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GOP Donors Fear Time is Running Out for Trump Alternative; White House Not Sending Team to Detroit; Trump Comments on Roe; Man Dies at Gillette Stadium; West Point Sued over Admissions Policy; Trial Begins in Elijah McClain Death. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 06:30   ET



STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: And the result is we're seeing a lot of donors right now remain on the sidelines. Ken Griffin, a hedge fund manager who's very wealthy and has previously suggested that he liked Ron DeSantis, he's now saying he's still waiting to see who emerges as a viable alternative to Donald Trump.

But that is also creating somewhat of a catch 22 for these candidates. You know, it's the donors want to see someone break out. But as you know, Phil, you need money and resources to project strength, to get your message out, and to have that moment so you can catch lightning in a bottle if you have a strong debate performance.

So, that is why there is so much emphasis on next Wednesday's second debate because it's not just an audition for potential Republican primary voters and caucus goers, it's also an audition for these donors who remain on the sidelines, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's a great point.

Steve Contorno, it's great reporting on Thank you.

Well, joining us now, "Bloomberg" White House and politics editor, Mario Parker, "Semafor" politics reporter Shelby Talcott, and John Avlon is back with us.

You would note that Steve's story, donors still think that there's a possibility to coalesce behind somebody, so they back your perspective that the race isn't over.

But before we get to that, real quick, I want to swing back to the auto strike, Mario, because you know White House officials quite well. You cover the building. We were in the Briefing Room together quite often.

The decision not to send Julie Su, the acting labor secretary, and Gene Sperling, who's been running point for them on this issue, at the same time Trump and his team are kind of going all in, trying to peel off rank and file union officials, why?

MARIO PARKER, WHITE HOUSE AND POLITICS EDITOR, "BLOOMBERG": Well, you see for the Biden White House an air of responsibility, right? We saw some of this earlier this year with the East Palestine, Ohio, trail derailment where President Biden was being asked in the Briefing Room about whether he'd visit, right, the optics around it. And the message that we got from the White House at the time was that, no, we'll stay on the sidelines, it's not responsible for us to bring the presidential apparatus into that town.

The White House has taken that same tact with this, right, with Julie Su and Gene Sperling, saying that they'll just wait on the sidelines in Washington, D.C., as the UAW and the big three automakers continue to hold discussions. They'll swoop in to destroy at the necessary time.

Now, on the other side, there's former President Donald Trump, a former reality TV star, who does understand the optics, who doesn't care as much about the responsibility of the infrastructure or injecting himself into that moment as well, and so you're seeing him kind of, in some ways, box Biden in because, again, we've seen like Bernie Sanders last month talk about the Democrats problem with working class voters. Donald Trump has no qualms about swooping in and injecting himself into that argument.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This is all really interesting to me. They were going to go, Gene Sperling and Julie Su, and then -- now they're not going to go, but Trump's going to go and he's going to skip the debate.

I think the "Times" had this really great look at, like, a number of the auto workers telling "New York Times" reporters that, like, they weren't so on board with Biden and him being the union guy. And when they actually dug into the data, not just the union bosses who often back Democrats, but the actual workers. In the last election, four in ten backed Trump, right? And so the head of the AFL-CIO said the demographics of union members are the ones who have been trending away from Democrat for some time.


HARLOW: And Trump is going for that.

AVLON: But look, this -- this is a problem for Democrats for decades, as you say, right? There's a delta between union leadership, which is lock, stock and barrel for Democrats and still flexes their muscle like they can deliver the votes, and -- and the cultural sympathies of many members that say, you know what, I'm not going with that because they feel the frustrations that Donald Trump, and a lot of populist conservative do a very good job of tapping into and articulating.

At the end of the day, though, I think it is a question of follow the money and who's going to actually back your interests. But remember, the story for politics reach in its (ph) times is cultural frustrations trump, no pun intended, economic interest.

HARLOW: No, no. I mean Shawn Fain, who heads the UAW, quote, "every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of our workers."

So -

AVLON: And there's the catch 22 in our politics.


MATTINGLY: It's also - and this gets to Mario's point, and then, Shelby, you've got some new reporting that I really want to get to for a key Republican primary, this is such a great window into the split screen of this campaign, right?

AVLON: Uh-huh.

MATTINGLY: Mario lays it out where the Biden administration is trying for an outcome here.


MATTINGLY: And they're going to be quiet. They will have Zoom meetings with the two advisers.

AVLON: Right.

MATTINGLY: They'll get there when they feel like it's important. But they've been talking to the UAW and Shawn Fain and they're not - they're trying not to jam them in in any way.

AVLON: That's right.

MATTINGLY: Where Trump doesn't care. But he wants the public recognition of the fight and wants rank and file to believe them.

It's -- this is the next 14 months.

Also the next 14 months, or at least the next several months, the response for anti-abortion activists to the Trump comments in the NBC interview.


You have new reporting on that. I think it's fascinating because it took a couple days, and now it's starting to unfurl. What's happening?

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, "SEMAFOR": Yes, the flood gates have really opened with this situation. And I think it's quietly been brewing for months, the frustration that anti-abortion activists have with how Trump has kind of shifted his own messaging on the topic of abortion. And after the NBC interview where he said that Ron DeSantis' six-week abortion ban was terrible, they've really come at him.

And the big theme that I've heard from these activists is that they've always kind of viewed Trump as transactional, as somebody who does something that is politically advantageous. But back in 2016, they bet on him, and it was - it ended up being successful. This time around, they're seeing that, you know, maybe Trump is

starting to move to the left on some of the issues, and they feel like he's abandoned their cause because he got Roe v. Wade overturned. He did all of these anti-abortion things last time around, and so he does not feel obligated to their cause this time around. And so they're really, really concerned about the possibility of another Trump presidency.

AVLON: Look, this is more evidence for what, a, why a lot of Trump support has been transactional on a lot of these traditional, social issues, but why the argument I've been making that you and I debate, which is that this is not over. This is not over. It's definitionally not over. We're four months from voting. But there are a lot of coalitions that have been traditionally pretty powerful inside the Republican Party that don't feel like they have a champion yet and they haven't coalesced behind an alternative to Donald Trump.

I will say, there's another side to the successful accomplishment of overturning Roe v. Wade, which is that Democrats keep winning local races. We don't pay a lot of attention to them, but that backlash is continuing to brew on the ground in state legislatures and local races. And that's a counter veiling force that you've got to take into account when you look at this election coming down the pike.

HARLOW: Yes. Sure. And really interesting reporting, Shelby.

Thank you so much.

MATTINGLY: Well, that same group that sued Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over affirmative action now have their sights set on the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. What exactly they're alleging. We'll have more.

HARLOW: Also this morning, federal charges have been filed after a one-year-old child overdosed at his New York City daycare. Ahead, the chilling details of how infants and toddlers were exposed to fentanyl.



MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, we're learning more about an altercation at the Patriots' Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts where a man died during the fourth quarter of Sunday night's game. The local district attorney's office says 53-year-old Dale Mooney of New Hampshire was pronounced dead after a medical incident. Now a man who also attended that game says he witnessed a, quote, "violent confrontation" leading up to the fan's death according to CNN affiliate WCVB.

CNN's Omar Jimenez joins us now with more.

Omar, we know there's an investigation ongoing. What do we know about what actually happened here?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so if you just look at what we know, this happened during the fourth quarter of the Dolphins and Patriots game. And as we understand it, according to a witness, Dale Mooney approached a group of fans on the 300 level. It was around 11:00 is when police and fire responded to people - to someone in need of a medical emergency. And as you mentioned, it was - it was a witness that spoke to our affiliate, WCVB, that said that there was some sort of violent confrontation leading up to what happened. And that is what's under investigation.

But not long after that confrontation, it became immediately clear to this witness that something was very wrong.

Take a listen.


JOE KILMARTIN, WITNESS: Throughout the night there was definitely some back and forth. Kind of immediately the way the guy slumped over, the whole mood changed. It was definitely -- I think everybody around knew something was wrong, and we had just witnessed something we all didn't want to see.


JIMENEZ: Now, we're not sure exactly at what point in the timeline of any sort of confrontation that happened. That very well could have happened after. But right now that, of course, the cause of this, the autopsy results, we're still waiting to get to sort of give a little bit more clarity into what exactly happened here. And his wife told our affiliate WCVB, he doesn't have any sort of medical condition that she knows of and that it takes a lot to get him angry. And so, again, that's also part of what we're trying to figure out here.

But Dale Mooney, 53 years old, he was a third year season ticket holder with the Patriots, lifelong Patriots fan. And his family and others are just now trying to find some answers.

MATTINGLY: Yes, investigation ongoing.

Omar, thank you.


HARLOW: All right, a federal lawsuit has just been filed against West Point over raced based admissions. This lawsuit comes from the same group that won that landmark case this term against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina Chapal Hill. That culminated with the Supreme Court striking down affirmative action in college admissions. The ruling did not, though, cover the country's military academies. Remember, they were actually exempt explicitly.

Miguel Marquez joins us now.

So this is sort of the natural follow on. And what this group is alleging, Students for Fair Admission, that by doing this, by using affirmative action, you're violating the equal protection clause, right? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Essentially. That that's the service academies, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and specifically West Point, which they sued in federal court in New York.


MARQUEZ: So, this will probably work its way back to the Supreme Court. Keep in mind that universities across the country are still wrestling with that precedent changing ruling from June, trying to figure out where their race-based admissions are now.

But it was Students for Fir Admissions which brought this suit. And in a quote they say that, "West Point, instead of admitting future cadets based on objective metrics and leadership potential, West Point focuses on race." And they say that is wrong.

The racial makeup of the 2027 class for West Point is about 14 percent Asian, the U.S. population for Asians is 5.9 percent. So, Asians are -

HARLOW: That's higher.

MARQUEZ: Are over-represented there. Hispanics, about 11 percent for 2027 at West Point, 18.9 percent in the U.S. population, so lower. African Americans, about 10 percent for 2027, it's about 12.6 percent across the country. So, it's a little bit lower. And then Native Americans are about 1 percent, both at West Point and at the -- in the U.S. population.


You mentioned the carve out, essentially, that the justices made.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. Roberts.

MARQUEZ: That Chief Justice Roberts did that opinion. It was concurred by all the conservative justices that the liberal justices dissented very, very vociferously. In that carve out, Roberts said that the potentially - it -- that the - that the service academy, that they potentially have distinct interests that the service academies may present.

HARLOW: That's what I think is so interesting about the opinion is there may be distinct interest in making sure that you have a diverse body of cadets. And I just wonder how West Point's responding.

MARQUEZ: Well, so West Point isn't responding right now, but the U.S. solicitor general, during arguments in June, did say that there was a specific interest, particularly given the Vietnam War -


MARQUEZ: Particularly given the way that the U.S. military academies and the U.S. military has been far ahead on racial justice for decades now.

HARLOW: Yes. MARQUEZ: There is a specific interest for the military academies to have racial parity to basically keep the troops, you know, from officer corps to the enlisted, represented.

HARLOW: Representative. It's going to be fascinating to watch that argument play out in the courts because it is different than what the Supreme Court said.

MARQUEZ: It's going to be a long fight. Yes.

HARLOW: Miguel, thank you for the great reporting. Appreciate it.

MARQUEZ: You got it.


MATTINGLY: Thanks, Poppy.

In just a few hours, opening statements could begin in the trial for the officers who were charged in the death of Elijah McClain. We're going to take you live to Colorado with a preview.

Plus, CNN's Fareed Zakaria sat down with the president of Iran after the release of five Americans who were wrongfully detained. The exclusive interview, that's ahead.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: I know relations between your government and the United States are still very strained, but does this deal mean that you are able to work with the United States government on issues of mutual interest?




MATTINGLY: Well, in just a few hours, a jury is expected to be seated in the trial of two police officers charged in the death of Elijah McClain. The unarmed black massage therapist was confronted by the officers walking home from the store more than four years ago. Prosecutors say the officers put him in a choke hold and later sedated him after struggling to place handcuffs on him. Officers Randy Roedema and Jason Rosenblatt are the first of five to face trial.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is live for us in Denver.

And, Lucy, what are we expecting as this seems to start to kick into gear?


The death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain sparked outrage not just here in Colorado but across the nation. Both of the defendants on trial today face charges of manslaughter, as well as criminally negligent homicide. Both men have pled not guilty.

We are expected -- expecting the jury to be seated later this morning, followed by opening statements.


KAFANOV (voice over): Elijah McClain was walking home four years ago when he was approached by Aurora, Colorado, police officers responding to a suspicious person 911 call.

911 CALLER: I don't know. He looks sketchy.

KAFANOV: His death in 2019, after the police encounter, sparked community outrage in Colorado and beyond, prompting multiple investigations and calls for justice, and led the state to reform the department. Police body cam footage shows the sequence of events that August night. McClain was wearing a dark ski mask and was not under suspicion of any crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop right there. Hey, stop right there. Stop. Stop.

ELIJAH MCCLAIN: I have a right to walk on the road.


Stop. I have a right to stop you because you're being suspicious.

KAFANOV: McClain can be heard in the recordings trying to explain himself.

E. MCCLAIN: No, I am an introvert. Please respect the boundaries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop tensing up.

KAFANOV: The body cam footage then shows officers putting McClain in a choke hold, claiming he tried to grab one of their weapons.

E. MCCLAIN: I'm so sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He reached for your gun, dude.

E. MCCLAIN: I have no gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what I - that's where I tried grabbing when he moved.

E. MCCLAIN: I don't do that stuff. I don't do any fighting.

KAFANOV: After paramedics arrived on scene, McClain was given ketamine, a powerful sedative. Both the choke hold and the drug have since been banned in Colorado.

Five defendants are now facing charges. All have pleaded not guilty. And the road to the trial has been a long one. Prosecutors initially declined to file charges, but after continued protests, the Colorado governor appointed the attorney general as special prosecutor to investigate further.

PHIL WEISER (D), Colorado ATTORNEY GENERAL: Our goal is to seek justice for Elijah McClain, for his family and friends and for our state.

KAFANOV: The original 2019 autopsy report called McClain's manner and cause of death, quote, "undetermined." But the autopsy was amended in 2021 and made public last year citing complications from ketamine injection following forcible restraint as the cause of death.

After the encounter, McClain suffered a heart attack while he was in route to the hospital. He never regained consciousness. Days later, he died.

The outrage over his death led to calls for more transparency regarding police use of force in Aurora and beyond. But for McClain's mother, who spoke out last year about changes in Aurora's police department leadership, reforms have still not progressed far enough.

SHANEEN MCCLAIN, ELIJAH MCCLAIN'S MOTHER: They're just going backwards. They don't care about police reform. All they care about is controlling people that's not like them.


KAFANOV: And, Phil, as you've pointed out, this is just the first of what will be three separate trials. Officer Nathan Woodyard, who had placed McClain in that choke hold, is scheduled to be trialed next individually in mid-October. And the two paramedics, we're expecting their trial at the end of November.


HARLOW: All right, Lucy Kafanov, for us in Denver, thank you.

HARLOW: So, this just in, ten people were taken into custody overnight. This happened in Staten Island. They were blocking a bus carrying migrants seeking asylum to New York City. Those details after this.

MATTINGLY: And today negotiators will head back to the table to potentially end the month's long writers strike.


We'll discuss that and the state of the actors strike when actress and SAG-AFTRA member Taraji P. Henson joins us live in studio in our 8:00 hour. You don't want to miss this.

Stay with us.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is working to keep his party together, but also to keep his job.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HIL REPORTER: They might be in the same galaxy, but they are on different planets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully some of my colleagues will see the light of day quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The former Trump aide says Trump told her to play dumb about boxes of classified documents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was right outside the most important office in the world.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's incredibly damaging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is textbook obstruction of justice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The attorney general taking the hot seat.