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House Votes As Shutdown Looms; Trump Won't Try To Push GA Case To Federal Court; House GOP Holds Impeachment Hearing As Shutdown Looms; Biden Warns About MAGA's Threat To Democracy; Senator Menendez Says He Won't Resign. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 28, 2023 - 23:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the video that Britney Spears posted to social media. She's there dancing, and as you can see, she has got two large chef's knives. That prompted police in Southern California to knock on her door in a wellness check.

Now police say that someone close to the singer was so concerned about her safety and her wellbeing that they alerted authorities. But officers, they never got the chance to speak with Spears. Her reps turned them away, saying that she's fine, and we certainly hope that she is.

CNN TONIGHT with Pamela Brown, it starts right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, I can see why they were concerned. Hey there, Abby. Thanks so much for that. And good evening, everyone. I'm Pamela Brown.

Votes going on at the moment on Capitol Hill. Right now, you're looking live at the House floor where members are voting on appropriation bills, the last one expected to fail, and it's just another example of the dysfunction pushing this country that much closer to a government shutdown Saturday at midnight.

And amid this parade of dysfunction, it's real Americans who will be paying the price while the elected representatives who are supposed to be working for you, they aren't doing that. If there is a shutdown, four million federal employees and more than one million active duty troops won't get paid until it's over, and there could be massive disruption to air travel as tens of thousands of air traffic controllers would be forced to work without pay.

Talk about a waste of time. What were House Republicans doing today when they could have been trying to resolve all of this? They held the first hearing and the impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden, and one of the witnesses called directly undercut the GOP narrative by admitting there is no evidence yet that President Biden has committed impeachable offenses. Let's go right to CNN's Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill for us tonight. So, Melanie, bring us up to speed. House Republicans are in turmoil. What is happening on the floor right now?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yeah, so House Republicans right now as we speak are voting on a package of four different long- term spending bills. They passed two of them, they're on their third. We are expecting the fourth one to fail, however, potentially by a pretty large margin, which would be a pretty embarrassing defeat for Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team.

Now, all of these bills were going to be dead on arrival in the Senate anyway, but it was an important part of Kevin McCarthy's strategy to keep the government open because he was hoping that tonight, this process would rally conservative hardliners around a stopgap bill tomorrow, a stopgap bill that they loaded up with conservative priorities, including boosting the border and cutting spending.

However, there are no signs that hardliners who are opposed to that measure are backing down. In fact, they are digging in and threatening Kevin McCarthy in the process.

So, we'll see how Kevin McCarthy decides to proceed tomorrow, whether he decides to go through with what would be a likely another failed vote on the House floor or does he turn to Democrats and try to cut a deal with the Senate where they are working on a bipartisan plan.

But, again, that carries risks as well for the Speaker because he doesn't want to be ousted by his hardline members as they threaten to do if he works with Democrats. So, a lot on the line for Kevin McCarthy and government funding is hanging in the balance, Pam.

BROWN: She was asking him about that, working with Democrats earlier, and he would not commit to that. So, we'll have to see how it plays out. Melanie Zanona, thank you so much.

Joining us now, Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana. He was secretary of the Interior under then President Trump. Congressman, thanks for your time tonight. So, the bills being voted on tonight are dead on arrival in the Senate. Why is Speaker McCarthy going through these motions? What's the point?

REP. RYAN ZINKE (R-MT): Well, I'm not sure they will be dead on arrival because what we're talking about is our border and our defense, and I can't think of two more important issues right now. Let's make sure we have defense to defend our country. Remember that Ukraine is set aside and secondly, the border.

Look, you know, a lot of people may not see Ukraine every day, but everyone sees the border and this drill addresses the problem, puts the wall in place, and it gives the border patrol and ICE authority to do their job.

BROWN: What about the Senate's plan that is advancing? Is that dead on arrival? As you know, that also includes funding for Ukraine. ZINKE: Well, it's interesting because the Senate has yet to pass any appropriations. And, of course, we're passing them grudgingly so, one by one, but we are passing them. At the end of the day, you know, the Senate is a different body than the House.

You know, our position is we're going to curb spending overall, we're going to get rid of the woke, and on defense, we set aside Ukraine because quite honestly, I think we need a discussion in Ukraine.

What are the objectives? What's the plan? You know, I'm a former SEAL and I've been on a lot of operations. I've never been on even a mission that I didn't have the objectives and the plan. We're $130 billion in, all in.


I think it is time for the president of the United States to tell us what the plan is in Ukraine. I think he owes us that.

BROWN: So, you want Ukraine to be handled separately. The Freedom Caucus wants Speaker McCarthy to -- quote -- "urgently reveal the details of his short-term spending bill expected on the floor tomorrow." What do you know about the bill and will you vote for it based on what you know now?

ZINKE: Well, I can tell you there's nothing more important, I think, than the defense of our country and securing our border, and of course, protecting our veterans. So, those bills moving forward. You know, I'm for a small funding stopgap, but it also has to have policy in it. It has to actually have things done with our border.

So, we'll see. We'll do our part. We'll get the appropriation bills out as we said we would. Hopefully, the Senate won't get theirs out. And then, you know, two different bodies will come together and hopefully in the interest of the country come up with a solution so we don't have to shut the government down.

BROWN: But if the CR fails as is expected, do you think McCarthy should work with Democrats to strike a deal to avert a government shutdown?

ZINKE: Well, this is an American issue. You know, what we're seeing is there are a handful of Republicans, but every Democrat is voting against this, too. So, I've heard the rumor, well, you know, it's a Republican.

BROWN: This is -- but this is -- I mean, how is this anyone -- how is there anyone else to blame other than the conference Republicans? This is the --

ZINKE: Well, certainly, we -- well, certainly, we have the majority. And, you know, hopefully, we pass appropriation bills and hopefully, the Senate picks them up. But you're right. I mean, this is a defining moment for me. You know, I look at what a shutdown -- the consequences of it. You know, I was a secretary, and a secretary has a lot of latitude, what to deem critical and essential. As a secretary, I didn't shut down the parks, but nor did I shut down permitting and inspection. But in a shutdown, you know, our troops aren't going to get paid. And you know what that means? That's the petty officer and corporal aren't getting their check.

And it's a break of a contract because we have a contract where they're enlisted. If they serve and they give an oath to the Constitution, we'll train you, we'll put you in a position to fight and win, but we'll give you a paycheck.

BROWN: Right. And on that note, in a minute, we're going to speak to the wife of an active duty service member. Look, the reality is there are a lot of people in the U.S. Military who are living paycheck to paycheck. What is your message to them as they are watching this play out and are concerned about how they're going to feed their families if the government shuts down, which certainly looks like there's a strong possibility of that?

ZINKE: Well, you know, all of us should be concerned. And here's the irony. If the government shuts down, the troops in Ukraine and pensioners in Ukraine are being paid by the U.S. taxpayer dollars and our troops aren't. So, something is really, really wrong in Washington, D.C. And let's hope Americans get together and pass two important bills on defending our country and securing our border.

BROWN: The GOP hardliners have always (INAUDIBLE) a vote to oust the speaker if the government shuts down. If that's brought up to the floor, how would you vote? Have you thought about that?

ZINKE: Well, I have and no. What we've said we would do is this: We've said we'd go to regular appropriations, we'd work to get all these bills, we'd let every member have their voice, we'd put them to the floor, we'd curb spending and get rid of the woke. And believe me, there's a lot of woke. When I say woke in the military, the military is paying for sex change operations and hormone therapy to young recruits, and I wouldn't believe -- no one would believe it except it's true.

So, if you like status quo as it is, which I think the worst possibility we had, the worst outcome is status quo. So, we need to change the way we're thinking about our budget. And also, we need to defend our country and we need to secure our borders. This is a challenge for the Republican Party to rally together, but also America to understand what's at risk.

BROWN: Congressman Ryan Zinke, thanks for coming on and sharing your opinion on all of this, your perspective. We appreciate it.

ZINKE: Thank you and God bless.

BROWN: Well, it seems less and less likely that anybody will put the brakes on the runaway train hurtling toward a government shutdown, leaving Americans to pay the price. If Congress fails to take an action to keep the lights on, nearly four million federal employees will go without paychecks until the shutdown is over, even though essential workers will have to remain on the job.

Air traffic controllers and TSA workers will also be working without pay, and many may have to call out from work while they try to find other ways to make enough to put food on the table. And perhaps most disturbing, 1.3 million active-duty troops across the country and around the world will be forced to work without pay.

Now, I'm going to bring in Kate Marsh Lord, a military spouse and also communications director of the Secure Our Families Initiative. Kate, thanks for coming on. You say military families are tired of paying the price of congressional dysfunction. Talk to us about that.

KATE MARSH LORD, MILITARY SPOUSE: Yes, absolutely. Congress has failed to pass a budget and that we're now facing the shutdown.


The families that will pay the price are military families. When a service member takes an oath, raises their hand and pledges service to this country, they expect sacrifices. They don't expect to sacrifice a paycheck. There's really no excuse for politicians putting their personal agendas over the wellbeing and livelihoods of military families.

BROWN: And you say that nearly one-quarter of military families face food insecurity in recent years. Many are living paycheck to paycheck. What happens to those families if even one paycheck is missed?

MARSH LORD: That's true, nearly a quarter, and you have to say it multiple times because it is pretty shocking that active duty families are struggling so much to put food on the table and worrying about putting food on the table when they're getting regular paychecks. Missing even a single paycheck could really be devastating to these families.

BROWN: So, what kind of guidance are these families getting from within the military? Do you think the messaging is adequate, giving them guidance on next steps?

MARSH LORD: Unfortunately, I don't. I think there's a lot of confusion within the military community. We are hearing it daily, almost hourly, from folks in our community that, first of all, not even aware that this shutdown is really so close to happening and so likely to happen. And then second, what it means for military families that at this point, they will not get a paycheck.

I think part of that is that it's just sorts of so shocking that we don't expect it to be this way. We expect Congress to do their job, to pay service members. And so, to this point, there really has not been adequate messaging from military leaders. People are sort of finding information elsewhere and from outside the military community.

BROWN: Wow. Also, WIC and SNAP benefits, those who receive those benefits would be affected by the shutdown. Tell us about the impact of that because there are many in the military who use those benefits. MARSH LORD: That's true. Military families, many, as we mentioned before, nearly a quarter, face food insecurity. Families rely on federal services like WIC and SNAP to make ends meet, to get food on the table for families. We know that one in three military families have less than $3,000 in savings. So, missing a single paycheck could really be devastating to families.

BROWN: The White House has warned that the shutdown can undermine national security, forcing service members around the world to work without pay. What could that do to a service member that is serving on the front lines or in harm's way? Talk to us about that.

MARSH LORD: This is absolutely already impacting readiness. I heard from one commander who's serving overseas, I have enough to worry about on my plate right now, the last thing I need to worry about is whether my airmen can, you know, afford to miss a paycheck. So, they are already worried about this and worried about their troops.

And not to mention all of the civilians that they work side by side with who might be furloughed. They'll really be missing key members of the team. And it impacts morale. I mean, it's really hard. The jobs that folks do is really, really hard. And as I mentioned, they make enough sacrifices.

Not getting pay, worried about doing the job adequately, and worried about putting food on the table, how you're going to pay your rent or your mortgage. It's just too much and it's -- as we said before, military families are paying the price for congressional dysfunction.

BROWN: Right. If you think about it, they're in harm's way. Their families are back here. They want to make sure their families are safe, that there's going to be -- you know, that there's going to be money in the bank so that they could provide for the families. You have to think about all of that. What is your message to lawmakers tonight and where do you put the blame? I'm wondering --


BROWN: Do you put it on Congress as a whole? Do you put it on, you know, these Republicans in the conference who are holding out? Where do you put the blame?

MARSH LORD: I have to say, in the larger picture right now, it is really upsetting and confusing to be a military family. Between the looming shutdown without pay and the Tuberville hold on military promotions in the Senate, there is a lot of instances and a lot of circumstances that are totally avoidable that have been brought about by lawmakers putting their personal agendas above the lives and the livelihood and the well-being of the military.

So, I don't want to name certain particular folks in the House that I blame, but it's -- overall, the message that we're receiving is that their service and sacrifice doesn't matter and it doesn't count as much as making it scoring political points.

BROWN: Kate Marsh Lord, thank you for coming on and having this really important conversation. We cover so much of what's going on the Hill and the tactics and so forth, but at the bottom, at the end of the day, the bottom line is this is impacting, this will impact American families in a very serious way. Thank you for shedding light on that. We appreciate it.

MARSH LORD: Thank you.

BROWN: And we are following the voting on the House floor tonight as the government shut down looms. Plus, a surprise development tonight in Donald Trump's Georgia election subversion case. We are going to break down what it means going forward. We'll be right back.




BROWN: Tonight, surprise move from Donald Trump and the Georgia election subversion case. The former president says he will no longer push to move his case from state to federal court.

So, let's dive into all of this with CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen. Norm is also the former House Judiciary special counsel in Trump's first impeachment trial. Also, here with us, attorney and former D.C. Democratic Party chair, A. Scott Bolden.

Gentlemen, great to have you with us tonight.


BROWN: We appreciate your time. So, Norm, Trump and his lawyers decided that they will not move forward to try to move the criminal charges into federal court. Does that surprise you?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER HOUSE JUDICIARY SPECIAL COUNSEL IN TRUMP'S FIRST IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: It does because they told the court, the state court, that they were going to remove. The thing that changed, Pam, is that Mark Meadows has been a trailblazer on removal and he lost. And it makes sense that he lost because you only get to go from state to federal court if you were doing official action and attempting to overturn an election.

As Scott well knows, cannot be an official act. In fact, under federal law, the Hatch Act, those kinds of political activities are by definition unofficial.

BROWN: Right.

EISEN: Trump didn't want another big loss like he has faced in D.C. federal court, in New York State court, so he pulled the plug.


BOLDEN: It won't work on any circumstances. BROWN: No.

BOLDEN: On any court, undermining democracy and trying to change elections and stuff.

BROWN: And, you know, we should point out a big difference between federal and local court is that, federal court, you don't have cameras in the courtroom.


BROWN: Local court, this court, that's going to be a different, different place, right?

BOLDEN: And you have a broader jury pool, too.

BROWN: Broader jury pool, that's an important point.

BOLDEN: In fact, you have a pool for different jurisdictions. In the state court, it would be Fulton County, which is a big democratic stronghold. Not that politics is going to invade the criminal justice system, but you're pulling jurors from that voting electorate, and that's really, really important. You're going to have the cameras.

And, you know, Norm, one of the really interesting things is that this trial is going to play out during 2024. And whether you're a MAGA supporter or whether you're a Republican or Democrat, you're going to see the criminal justice system at work, constitutional issues, but more importantly, you're going to hear the facts in real terms with witnesses as to what happened and how they tried to undermine this election.

And it's going to educate a lot of voters, I think, whether they want to be educated or not. The criminal justice system is going to work and it's not going to be a political process. You're going to see facts that really show how dangerous these acts were.

BROWN: And we could see Trump testifying live on television, right? I mean, that's a possibility.

EISEN: It is. Scott and I have made --

BOLDEN: I don't think he can testify.

EISEN: -- a lot of years telling clients, do not testify.

BROWN: I know. But --

EISEN: It's very unusual.

BROWN: -- it is Trump, and he has not been known to listen to his lawyers. But you're right.

EISEN: That is part of the reason. Actually, the testimony question, I think, is part of the reason that he opted not to remove because if he had removed -- BOLDEN: Yeah.

EISEN: -- Mark Meadows testified. He injured his case very badly --

BROWN: Yeah.

EISEN: -- with some of the things he said. Trump would have had to testify. His lawyers, pretty smart, said, well --


They're not going to do that, yes.

BOLDEN: It gets even worse with Donald Trump, though, because whether it's the Atlanta trial or the federal trial or the New York trial, Trump's public statements, the attacks on the judges, the attacks on the prosecutors, his interviews with the media where he talks about these cases, and he makes these party admissions, I think in federal court, you can get those party admissions admitted.

I don't think there's any way he gets on the stand because it'll take three days just to cross examine him on his prior inconsistent statements. Now, he's got to do that because he's running for president.

BROWN: Yeah.

BOLDEN: But his campaign are these criminal cases and the criminal cases are his campaign. It's really weird.

BROWN: I want to talk about a situation where he could take the stand, where he could testify, and that is that $250 million civil fraud trial in New York set to begin on Monday. The New York attorney general released a list of witnesses, including Trump himself and his children, Ivanka, Eric, and Don, Jr. How do you see this playing out?

EISEN: Well, the situation is different in a civil case because unlike in a criminal case where Donald Trump has the right to take the Fifth Amendment without injuring his own case, in a civil case, you get what is called an adverse inference.

That means if Donald Trump refuses to testify, if he's called, he takes the Fifth Amendment, under certain circumstances, the judge can say, well, I'm going to hold that against you, Mr. Trump. This is Judge Engoron, already very severe on the president. So, we will see how these issues play out.

I think Trump is in a world of hurt in this civil fraud case. What is more important to him, Pam, than his businesses, his brand and his name, that is being taken away from him, it seems, by the judge in this case.

BOLDEN: Yeah, the receivership is really going to be harmful. The judge has already taken away his business certificates. I'm not sure how they're operating. It's up on appeal. That's probably how they're still operating. But this hits the pocketbooks of not only the company but these individuals.

In the civil justice system, he's got to testify. I know there are exceptions. But the kids have got to testify because if their testimony is deemed to be relevant, probative and material, they're going to take that stand. They're going to get subpoenaed. They're parties to this lawsuit.

And the civil justice system just won't allow any shortcuts to discovery and sworn testimony. Look for that testimony. If they do testify, look for that testimony to find its way into these criminal trials.

BROWN: All right. We'll be watching all of this very closely. Great to have you all on here and your perspective.

BOLDEN: Thank you.

BROWN: All right.

EISEN: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: Thanks so much. While the government could be facing a shutdown this weekend, Congress still took the time to hold its first Biden impeachment inquiry hearing. Congressman Eric Swalwell is next.




BROWN: House Republicans holding their first hearing in the impeachment inquiry of President Biden. So, you might expect that the witnesses Republicans called would come armed with some evidence. Not so much.


JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment. That is something that an inquiry has to establish.

BRUCE DUBINSKY, FORENSIC ACCOUNTANT, REPUBLICAN WITNESS: I am not here today to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud or any wrongdoing. In my opinion, more information needs to be gathered and assessed before I would make such an assessment.


BROWN: Joining me now, Congressman Eric Swalwell. He is a Democrat from California who sits on the House Judiciary Committee. Hi, Congressman, Thanks for coming on.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): My pleasure.

BROWN: So, you had these two key witnesses. They testified. They don't know of any direct evidence implicating Joe Biden, yet at least. Oversight chair, Congressman James Comer, for his part says, hey, this wasn't about fireworks. What was it about, in your view?

SWALWELL: Well, this hearing was not about the American people who are just hours away from a shutdown, where our troops will not get paid, border agents will not get paid, FBI agents, air traffic controllers will not get paid, but instead, we got a show today where the American people saw the Titanic of congressional hearings where the Republican-called witnesses said, there is nothing there.


But the hearing was really for one person, not any single American other than the former president because this Congress has become the insurrection LLP law firm where they work every day on behalf of one client.

But it was embarrassing. I had secondhand embarrassment for Comer and Jordan and the Ways and Means chair because they had nothing. Their own witnesses said they had nothing. And again, the tragedy here, the cost here is that the American people who want their government to work for them saw a complete show that went nowhere and no progress on keeping the government open.

BROWN: Republicans, for their part, say there is enough smoke to justify an inquiry. They are looking in to whether President Biden took any action related to payments his son received or if the president obstructed any investigations into his son. They say getting to the bottom of those accusations is a worthy endeavor. So, in your view, why wouldn't it be?

SWALWELL: Again, there's just zero evidence. And again, they can call every witness in the world. They've got thousands of documents. And their own witnesses say, there's no evidence for impeachment.

But they have never accepted Joe Biden as president. In fact, they rooted for an insurrection that tried to throw him out. They go and visit the insurrectionists who are jailed at the D.C. jail.

And this impeachment is just a continuation of the insurrection while Democrats are working for working people. We want to keep government working so people get their social security benefits, the veterans' benefits, that troops get paid.

And so, we're trying to show the contrast where they are chaotic, we are competent. They are for corruption, we are for the community. And that couldn't have been on bigger display than what you saw today in that hearing.

BROWN: To be clear, this hearing was full of falsities like this one from Congresswoman Nancy Mace. Let's listen.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): You know, the president took bribes from Burisma. I also want to add, betraying your country is treason. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So again, that claim is false. But I'm curious. You know, at a time when polls show Americans are divided about whether Joe Biden committed wrongdoing and a lot of that is along party lines, are you concerned Americans will hear that and believe it?

SWALWELL: That's a great point. I'm just concerned that Democrats are on defense too often. Look, we need to play on their side of the field. And playing on their side of the field is first, you know, discrediting them from the beginning.

Jim Jordan, who led this hearing, is 500-plus days into violating his own subpoena. So, we don't need a lecture from Jim Jordan on lawlessness. We need to defend these allegations where they come in.

By the way, yesterday, the Ways and Means chair, Jason Smith, said, well, I'm not really clear on the timeline here. Well, guess what, pal? You better get clear on the timeline if you're going to try and impeach the president.

And then we should pivot always to, if we were given the keys to government, what we would deliver? So, discredit, defend, and then deliver. We would make sure in these hearings that we're focusing on keeping kids safe in our classrooms, that we would be working on securing the border from fentanyl, which means keeping the government open. And, of course, every single day in America, a troop who serves this country should be paid.

BROWN: When you say keeping the border open, you're saying keeping the border patrol and so forth on duty.

SWALWELL: Yeah. They want to shut down the border.

BROWN: But the shutdown --

SWALWELL: They want to shut down the security at the border. Yeah.

BROWN: But they'll continue. They'll continue to be working, though, you know, their paycheck may be delayed. I do want to note, though, Chairman James Comer's statement tonight. He says, as the Bidens were sealing deals around the world, Joe Biden showed up, met with, talked with, shook hands with, and had meetings with the foreign nationals sending money to his family.

Biden, as you know, has said he never discussed business with his family. But do you think that he should have been more transparent to at least avoid the perception that something unseemly was going on?

SWALWELL: Again, there's no evidence. First, there's no evidence that any deal that Hunter Biden had done broke the law, right? That there's no indictment of Hunter Biden for any foreign deal that he did. And by the way, the -- one of the leading presidential candidates on the republican side was doing deals with the Chinese the same time that Hunter had done a deal with the Chinese. That in and of itself is not illegal. So, they have not even connected that dot yet, and there's certainly no evidence that Joe Biden received any of the money that his son was working on. So, we shouldn't accept that anything in this premise is even wrong until that they prove that it's wrong.

But most importantly, again, this is because they do not accept that Joe Biden is the president. It's actually laughable that they would want to have impeachment of someone who they won't even acknowledge.


SWALWELL: If you ask them, is Joe Biden the president? They won't even say that he's the president because they tried to run an insurrection on the guy, they don't accept the outcome of the 2020 election, but yet they want to impeach him. The American people want us to work for them, and they did not see that today.

BROWN: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: And while Republicans were holding impeachment hearings on the Hill, President Biden was warning about the MAGA movement. What he said about the threat it poses? Up next.


BROWN: President Joe Biden with a stark warning tonight: Democracy is in danger.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm here to speak about another threat to our democracy that we all too often ignore. The threat to our political institutions, to our Constitution itself, and the very character of our nation. Democracy is maintained by adhering to the Constitution and the march to perfecting our union, by protecting and expanding rights with each successive generation.


BROWN: Biden warning against the threats that former president and current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and his MAGA movement pose to American democracy and institutions.

Joining us now, Harvard professor of government, Daniel Ziblatt. Thanks for coming on. Daniel, we should know, is the co-author of the book, "How Democracies Die." So, you've written and you have spoken out extensively on threats to our democracy, the attack on institutions, the undermining of the Constitution. Where do you see the biggest threat now just to remind our viewers just how fragile the American experiment is? DANIEL ZIBLATT, PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Certainly correct, and I think President Biden really described it pretty aptly today. You know, in our book and our book we've just published, "Tyranny of the Minority." we make the case that to be a party or a politician committed to democracy, you have to do three basic things.

You have to accept elections whether you win or lose, you have to not use violence when gaining power or holding on to power, and if you're a mainstream party or politician, if you're really committee to democracy, you have to call out and disassociate yourself from your own allies who engage in those kinds of behaviors.

And what we've seen, and we provide account of this in our book, over the course of the 20th century in Latin America, in the 60s and 70s, Europe, the 1920s and 30s, it's when politicians turn a blind eye to abuses like this that democracy really gets into trouble.

BROWN: And you know, President Biden, for his part, has made the threat to democracy a cornerstone of his campaign. Do you think his messaging about this is compelling enough to reach the people who may not see it or even care?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, well, you know, I think there are large majorities of Americans who do, of course, support democracies, liberal democracy, and what's kind of striking about the current moment is that what makes it so difficult is that when you're in a two-party system, we have two parties, and one of the parties is going off the rails in large portions of it, this is -- this can be very dangerous.

It's hard to sustain a democracy, I think the historical record is very clear, if you don't have at least two parties committed to democracy. And I think what President Biden is trying to call out is that there are elements, certainly as he said, not all elements within the Republican party, but there are elements who don't accept election results and are engaging in violence.

And so, this is certainly a kind of basic threat. And in order for democracy to thrive, we need two parties competing for majorities, willing to turn out voters, and to try to win power through legitimate means.

BROWN: Yeah, President Biden really focused on Republicans who, in their silence, he said is deafening. What in your view do these Republicans need to be saying now about this? What would you like to hear from them?

ZIBLATT: Yeah, well, I think it really goes back to the events of January 6th, where there was a moment where there's a clear assault on the constitutional process, a transition of power. And I think most Republican leaders really regarded this as unacceptable, what happened.

But there has really been an effort to kind of -- to downplay it, in effect, and to kind of not really recognize the threat that is there and to -- essentially now that -- you know, there was not effort to impeach the president, of course. This failed.

And now, Republicans find themselves in a situation where they're sort of back to square one, where many Republicans, I think, have a candidate -- Republican leaders have a candidate who they don't necessarily wish for. But this represents a threat, because if you have parties that are making these threats about once they cut -- politicians making threats about when they come into office, all of the assaults, that they're going to carry out.

One of the things we've learned studying historical cases is that authoritarians, if they advertise what they're going to do, they usually do it. And so, we need to take these threats very seriously.

BROWN: In your view, what does a second Trump term look like?

ZIBLATT: Well, again, I mean, I think we've begun to see the outlines of this. I mean, it's pretty clear that, you know, back before 2016, candidate Trump said he might not accept election results if he lost. We saw that this came to fruition in 2020.

I think we have to take the threats that he's making today and over the last several days very seriously, this kind of effort to kind of pack and purge the bureaucracy, to go after the national security apparatus. These are things that are deeply, deeply worrying because they're totally destabilizing the democracy.

And what we've seen again in more contemporary cases of democracies is that political leaders often come into power elected. So, in that sense, it seems kind of democratic. But what they do is they tilt the playing field to make it -- so it's impossible to get them out of office, and that's the kind of thing we should really be worried about.

BROWN: All right. Daniel Ziblatt, thank you for coming on and offering your perspective.

ZIBLATT: Thanks so much.


BROWN: Senator Bob Menendez defying today, telling Senate Democrats he won't resign despite facing bribery charges. I'll talk to someone who was in a similar situation up next.


BROWN: Tonight, Senator Bob Menendez doubling down. Menendez again telling fellow Senate Democrats he will not resign after pleading not guilty to allegations he took bribes and passed sensitive information to the Egyptian government. The senator has repeatedly said prosecutors misrepresented the normal work of a congressional official.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be the New Jersey's senior senator.


I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba. Now, this may seem old- fashioned, but these were moneys drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.


BROWN: Less than a decade ago, justices reviewed a case that echoed today's Menendez scandal. This one involved former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, whom a federal jury found guilty on 11 corruption counts for accepting lavish gifts from a businessman in exchange for favorable actions from the government. In 2016, Supreme Court justices unanimously overturned his corruption conviction on the grounds that those actions were permissible.

Joining us now is former Governor Bob McDonnell. Thank you so much for joining us, governor.

BOB MCDONNELL, FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Yeah, Pamela, thanks for having me on.

BROWN: So more than two dozen senators have called on Menendez to resign. And I want to know what your view is. Do you think he should step down based on what we know from the indictment, these allegations?

MCDONNELL: You know, Pamela, it's a tough call. First of all, as you well know, you have the presumption of innocence. It's a hallmark of the American legal system. And secondly, you know, you hate to try these cases in the press because you only have a small amount of the evidence.

You know, on the surface though, when you see gold bars and major cash envelopes with the fingerprints of Egyptian businessmen on it and Mercedes and mortgage payments, it certainly doesn't look good on the surface.

And then, apparently, we're hearing there's a treasure trove of emails between his wife and these Egyptian business people, not to mention as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, actually helping to unlock a hold of State Department funds, etc., for human rights issues. It just doesn't look good at all, and very different from the facts from which she was exonerated back in 2017 and '18.

You know, Pamela, I think it's a political decision first as whether or not he believes he can do the job and whether or not he has the trust of the people of New Jersey.

BROWN: You case, uh, from the Supreme Court was huge. It was monumental in defining, uh, the legal parameters of these corruption cases and what an official act is. Senator Menendez, for his part, is claiming the accusations against him are really part of his official duties, they are official acts. And as I said, you know, during the Supreme Court -- that ruling said the accusations of corruption had to involve more than just setting up meetings.

Based on the indictment, what do you think about Mr. Menendez's case here? Do you agree with him that this was just normal work of the government that he was engaged in?

MCDONNELL: You know, you have to prove that quid pro quo. As you know, Pamela, there's plenty of quid here. Obviously, the list of gifts, caps, gold, etc. The question is, is there a pro? In other words, did he get the gifts in exchange for doing those actions? And that can be implied or that can be direct evidence. Those texts from the wife are pretty troubling.

But the real question, as you brought up, is the official acts. If these are official acts under the law, the things that he did to try to influence the State Department to help the Egyptian government or these Egyptian business people by putting his thumb on the scales of influence of government, that's the way it has been defined in an official act, then that completes the crime.

BROWN: But I do want to note here, Governor McDonnell, that Jack Smith was the prosecutor of your trial. He is also prosecuting Donald Trump's election interference and Mar-a-Lago documents case. And I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on the government's cases there and how Smith is proceeding. You have unique perspective on Jack Smith.

MCDONNELL: I do. Jack Smith, a remarkably talented lawyer, has given decades of his time to public service for many years and many of the DOJ jobs. I think he did well. My concern about Mr. Smith is during the five years that he was head of the Public Integrity Section, Pamela, he just consistently used bad judgment to go after high- profile officials, showing to me that he'd rather win than get it right.

Not only Bob Menendez. Not only John Edwards. So, in other words, it was bipartisan. But in my case where he was unanimously wrong, as the Supreme Court said, and wrote a very stinging opinion in review for the government's expansive theory to basically criminalize normal things that legislators and government officials do, that was the Supreme Court opinion in my case.

BROWN: I have to ask you before you go, you know, as you reflect back on your own case, and again, the Supreme Court throughout your conviction, but I'm wondering, as you look back on it, do you have any regrets about some of the actions that you took?


Do you -- how do you see it now, years later?

MCCONNELL: Of course, you know, Pamela, I played that back a thousand times in my mind. I spent 38 years of my life in public service from an army lieutenant in Germany to a governor of Virginia and try to do my best every step of the way. Of course, I look back and think there were things that I would absolutely have done differently in the haste of decision-making in a busy office. There were some things that I should have done differently. Nothing that was remotely illegal under state or federal law.

BROWN: Governor Bob McDonnell, thank you so much for your time.

MCDONNELL: Pamela, great to be on with you. Thank you.

BROWN: Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.