Return to Transcripts main page
"The New York Times" Reports A Target Letter In The Mar-A-Lago Documents Case To Low-Level Trump Organization Employee; Authorities Capture Suspected Serial Killer; SAG-AFTRA Joins The Writers' Guild On Strike. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired July 14, 2023 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: And good luck to all of our guests at the awards ceremony on September 18th. Thank you for watching. You can catch my full interviews with Ronna McDaniel and Goldie Hawn anytime you want on Max. And please join us here on CNN every Friday night to find out who's talking next.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new reported target letter issued by the special counsel, why full-body contact is all the rage in presidential politics, and there is no business in show business. I'm John Berman and this is CNN TONIGHT or CNN Very Nearly Tomorrow, or since it's Friday, CNN Very Nearly Next Week. And next week really could be a big one in the various investigations into Donald Trump. This week alone has seen a litany of activity.
On Monday, Trump lawyers filed a motion to delay any criminal trial, the classified documents case until the 12th of basically never. On Tuesday, a grand jury was selected in Georgia that could indict Trump for election interference there. On Thursday, special counsel Jack Smith urged Judge Aileen Cannon to reject Trump's delay, delay strategy. And we found out Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner testified before the grand jury in the DOJ investigation into Trump's role in January 6th.
New today, Trump's team filed a petition in Georgia to throw out evidence and disqualify Fulton County DA Fani Willis. Also today, a CNN exclusive, sources say the Secretaries of State for both Pennsylvania and New Mexico have been interviewed by federal prosecutors in the election probe.
And "The New York Times" reporting that a low-level employee at the Trump Organization has received a letter from the special counsel in the documents case warning of a possible indictment. This is a target letter. The employee testified before the grand jury, possibly about security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago, and prosecutors are trying to determine if the testimony was truthful.
So, if that all seems like a lot, it's because it is a lot. Next week, too, on Tuesday, Judge Aileen Cannon will hold her first hearing in the classified documents case. The hearing will be about how to handle classified information involved in the case. So, with all of this, I have to catch my breath. How will Trump's team handle, in the words of Bananarama, this cruel, cruel summer?
I want to start with CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig. Counselor, great to see you tonight. Actually, I want to start with the news that came most recently, which is this "New York Times" report of a target letter in the Mar-a-Lago documents case to this low-level Trump Organization employee. The bigger picture, what does that tell you what's going on here?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, it's really interesting. We shouldn't overlook it because it just sort of broke shortly ago. Prosecutors send target letters when they believe somebody is what we call a putative defendant, meaning likely to be a defendant. You don't have to send target letters, but we know Jack Smith and his team do because they sent one to Donald Trump shortly before making him a defendant.
So, this person, this Mar-a-Lago employee, is now a likely, not definite, but likely defendant. And one more. potential defendant means one more potential cooperator.
BERMAN: Yeah, when you hear low level, don't necessarily dismiss it because low level may actually mean fruitful in some ways.
HONIG: Low level can make big cases.
BERMAN: All right, take a step back here. With all this information that we just outlined there, there was a ton of it there.
BERMAN: And all the questions that we now believe the special counsel is asking in the elections probe. If they were to make a case against Donald Trump on January 6, what would that case be, do you think? How would they do it?
HONIG: Let's see. May it please the court.
BERMAN: Your honor.
HONIG: This is a conspiracy. This was a plot. The person behind it was Donald Trump. The goal was to steal the 2020 election. This was a plot built on a lie. The lie that Donald Trump had won the election, when in fact he had not. Donald Trump and his people, you would argue, got together and did everything in their power to steal that election.
They created fake documents saying these are the electors. People had not been elected. They'd been elected for Joe Biden, not Donald Trump, and they sent them into the archives. They pressured state and local officials asking them to find votes, trying to get them to throw the electoral votes. They pressured Mike Pence when all else failed, trying to pressure him to violate his oath and the Constitution to throw away electoral votes.
And when all of that failed, Donald Trump made an inflammatory speech at the ellipse, pointing his people towards the Capitol, where they went, and destroyed the place. That's the argument that this was all a plot, and that Donald Trump should be charged.
BERMAN: All right, just, I wanna make one thing clear here for the audiences watching. You just made that case because I asked you to not necessarily, because you believe it's a super strong case --
BERMAN: --or that they will bring that case, but just if there is a case, that's what it might look like. So, similarly, I'm going to ask you, what specifically do you think, based on everything we've seen, Trump could, if he is, be charged with.
HONIG: Yes, it's important we be specific here, because people sort of say, well, January 6th, pressuring the Vice President. Those things are not crimes. Here's what could be the crimes.
First of all, obstruction of an official proceeding, trying to stop Congress from counting the electoral votes. That charge has actually been brought against over 300 people who stormed the Capitol successfully by DOJ. You also have conspiracy to defraud the United States. That's sort of a bigger, broader view of the conspiracy, like I just laid out. They were trying to steal the election.
Then you have false statements that relate to the electoral certificates that I talked about. They claimed that these people had been elected to vote for Donald Trump, in fact Joe Biden had won those states. And then a very long shot that I don't think will.
You know, I think there's legitimate questions about all of these. But potentially incitement for inciting the riot, I don't think that's going to stand, because Donald Trump's words at the ellipse were too ambiguous and he did say at one point, you need to be peaceful and patriotic. But it's theoretically possible.
BERMAN: And we actually haven't heard of any questions being asked about that specifically until this point by the federal prosecutors. Elie, stand by if you will, because I want to bring in Former Assistant Special Watergate Prosecutor John Sale. John, thank you so much for being with us. You just heard a former federal prosecutor lay out a possible case against Donald Trump for January 6. So, what would a possible defense against those charges be?
JON SALE, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, Elie and I are alumni, both alumni of the Southern District. So, I want to say Elie gave a very eloquent opening statement. And the defense is simple. The defense is lack of criminal intent.
But I want to say something about the Special Counsel or that the Special Counsel, Jack Smith was not appointed to indict Donald Trump. He was appointed to do a thorough investigation, analyze the facts and the law, and if it turns out that people are responsible for this attack upon democracy, for this threat to the peaceful transition of power, but the evidence doesn't go as high as Donald Trump, the special counsel has not failed in his obligation. He's going to just call it the way he sees it.
So -- but I think the whole case is about intent. There's not any question what happened. We all watched it. I mean, the American people are witnesses. If there was a witness list, there would be two or three hundred million people who would be put on this witness list. It's a matter of whether or not Donald Trump had the requisite criminal intent. And you know when he goes around the country now saying the election was stolen, the election was stolen, he is maybe playing that card that he just did not have the criminal intent necessary for any of the charges that Elie laid out.
BERMAN: Because he's basically proving this theory would go, that he believes that the election was stolen, correct?
SALE: Yeah, and you know, there's circumstantial evidence to refute that, and a judge will tell a jury that's just as good as direct evidence, but juries don't believe that. And you know, there is some direct evidence, but you know, it's a tough case against Donald Trump.
BERMAN: Hey, Elie --
SALE: And we'll see.
BERMAN: Elie, since we have you here, and since you are playing the role of the prosecutor, it's a question I asked you last night, but since the esteemed counsel for the defendant here has suggested intent is the biggest obstacle. Are there crimes that could be charged without having to prove intent here?
HONIG: So, no, you always have to prove intent. I think John's correct that the best defense will be, the prosecution hasn't proved intent. I think if I had to prove intent on the prosecutor's side, first of all, I would look to, speaking of this week's news, I would look to evidence that Donald Trump ever acknowledged that he knew he lost. That's the best kind of evidence.
Then I would look to evidence that he was told by credible sources, he had lost. That's not as good because there's other people who told him he had won. And then I would finally argue there are some things where even if he truly believed he won, you still can't cross certain lines. You still can't threaten people. You still can't ask the Secretary of State on a state level to find you votes. That would be, I think, what prosecutors would say on the intent issue.
BERMAN: Jon, of the various reports of questions that have been asked, the various witnesses who have come forward that we now know to testify in this case, who would make the Trump team the most nervous? If you were defending Trump in this case, what testimony, what evidence would make you the most nervous?
SALE: That's easy for me. The most significant witness in this grand jury has been, in my view, is Mike Pence. We don't know what he said to the grand jury. We know what he's saying politically. He -- just think about it. If there is a case against the former President of the United States, and if the principal witness is his Vice President, I mean, that is just staggering, but he's not politically, Mike Pence is not, doesn't want to be the person who takes down Donald Trump, but he had the conversations. He had a private conversation with President Trump the day before January 6th.
Then about a week later, he had a private conversation. And I think, but none of us know, that whatever those conversations were, under oath in the grand jury, Mike Pence told the truth. He doesn't -- I don't know what he's saying in the political arena, that's a whole different ballgame. That's not my expertise. But I think the former vice president, his running mate, could be the most compelling witness, but of course, Mark Meadows being a close second.
BERMAN: Very quickly, we got about 20 seconds left. What could Mike Pence say about Donald Trump that would get him or put him in trouble?
SALE: I could say that I know I lost the election. And we've got to do something to keep that SOB, whatever you would refer to, because he's a name caller, President Biden out. And I don't care what it takes. And you got to -- you don't have the courage and that type of testimony. Jon Sale, Elie Honig, I have to say, if I ever get in trouble, and I hope I never do, the law firm of Honig and Sale would be one I would, you know, hire very quickly if I had enough money.
HONIG: He's highly-recognized.
BERMAN: Thank you. Thank you very much. So, there seems to be an obsession with man flesh among some Republican candidates. Is that because A, it goes around traditional media, B, plays to a key element of the Republican base, C, forgets that more than half of voters are actually women, or D, is super freaking hunky? Stay with us. The answer ahead.
BERMAN: So, on the campaign trail today, what appears to be an obsession with man flesh. "Politico" reports that Donald Trump has been trying to get on Mike Tyson's podcast. As they describe it, the Trump campaign's interest in Tyson's podcast is part of a broader strategic outreach to non-traditional media outlets, specifically those affiliated with male audiences with an interest in contact and combat sports. Contact and combat sports. Touching and fighting. Chris Christie got into the action, too, with an assist from our old friend Piers Morgan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN UNCENSORED": If you and Trump got in the ring, he loves his UFC and stuff like that, right? If you got in the octagon, you and him, who'd win?
CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: Come on. Guy's 78 years old. I'd kick his ass.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Contact and combat sports, touching and fighting. And then there is that homophobic slash homoerotic video circulated by the Ron DeSantis campaign, which included greased up pictures of bodybuilders and flash frames of Brad Pitt as noted warrior Achilles, who might've been a tender lover at the same time, the soldier Patroclus, depending on your classical interpretation of the Iliad. But we digress just a little.
Part of the fixation on punching and fighting and touching might be an attempt to attract male voters. I happen to know some men. Some of my best friends are men. And I'm reliably told that some men are actually into non-contact activities. Right? And some women, by the way, love the MMA stuff. So, what is going on here?
With us now is Jennifer Kingston, a reporter at Axios, and Coleman Hughes, host of the "Conversations with Coleman" podcast. Thank you both so much for being with us. Coleman, as you know, we do this in multiple choice form here. So, broadly speaking, all this man-centric contact sports stuff that we're seeing here, is it A, because it goes around traditional media, B, plays to a key element of the Republican base, C, forgets that more than half of voters are actually women, or D, is just super freaking hunky? Jennifer, you want to jump in here?
JENNIFER KINGSON, REPORTER, AXIOS: I'm going with A. I think circumventing traditional media is a big motive for candidates like Trump who really just want to set their own rules. I happen to think that by going with Mike Tyson, he's setting himself up for a real access Hollywood moment.
Remember that Tyson went to jail for rape in 92 at a time when Trump went on the Howard Stern show and said it was a travesty that Tyson should go and that Tyson should be able to pay money to avoid jail time for the rape of a beauty queen contestant. I just think that there's a lot of potential for people to get themselves in big trouble with all this locker room talk, though I would like to see Elon Musk cage fight with Mark Zuckerberg.
BERMAN: That's a good point, but they're doing it, too. It seems to be a thing now. People are sort of just going there, but it does come with some risk. KINGSON: Absolutely.
BERMAN: All right, Coleman.
COLEMAN HUGHES, HOST, "CONVERSATIONS WITH COLEMAN" PODCAST: Yeah, well, Joe Rogan's podcast is the mecca of this genre, and you'll remember Joe Rogan refused to have Trump on his podcast. He had Bernie on his podcast, he had Andrew Yang, he had RFK Junior recently, and he has the biggest podcast in that space.
So, Trump's attempt to go to someone like Mike Tyson, in a way that's kind of an end run around what is the elephant in the room. I will say in defense of Mike Tyson, and I won't defend his alleged, well, his crimes that he actually served time for. But if you look at the way he speaks now, he doesn't speak the same way he spoke when he was like a young buck. He talks about his feelings. He has actually a much more rounded and sort of holistic way of speaking. So, I'm actually curious to see that kind of conversation.
BERMAN: Would you have Trump on your podcast?
BERMAN: Then again, as far as we know, you're not an MMA fighter or --
HUGHES: Not yet, but apparently everyone's doing it. Do you want to get in the ring with me? I mean --
BERMAN: There's way too much touching.
HUGHES: All these challenges are going around.
BERMAN: All right, so CNN's Steve Contorno reports that the DeSantis team is trying to allay all these concerns that have been going on about his campaign, telling supporters, you know what, we're pacing ourselves. Up until the first debate, right? However, some Republicans invested in his candidacy fear DeSantis is wasting valuable time by waiting until the first debate to gain traction against the unprecedented campaign of a former president still popular Republican base.
DeSantis though is urging patience, insisting that it's still very early in the political calendar. So, if he's, you know, looking at the first debate as a coming out party, is that A, smart, patience is a virtue, B, way too long to lay low, C, risky, there are other people who will be on that stage gunning for him, C, Chris Christie, and D, you know, maybe setting the bar too high for himself. What do you think?
KINGSON: Again, I'm going with A. I think he wants to wait. I think the art reporting shows that the more he gets in front of voters, the lower he goes in the polls. Axios covered a focus group with Minnesota swing voters who saw some of the stuff he put out on LGBTQ people and decided that he was a wannabe dictator, that was one of the words that was used.
BERMAN: In the focus group?
KINGSON: In the focus group and it was troubling, some of the rhetoric he was putting out. I think that he risks in the debate coming across as a cerebral prig who's quoting the Federalist Papers and he's gonna have to work on his image between now and then so that he can get his message across to voters. And you know, when he starts talking about wokeism and immigration and other things that cater to his base, he may be able to come through, to break through, but for the moment, he's got a lot of work to do.
HUGHES: Yeah, I mean, I'll say A as well, only because I don't think the DeSantis campaign has much to worry about yet. I don't think this is actually an emergency moment, because I actually went back and looked. At this time in the campaign in 2007, who had roughly, who was polling roughly 20 percent like DeSantis? Barack Obama. At this point in 2015, who was polling roughly 20 -- 25 percent like DeSantis is? Trump. So, it's still very early days right now, and he's kind of where he needs to be in terms of the historical precedent if he's gonna make that strike later.
BERMAN: That's what the DeSantis campaign is arguing. They're arguing, look at Trump's polling, we could be the 2016 Trump. Now, the difference though is that Trump led in the polls, you know, and DeSantis has never led, and obviously will have to at some point if he wants to win. Thank you both so much for playing. It was great to see you. Have a wonderful weekend.
HUGHES: Thanks for having me.
BERMAN: A string of murders that terrorized Long Island for more than a decade possibly solved today, and you will never guess how they caught the suspect. Plus, Hollywood on strike. The SAG president and star of "The Nanny", Fran Drescher, joins us live.
BERMAN: A major development tonight in a serial killings cold case that has baffled Long Island authorities for more than a decade. A New York architect identified as Rex Herman is under arrest and charged with murder in connection to the killings of three women whose bodies were discovered near Gilgo Beach in Suffolk County more than a dozen years ago. The story from CNN's Miguel Marquez.
RAYMOND TIERNEY, DISTRICT ATTORNEY SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY: I'm standing here with my law enforcement partners in the Gilgo task force to announce the indictment of defendant Rex Andrew Heuermann.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sex workers found tied up, their bodies wrapped in camouflage burlap dumped near Gilgo Beach on New York's Long Island.
TIERNEY: When I took office in January of 2022, I made Gilgo a priority.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): The Gilgo Beach murders traumatized and captivated Long Island just east of New York City for more than a decade. Now, the suspect as unthinkable as the murders themselves. This is a shock, like I said, of 29 years here. I mean, I've seen some things, but this is worth it. Rex Heuermann, 59, charged with three murders today. The investigation continuing, he faces a possible fourth murder charge.
Investigators say they identified Heuerman using DNA from the bodies of the victims and from witness descriptions of him and the car he drove. Investigators obtained hundreds of search warrants and subpoenas linking Heuermann to temporary burner phones and fake email accounts. Investigators allege he used them to communicate with his victims, taunt the family of one of them, and search for information related to the investigation into the long, unsolved murders.
STEPHEN UDICE, NEW YORK STATE POLICE TROOP COMMANDER: We recognize that these crimes may have happened years ago, but that pain continues.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Investigators' biggest break came when they were surveilling Heuermann at his Midtown Manhattan office. He was eating pizza and discarded it in a public trash can. DNA from the pizza crust say investigators linked Heuermann to the murders. Heuermann has been charged with the murders of Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Lynn Costello, and Megan Waterman, all sex workers all in their 20s.
The investigation is continuing and he has also been named as a suspect in the murder of Maureen Brainerd Barnes. In all there were 11 bodies found in and around Gilgo Beach, only three and possibly a fourth now linked to one alleged killer, so far. Investigators say they made the arrest now because they feared Heuermann could strike again.
TIERNEY: One of the reasons why we had to take this case down was we learned that the defendant was using these alternate identities and these alternate instruments to continue to patronize sex workers. Rex Heuermann has pled not guilty and insists through his lawyer that he's innocent. He is an unlikely suspect. A husband, father of two, an architect working in Manhattan dealing with arcane building codes. In February 2022, he was even interviewed about his job for a YouTube show.
REX HEUERMANN, FACES MURDER CHARGES: Rex Heuermann. I'm an architect. I'm an architectural consultant. I'm a troubleshooter, born and raised on Long Island.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): As for the several other victims found near Gilgo Beach, many of their family members hope this will lead to answers about their loved ones. Were they victims, as well?
JASMINE ROBINSON, FAMILY REPRESENTATIVE FOR VICTIM JESSICA TAYLOR: I'm hopeful for the future and I'm hopeful that a connection is made.
MARQUEZ (on-camera): So, I want to give you a sense of what's happening outside the Heuermann home. It has been all day long. Just a huge number of investigators who have been in that home, pulling out evidence throughout the day. Several different jurisdictions represented here today. Investigators also say that Mr. Heuermann became increasingly brazen during all of this, using burner phones to search, for instance, about the investigation itself. That was concerning to them.
They also say in taunting one of the victims -- they say that he used a burner phone to call a relative of Melissa Barthelemy, one of one of his victims, telling that person that he had sexually assaulted and killed their relative. The next court hearing for Mr. Heuermann is set for August 1st. John.
BERMAN: Wow. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much. With me now is Billy Jensen, Co-Host of the podcast "Unraveled: Long Island Serial Killer". Billy, thanks so much for being with us. What a - I mean, honestly, bizarre story with this mountain of new facts. What do you think of the arrest? I mean, would you call this man an unlikely suspect?
BILLY JENSEN, CO-HOST OF THE PODCAST "UNRAVELED: LONG ISLAND SERIAL KILLER": No, he's actually a very good suspect. The fact that he lived in Massapequa, which is where the calls were coming from, the taunting calls that we knew about, and he also, he worked in Midtown Manhattan, which is also where some of the taunting calls had come from. He had been called potentially a contractor, possibly. It all kind of lines up. There's nothing really surprising. What's surprising is why it took so long.
BERMAN: Why did it take so long? Do you have any thoughts on that?
JENSEN: Yeah. You know, the fact that they knew that, you know, when it comes from, it seemed to me that it came from the Amber Costello investigation and what amber would do is amber would roll some of her Johns, which means that she would invite a John over. She was a sex worker, she'd invite a client over and then a guy would jump in one of her friends and say this is my girlfriend and then they would empty the pockets of the John. The John just would give the money and then go away.
They had done this to a man a couple days apparently before she had gone missing and they had described the man as being 6'4 to 6'6. He drove a Chevy Avalanche, which is not a typical car, and it was a dark color, not a typical car on Long Island. And he was, you know, just a very big guy.
The fact that they had that information and also knew that this killer was probably from the Massapequa area, it seems like they could have narrowed him down, but we know that the Suffolk County Police Department had so much corruption. And we know that they had kicked out the FBI a year into it, that that's one of the reasons why they weren't able to get it. But he should have been caught way, way earlier.
BERMAN: Yeah, I mean, because all things point to this being pretty planned out and very calculated. The burner phones, he allegedly committed these crimes when his family was out of town. His internet search history had hundreds of searches related to the Gilgo Beach murder investigation. So, does that make sense to you with everything we know about the case? JENSEN: Well, once you zero in on him, then you can start getting the
subpoenas, and that's what they did. They did, you know, this was an interesting way to go about capturing this guy, because they were able to go through a grand jury, able to get apparently 300 subpoenas, and they were subpoenaing everything from his burner phones to his Google searches, and that's where we saw all of these searches. And there's still a lot of questions, you know?
There are 10 canonical, you know, sort of Long Island serial killer, victims that were found on Ocean Parkway. He is only being charged with three and is a suspect in four. We still have six bodies out there that are unconfirmed.
BERMAN: Okay. Talk about that. Because I think that's hard for people to process here. Do you think it's possible he gets charged with more? Or is it possible there's a totally separate killer out there? I think it's very possible there's totally a separate killer out there. We have the two victims, Valerie Mack and Jessica Taylor, whose bodies were found in Gilgo Beach as well as in Manorville, which is a few miles east of Gilgo Beach. And then we have Peaches and the baby. We have Fire Island Jane Doe and we have the biological Asian male.
There is so much difference between these victims as opposed to the four victims of the Gilgo Four who were all petite, who were all using Craigslist and the internet in order to find their clients, and were all found in a similar fashion, wrapped in the burlap and that sort of thing.
So, I think it's very possible that there is not only another killer out there, but multiple killers.
BERMAN: So, look, this scared so many people on Long Island for so long. Do you plan on going back now, you know, piecing things together sort of from the beginning based on this? What do you expect to hear if you do?
JENSEN: I think have to definitely go back and do a timeline of this person's life, where they've been, where they've vacationed, where they've gone to, because the fact that, did he really only kill four people? And there was another fascinating thing about this case is that, as they were monitoring him and surveilling him, it seems that he was continuing to go to sex workers. He was continuing to -- so, how are they making sure that these sex workers were actually safe?
It's -- there's gonna be a lot of questions that need to be answered here, because it seems to me that they had rushed this, rushed sounds like a weird word because it's, you know, they seem to have gotten his name over a year ago, but they felt that the public was not safe, so they went in and they made the arrest today.
BERMAN: Billy Jensen, I think you'll have a lot to think about and talk about in the next few weeks and months. Thanks so much for being with us, really appreciate it. So quiet on the set, all the sets, because there is a strike, or frankly two, in Hollywood. SAG President and "The Nanny" star Fran Drescher is here along with the union chief negotiator. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRAN DRESCHER, ACTRESS AND SAG-AFTRA PRESIDENT: My mother had three rules. Never make contact with a public toilet. Never, ever, ever cross a picket line. What was the third one? Oh yeah, never wear a muskile to the zoo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That is actress Fran Drescher refusing to cross the picket line in the popular show, "The Nanny", and now she is heading back to the picket lines again. SAG-AFTRA has joined the Writers' Guild on strike after failing to reach a deal with studios this week. This is the first time since 1960 that both actors and writers have been on strike together.
The union's demands include better pay, benefits, streaming residuals and protections on artificial intelligence use. As part of the strike, that means SAG members won't do on-camera work, such as acting and singing. Off-camera work, including voice acting and narration, means no auditions, no rehearsals, and really no promotional activities, including premieres, festivals, and press junkets. Hollywood basically shut down.
With me now, actress and SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, along with SAG-AFTRA's National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. Thank you both so much for being with us. Fran, Madam President, if I might say. The demands include, as I said, better paying benefits, streaming residuals, protections on AI use. Why do you think the studios refused your demands?
DRESCHER: I think that they're think -- they thought that we would be a pushover to just do incremental changes on an essentially archaic contract that was forged decades ago and no longer reflects the new business model of streaming, which has very much saturated the business and taken over in a way that demands a new structure for the contract be implemented.
BERMAN: Why weren't you pushovers? Why did you have to take a stand, do you think?
DRESCHER: Well, this is the contract that is going to redefine how this industry treats performers. And they've been building a new industry with an old contract, and now the contract expired. And it's time to catch up to the new technology that really has disemboweled the old business model. So, we knew that it had to be a seminal negotiation, or we were going to be left behind in a contract that didn't afford us the economic growth that we need, you know, that matches up with inflation, that gives us the level of revenue sharing that we're used to upon which the old contract was predicated no longer exists.
BERMAN: Hey Duncan, the executives say, Duncan, that they offered you what they call a ground-breaking deal on artificial intelligence. What was that?
DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND, SAG-AFTRA NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND CHIEF NEGOTIATOR: Yeah, you know, it's interesting that they would call it ground-breaking, that they would call it unprecedented. That's only because there's nothing there to start from and there's no provisions there. The fact of the matter is that our members need something very basic, which is the ability to control the use of their faces, their voices, their personas when they're turned into digital replicas or when they're used in artificial intelligence systems.
And the companies haven't been willing to do enough to make sure that they feel comfortable that they're not going to have those things used without their consent and without fair compensation. And in fact, they've made proposals that facilitate exactly the opposite, that facilitate getting upfront consent years before projects are ever made, getting consent from someone who's maybe gonna get their first chance to act in one of these universes, and then gonna have their digital replica used for the entire future of that universe without any kind of consent or additional compensation.
It's not right, it's not fair, and that's why we can't make a deal with them on the terms that they've presented. But we've told them what actors need and it's very simple for them to step forward and work out a deal with us on those terms.
BERMAN: So, I'm seeing that the average yearly salary for working actors is $65,000. Fran, how long do you think people, your members, can hold out?
DRESCHER: Well, you know, they're really very enthusiastic. I mean, we had an unprecedented turnout in favor of the strike authorization vote, 97.91%. So, even when Duncan and I, in good faith, tried to convince them that we felt that it was our responsibility to use an extension to try and avert a strike and we did an unprecedented 12-day extension, which wasn't worth doing because they barely came out of their room. They constantly canceled our negotiating appointments.
I thought maybe they were really duking it out to try and come up with some deep inroads for the negotiations. And it didn't work out that way. I think they duped us to have more time to promote their summer movies, but nothing significant came out of it. It was a gross disappointment. And as the clock ticked away, it was time to move into phase two of this negotiation, which doesn't mean that we stopped negotiating, but we've stopped extending the contract. So, right now, we're on strike and there is no contract anymore. It's expired.
BERMAN: I want to put up on the screen so people can see it, the statement from the Alliance, the Motion Picture Alliance. They say, the union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship. Duncan, I want to give you the last word here on that. What do you say to that?
CRABTREE-IRELAND: You know, it's really outrageous that they would say that because the union spent 35 days trying to make progress on issues of critical importance to our members. The union spent that time trying to make sure that our members' minimum salaries even keep up with inflation, and that our members working in 2023 don't make less than they made in 2020, or even under the proposals from the companies in 2026 working for less than they made in 2020.
That, you know, these are all proposals that we came forward with in good faith, and to have these corporate, you know, mega corporations tell us that these proposals run realistic, like Bob Iger did in an interview just the other day. You know, while they are paying corporate salaries -- executive salaries that are far more than many of these proposals would ever cost, it's really out of step with where the American public is. It's certainly out of step with where our membership is.
And I have every belief, as Fran just said, that our members are ready, willing, and able to do what it takes to make sure that we win this strike. But I want to note, we also are ready, willing, and able to come back to the bargaining table and negotiate at any time. And that's something that companies, as of now, have been unwilling to do.
BERMAN: All right. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, Fran Drescher, thank you so much for being with us tonight. Appreciate it.
DRESCHER: Thank you.
CRABTREE-IRELAND: Thank you.
BERMAN: We'll be right back.
BERMAN: So, did you know you could fully cook a pizza inside a heart- caught car? That's what officials in Maricopa County did today in under one hour. That's what happened when record heat cooks the car and the pizza inside it. Cities across the country are experiencing record heat. In some cases, they're adding insult to injury. And I mean, literally, injury. Blistered feet, heat stroke, hose burns. More on that in just a moment.
In Phoenix, they have had 15 straight days above 110 degrees. And Harriet was telling you they've hit record temperatures not dropping below the 90s at night. The lows haven't dropped below the 90s, which is really dangerous. "The Washington Post" has an amazing story chronicling some of the dangers when the pavement temperatures can reach 160 degrees and anything metal or shiny is just treacherous.
People are burned by their seat belts or mailboxes, swimmers attempting to walk across not so cool decks. The hospital has seen truckers who drive barefoot step onto parking lot surface and end up badly blistered. And on the hottest days, patients have been scalded by the water coming out of their garden hoses. Be safe there because there's not a lot of relief in sight.
Finally, fitness is essential for healthy living, but for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who face a greater risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, it is vital. This CNN hero is a father whose daughter has cerebral palsy, and for eight years he has made it his mission to get people like her moving through opportunities to build muscle, community, and a sense of pride. Meet John Watson.
JOHN WATSON, FATHER WHOSE DAUGHTER HAS CEREBRAL PALSY: We want to lead people to a lifetime of fitness. Safety's first, but we want them to have fun. We want them to want to do it.
When we connect with them on that level, they'll show up to exercise. We do Pilates, yoga, dance. We have a wide range of abilities. Reach, reach, reach. Somebody that may have limited movement, we specifically try to get them to move to how they can.
We all want to be part of something. They just don't get the opportunity that often. We create a sense of pride, belonging, and love.
BERMAN: So nice. To see John's full story and nominate your own CNN hero, go to CNNHeroes.com right now. So, finally, I ask you to send me Threads with suggestions for how to sign off. This one comes from Pistol Pete 9111 who writes, Deuces, yo. Let me try that. I'm John Berman. Deuces, yo. Did I do that right? Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.