pushed into moving and what they hope ultimately means that he'll push to slip up.

So that was yesterday. And those trail sightings were back on Monday evening.

But then this morning as we were driving into the area, Phil, there was a heavy police presence a little bit further East along Baltimore Pike. It's one of the main drags out here. Confirmed police activity. However, we're still waiting for official confirmation if that is a sign that this search is expanding.

All of this, though, Phil, really continuing to worry neighbors and residents in this area. Take a listen to what one resident nearby had to say.


JO-ANN SHILEY, KENNETT TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA: Everyone in this area just hasn't slept. I can't even imagine the people in -- what are gone (ph) and what they went through, now that he's gotten out. Now it's just -- now we get a little bit more sense of how they were feeling for the last three days. It's just tiring. It's exhausting, and just -- your nerves are on edge. And you just second guess everything.


FREEMAN: Nerves continue to be on edge, Phil. And as you mentioned at the top, those two school districts that were closed yesterday, still closed again today.

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District noted, specifically because three of its schools are currently in the search area and, of course, because of those road blocks, do keep changing as this manhunt continues -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Danny Freeman for us. Keep us posted. Thank you.

HARLOW: So there's a new letter from the Capitol's attending physician, and it's about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's health, as he's set to address this issue directly with members of his party today. At least one Democrat is now defending McConnell.

MATTINGLY: Plus, Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville could jeopardize the confirmation of the nation's highest-ranking military officer, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. We have new CNN reporting. That's ahead.



HARLOW: So today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to address fellow Republicans behind closed door -- doors about his health after he froze twice in front of reporters.

The Capitol's attending physician also releasing a new pretty short but important letter yesterday writing, quote, "There's no evidence that you have a seizure disorder or that you experienced a stroke, TIA or movement disorder such as Parkinson's disease."

The Kentucky senator made a passing reference to his freezing episode on the Senate floor. Listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): And one particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention in the press over the past week. But I assure you, August was a busy and productive month for me and my staff back in the commonwealth.


HARLOW: Melanie Zanona joins us live in Washington.

I mean, a lot has happened since we talked yesterday. You've got McConnell saying that. You've got this letter that's a few sentences that is -- every word is being analyzed. What do we know?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So the topic of Mitch McConnell's health absolutely dominated discussions in the hallways yesterday as the Senate returned for the first time from a six-week recess.

And I will say that most Republicans are standing by Mitch McConnell, saying they have no concerns about had his fitness to serve. And that includes some of his critics and some of his potential successors.

But notably, there were several Republican who were openly expressing concerns about his ability to lead, saying they're not sure whether they would support him again for GOP leader and also casting doubt on that assessment from the Capitol physician.

Let's take a listen.


PAUL: I think it's an inadequate explanation to say this is dehydration. I practiced medicine for 25 years, and it doesn't look like dehydration to me. It looks like a focal neurologic event. That doesn't mean it's incapacitating; it doesn't mean he can't serve. But it means that somebody ought to wake up and say, Wow, this looks like a seizure.

SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): I've seen kids, you know, in my profession of football really struggle for a long time after a concussion. To me, that's a reason you don't play them after that. I mean, they don't go back into the game until you're completely well.


ZANONA: Now, Mitch McConnell is expected to address the topic of his health during a closed-door party lunch today. Obviously, members still have questions, so that is going to be a critical moment for him.

But as one GOP lawmaker put it, McConnell knows that transparency is his friend here. So clearly, there is more of an effort to be more forthcoming with details about his health and what is going on.

And then after that party lunch, we are expecting Mitch McConnell to deliver his weekly press conference in front of reporters, in front of cameras, a very similar setting to where we've seen these freezing episodes occur in the past. So no doubt, his performance today is going to be very closely watched, guys.

HARLOW: For sure. Lots of questions for him. Melanie, thanks very much.

MATTINGLY: Joining us now, senior reporter for "The Root," Jessica Washington; and CNN senior political analyst and anchor John Avlon.


HARLOW: Good morning.

MATTINGLY: I think there are major questions, and we discussed them not just in the context of McConnell, but about age, generally, in politics.

But I want to start with kind of the more granular detail. McConnell and his moment in place in the Republican conference, which he has ruled, lorded over, and been very popular within since 2006 when he became leader and before then, when he was in leadership.

For context, Senator Rand Paul and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell do not get along. They do not like each other.

Tuberville, not a big McConnell fan. Josh Hawley also raised some concerns. Didn't vote for McConnell to be the leader. If you put this up for a vote right now inside the Senate Republican conference behind closed doors, McConnell would be reelected without any question at all. That's based on everyone I've talked to inside the conference.

And yet, there is validity to concerns in this moment.

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, "THE ROOT": Yes, we have seen him now have these episodes twice. It's important that we have the Capitol Hill doctor send out that note. McConnell is apparently talking to people about his health much more openly than before.

We know that this is going to be happening behind closed doors, but of course, there are concerns. We watched it happen in real time. We can't all pretend that we didn't see what we see.

And this idea that it's only happening when we're watching and that there isn't anything happening behind the scenes is obviously going to feel suspicious to people.

HARLOW: OK. But there are defenders, too. Let's play Mitt Romney and what he said.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The reality is that we may expect that Mitch McConnell will check out for 20 seconds a day, but the other 86,380 seconds of the day, he does a pretty darn good job.


HARLOW: Seconds in the day, John Avlon. AVLON: That's a good stat to crunch. You think he prepped that?

MATTINGLY: A little bit.

HARLOW: Practicing that kind of stuff. But also, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy to Jake yesterday defended McConnell, saying I think these are pretty isolated incidents. And he's had a chance to interact with the senator and said, quote, "I find him to be very much still in charge of that caucus."

AVLON: Well, I think he is very much in charge of the caucus, to Phil's point. He's been a very effective leader. Now actuarially, statistically, you can't pretend that these are the only two times he's had an incident like this where he happened to be in front of cameras. Presumably, a larger problem.

And I think it does highlight the larger issue of age, particularly within the Senate.

HARLOW: And not just Republicans.

AVLON: And not just Republicans.

HARLOW: Dianne Feinstein.

AVLON: Most acutely, Dianne Feinstein --


AVLON: -- who is 90 years old. And frankly, you know, for reasons of her dignity, I think it's an unfair position to keep putting her in, but that's a related but separate conversation.

I think McConnell is going to have to restore some confidence, but it's obviously a broader conversation we should be having about, you know, at what point do people need to -- need to step aside for new talent? The rest of leadership is very capable.

HARLOW: To that point, I think, I mean, you were on the Hill forever before the White House. Nor forever. You're not very old.

MATTINGLY: How old am I?

HARLOW: Let's not get into this conversation.

But I think it was Dana was interviewing Mike Rounds this weekend, and you know, made the point that does he need to answer questions for the American people, too? Right? Not just behind closed doors, but really direct answers in that press conference today.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Jessica, I think that's -- that's an excellent point, because you talk to Republican senators. I've talked to several since the second freezing incident, who said the same thing that Senator Rounds said to Dana.

Which is, when you talk to him, it's fine. Like, everything is fine. We've never seen it before or never experienced it. But he is the most powerful Republican, second most powerful Republican in the land. He leads the Senate Republican conference.

And the expectation that he should be transparent is not just because people are trying to get juicy things, right? This is important for people.

WASHINGTON: Yes, I think so. I think that everyone is having these questions about their age. We know that Joe Biden has had to answer these questions, I think, in the same way as Mitch McConnell. Just because he's not elected by the entire American public, he still does probably need to answer these questions directly. I think that's completely fair.

AVLON: Yes. And Republicans who are giving McConnell a pass obviously should apply the same thing to the rhetoric around Joe Biden, even without anything resembling these sort -- sorts of incidents.

The idea of applying consistent standards across party lines is revelatory these days, but --

MATTINGLY: Where's you get that?

AVLON: It's crazy. And yet, that is what we should do.

HARLOW: Before we go, can we talk about Tommy Tuberville?

AVLON: Sure.

HARLOW: Because Manu did what Manu does best.

MATTINGLY: It's like a Christmas buffet. When -- when lawmakers return from recess. It's like Manu just gathering a million threads of great string.

HARLOW: That's exactly right.

AVLON: I love it.

HARLOW: That's exactly right. But it highlighted the power of one senator to hold up the most critical nominations of senior military leaders and the most senior. Listen to this.


TUBERVILLE: You know, I'm not budging. I've already told him that.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are several nominees that are major nominees that could be held up by this, including the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Are you willing to see that position be vacant if this is not resolved by the end of the month?

TUBERVILLE: Well, General Milley won't leave. But they will bring him individually. Milley went individually. RAJU: They're not -- the Democrats are indicating that they're not. Then --

TUBERVILLE: Milley is going to have to work overnight time, then.



AVLON: What Senator Tuberville is doing is a threat to national security. He is grandstanding on a specific issue that is important to him, and many Republicans, but he's applying it to something to which it's largely unrelated. And he is risking America's readiness. Military readiness. The Pentagon could not be more clear.