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Democrat Senator Bob Menendez Indicted on Bribery Charges; Democrat Senator Menendez & Wife Charged with Accepting Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Gold Bar & Cash, Luxury Vehicle; UAW Expands Auto Strikes Across 20 States; Congress Leaves for Long Weekend as Shutdown Looms; McCarthy Won't Commit to Vote on Senate Stopgap Funding. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 22, 2023 - 12:00   ET




MANU RAJU, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics indicted, the Fed says Senator Bob Menendez pocketed nearly half a million dollars in cash bribes. Prosecutors say the powerful Democrat in some cases, there will be stuff thousands -- needed to pay out of gold bars.

Plus no end in sight in Detroit, labor plots are shut down more assembly lines across 20 states as negotiations between the auto workers and two of the Big Three automakers go anywhere. And also no end in sight in Washington for negotiations between the House speaker and other Republicans are going anywhere.

Its Kevin McCarthy sense lawmakers home without a deal with prospects of a government shutdown growing by the hour. I'm Manu Raju in for Dana Bash; let's go behind the headlines in Inside Politics. Up first, a stunning and diamond filed against a sitting United States senator last out of the Southern District of New York unveiled bribery charges against Bob Menendez.

Menendez chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Prosecutors say he used that influence for the benefit of a foreign power, passing sensitive info, turning the screws on federal officials and even intervening in interrupting a criminal investigation, the alleged pay off cash and lots of it gold bars, ornate furniture and a luxury car.

Menendez prosecutors they didn't even really bother to hide it. Federal agents found all of it, just look right here in his house. Now CNN's Kara Scannell who was in the press conference just moments ago with the prosecutors laid out the case joins me now. Kara, what are you learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Manu, so the U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced his charges saying that Senator Robert Menendez, his wife and three New Jersey businessmen have been indicted in this three count indictment, all related to bribery charges. Now the U.S. Attorney Damian Williams also went on to describe what he said was a corrupt scheme. Take a listen.


DAMIAN WILLIAMS, U.S. STTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: The senator and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for Senator Menendez using his power and influence to protect and to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt. The indictment alleges that Hana -- and Davies provided bribes in the form of cash, gold, home mortgage payments, a low show or no show job for Nadine Menendez, or Mercedes Benz and other things of value to the senator and his wife.


SCANNELL: Now, this alleged scheme went on from 2018 to 2022. And what prosecutors say Menendez had received those gold bars and the cash payments for doing taking certain steps in some ways that benefited Egypt. And some of the examples in the indictment include telling passing on to Egyptian officials the number and the nationality of Americans at the Embassy in Cairo.

They also alleged that he had ghost written a letter that was sent to other senators on behalf of Egypt to try to lift a hold on $300 million in aid and that he interfered in the investigations or attempted to of associates of those New Jersey businessman. Now, the U.S. Attorney said that this investigation is very much ongoing.

We've gotten a statement from Menendez in which he essentially is saying that prosecutors are trying to criminalize his normal congressional work. He says for years forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave.

Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists. And Menendez do remember was previously indicted on bribery charges went to trial, there was a mistrial.

The judge threw out some of the case and the prosecutors decided not to retry him. But this is the second time the senator is facing bribery charges in just 10 years, Manu.

RAJU: Yes, and facing re-election next year, Willie Brown didn't address that in that statement. He did run last time he won. We'll see what he does with that and with the panel here Kara, thank you for that report.

And here with us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's Gloria Borger, Paul Kane from The Washington Post and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, federal, Former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers.

And Jennifer, I want to start with you about the case that has been laid out here. Just to catch up our viewers here. This is the charges that are on the table for Senator Menendez. Conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion among the evidence that they found in this case, in this investigation, the 2019 Mercedes Benz C-class was found by federal agents along with cash.


Nearly $500,000 in cash seized at his home, 13 gold bars that are nearly $80,000 seized from a safe deposit boxes, they accused him of taking bribes. You read through this indictment, Jennifer, how strong do you think this case is?

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: This is a very strong case, Manu, I mean, prosecutors went lean and mean with the charges. They just charged him effectively with this bribery scheme and in three different ways, but it's effectively the same scheme. But they have all the evidence that you laid out that they obtained from executing search warrants.

But they have also an incredible amount of evidence in the form of text messages. Among the defendants here, Menendez is why first and foremost dealing with all of these other defendants, talking about what Menendez was saying. There were meetings between and among all of these people.

The fingerprint of one of the co-defendants was found on an envelope containing some of the cash that was found in the house. I mean, it doesn't get any more textbook than this as far as the scheme that was perpetrated and the evidence they've collected.

And as they say it's ongoing, we'll see if one of the defendants wants to flip on the others or something like that. But even as it exists now, very strong case, he's not going to get out of this one like he got out of the prior one.

RAJU: And the fallout is going to be pretty severe, we're going to expect him to lose his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. One thing he did not address in this statement is about whether or not he's going to run for re-election. Paul Kane, you have been covering Bob Menendez for a very long time. Not to aid you or anything like that. Call you out about that. But you have.


RAJU: And he ran for reelection after being cleared on that corruption trial. But he ran and won. How do you think he's going to respond to this one?

KANE: OK, so the thing about Bob Menendez, his whole career launches as a reformer. He turned on the Union City mayor in the 1980s and ended up in mayor of that, that city in North Jersey. He then goes to congress, and he starts off his career as I'm the reformer, I turned in this crook.

But then he continually has cases, there was one in 2006. It just went nowhere. There was one 2012 that took five years for it to be cleared. When he walked out of that courthouse in 2017, cleared, he said to those who are digging my political grave, so they could jump into my seat. I know who you are, and I won't forget you.

RAJU: He has a very long memory.

KANE: Yes.

RAJU: But look, if he runs and if he could face a primary from Democratic opponent, Karina.

AMY WALTER, PUBLISHER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Good. But who's going to go and challenge him right now, at this point? We were just talking at the break. There are no, there are plenty of very ambitious Democrats in the delegation who they don't have a lot of places to go, right. If you want to leave congress, there will be a governorship open up in this next odd year.

But yes, it'd be kind of nice to have a slot there for Senate. But challenging him is a whole other deal. Remember, this is a state that has very strong party, very strong party line system. So getting through that is not quite the same as it is in some other states.

RAJU: And you've covered all these, there's been corruption trials against other senators.


RAJU: In the past that these are hard trials to pull out.

BORGER: Money in the freezer, for example.

RAJU: Yes. Sure. They don't always -- into convictions.

BORGER: That's right.

RAJU: The -- was in the case it did, but there have been others that have fallen apart because it is hard to, they could say this is part of my federal.

BORGER: Well, that's what he said.

RAJU: Constitutional protection.

BORGER: I want to point out that it his current statement; he also talks about people trying to dig his political grave, by the way.

KANE: Oh, he did.

BORGER: Yes. He just repeated that. But and his whole point is they have as he said; they have misrepresented the normal work of a congressional office. Well, the normal work of a congressional office, one might argue, is not $480,000 in cash. $70,000 in his wife safe deposit box, texts, emails.

And somebody by the way, after he came back from a trip to Egypt, Googling how much is one kilo of gold worth, right. So this is not the normal world.

KANE: By the way it's $61,966.

BORGER: Today. Yes. So you know this is not the normal work of a congressional office. So and by the way, after a he was cleared on that, on his last corruption trial, he started engaging with these people.

WALTER: Allegedly.

BORGER: So more allegedly, yes, according to the indictment, we should say.

RAJU: Right.

BORGER: Went from one to the other.

RAJU: Yes. And I just wanted to play a little bit more about what the prosecutors said about all the evidence they seize in this case.



WILLIAMS: This is the Mercedes Benz that we allege that your rebate provided as part of the scheme. What you see here are three kilograms of gold, each three kilograms together are worth approximately $150,000. And of course here you can see just a fraction of the cash that was uncovered as part of the scheme.


RAJU: Jennifer Rodgers, you're a former federal prosecutor. Tell me about what that evidence there about these bribery allegations. And how unusual is that in a bribery case or is this in line of things that you've seen in the past?

RODGERS: Well, this is quintessential evidence Manu. I mean, this is the evidence that you want if you're trying this bribery case. And, you know, just to be clear, the prior case, he wasn't clear in the prior case, it wasn't acquitted. It was a hung jury. And what the jury had problem -- is the fact that they were friends, right?

The -- bribe war, and Menendez were friends. And so I think some of the jurors were convinced that when Menendez would say, take a trip on his private plane and go to his home, which are things that could be looked at as bribes, they said, well, it was because of the friendship. That is not the case here.

These people were not his friends, the text messages and emails make clear that this was a transactional relationship. And so this case is serious and powerful. It's also tried by mild shock, the Southern District of New York. And I will tell you, he is not weaseling out of this one, this one is going to be the digging of the grave, or whatever it is, he wants to say, this case -- .

RAJU: Hey look, it's going to take me a long time for this, to go to trial could hang over him, potentially, through the election if he does decide to run for re-election. And this is a state that Democrats have forgotten about, right? This is not part of the map.


RAJU: To keep the senate. But it might be if he runs.

HENDERSON: That's right. You know, it'll certainly hang over him. But in some ways hang over Democrats too, right? I mean, this idea of, you know, if you look at this evidence, the pictures of the gold bars, and the money stuffed in, in jackets or in envelopes, it's sort of for the brand of Democrats more broadly, it's not great.

They're going to be asked about this. They've got to figure out how they're going to react to it. He clearly doesn't seem like he's going to be somebody who wants to, you know, step down. Conveniently, I think that would be helpful for Democrats. But unlikely are given his rhetoric.

RAJU: Yes. And the question of way he runs, how much money they have to spend to save them, how does it affect the rest of the map? This could have big implications and have huge implications for the next president or the current president if he wins again. OK. Coming up, the United Auto Workers Union expanded strike, how many more workers are walking off assembly lines, and how could it affect the U.S. economy.

Plus, members of the House have already started their weekends and know the threat of a government shutdown has not been averted as a compromise possible. My exclusive interview with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is next.



RAJU: Today a giant expansion of an auto strike that could tilt the American economy towards recession and an important invitation of the president to the president of the United States. Workers now say they won't go and go to work at 38 parts and distribution centers across 20 states.

And to take us through all this is CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich. So, Vanessa, tell us all the details here and what's going to happen next.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, just moments ago, you had about 5600 UAW workers hitting the picket lines at 38 GM and Stellantis facilities across 20 states. So they are now joining the nearly 13,000 UAW workers who are already on strike. Now Shawn Fain, President of UAW, making this announcement authorizing this targeted strike, this additional targeted strike against GM and Stellantis, notably missing is Ford.

According to President Shawn Fain, real progress has been made with Ford but GM and Stellantis as he says will need some serious pushing. Just to give folks a sense of what Ford has put on the table recently, they're going to reinstate cost of living adjustments that workers lost in 2009. Increased profit sharing, getting temporary workers to become permanent workers in just 90 days instead of the years that it takes right now and job security. If a worker is laid off by Ford, they'll have income and benefits for two years.

But one thing Manu that is notably missing from this announcement was Shawn Fain is the wages and Ford and the union have said that they are still far apart on the wages. We know that the last public offers from these three companies have been 20 percent in wage increases over four years.

Manu from the very beginning, the union has been looking for a 40 percent wage increase. And this shutdown of all parts and distribution facilities by GM and Stellantis is going to have impact on new cars. It's going to have an impact on folks trying to get new parts. And it could result in residual layoffs.

We've already seen GM idle about 2000 workers Stellantis, almost 70 within expected 300 to go with these new targeted strikes at 38 facilities Manu, we could see additional residual layoffs coming in the next couple of days Manu?

RAJU: A huge impact on workers and consumers.


RAJU: Vanessa Yurkevich thanks for that and today, a plan to nowhere. The House Speaker looks unlikely to find a way through a shutdown, showdown with his own conference. It cracks open the door for bipartisan deal making. And I spoke exclusively with the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who told me the Senate may take matters into its own hands.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Yes, yes, I do, give them the house. But hopefully the house will see that working in a bipartisan way is best for the American people and best for Speaker McCarthy. He can't let this small group of hard right people who are almost fanatics, who want the government to shut down despite the harm it does to the American people to govern the whole body.


It's a handful of 10 of them. And there are 435 House members.

RAJU: So you think the senate may have to go first. I mean, I assume you've had discussions with the Leader McConnell on this point.

SCHUMER: Leader McConnell and I are talking and we have a great deal of agreement on many parts of this. It's never easy to get a big bill, a CR bill done. But I am very, very optimistic that McConnell and I can find a way and get a large number of votes, both Democratic and Republican in the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: And this is a big shift about what we had been expecting. They didn't sign it was waiting for the House to do something, passes something to keep the government open for about a month. The senate would make its changes, send it back, they would go back and forth. But now the house can't move.

So Schumer and McConnell are going to take matters in their own hands, try to jam the house, and then the speaker is going to have to decide what to do.

KANE: They are going to -- the timeline of this is it basically sets up till about Saturday, late Saturday when the senate would pass its version of a bill. Well, that's the deadline. Saturday night, you know, just before the clock strikes midnight. But the house can't do anything right now.

This thing, that's good too into the weeds, but there is a basic parliamentary vote. It's called the rule vote that sets up the debate for any bill. It is it's just perfunctory. The majority votes for its minority votes against it. Kevin McCarthy has lost that vote three times in the last three months.

A friend of ours who was a rules committee expert pointed out the last time a speaker lost three rule votes in one year was Newt Gingrich.

RAJU: Yes.

KANE: He announced his resignation soon after that election.

RAJU: It's just remarkable how much he is stuck at the moment. And really, it's about McCarthy does not want to cut a deal with Democrats because if he does, that will mean potentially the end of his speakership. And one huge flashpoint that's going to emerge is the issue of Ukraine.

You agree, of course, the President Zelenskyy was here yesterday making the case for $24 billion in new aid to Ukraine. The House does not want to go that route because of divisions within the Republican conference. But Schumer made clear to me that he plans to push for this and wants us included in this must pass bill.


RAJU: Do you believe that you have an agreement with the Leader McConnell to put Ukraine aid in a continuing resolution?

SCHUMER: Leader McConnell and I are both strongly for aid for Ukraine, and I believe a majority of the members of both parties in the senate agree with that.


RAJU: But this is something that will cause a revolt.

BORGER: Oh, of course Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, didn't vote for the rule because of Ukraine. And this is this is the problem that McCarthy faces. I mean, if he were to say, let's some Democrats have, you know, said that maybe they would strike a deal to get this through because -- his job is in danger.

And so he has a choice to make. Does he want to keep the government open? Is that important enough? Does he want to stay speaker? Does he want to endure a motion to vacate the chair? And we don't know the answer to that.

RAJU: The moment he wants to try to save.

BORGER: Right, exactly.

WALTER: The moment they vacate the chair.

KANE: -- sell, OK.

WALTER: Who's going to be speaking?

RAJU: Yes, that's good.

HENDERSON: That's the question.

WALTER: Why not dare them to do this? Kevin McCarthy has proven that he can take a level of political pain that no one else is capable of.

RAJU: Yes.

WALTER: He's willing to suffer in a way that other politicians are not.

RAJU: And he wants to wear down here.

WALTER: And he will wear it down. Look, it feels like in policy expert on this, but it feels like we know the end to the story. Well, we're going to drag this out eventually. Democrats are going to have to join with some Republicans pass this. There's going to be consternation and teeth gnashing and we're going to get rid of McCarthy. OK. And then what, what?

RAJU: Yes, look, I want to just play for you, the viewers what McCarthy said this morning.

WALTER: Right.

RAJU: Because he was asked about exactly what he would do if Schumer did what he's told me that he's going to do, and tried to have the Senate essentially push a bill through and try to jam the house.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): You just asked me something that hasn't happened. So I don't know if he asked Schumer what he would do, if I sent him a -- that keeps the government opening. I've watched the senate take a big roll this week. I see they've been able to change their dress code, but don't give, if that happens home.


RAJU: So he's non-committal about what he would do in that situation where his back is against the wall and has to put a bipartisan bill on the floor or risk a shutdown.

HENDERSON: Yes, listen, I mean, some of this is the fallout of what happened to you knows, over the debt ceiling, his right flank was not happy. They feel like he gave too much into Biden and the Democrats so they are flexing their muscles. The problem is, I think, to Amy's point, there is no real backstop here.

There is no got somebody else on there they could put up to speaker. So this threat now you know, they were in this very contentious meeting and he basically dared these folks. You know, if you want to do the motion to vacate go ahead and do it.


RAJU: And it's very possible that could happen next week. And at the same time, we're just hearing so much frustration. Paul, you're in the same hallways as I am. And we hear it's so easy to turn around another member Republican is attacking another Republican publicly and they're angry about it. This is what one Senate Leader remember the Senate leadership team, Shelly Moore Capito, told me about the way the House what the House is doing, and how it reflects on the GOP.


SEN. SHELLY MOORE CAPITO (R-WV): A government shutdown is the misery march, nobody wins. And, and they're losers in this. And I feel like, we have control of the House. I don't envy. My good friend Kevin McCarthy's position here we're just showing that, that we don't have any solutions. And I think we as Republicans, we want to offer solutions and stalemates and government shutdowns are not good solution.


RAJU: But that line of reasoning doesn't work among that hard right faction.

KANE: No, I sat down with Shelley Moore Capito one month after she got to the Senate. She spent I think 14 years in the House. I looked at her and said how do you like it? She gossip, I love it here. And she does not like the House anymore.

RAJU: Yes.

KANE: Yes. No, that line --

HENDERSON: Who does, by the way?

RAJU: I mean this is the difference, the House and the Senate; the GOP divided how they resolve this is going to, you know, we've seen, and it also could reflect very badly on their party as they head into a very difficult election. OK, well, more from that interview with Senator Schumer, and Inside Politics Sunday, be sure to tune in 11 a.m. eastern on Sunday. And ahead, new CNN polling from New Hampshire, and then head to head between Biden and Trump who comes out on top, we'll tell you next.