Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

CBS Poll: Only 34 Percent Believe Biden Would Finish a Second Term; Top House Democrat Jeffries Pickets with UAW Members on Strike; Five Americans Freed from Iranian Prison as Frozen Iranian Funds Released; Nine Teenagers Who Escaped from Juvenile Detention in Pennsylvania Back in Custody; Hunter Biden Sues IRS for Improperly Revealing His Tax Return Information. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 08:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're so glad you're with us. There's a lot to get to this morning, a very busy Monday morning here for. So let's start with five things to know for Monday, September 18th.

This breaking news, five Americans wrongfully detained in Iran about to be free this morning. Right now, they're on their way to a plane that will take them to Qatar and then back to the United States by tonight, hopefully.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And this just into CNN. Nine teenagers who escaped from a juvenile detention in Pennsylvania are back in custody.

Also this morning, former President Donald Trump says it was, quote, my decision to try overturn the 2020 election results, and legal experts say that could impact his defense with the special counsel.

HARLOW: Also new this morning, we've just learned Hunter Biden is suing the IRS, alleging its agents illegally released his tax information.

MATTINGLY: And the clock is still ticking towards a potential government shutdown. House Republicans have come up with what they thought was a deal, but it could and is likely dead on arrival. We'll have more.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.


NASSER KANAANI, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN (through translator): Five prisoners who are citizens of the Islamic republic will be freed from the prisons of the United States, and in exchange, five prisoners who used to be in the Islamic Republic will be handed over to them based on their request to the American side. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right, you heard it right there. Right now, Iran in the process of releasing those five American prisoners as part of this deal with the United States. In the last hour, a source told CNN the detainees were being transported to a plane in Tehran that will be flown first to Qatar.

MATTINGLY: Under the agreement, the U.S. has already unfrozen and transferred $6 billion for Iran to use for what the U.S. says will be humanitarian purposes only. And five Iranians detained in the U.S. will also be released.

Becky Anderson is live for us at the airport in Doha, and CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour, who has been with us all morning, is back with us still. First to Becky, though. Becky, we've been kind of waiting. We had a timeline about what we thought might happen and when. It's been a little delayed. What's happening right now?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The deal does seem to be moving, albeit at a slightly slower pace than sources had told us it would. But confirming that sources briefed on the situation and in Tehran today telling us that the U.S. detainees are now on their way to a Qatari jet, which is sitting on the tarmac in Tehran, ready to fly those five wrongfully detained American citizens here to Qatar at some point today.

Now, when I say that deal appears to be going to plan, to the extent that it can, the other part of that deal, of course, is a very important complex and complicated transfer of funds from a South Korean bank, Iranian funds from a South Korean bank via Switzerland into two Doha accounts, two banks here in Doha. Six Iranian banks have opened bank accounts at these two Doha banks. And we have heard both from the source both here on the ground and from the Iranian side that that money has now arrived in that -- in those two Doha bank accounts. So the Iranians, this is Iranian money that was frozen in accounts in South Korea, does now, it seems, confirmed to have arrived in these Doha accounts.

Which is all important, because as I say, this was a complicated and complex deal. Perhaps nobody really expected it to go completely to plan. But as things stand at present, certainly, it does appear that those U.S. detainees are on their way to the flight. And once that takes off from Tehran, it's about a two-hour flight here to Doha where they will be met by the American negotiators.

HARLOW: Becky, thank you. Stand by as we wait for that plane to take off.

Christiane, just to you, reminding people of who has been held and for how long. Siamak Namazi, namely, but also Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz and two others who have not wanted to be named.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: That's right, two others who have not wanted to be named and everybody has respected that as their prerogative. And as you mentioned the names, Siamak has been held since October 2015, that's nearly eight years exactly, only because he's American.


And the same with the other two who have been held more or less for the two-and-a-half and two years each. They have been held as part of the ongoing Iranian strategy of trying to get its money back that has been frozen in many, many countries after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. And so this has just been going on.

And at the heart of it, though, really, is a human story. At the heart of it are people who have been just swept up, you know, some sham trial, some completely irrelevant charges, some completely nonsensical sentences, and put into deep suffering in Evin, which all know to be such a hard, terrible place, where they have a whole set of different kinds of prisoners there, especially they have political prisoners. You know, there are a lot of the protesters from this year of women's protests who are still there.

And when I spoke to Siamak in March, he took a last-ditch desperation move to risk calling out of prison. He did have phone privileges, but not necessarily to call CNN. But nonetheless, he called CNN and laid it out, how terrible life was. It had gotten better after he was out of the harshest two years of solitary confinement. And how desperate he was that the U.S. administration, the president, all the others to hear their plea and to get them out.

MATTINGLY: I picked up -- I was at the White House at the time. There was a shift in tempo after that interview and I think he had been on a hunger strike before that, as well. He had started to draw attention. The process after that interview, did you pick up any sense of if negotiations had picked up, how they had picked up, how did they get to this point that we were at today?

AMANPOUR: No. To be honest, no. I'm actually really interested to hear from you that you noticed a shift in tempo, because I'm glad. I'm glad that as a news organization we were able to play that role, because all we did was report the story, and it was a story that, I guess, potentially the administration could hide behind the idea that it wasn't in the spotlight. It wasn't in the spotlight.

HARLOW: Until it was.

AMANPOUR: Until it was. And I'm very proud that CNN put it into spotlight. This is a human story. And every other administration has had to deal with these kinds of unsavory, unpalatable, maybe, to many people, deals with Iran. It's terribly upsetting that a very decent arms control agreement, called the Iran nuclear deal, was just trashed by President Trump. And now we're in a terrible, terrible situation, because we have got all of that going on, as well.

Having said that, President Trump, President Obama, previous presidents did enter deals to release wrongfully held Americans in Iranian jails who were only there for the single reason of being Iranian -- sorry, of being America, as Siamak told me. HARLOW: Christiane, thank you. Stand by. I think you'll be with us

throughout the day, right, as this plane takes off and then eventually comes to the United States.

AMANPOUR: Fingers crossed.

HARLOW: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Keeping our eyes on it, for sure.

And also, though, this just in. Nine teens who escaped a juvenile detention center in Pennsylvania after a riot there are back in custody. Police say the teens worked together to overpower two female employees and take their keys.

CNN's Danny Freeman is live for us in Philadelphia with more. Danny, you're no stranger to prisoner escapes at this point in time. What -- where did the police actually find this? This seems to have been resolved fairly quickly.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Phil, we've got to stop meeting like this. That is the good news that unlike the Danelo Cavalcante case, which lasted for about 14 days, this one lasted less than 12 hours.

But let me tell you a little bit about what we know and how they got to this point of capturing all nine of those escaped inmates. It all started around 8:00 p.m. last night at the Abraxas Academy. It's about 50 miles west of where we are here in Philadelphia. It's a juvenile detention center, but Phil, importantly, it's only 15 miles west of where Cavalcante was captured late last week. So a similar area, similarly on edge after learning last night that nine teens basically in this facility had escaped.

They're all between the ages of 15 and 17. And as you said, we learned this morning, they overpowered two female security guards, they stole their keys, were able to get out of the facility that way, and then crawled under exterior fences, ultimately escaped.

The escape was much shorter than afterwards. They were spotted between midnight and 1:00, trying to steal a car. Homeowners turned on the light, they got scared off. And at 5:47 a.m., they were able to catch four of the inmates, and then less than hour later, after successfully stealing a pickup truck and trailer, police were able to capture the remaining five.

Of course, as we started, the comparisons to Cavalcante were brought up in a press conference with Pennsylvania state police just recently. Take a listen to what they said.


TROOPER DAVE BOEHM, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: I figured we would catch these kids, because they're probably not as resilient as a 30- some-year-old, however old he was, that knows he's going to jail for the rest of his life. [08:10:00]

I don't know if 15 to 17-year-olds have the resiliency to want to not have to go back, right? The four of them got cold and banged on a door, they were done.


FREEMAN: So certainly a frightening evening as we got word of another escape, but the good news is that this one actually concluded within less than 12 hours. Phil?

MATTINGLY: Danny Freeman for us, thank you.

HARLOW: So this just into CNN. Hunter Biden has sued the IRS, alleging the agents of the IRS illegally released his tax information and failed to protect his privacy. Our senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joins us now. This is a really fascinating turn after the plea deal that was in part about taxes fell apart. Does he have a case here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Phil and Poppy, he's certainly on the offensive. Hunter Biden is going in court with this new lawsuit this morning against the IRS, specifically because there were two special agents within the IRS who became whistleblowers for Congress earlier this year. And he says that those two IRS agents who had been working on his tax investigation over many years, that did ultimately result in him trying to make a guilty plea to a misdemeanor and then that plea deal falling apart, he's saying those two agents essentially went out and did interviews at a point in time when they shouldn't have been talking about his tax returns.

And his lawyers, Hunter Biden's lawyers are alleging that they disclosed quite a lot about Hunter Biden's tax returns, what he had not been paying, the tax years that were under investigation, also liability he had, some deductions he may have needed to pay. There's a lot in here based on what those two whistleblowers were doing publicly around the time that they became whistleblowers, while also working for the IRS, complaining about the handling of that investigation.

And so now this is in the court system with judges going to look at it. Hunter Biden wants about $1,000 in damages for every time something about his tax returns was disclosed, when he says that it was unlawfully disclosed and that his records weren't appropriately protected by the IRS because tax returns are confidential by law. We haven't gotten a statement from the attorneys for these whistleblowers yet, these two special agents with the IRS, but there are some questions about what exactly they did disclose, because at the time they weren't using his name, but it was very clear to everyone when they became whistleblowers about this investigation that it was, indeed about Hunter Biden.

HARLOW: It's going to be really interesting to see where it goes. Certainly, an aggressive legal tactic. Katelyn, thanks for the update.

MATTINGLY: New polling this morning shows only one-third of voters think President Biden would make it through a second term if reelected. What that means for the 2024 race.

HARLOW: And California Governor Gavin Newsom says he will sign a climate bill that would require companies to report all of their climate-warming emissions. We'll discuss that, ahead.



MATTINGLY: The concerns about President Biden's age, at least among the electorate aren't going away.

According to a new CBS poll, only 34 percent of voters think President Biden would actually make it through a second term if re-elected.

Joining us now CNN anchor and senior political analyst, John Avlon; CNN political commentator and political anchor for "Spectrum News," Errol Louis, and CNN political commentator and former Trump White House communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin.

You and I are going to litigate something at the end of this that we're going at it on break, but on this issue itself. Look to Alyssa's point, also during the break, I'm just going to put all of that on the record whether you guys like it or not.

The president is too old.


MATTINGLY: That's not going to change.


MATTINGLY: And so I think the question becomes --

AVLON: He is going to become older.

MATTINGLY: Is there something that the White House can do to mitigate this? His campaign can do to mitigate it or they just view it, as I've sometimes been told, it is not something that's top of mind for voters when you actually get into the details.

AVLON: It clearly is something that is top of mind with voters.

The White House's job is to say that look, it's compared to what? And look at all the things he's done and try to turn that age into an advantage, where this was a conversation around Reagan in 1984 and he definitely defanged it in a debate with Walter Mondale, with a little bit of humor, always a good, underutilized thing in our politics today, and folks got over it.

But you're not going to wish this away. It's baked in the cake.

HARLOW: Over the weekend, some top Democrats coming out in support of a Biden-Harris ticket. This is of course, after the Pelosi interview with Anderson and Jamie Raskin as well, who are hesitating in terms of a full-throated endorsement of Harris on the ticket again. Let's just listen to this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is Biden-Harris, a record of accomplishment up there with Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

Kamala Harris, the vice president. This is our ticket. We're proud of it.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): We're all behind the Biden-Harris administration, which has delivered spectacular, remarkable victories.

We've been making tremendous progress under Biden-Harris and we're all for the ticket.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Vice President Harris has been a great vice president, she'll be a great running mate. She has been a tremendous partner in the things that President Biden has been able to accomplish, which have been phenomenal.


HARLOW: Coincidence there?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, not a coincidence, somebody got a memo. Somebody got a couple of phone calls.

HARLOW: A Biden-Harris ticket memo.

LOUIS: Somebody -- yes, look, this drumbeat, this idea, which actually came from the Republicans that a vote for Biden is a vote for Harris, and so let's attack Harris, and the Democrats, I think we're slow to pick up on that and were actually giving it a little bit of oxygen by not forcefully pushing back.

So what you just saw over the weekend was them finally realizing, oh, if we don't protect the Black woman on the ticket, then the base of the Democratic Party and Black women vote for Democrats more faithfully than any other demographic group in the country, we are going to create a bunch of problems for ourselves, as well as with Asian-Americans, which happens to be. College educated women, which she happens to be; younger voters like Vice President Harris.

You could sort of dissolve the whole Democratic coalition just by not speaking up for you sitting vice president, so they should have done it a long time ago.

HARLOW: Wouldn't want to do that. You can't do that.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But what is remarkable is obviously the age issue is an issue, 73 percent of Americans are concerned about it, but probably the best inoculation against is for Democrats to remind folks that Donald Trump is 77 years old. He is no spring chicken. He is not significantly younger than President Biden.

Where things get complicated because I'm going to go with John Avlon, the race is not over yet. There could still be someone other than Donald Trump.

If it ends up being someone like Nikki Haley, that is a huge problem for the Biden White House, that's somebody who is a next generation of voters in her 50s and could litigate that we need representation for this whole country. The two biggest voting blocs are going to be millennials and Gen Z.


We're not exactly represented by the octogenarian class in Washington. So that's the one thing that could throw a real wrench and that wheel, but we're actually talking about too deeply old candidates.

HARLOW: Ready to litigate.

MATTINGLY: Yes, tell me.

AVLON: Let's go. Let's go.

MATTINGLY: Give me historical precedent for anyone in the history of the Republican Party, or really any party being this far up this close to the Iowa caucuses, with this rock solid of a base that in poll after poll after poll isn't remotely malleable or willing to openly consider anybody else losing.

AVLON: I take your challenge, and I'll answer everything. It can be a case where you've got a candidate who has been indicted four times on over 90 counts.

MATTINGLY: It's had a huge impact on his polling.

GRIFFIN: Upward.

AVLON: But when people start thinking about electability, you've got a very fractured field that elevates him. Remember, also Donald Trump, he has a hardcore support -- some polls, I think "Washington Post," 37 percent Republicans say they will support him no matter what.

But there is a super majority of people who are opposed to him or persuadable and that's why I think it's a disservice to where we are because the future is unwritten, to say that this is a foregone conclusion, it's a done deal.

It's not. People haven't voted yet and they won't even start for four months.

GRIFFIN: Quickly, if I could say, if I were a Nikki Haley, I would pretty much put Iowa side which hasn't actually elected a Republican president since about 2000, I believe. You can correct me on that.

Focus all your energy --

LOUIS: You're going have angry people in your social media.

GRIFFIN: Focus all your energy on New Hampshire or you can actually -- it is an open primary -- you can turn out Independents who want to vote for Republicans, voters who don't traditionally show up in a Republican primary.

AVLON: That's right.

GRIFFIN: And then South Carolina, where she is the former governor and popular.

LOUIS: Well, but the problem is, she is polling at 18 percent in her own state, right? Donald Trump is like something like 46 percent in her state.

With all of the non-Trump candidates, the problem is you can't find a state that they win before Super Tuesday.


LOUIS: And you know, I mean, it is lovely to talk about the rules that we wish we had, but politics is about the rules that we do have. And you know, in this primary process, Donald Trump has got a sort of a fortress that nobody has demonstrated that they have an ability to hack.

AVLON: Look, he is a fortress in the Republican Party. General election is still -- and once the electability argument starts coming in, that's going to be a real problem.

You're right about one point, which is that the RNC has not actually done a good job about making sure there have proportional representation of delegates, right? It's a lot of these states that are winner take all where you can get that 35 percent, and if it is a crowded field, you take all the delegates. That's a problem with a solution that no one seems to have taken seriously.

GRIFFIN: Well, and by the way, the RNC is rigging this for Trump. I'm just going to go ahead and say it. There were people like Congressman Will Hurd who was turned away from the previous debate, because likely Republican voters and Independents factored into his poll numbers.

I would think if you want to win a general election, you want somebody who brings those voters. So that's also going to be a problem for the other candidates.

HARLOW: Thank you very much. This is fascinating. I'm not going to say who won in that.

MATTINGLY: I mean, at least Avlon was willing to grant that Errol got one thing right.

HARLOW: I can't. I need to sit next to both of you guys.

MATTINGLY: Right. HARLOW: Every morning.

MATTINGLY: Appreciate it, guys.

HARLOW: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: All right, well, we do have some breaking news, it is just in: The American detainees set to be released from custody in Iran have now arrived at the Tehran Airport and are with the Qatari ambassador ahead of their planned fight to Doha, and then they will head to the United States.

HARLOW; All right, the auto workers on strike for a fourth day as contract talks continue with the Big 3.

Next, we'll discuss this ongoing strike with former Michigan Congressman Fred Upton, he's here.



REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): What they are fighting for fundamentally is the American Dream, and so we stand with the UAW as they fight for a fair contract, as they fight to benefit from the fruits of their labor.


HARLOW: So that was Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on the ground in Michigan who is visiting a Ford assembly plant. He marched on the picket line with UAW members on strike.

Some Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence, also supporting the workers, but taking a different approach, instead arguing the union is "pushing back rightly on the Biden administration policies encouraging electric vehicles." Listen.


MIKE PENCE (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also think that this green agenda that is using taxpayer dollars to drive our automotive economy into electric vehicles is understandably causing great anxiety among UAW members.


HARLOW: Joining us now is former Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan. He was one of 10 House Republicans to vote for Trump's impeachment after the January 6 attacks.

Congressman, I know you want me to call you, Fred, I just can't do it.

So Congressman, thanks for being with us this morning.

I'm so fascinated by Democrats and Republicans, many of them on the same page when it comes to supporting the UAW, but for very different reasons.

Do you agree with Republicans who think that this is an opening for the party in Michigan, maybe take that open Senate seat, which hasn't happened from Republicans since '94?

FRED UPTON, FORMER US REPRESENTATIVE: Well, you know, Michigan has been a purple state for a long time. We had a Republican US senator, Spence Abraham. We had a Republican governor, Rick Snyder for eight years. It is very much in play. Trump won it in 2016, Biden won it with a little better margin 154,000 votes in '20.

But Michigan is one of those eight states that's up for grabs, and the UAW is a pretty strong force.


UPTON: That is for sure, and this strike, you know, it's a little bit ingenious that they're going after all three companies at the same time. And it's these rolling strikes for a variety of different facilities. It's taken notice, and I think it's going to go for a little while, and, you know, they made some pretty good demands, and they're already halfway there.

So if you ever compromise halfway, they've already got that, so you know that whatever the final settlement is going to be, it's going to be much closer to their original demand than then literally splitting the difference in two.

HARLOW: Well, one part of the UAW demand is for 32 hours or four-day work week and that is something that the CEOs of these companies have said absolutely no way, hard stop on that, but I thought that Senator Bernie Sanders' answer yesterday when our Jake Tapper asked him what he thought about that was really interesting. Here it is.