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Judge Shuts Down Effort To Try Trump And Co-Defendants Together; Senate Launches Inquiry Into Coast Guard Sexual Assault Cover-Ups Exposed By CNN Report; McCarthy Stares Down Right-Wing Revolt. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 07:30   ET



ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Come up with ways to blunt any economic impact that could arise due to this strike. You have to think about all of the suppliers that are also working with these auto companies who could be affected.

But this also has broader political implications for President Biden. Of course, he has described himself as the most pro-union president in history. One of his priorities is trying to boost competitive wages and competitive conditions for union workers across the board.

But at the same time, he is also balancing this desire to transition to a clean energy future. And that is at the heart of some of these negotiations as these autoworkers, the unions, and the auto companies are dealing with the transition to electric vehicles.

But in a few hours -- they haven't given us an exact time -- we are expecting to hear from President Biden about these latest negotiations as the UAW has now gone on strike.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah. The words the president chooses -- one, will have to be careful. As you know, not a party to these negotiations. They are very cognizant of that fact in these moments.

But also, the UAW has withheld its endorsement up to now.


MATTINGLY: Michigan is a huge piece of Biden's map -- the 270 electoral votes.

This is going to be really fascinating. Arlette, please keep us posted throughout the course of the morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Fulton County judge -- the Fulton County judge in the Georgia election subversion case shutting down the district attorney Fani Willis' effort to try all 19 defendants -- that includes Trump -- together in October in this case. The judge announced that Trump and 16 other co-defendants will move forward with a trial date that has not yet been announced. The two remaining co- defendants, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell -- they both sought their right to a speedy trial. That will begin in October.

Let's talk about what this means, especially for the former president -- is former prosecutor in Atlanta, Sarah Flack.

Well, to that question, Sarah -- and thanks for joining us -- what does this mean for Trump?

SARAH FLACK, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER PROSECUTOR IN ATLANTA: Well, what it means for Trump is that basically, he's going to have an opportunity to have a dress rehearsal of his trial, which most criminal defendants never have. So he will get to see basically, all of the evidence because the state has told us that they're going to have to try this case multiple times. We know on October 23 they're going to have all of these witnesses -- the same witnesses that are going to be having to be subpoenaed in the spring for Trump's trial.

So he's going to have a great opportunity to rehearse, basically, what his defense is going to be. He'll have an opportunity to hear what all of these witnesses are going to say. So it's definitely a win for Trump in this -- in this day.

MATTINGLY: Sarah, the other kind of pieces of what happened yesterday in terms of where the judge was on things like the right for defense counsel to talk to grand jurors, prosecutors listing 30 co- conspirators in the case that weren't indicted -- the defense team will get those 30 names. Transcripts of witness testimony that would be available.

What do those tell you? What should people take away from what that all means?

FLACK: Well, they're not going to have just full sail of all of the conversations and deliberations because Georgia law does not allow you to know what went on during deliberations.

So the judge was very careful. What he's going to be requiring is that these attorneys supply a list of questions -- precise questions that they would like to ask these jurors, and then the judge will either deny or allow certain requests. But they're not just going to have a full sail opportunity to hear what was going on in deliberations, which it sounds like that's what they were wanting to do. No, they're not going to be able to do that.

So it has to be related to something in the trial; not just well, you know, what were you guys talking about? What made you come to this decision to recommend an indictment?

HARLOW: Do you think that this really gets whittled down from 19 -- even though they're not going to all be tried together, but many people pleading out and maybe some cooperating witnesses -- if they need that cooperation?

FLACK: I think we will see somebody here cooperate. I mean, it's just rare to have 19 defendants and it sounds -- I would be shocked if we didn't have at least one cooperator.

We know that there are a bunch of unindicted co-conspirators.


FLACK: Those are people who could have been charged but were not charged. And those folks will likely -- some of those folks will certainly be cooperating.

We also know there's a list of a number of folks that the state is turning over in terms of who they spoke with that helped with this investigation. So the defense team is going to get to talk to those folks as well.

I would be surprised if we didn't have one or two of these defendants plead and cooperate -- turn state's evidence to testify against Donald Trump and his co-defendants.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, an important day and so many more critical days to come.

Sarah Flack, thanks for watching -- walking us through it -- appreciate it.

FLACK: Definitely. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: The Senate now launching a bipartisan investigation into a Coast Guard cover-up of dozens of sexual assault cases at the Coast Guard Academy. It's all happening because of a series of stories by CNN's Pamela Brown and her team. She broke the story and she joins us. That's next.



MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, a new Senate investigation has been launched into a Coast Guard cover-up of dozens of cases of sexual assault at the Coast Guard Academy that were kept secret for years.

Now, this is all happening because of a series of stories by CNN. And chief investigative correspondent Pamela Brown headed those stories. She joins us now.

Pamela, bring us up to speed on the latest here.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, the permanent subcommittee on investigations for DHS usually keeps its investigations under wraps, but given the gravity of this, it's making this investigation public.

Now, as CNN first reported, a Coast Guard investigation that substantiated dozens of rapes at the Coast Guard Academy was kept hidden for years. It was dubbed Operation Fouled Anchor. And it found some of the accused had moved into top roles of the Coast Guard and other military branches, or retired with full pensions and benefits.

Now, victims were discouraged from pursuing the allegations and still had to go to class and work with the people -- the person who allegedly assaulted them. Some victims ended up dropping out of the Academy.

But the assaults and the investigation -- they were never reported to Congress or made public until CNN started asking questions. And now, the Senate wants answers.

In a letter sent to the head of the Coast Guard, Sen. Richard Blumenthal cited CNN's reporting and said, "...the leaders who oversaw or perhaps created the environment where misconduct occurred and did nothing must be held accountable." And, "The public deserves to know why so many reported cases of sexual assault and harassment were allowed to go uninvestigated for so many years."

Senator Blumenthal told us this was the most shameful incident of a cover-up of sexual assault that he's ever seen in the U.S. military.

And the letter is also asking for a long list of documents from the Coast Guard, including information on every sexual assault at the Academy from 2006 to present -- Phil.

HARLOW: Pamela, this is just one, as we understand it, right? One of the investigations into the cover-up? Is that right?

BROWN: Yeah, that's right, Poppy. There has been a hearing on the Hill. There has been a call for an I.G. investigation. And the Coast Guard announced its own 90-day inquiry in July. This is all in the wake of CNN's reporting over the summer.

Now, the commandant of the Coast Guard, Linda Fagan -- she has publicly apologized to the victims and their families.

MATTINGLY: Which I think brings the kind of critical question here. What do the victims have to say about all this, Pamela?


BROWN: Well, they have a lot to say, Phil. I mean, we have spoken to so many women and some men who were assaulted -- some going as far back as the 1990s; some just recently -- and they all tell the similar stories. There is a pattern here of them being discouraged from reporting their assaults or being told their careers would end if they said anything. And most of them -- they are still dealing with the trauma and they are looking for justice and closure on this.

MATTINGLY: That's great and important reporting. Obviously, much more to come as well.

Pamela Brown, thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Now to this. Police Capt. Joseph Alton is the kind of guy who knows everyone in his town. But in addition to serving that community, he's been volunteering for the Maryland Special Olympics for 15 years. And in that time he has gone beyond the call of duty raising more than $250,000 and recruiting other law enforcement officers to join the cause. But it's the lasting friendship he has built that keeps him coming back every year -- watch.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ride along with police Capt. Joseph Alton.


COHEN (voice-over): He'll talk up his small town of Havre de Grace, Maryland --

ALTON: Hello.

COHEN (voice-over): -- and say hello --

ALTON: Hello, sir.

COHEN (voice-over): -- to just about everyone he sees.

ALTON: So how you been? Good? Take care.

COHEN (voice-over): But around his office hang signs of another form of service with the Special Olympics.

ALTON: We get way more back from them than they'll ever get from us.

COHEN (voice-over): Captain Alton has been volunteering with Special Olympics Maryland for 15 years, raising awareness and more than $250,000 --

ALTON: We're doing the polar bear plunge and we're raising money for Special Olympics.

COHEN (voice-over): -- presenting athletes with awards, and recruiting other law enforcement to join the cause.

ALTON: I went one time and was a medal presenter. It's like baiting a fish on a hook. You literally get reeled in and then it just kind of grows from there.

They're up front.

COHEN (voice-over): And in that time he's built a special bond with athletes like Stacey Hull.

STACEY HULL, ATHLETE: He came up to me -- can I be your mascot? I said, sure.

ALTON: You been good?

HULL: Yeah.

COHEN (voice-over): He got her into this gym, helping her train for a Special Olympics torch run in Berlin and assisting her with this speech.

HULL: I am truly honored to carry the flame of hope. Thank you, everyone.


HULL: He would not give up and it was greatly appreciated.

JIM SCHMUTZ, PRESIDENT AND CEO, SPECIAL OLYMPICS MARYLAND: The impact that you have not only on Stacey and athletes locally but athletes around the state, it's a phenomenal thing.

COHEN (voice-over): This summer, Alton, himself, won a community service award.

ALTON: I'm going to start -- (crying).

COHEN (voice-over): You can see it meant the world, but not as much as this friendship.

ALTON: I will always be involved with Special Olympics because of the vision, and drive, and energy that you give back to me on a daily basis.

COHEN (voice-over): Proof that no matter who wears the medals --

HULL: For all your dedication and hard work --

COHEN (voice-over): -- these moments are the greatest prize.

ALTON: You're amazing.

HULL: Thank you, Joe.

ALTON: You're amazing.

COHEN (voice-over): Gabe Cohen, CNN, Havre de Grace, Maryland.


HARLOW: Nothing better.

MATTINGLY: It's a great story.

HARLOW: Kevin McCarthy again fighting to keep his role as speaker after some Republicans called for his dismissal. Does the far-right fraction -- faction have his party -- do they have the votes to oust him? What his future could look like, next.

MATTINGLY: And just -- and just in, we learned that President Biden will deliver remarks today on negotiations between the auto workers union and the Big Three now with a strike underway. We've got the latest. Stay with us.



MATTINGLY: Well, Kevin McCarthy is once again fighting to keep his role as House Speaker against the far-right faction of his party. And despite the public battle, the House speaker says he is confident they don't have the votes to remove him.

This dynamic has existed since McCarthy won the speakership back in January. Actually, the process of winning the speakership back in January laid this pretty bare. And he's trying to figure out how to deal with folks like Rep. Matt Gaetz and other far-right members.

Now, to become speaker, he struck a deal with those individuals that gave each individual member the ability to call for a floor vote to remove him if they felt like it was needed. McCarthy and Gaetz are both getting pressured on the issue.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (D-CA): Threats don't matter. And sometimes people do those things because of personal things, and that's all fine. You know what? If it takes a fight, I'll have a fight.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I'm concerned for the speaker that he seems to be a little rattled and unhinged in a time when we need focus and strong effort. Whether or not McCarthy faces a motion to vacate is within his own hands. All he has to do is come into compliance with the deal we made in January.


MATTINGLY: Now, Gaetz appears to be referring to comments McCarthy made during Thursday's closed-door meeting where he dared those threatening to remove him to, quote, "Move the f***ing motion."

Joining us now is CNN senior political analyst and anchor, John Avlon. Politico New York -- political reporter Emily Ngo. And political video reporter at The Washington Post, Joyce Koh.

John Avlon, you started laughing there because Matt Gaetz is mad --

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR AND SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Frankly, for all the reasons, Phil -- yeah.

MATTINGLY: -- for -- you can say whatever you want about Matt Gaetz but he knows how to just kind of --

AVLON: The technical term is concern troll. That was a concern troll --

MATTINGLY: That is --

AVLON: -- by Matt Gaetz and he did it quite masterfully -- I'm just really concerned that he's becoming unhinged. And it's really within his power whether or not he gets this lack of conference vote.

Look, it's -- obviously, McCarthy is in a position of weakness because of a small group of folks on the far right and he's got a narrow margin. But lest we forget McCarthy's two predecessors as Republican Speak of the House, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, as you well remember -- both were effectively forced out/quit the position because they were tired of dealing with the demands of the far-right who have only gotten louder and more powerful.


And that's a structural problem within the Republican Party. Susan Glasser just called it the toddler caucus. There are other words for it. But effectively, it ends up hijacking a deliberative democracy and the extreme ends up dominating the debate.

HARLOW: Does Matt Gaetz have anything to lose here? Because he is saying that I will do this every single day -- put a motion to vacate out.

JOYCE JOH, POLITICAL VIDEO REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, he is echoing -- like John said, like, what you're hearing on the far right of this party. There have been calls for McCarthy's motion to vacate since January -- since he got into this very tenuous leadership position. And I don't think that this is necessarily new. You hear Rep. Bishop from North Carolina saying this for the last several months.

And regardless of what McCarthy does it seems like he can't -- I mean, this -- that meeting happened after he had launched this impeachment inquiry into President Biden. It seems like he can't acquiesce the far-right of his party regardless of what he does.

EMILY NGO, CO-AUTHOR, POLITICO'S NEW YORK PLAYBOOK, POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO NEW YORK: Yeah, Gaetz's shtick is effective -- whatever you call it -- a tantrum. If you call it just being a rebel it works, and that's why he's not giving up that playbook.

And it's been a rough week for the speaker, just like it was a rocky path to that gavel. It took 15 rounds. There was -- if you covered it, it was very long hours.

And now he's faced with a decision. Does he give in to the hard-right faction of his caucus or does he try to work out a deal -- or does he just stand his ground, call their bluff, put the defense spending to a vote, and like he dropped that f-bomb, just make them do what they will and see if they really follow through?

MATTINGLY: I would say -- and this is not defensive of any individual -- it's a defense of the institution. Matt Gaetz is effective because he has no responsibilities.

AVLON: Right.

MATTINGLY: He has nothing that he has to do. He's not leading a conference but he also doesn't have to fund the government. He doesn't have to increase the debt ceiling. He doesn't have to prevent calamity from happening on those past bills.

HARLOW: So nothing to lose.

MATTINGLY: Right. And he's very effective at having nothing to lose, which I don't necessarily know is like the highest bar in the world for a lawmaker.

AVLON: It's not, but remember, it's a republic if you can keep it. That's what we have to lose. The chaos under the Capitol affects the efficiency and effectiveness of governing in a democratic republic. So we all lose when the tantrum caucus dominates.

So let's just take a snapshot of what's happening right now.

The speaker is trying to placate the far right by moving forward with an impeachment inquiry absent facts that traditionally run to that standard. The government is looking at a shutdown at the end of the month. One senator is holding up all military promotions. There is a defense bill authorization problem.

I mean, over and over again, these are all self-inflicted and they're disproportionately because of the far right of the Republican Party.

KOH: And the government shutdown is looming.

NGO: And (INAUDIBLE) Republican has everything to lose. But McCarthy, unlike Gaetz, does have a lot to lose as well if we talk about the individuals. Like John was pointing out -- he started out it was a very bad week.

As my colleagues at Political Playbook in the Capitol in D.C. said, like, it's getting to see our grid -- see our skids with the impeachment lubricant. And here he is -- what does he have next to do? What does he have left as a lubricant?

HARLOW: Does he have anything?

KOH: Well, the far right is blocking these procedural motions on -- I was saying this government shutdown that's sort of looming. So I think when we're talking about what the Republicans and the country at large has to lose it's, you know, are they going to avert a government shutdown and get to work and keep the lights on in Washington?

MATTINGLY: Emily, not that I ever want to stop talking about this topic, in particular --

HARLOW: You miss it, right?

MATTINGLY: A little bit. A little bit. None of this happened while I was there. I just want to put that out there right now.

AVLON: Clearly.

MATTINGLY: Something that struck me this week were comments that Hillary Clinton made on the issue that is -- I mean, the number of Democrats who aren't involved in the Biden campaign and aren't in the inner circle who are just losing their minds right now. And you could say, if you look at the numbers, that they've got reason to. And throwing all sorts of theories out there.

And Hillary Clinton said this -- listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D) FORMER 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When people say to me well, he's old. Yeah, that's right. But look at what he's gotten done. And then, if that's not enough for you, look at the alternative. And, you know, I'm all in. We've just got to get the naysayers, and the whiners, and the snipers to just go to the back of the room because they're not helping at all.


NGO: This issue, this argument, this fact, this narrative is not going to leave the Biden campaign or the election season anytime soon. Age will be a factor for Joe Biden and it will be a factor for Donald Trump if, indeed, they end up being the nominees. So you have to make the argument that maybe they are competent enough -- that they are getting things done despite their old age. But advanced age -- aging in the public eye is an issue in Washington, D.C. --


KOH: Yeah.

NGO: -- when we look at Dianne Feinstein. When we look also at Mitch McConnell. It's something that the public is very aware of.

AVLON: Yeah, and they should be. But what Hillary Clinton is calling out is what Jim Messina called sort of the bedwetting impulse in the Democratic Party, right?

HARLOW: Yes, he did say that.

AVLON: And this entire segment -- just to tie it up with a bow for you -- the first part of it is the argument why the alternative matters in people's calculus, right? It's the Joe Biden line, "Don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative."

When you look at the self-inflicted wounds in the Republican Party because of the far right and the looming possibility that Donald Trump will be the nominee despite indictments and trying to overturn our election, that's the best argument they've got -- even after a pretty bad week for Joe Biden, frankly.

MATTINGLY: Right, right.

AVLON: The Republicans have self-inflicted wounds.

MATTINGLY: John "tier of bows" Avlon, Emily, Joyce, thanks, guys.

KOH: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Happy Friday -- appreciate it.

AVLON: You, too.

MATTINGLY: Well, the United Auto Workers on the picket line this morning after walking off the job at midnight. The CEO of General Motors will join us next. Stay with us.


HARLOW: It is the top of the hour. Good Friday morning, everyone.

And we have a lot of news to get to this morning. Here are five things to start off.