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Erin Burnett Outfront
DOJ Racks Up Testimony From Key Election Officials, Zeroing In On 7 States At Center Of Trump 2020 Scheme; Still No Sign Of Prigozhin 3 Weeks After Revolt; NY Architect Arrested In Long Island Serial Killings; GOP Candidates Take Swipes At Trump As He Skips Iowa Blitz. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired July 14, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, CNN learning two more top state officials have been interviewed in the special counsel's investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This is the former president's lawyers move to stop prosecutors in their tracks.
Plus, Putin's spin. Russian state TV in overdrive after a top general slams the country's military leaders and is fired for it. This as we learn more about Putin's alleged meeting with the man who tried to overthrow him.
And tonight, an arrest in serial killings that terrorized New York for more than a decade. The suspect is 59-year-old married father of two, and established architect. The shocking details about how police tracked down their suspect.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erica Hill in for Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, closing in. CNN learning exclusively that the special counsel has met with more top officials from states crucial to Trump's attempt to cling to power after the 2020 election. Federal prosecutors have now interviewed the secretary of states from Pennsylvania and New Mexico. These are the latest of course in a growing list of state officials whose cooperation with the special counsel is now public.
The high profile meetings come amid an uptick of activity in the investigation, a sign that charging decisions could be near. It's also clear former president Trump may be feeling some of that pressure tonight, taking a page from a familiar playbook to derail the multiple investigations he is facing in Georgia, where a grand jury was selected to look into Trump's efforts to interfere with that state's 2020 election. The former president's lawyers are now asking the court to toss out the evidence gathered last year by a special grand jury, claiming the investigation not only violates Trump's fundamental constitutional rights but also, quote, it is one thing to indict a ham sandwich, to indict the mustard stained napkin that it once sat on is quite another. Trump's team trying to delay a case where the Fulton County, D.A. Fani
Willis has indicated criminal charges could come in a few weeks. Now, all of this, of course, is happening at the same time that Trump's lawyers submitted a request to delay the criminal trial that he mishandled classified documents.
Let's begin tonight with Evan Perez. He is OUTFRONT live in Washington.
So, Evan, what more do we know first of all about these interviews with these top election officials in Pennsylvania and New Mexico?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, we're talking about Al Schmidt, who was a former Philadelphia City commissioner. You'll remember that Philadelphia was the focus of a lot of efforts by the former president and some of his allies, claiming that there was fraud in Center City, Pennsylvania. He's a Republican. He was appointed as the secretary of the commonwealth, and he, in his interview with the special counsel, Jack Smith's team, he talked about some of the pressures that he and other officials there in Philadelphia faced because of the efforts of the former president and his allies.
The other person who was interviewed is the secretary of state of New Mexico, Maggie Toluse Oliver. Again, it's a similar thing we have heard from other officials about the pressures these officials face as a result of the efforts of the former president to overturn the elections there.
As you pointed out, seven states was the focus of this effort and now we know that Jack Smith has subpoenaed records from all seven of those states -- Erica.
HILL: So, as we bring that in, Evan, stay with us. I also want to bring in to discuss further, Katie Cherkasky, former federal prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and Ryan Goodman, co-editor in chief of "Just Security" and former special counsel at the Defense Department.
So, let's start out with what Ryan was just telling us about there, Ryan, in terms of this exclusive CNN reporting. The special counsel asking about how election misinformation by Trump and his allies may have impacted election workers. Does that signal anything to you?
RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: It does. It's the first we've heard that the special counsel is pursuing this line of inquiry. It's very new reporting. And very new information especially because some of these state officials have said, including how that misinformation manifested itself in specific threats of violence against us.
And that's just new. We've never heard that. I have closely observed this entire investigation. It does mean something else is opening up in terms of the criminal investigation into threats of violence against these individuals. HILL: Katie, throughout all of this, one of the things we've talked
about, Ryan and I have talked about in a number of times, you said, too, intent is going to be really crucial here.
When it comes to the special counsel, when it comes to the focus by the special counsel on these election officials in key states, how does intent figure in here?
KATIE CHERKASKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think intent overrides all of these criminal -- potential criminal charges because when we're talking about a criminal prosecution, you're talking about proof beyond a reasonable doubt, so you really have to get into the line between Trump complaining about something, and whether it was actually criminal what he was asking to be done. So I think that that is really where all of these cases turn, and, you know, he does have a First Amendment right to make certain statements, hyperbolic statements.
But when you are crossing into the territory of actually conspiring with other people, to take actions to subvert processes, that is going to be a big question here. Regardless of what other people told him, the defendant's intent is the core of the case against him.
HILL: So, as we look at that with the special counsel, there's always a lot to keep track of. When we're talking about these legal developments, there's also, Evan, developments in Fulton County, Georgia. So, we referenced this, that attorneys for the former president are now trying to have everything thrown out. They want the district attorney's investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn that state's election thrown out. This, of course, as we noted, there was just a grand jury seated. She's poised to decide whether to indict Trump.
What more do we know about these efforts from the former president's lawyers?
PEREZ: Well, the former president is saying in this legal filing, which is now before the Fulton County superior court and the Georgia Supreme Court basically that his rights were being trampled on, by -- that the special grand jury and its findings have no authority, and he cites the fact that he is running for election as one of the reasons why this -- the findings of the special grand jury, the special purpose grand jury should be set aside, should be thrown out because, again, he's running for office.
So this is, of course, Erica, something that the former president and his legal team have already tried before. They went before the judge who had overseen the special purpose grand jury asking that judge to toss out the findings of the grand jury. Now he's essentially doing another Hail Mary pass, trying to go to a higher court.
We don't know whether this will work this time or whether this will be the final gambit, that the former president knows obviously the time is running out. Fani Willis has said a decision is near on possible charges.
HILL: When we look at this, this sort of a Hail Mary, as Evan said, Ryan, is there anything in this filing where you see this may be the time that it works?
PEREZ: I can't imagine it. So it does come in a week in which I think one of the best briefs written by the Trump team is in the classified documents trying to delay the trial. This is one of the worst briefs. There's not a legal argument. This doesn't sound in law.
They're, in fact, saying something like the trial judge hasn't ruled in 100 days, you need to step in. That doesn't happen. That doesn't exist. Or you can't indict a ham sandwich, it would be no indictment, so it's not even ripe. So, the legal arguments.
And then they try to impugn the entire special grand jury system in Georgia. The court's not going to hear that.
So, in so many different ways, I don't think it's a legal argument, it's maybe for political messaging or something like that.
HILL: In terms of political messaging, this argument that this can't happen right now because he's running for office, it's unconstitutional, they say. Is that based in any sort of legal fact?
CHERKASKY: Well, it's not unconstitutional per se, but I think as a broader policy, there's deep concerns about all of this happening so close to an election. It's unfortunate. Certainly, it's a consideration for the judges, but as far as a hard and fast pause on litigation, that's not going to be the case. I think there has to be individual decisions that are made in each of these cases if these other cases do proceed.
HILL: As everybody is trying to keep track of the different investigations that are happening and potential charges in them, it always comes back to the question of who could potentially file first and does that matter. How important is that tonight?
GOODMAN: I think it's a factor. I don't think it's a huge overriding factor, but it's a factor. I could imagine it's in the mind of Jack Smith that he would like to go before Georgia. He can then set the narrative, here's the case, and doesn't have to worry like what's the narrative around Fani Willis's case.
And hers has some issues. She's politicized the process. She's spoke before about trying to go after Trump. She's spoken publicly about the defendant. It's not something they want to be part of the conversation. They want to set the terms.
HILL: Katie, would there be discussion between them?
CHERKASKY: I would think so. I would think so, because there's so much overlap there, and there has to be a consistent narrative. Even though the separate causes of action, if you will, they are very much intertwined with the same witnesses and there can't be inconsistencies there. HILL: Great to talk to you both tonight. Thank you for coming in.
Evan, thank you for the reporting as well.
Just ahead here, Putin declares the Wagner Group under Yevgeny Prigozhin is gone. OUTFRONT next, the Russian president now pushing a new man to lead the notorious fighters. So, who is he?
Plus, how a pizza box led police to an alleged serial killer who's accused of terrorizing New York's Long Island for more than , that suspect, a married father of two who's an architect in New York City.
And a teacher fired for speaking out about wanting her students to sing a Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus song. What's so controversial about the song "Rainbow Land"? That teacher is our guest.
HILL: Tonight, the fight inside Putin's army is now playing at a Russian state TV. One of Putin's top propagandists berating audience members for defending Major General Ivan Popov. He's a former Russian commander who was fired after criticizing the Russian military in a voice message.
Here's Vladimir Soloviev reading and responding to his viewers' comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR SOLOVIEV, RUSSIAN STATE TV HOST: Quote, he didn't violate by his statement, unquote. Of course he did. Erina, if you don't understand this, that is your problem. Of course, it was a violation. Being emotional got the best of him.
Andrei, you are a pathetic nobody, a cretin. Let me repeat it, you're afraid to say who you are.
Get out of here, you gross swine, a worthless piece of (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Well, all of this as Putin closest ally, Belarus is now saying it's reached an agreement with Russia's Wagner fighters to train its troops.
Alex Marquardt is OUTFRONT in Ukraine.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): New video on Belarusian state TV claiming to show Wagner mercenaries in southern Belarus training local troops. Neighboring Belarus was where Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was supposed to be exiled to after his aborted insurrection in Russia, throwing his fate and that of Wagner's into doubt.
In a new interview released today, Putin proclaimed, we do not have a law for private military organizations. It simply does not exist. The group exists, but legally, it does not exist.
Putin is referencing Russia's law against mercenary groups, but also stating a new reality. Wagner, as it has existed in Ukraine as a fighting force, could be done.
And Prigozhin, once called Putin's chef, may be split from his men.
JOHN KIRBY, NSC SPOKESMAN: We really don't know what the future of Wagner is going to be here, whether it's in Ukraine or anywhere else around the world. We know that they are still conducting malicious activities, particularly in Africa.
MARQUARDT: After the Wagner mutiny came to a sudden halt on June 24th, Putin accused the mercenaries of being traitors. Then, just five days later. Putin said in the interview he invited 35 Wagner commanders, including Prigozhin to the Kremlin, and offered them a chance to repent.
I showed them possible options for their further service, Putin said, including the use of their combat experience. Putin offered the Wagner leaders the chance to continue fighting in the Russian army, under their commander, nicknamed Sedoi or gray hair. Andrei Troshev, a retired colonel and founding member of Wagner. Troshev is sanctioned by the E.U. and U.K. He's fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria, earning Russia's highest military honors.
The men, Putin said, nodded affirmatively, but Prigozhin sitting in the front said after listening, no, the guys do not agree with this decision.
MARQUARDT (on camera): So what happened after Prigozhin apparently openly disagreed with Putin? That we don't know. Prigozhin may be out of Ukraine but he certainly wants to hold on to his business interests both in Africa and in the Middle East.
As for what happened to his men, the Pentagon says the bulk of them are back here in Ukraine in Russian-occupied areas, back in their barracks, but the Defense Department says they are no longer taking part in military operations here in Ukraine -- Erica.
HILL: Alex Marquardt with important reporting tonight, thank you.
OUTFRONT now, Bill Browder, long time Putin critic, who's wanted in Russia. He was, of course, once the country's largest foreign investor. He's also the author of "Freezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin's Wrath".
Bill, good to see you tonight.
What do you think -- based on what you know, what do you think has happened to Prigozhin at this point?
BILL BROWDER, PUTIN CRITIC ON RUSSIA'S WANTED LIST: Well, it's unclear what happened to Prigozhin, but what seems to be clear is that Putin has been put in the most humiliating situation. Now, Putin is a guy who will imprison somebody who gives a speech about him in a negative way for 25 years. Here you've got a guy, Prigozhin who are led a rebellion of 15,000 of his own mercenaries, took over a bunch of Russian military bases and he has a meeting with Putin, and Putin says I'm trying to convince him to repent?
This is not the way that Putin demonstrates he's the strongman dictator that he's been so effective at demonstrating for the last 23 years, and it looks like intense and total weakness on Putin's part to even allow this -- allow Prigozhin to continue to live.
HILL: That's what's so fascinating to me, you know, as you bring up the fact that Putin would say this in this interview, that five days after that mutiny, that he met with Wagner commanders, met with Prigozhin, offered them the chance to keep fighting after new leadership. They agreed, and then Prigozhin said, no, the guys don't agree with the decision.
The fact that he would actually say all of this in an interview, that's astounding.
BROWDER: It's truly astounding, and what it shows is that Putin has completely opened himself up to other people having a go at him. I mean, the only way that he's been able to stay in power for the last 22 years is to be the most vicious, nasty, scary, strongman there was in Russia. And everybody has been tiptoeing around him and scaring him, and worried about what's going to happen.
All of a sudden, somebody comes in and shows that the king is not wearing any clothes, that Putin basically isn't the strongman, that people put flowers and took selfies with the invading Prigozhin mercenaries as they rolled through different towns in Russia. It shows that Putin's not popular. It shows that Putin's not a strongman, and it shows that in certain way, Prigozhin was more popular than Putin.
And the fact that Putin hasn't taken this guy to Red Square, put him in a guillotine and chopped his head off, shows that Prigozhin has an enormous amount of power, and Putin's scared of him.
HILL: It is -- it's really something in terms of the power, and Putin saying these things publicly in that interview, scared of him as you point out.
I also want to talk to you about, I know that next week you're going to be giving testimony before U.S. government commission about Russia's ability to avoid sanctions, launder money in Switzerland. So, Switzerland is where Putin's inner circle has long played. We have a picture I think of the reported home of Putin's ex-wife, Ludmila. So, you see it there, it's nestled, highlighted there, nestled at the base of a mountain in Davos.
According to "The Wall Street Journal," Putin's girlfriend, the Russian Olympic gymnast Alina Kabaeva has lived in a high walled mansion near Geneva, too. In terms of Switzerland, what is Switzerland doing here? How is this also impacting the war in Ukraine?
BROWDER: Well, a lot of people think of Switzerland as being a totally legitimate sort of rule abiding country. But in fact, Switzerland is this total loophole when it comes to Russian sanctions evasion. Switzerland -- about $200 billion of Russian money is reported to be held in Swiss banks. And when the Swiss got to freezing that money, they only froze $7.8 billion of that money, letting a lot of it go.
Moreover, we have been involved with the Swiss law enforcement in freezing money connected to the murder of my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. About 10 years ago, they froze $20 million of that money, and they're going to return that money to the Russian criminals, people who are already on the U.S. sanctions list, on the Canadian, U.K. and Australian sanctions list.
And so, Congress is having hearings on Tuesday to discuss these issues. I'm testifying about my own experiences and other people will be sharing their experiences. And I think this will not make Switzerland look very good, and a lot of people have questions about what role Switzerland should be playing in the future.
HILL: We'll be watching for that on Tuesday. Always good to have your insight. Thank you.
BROWDER: Thank you.
HILL: OUTFRONT next, an arrest in the long island serial killings from more than a decade ago, an architect, married father of two is in custody tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX HEUERMANN, SUSPECT: Rex Heuermann, I'm an architect, I'm an architectural consultant. I'm a troubleshooter, born and raised on Long Island.
HEUERMANN: Been working in Manhattan since 1987.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Plus, the Republicans running for president all in Iowa tonight, except for one, former President Trump. New reporting on his team's strategy.
HILL: Tonight, cold case cracked. A burner phone, DNA from a pizza crust, and burlap leading to the arrest of a New York City architect, a married father of two in a previously unsolved case in Long Island. This dates back to 2010. The deaths, which have become known as the Gilgo Beach murders.
Fifty-nine-year-old Rex Heuermann is believed to be responsible for murdering multiple women, including Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello. Other suspected victims include nine additional women, a man and a toddler.
Heuermann who has been hiding in plain sight in a modest home in Nassau County on Long Island was charged with six counts of murder. Now, these killings terrorizing residents for more than a dozen years as body after body was discovered in a remote area, about 40 miles from Midtown Manhattan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RODNEY HARRISON, SUFFOLK COUNTY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks among us, a predator that ruined families.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Shimon Prokupecz is with us now.
So, Shimon, the arrest itself was the result of a two-year restart of this investigation. It had been a cold case for years. How did police ultimately come to decide that this was the suspect?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. And really, Erica, a restart because of that man that you just showed on the screen there, the new police commissioner in Suffolk County who's a former NYPD official. He left the NYPD, went to become the Suffolk County police commissioner and restarted the investigation.
He restarted it. He put a task force together, and essentially they just started looking at everything that they already had. Keep in mind that a lot of this information is not new. They had a lot of this information. They just didn't know how to connect the dots from the cell phone records to the hairs that they discovered in the burlap sacks, and then the other information about the car.
There was a car that they got information right around the time when the bodies were discovered of a potential suspect that this vehicle he may have been driving, and somehow they were able to connect this vehicle to the suspect here, and that was one of their big breaks. Once they made that connection, they started doing more work, looking at phone records, search warrants, the police today saying they did over 300 search warrants and subpoenas in just the last year, year and a half that they restarted this investigation.
And then they started connecting the dots, and then, as you said, the pizza box, the DNA, and the other key evidence was from the garbage at his home when they got DNA from his wife, and they connected it to some of the hairs that were found on these women who police say were tortured, were -- their arms were taped, they were in other ways just tortured and that's how they essentially started to put everything together.
And keep in mind that the suspect here, he had been under surveillance for probably about a year or so. So they were zeroing in on him, and really ultimately led to DNA. They were able to get DNA off the pizza box, and once that happened, they went ahead and started moving in, and ultimately indicting him and arresting him just yesterday.
HILL: You mentioned the trash, you mentioned the hair. You mentioned connecting the DNA. What more do we know about this suspect, who this man is?
PROKUPECZ: Well, as usual in this case, you know, he appeared to lead a very seemingly simple life. He has a wife, he has kids. He has a pretty good job.
He's an architect. He runs his own firm in Manhattan, and really, you know, it was sort of the thing for investigators that they needed to really go back and look into his history.
And we've learned a little more about him because of an interview he did with a journalist. Take a listen to some of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEUERMANN: Rex Heuermann, I'm an architect, I'm an architectural consultant. I'm a troubleshooter, born and raised on Long Island.
HEUERMANN: Been working in Manhattan since 1987.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PROKUPECZ: And so, Erica, look, for investigators, there's still a lot more work to do. This is an extremely circumstantial case. They have some DNA, phone records.
They're going to keep working to get more evidence. They did search warrants on his home today. They have his vehicle. They also did a search at his office.
So, they still know that they need a lot more information. But, for now, at least, they believe they have been able to get him off the streets. They were concerned that he was going to try and attack again because they found evidence through his phones, these burner phones that he was using that he was, again, making contact with sex workers, and so there was a lot of concern, and so they needed to move in, they said. And take him into custody.
HILL: Shimon, I'm glad you brought that up. I do want to play that moment specifically when the district attorney mentioned those concerns. Here's what they said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAYMOND TIERNEY, SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: 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, which, of course, made us very nervous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: So when you hear that, Shimon, it makes it sound like they were worried that he could, in fact, strike again.
PROKUPECZ: Yeah, they were certainly worried about that. They were also worried that there was going to be some leaks and information would have gotten out, and perhaps he would have tried to flee. You know, they know, and they assume that the killer was concerned that they were going to move in on him and arrest him, and so they've learned that that actually is the case because they found on these burner phones that he was searching.
At one point some 200 searches in a matter of four months about the case, trying to get information, and they suspected that that was the case. But certainly they were concerned because by what they found, by what they saw from doing these search warrants and subpoenas that he was going to strike again, and that is why they moved in and arrested him yesterday, and then he was indicted. But I sense in just looking at this investigation and kind of seeing what the police are saying today that this is not over, they still have a lot more work to do.
HILL: Yeah. Shimon, really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Also with us now, former FBI profiler, co-host of "The Real Crime Profile" podcast, Jim Clemente.
Jim, picking up where we just left off with Shimon, you know, he noted and we heard from the district attorney why they felt they had to move in now, why they wanted to arrest Rex Heuermann on Thursday. They talk about reasons of public safety, as Shimon pointed out, there could be more to come.
If the investigation was not necessarily done but they felt they had to act more quickly, what else do you think they could have potentially been looking at based on what we know?
JIM CLEMENTE, RETIRED FBI PROFILER: Yeah, I mean, there's so many more aspects of circumstantial evidence that they can corroborate, in other words, all of his movements during that time. All of his electronic communications, all the searches, all the cell phone records, all of that, and finding, let's say, videos of when he went to the cell phone store to buy more minutes, there may be other ones of those out there. And so that's all the kind of investigative things they could do. They want to tie up their case as tightly as possible.
HILL: There was this interview from his Manhattan office, which was posted on YouTube by Bonjour Realty in early 2022. He talked about being an architectural consultant, calls himself a troubleshooter, talked about learning to construct furniture. Here's a little bit more of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEUERMANN: I have one tool that's pretty much used in almost every job, and it's actually a cabinet maker's hammer.
JOURNALIST: A cabinet maker's hammer, okay.
HEUERMANN: It is persuasive enough when I need to persuade something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: You've really zeroed in on the fact that he's an architect.
HILL: You say that profession is so exact that it could tell you something about the person. What?
I think we may have just lost Jim. Jim's froze, the beauty of technology. One of the things he said is that it is such an exact profession that someone has to really control what they are doing, and Jim had mentioned to us prior to the show -- Jim, glad we have you back there.
HILL: I know you had said being an architect is such a precise, meticulous and exacting, it involves a lot of control.
CLEMENTE: Yes, and I would say that he very much controls his life, all aspects of his life, the crimes, his work, and his home life.
I think you'll find that when they talk to the people around him, they're all going to say that. Plus, I'm not surprised at all that they found torture porn because this man is a sexual sadist. The offender who killed these women also taunted their family members, and, you know, called them up and taunted them.
HILL: We may have lost him. Frozen again. Obviously a lot more questions here, a lot more to dig into. Really disturbing details released today during that press conference, and we'll continue to stay on top of the story as well.
OUTFRONT next, it was the place to be today for 2024 hopefuls. So why was Donald Trump noticeably absent from a major event in Iowa? It's a story you'll see first on OUTFRONT.
Plus, a teacher is fired for criticizing her school's decision to ban a song by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus, a song with lyrics like quote wouldn't it be nice to be in paradise where we're free to be exactly who we are. That teacher is my guest.
HILL: Tonight, roundgate. Republican presidential hopefuls looking to dethrone former President Trump as the party's leader are taking center stage in Iowa tonight. But the former president is not in the Hawkeye State, out of sight, but definitely not out of mind, as his opponents pounce on his absence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have some familiarity with my former running mate's jabs. I look forward to seeing him on the debate stage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Trump is down in Florida tonight which as Kristen Holmes reports is by design.
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For many 2024 Republican hopefuls, there was only one place to be Friday.
ASA HUTCHINSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is Iowa.
PENCE: Historic day in Iowa.
HOLMES: Sitting down with Tucker Carlson, aiming to woo evangelical voters in the critical early voting state at the Family Leadership Summit.
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Isn't it good to be in a nation where you are free to praise the Lord?
HOLMES: And hoping to seize on the notable absence of primary front runner Donald Trump.
PENCE: I think it's unfortunate that the former president has now missed two significant events here in Iowa.
HUTCHINSON: There are some candidates who chose not to appear here today. Some people didn't want to be interviewed by Tucker Carlson, others believe maybe their policies are not in sync with Iowa evangelical community.
HOLMES: Trump skipped the event run by influential Christian conservative Bob Vander Plaats who said it's time to move on from the former president.
BOB VANDER PLAATS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, THE FAMILY LEADER: I think the former president has 20 to 30 percent self-inflicted ceiling.
HOLMES: Trump instead will appear as the keynote speaker at a GOP event Saturday in Florida.
A Trump spokesperson blamed a scheduling conflict, while an adviser said Trump didn't need to participate in these group gatherings because of the former president's front runner status, but the decision came just days after Trump ruffled feathers in the state, lashing out on social media at Republican Governor Kim Reynolds who is popular among Iowa conservatives for her decision not to endorse in the primary.
Trump advisers telling CNN they perceived Reynolds to be favoring Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, appearing alongside he and his wife at a number of campaign events. The Hawkeye State is seen as crucial for several GOP hopefuls.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, Iowa. It is great to be back.
HOLMES: To give them momentum heading into the primary season. And some, like former Vice President Mike Pence, have gone all in on Iowa.
PENCE: Karen and I are absolutely determined to travel to every corner of this state, every single pizza ranch in this state, and let people hear our hearts and learn about us.
HOLMES (on camera): And while this Trump approach may seem cavalier, attacking a very popular governor, not attending certain events, I've talked to advisers who say they are taking the state very seriously, that almost immediately after he announced they started building out their ground game but they are more organized now than they were in 2016 or 2020. They are going through data of the rallies and events that Trump has held.
But it's not entirely clear how that approach and taking this very seriously squares with attacking, again, the very popular Republican governor in the state, but it's just something, Erica, we're going to have to wait and see how it plays out. Trump will be there next week doing a town hall.
HILL: Well, he's certainly known for unconventional political tactics, so there's that.
Kristen, appreciate the reporting as always. Thank you.
OUTFRONT next, a school board fires a teacher who complained about her district banning a song called "Rainbowland". It's a song by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus, why is it so offensive? That teacher speaks out next.
Plus, President Biden raising a staggering $72 million, more than double Trump's haul in the second quarter. What does this say about Biden's standing heading into the election?
HILL: Tonight, fired over Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus song. A Wisconsin teacher says she was fired after speaking out about the school board's decision, barring first graders from singing "Rainbowland". That's a song written by Parton and Cyrus. Here's part of it, take a listen.
HILL: Kind of a catchy tune.
After being told her class couldn't perform the song, teacher Melissa Tempel tweeted, quote: My first graders were so excited to sing "Rainbowland" for her spring concert, but it has been vetoed by our administration. When will it end?
OUTFRONT now, Melissa Tempel. She's the teacher who lost her job.
Melissa, it's good to have you with us tonight.
I just want to share the lyrics from the song "Rainbowland" for people who may not be familiar with. The song goes on to say, wouldn't it be nice to live in paradise, to be free exactly who we are, dig down deep inside, brush the judgment and fear aside.
So, the district banned the song because it violated the controversial issues policy. Were you told specifically what the controversial issue or issues were in this song?
MELISSA TEMPEL, TEACHER FIRED AFTER CRITICIZING SCHOOL BAN ON "RAINBOWLAND" SONG: Not until Wednesday at my hearing, the day before yesterday.
HILL: And so what's the controversial issue?
TEMPEL: The statement that was made at the hearing was that it was because Miley Cyrus is not appropriate for first graders, because if they Googled here they might find something inappropriate.
HILL: So, to be clear, she was not performing, she was enjoining your first graders to perform, but because she's tied to the song and as first graders they might do a Google search, that's what is controversial?
TEMPEL: That's what we were told, yes.
HILL: Do you think this was really about the song?
TEMPEL: I think it's about the policy, the controversial content policy that we were -- that was put into place in our district this year, and yeah. It was like, there were so many different things that they were telling us we couldn't do anymore, and I think, you know, people started to become nervous that everything that they were doing was going to be under the scrutiny of this policy, and that there could be complaints against them.
So, you know, we weren't allowed to have signs that said anti-racist classroom, we weren't allowed to have rainbows, we weren't allowed to have anything, and the policy was so vague that we didn't know what controversial meant.
HILL: Uh-huh. I guess as evidence by the song. Now, in terms of your employment, the decision of the board was not about any particular song that may or may not have been selected for a concert but the process by which an employee goes about expressing their productive manner in accordance. Basically saying you were fired because you didn't go to your manager and because in the tweet you posted, you mentioned, quote, my students.
Do you have any regrets about that tweet?
TEMPEL: No, absolutely not. I tweeted because I knew people would be interested to hear how this controversial content policy was being implemented and how far it had gone. And I knew people would be really interested in talking about it. And I really wanted to open up that public discussion.
And that's why I tweeted it. And I think that is what happened. So, I achieved that goal.
HILL: You definitely achieved that goal. What was the feedback -- before I let you go, what was the feedback from the parents in your class? Did they want their kids to sing the song?
TEMPEL: They were -- we hadn't even gotten to the point. And after I left, I only received positive messages. I had heard from no parents that wanted me to be gone. It was really, really sad.
HILL: All right. Well, Melissa Tempel, we know this isn't done. We know you're not done fighting, so we're going to continue to follow this and see where it leads. Appreciate you joining us tonight. Thank you.
TEMPEL: Thank you so much.
HILL: OUTFRONT next, our own Jake Tapper has a new book and he's got very big names featured on the summer reading list. Jake is here to fill us in.
HILL: Tonight, President Biden's massive haul, the president raising a staggering $72 million in the second quarter for fundraising. That's more than double that of former President Donald Trump's $35 million. Biden's total cash on hand, now $78 million.
Here now is anchor of "THE LEAD" and "STATE OF THE UNION", Jake Tapper. He's also the author of the new book, "All The Demons Are Here". We're going to get to that book in that minute.
But, Jake, first, I do want to talk to you about what we're seeing in terms of these numbers. There have been, a fair amount of Democratic insiders, doubters, naysayers kind of wringing their hands over President Biden's age, approval numbers, a lot of concern about early fund-raisers and a feeling that maybe he wasn't delivering.
This new fundraising haul, though, some $72 million in the second quarter, what is the message that sends?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD": Well, it's interesting because he raised more than double what Donald Trump was able to raise in the same period. But four years ago, Donald Trump was able to raise, I think, $110 million during that same period. So, there's still stuff for Democrats to wring their hands about. You know, they should be somewhat reassured that he's in the hunt and he's above Trump and DeSantis.
But he's still -- there's still concerns. I don't think it's going to alleviate those concerns.
HILL: Yeah, they're not going away.
All right. Let's not talk concerns. Let's talk new books, shall we?
HILL: Your new book out this week. It's the third in the murder mystery series, "All the Demons are Here," based in the '70s. There are a lot of parallels to what and who we are covering in 2023, like Donald Trump and Evel Knievel.
TAPPER: Well, first of all, people should know, you don't have to read the first two. I write them all as stand alones. But there is this -- Evel Knievel is a big character in this book.
For those who don't know, those who don't remember, he was a wild celebrity stuntman who did incredible stunts and often landed the wrong way and broke his bones. But he was a huge hero. And there is something of the same DNA of Evel Knievel in Donald Trump, in their abilities to be these quintessentially American salesmen, showmen, people who get media attention, people who shoot from the hip, say controversial things and get away with it.
And so, I play with that a little bit. The bigger parallel is in this book, one of the characters, Lucy, works for a fictitious media mandate, a British one who starts a tabloid in D.C., and he is really very, very loosely based on Rupert Murdoch. And tabloid journalism popped in 1977 with the son of Sam murders in New York City.
And so, there are a lot of parallels about 1977 and what we're living in today.
HILL: I also have to say, you're getting a lot of attention with this book, my friend. I mean, the team here at OUTFRONT spent a little time on your social media, a little time on IG, Jake Tapper. You've got a lot of big names out there shilling for you. They're holding up your book. They're taking selfies. We're talking Seth Meyers, Paul Rudd, Christian Slater, Elizabeth Banks, Weird Al, and a number of our CNN friends and colleagues.
Now, Jake, I borrowed this from some of our friends and colleagues. I didn't make the cut --
TAPPER: Your --
HILL: -- but I want to know what you did to bribe all these people.
TAPPER: Well, first of all, that is an oversight that will be remedied before I leave work today. You will be -- you text me your address, and before I get to my office, you will -- you will have the book on its way to you.
Second of all, these are really sweet friends of mine, and I'm really grateful that they're doing this. You know, it's a challenge to sell a book without the writer strike. So, I don't have Seth -- I don't get to go on Seth Meyers' show, but he's out there with the book, Paul, of course, Christian Slater who might play Charlie Martyr in a future TV series, based on Elizabeth Banks, Weird Al.
Weird Al is a guy I met at a charity event in Kansas City, and he is actually lovely Al, lovely Al Yankovic. But it's -- I'm honored that they're doing it. And it's a fun way to try to get people to know about the book, just an awareness campaign, Erica, you know?
HILL: It's great. I love an awareness campaign.
TAPPER: When you get the book, you have to do a selfie with the book also, OK?
HILL: It is a deal. I will do that for you, my friend, happily.
TAPPER: OK, good, thank you so much.
HILL: Everybody else, you should run out and buy it. We have all the information for you.
Jake, good to see you. We will see you this weekend on "STATE OF THE UNION" as well.
Thanks for being with us.
Thanks to all of you for joining us tonight.
"AC360" starts right now.