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Sen. Menendez Pleads Not Guilty To Bribery Charges; Menendez Being Released On $100,000 Bond; 7 GOP Presidential Candidates To Debate Tonight Without Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 27, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Dana Bash live from Simi Valley, California. But we begin back on the east coast because any second, we might see Senator Bob Menendez appear at microphones and talk to reporters this morning.

The New Jersey Democratic senator pleaded not guilty on federal bribery charges. He's accused of using his influence to help a foreign power, Egypt in exchange for cash, gold bars and a luxury car that is some of the charges that he is facing in the courthouse today.

CNN's Paula Reid is live there at the federal courthouse in New York City. Paula, what do we know?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Dana, as you can see right behind me media assembled, waiting to see if the senator will take questions or make any remarks following this hearing. Both the senator and his wife and her pleas of not guilty during this arraignment, they both did so through their attorneys.

Then the magistrate judge took a few moments to lay out the terms of their release. The senator is being released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond. Now he has to surrender his personal passport and travel documents. But notably he can keep his official passport and he does have permission to travel as part of his official role as a senator.

Now his wife Nadine was released on a quarter million-dollar personal recognizance bond that is being secured by her personal home in New Jersey. And she has far more limitations on her ability to travel. She can travel to certain districts in New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Florida. She can potentially travel other places, but she will have to get permission from the government.

Now we're just waiting to see if the senator will come out and make remarks. Of course, all of this comes as more than half of his colleagues, Democratic colleagues in the Senate are calling for him to resign. So far, he has remained defiant, but he has the assembled media here. This is an opportunity for him to once again, address these accusations and explain to his colleagues why he is refusing to step down.

BASH: OK, Paula. Thank you so much for that report about what happened inside that federal courtroom. Again, just to underscore the senator pleading not guilty to the charges against him in this very explicit federal indictment.

Again, I'm here in Simi Valley. We are waiting and watching to see if Senator Menendez comes out through those doors and speaks to the microphones. If and when that happens. We will bring it to you live.

But I have the pleasure of having my colleague and friend David Chalian here to talk about. You just heard the legal issues, but the very real political issues that are going on, David. The fact that you are -- you not only saw yesterday, a cascade of fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate come out and say that he should resign.

Today, noteworthy was the number two Democrat in the Senate. On Sunday, Senator Dick Durbin, stopped short, intentionally stopped short of calling for Bob Menendez to resign. Today he changed course saying in a tweet that it's because he listened to the people of New Jersey. First actually, let's listen initially to what Senator Durbin told me on Sunday.


SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D-IL): He lost the chairmanship of one of the most important committees, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which the president himself served as chairman of in years gone by. In terms of resignation, that's a decision to be made by Senator Menendez and the people of New Jersey.


BASH: OK. So again, that was on Sunday, and today, he reversed course, and he said that he wants Senator Menendez to resign. So, what does that tell you, David, about where things stand and the concern that Democrats have about how this is affecting them politically?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, listen, we could see all the Senate Democrats right, at this point come out and say, Bob Menendez should resign. What we haven't seen is any of that pressure yet, giving an indication that Menendez is listening to that.

I mean, he was very defiant when he came out and held his press conference. I would be surprised if he's anything but defiant here. And he's clearly getting more and more isolated on an island of one inside that caucus. We're all waiting to see if the Leader Chuck Schumer, who has not done that comes out.


And as you said, you know Dick Durbin was first there, does Schumer now follow this Durbin path as well. We'll wait to see that. But at this point what does it matter how many more come out? The entire caucus clearly thinks it would be better to resign.

Now, Dana, I do want to make a point here. I don't know if we would see the entire Democratic caucus saying this. If there was a Republican governor of New Jersey who would appoint a replacement, I'm not sure that we would see -- -

BASH: And it's such an important point. Phil Murphy, the Democrat is in the governor's mansion.

CHALIAN: And Menendez, we should note, he's in cycle. He is up for reelection. And so, he has a decision to make about whether or not, and again, so far, he has said, he's going to run. He already faces a primary challenge from Andy Kim.

There are other potential candidates in New Jersey who are thinking about getting into this race. So, he is clearly going to have a different path to reelection, post this indictment than he thought he was going to have.

BASH: If he runs through -- -


BASH: My understanding, at least in the initial sort of domino falling of Democrats, one of the points of strategy was, OK, they might not convince him to resign. But at least get him to say, I want one for run for reelection to let the air out of the balloon just a little bit and allow Democrats to start to run on their own, probably against each other in a primary to fill his seat. That hasn't happened.

CHALIAN: Correct. So far, he's resistant to that call as well. I think when you saw immediately, you remember like last Friday, Governor Murphy, Democrats in New Jersey in the state, they came out first before we saw the Senate colleagues or the federal folks and that's because remember, I know this is like, their New Jersey elections, legislative elections coming up in just a few weeks.

So, they immediately were like, this is not a benefit to us. So, whether or not Menendez alters what we've heard so far is what we should be listening for here. I'd be surprised if we are anything but defiance.

BASH: OK. Don't go anywhere, David. I want to go back to New Jersey. CNN's Kara Scannell is there. She was inside the courtroom. Kara, tell us what happened.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. So, this hearing lasted about 30 minutes and it began with Senator Menendez and his wife entering the courtroom through a side door. That is where the marshals keep the defendants. And you can see behind him a jail cell.

Just to give you a sense of the reality that must have been sinking in. The hearing itself was relatively brief that he entered a plea of not guilty, as did his wife and the two other New Jersey businessman who had appeared in court.

Now, as part of his bail conditions, he was released on a $100,000 personal bond. And he has to surrender his personal passport, not his official passport. He can still do foreign travel on official business. But also, the judge had restricted his contact with his staff, his staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his political advisors with knowledge of this case saying that they cannot meet outside the presence of counsel.

So, that is a pretty significant restriction there. Now, he only spoke to -- he didn't even enter the plea himself. His lawyer enter the not guilty plea. But he did speak a couple of times saying, yes, your Honor to acknowledge that he understood the warnings that she was giving him.

During most of the hearing, he sat stills, looking straight ahead with his hands claps in his lap. And then when the hearing was over, he and his wife were over by the side of the courtroom. They class pans again and walked out of the courtroom, with the marshals escorting them along the way.

He didn't answer any questions on his way out, kind of kept his head down. But he and his wife showing a united front walking in today holding hands and walking out of the courtroom today holding hands. Now he is right now being processed. So, he is signing the paperwork for his bond. And he's also surrendering his personal passport.

So, we're expecting him to be exiting the courtroom anytime now because that process doesn't take very long. So, but this, you know, certainly a moment the second time Senator Menendez entering a plea of not guilty in a criminal case in just the last 10 years. And he will be leaving shortly.

As you can see, everyone is gathered, they're waiting for him. But he made no comments outside the courtroom to reporters or on his way in. We're waiting to see if he's going to see him say anything, as he's leaving here momentarily. Dana?

BASH: Kara, I'm glad you brought up that this is the second time that Senator Menendez has been in this position of facing a federal indictment. He did so, again, we said within the last decade, he successfully beat back those charges in a court of law. He was not found guilty.

And I know it's probably hard to read tea leaves by looking at body language. But did it seem as though his sort of demeanor was such that he's seen and done this before? And perhaps that's part of why he is so defiant right now, been there done that?


SCANNELL: Well, it's interesting, Dana. I mean, his comments when he was first indicted on Friday, and this came to light were very defiant saying, you know, he will be exonerated of saying he was selected because he's Hispanic. And then, it felt like at his press conference on Monday, he was saying, wait until you see the evidence, I will be exonerated.

I mean today other than walking in with a straight face and kind of sitting very still in court, barely even speaking to his attorney. So, clearly not someone who didn't know what was happening since he had been through this process before. And then walking out with his wife. But he's not saying anything today yet, about you know, the allegations or a sense of defiance here. Although, as you've noted, I mean, there are growing calls among Democrats for him to resign. He has made it clear he is not going to resign. And back in 2015, when he was first charged, he didn't resign then either, be interesting if something here tipped the scale in the other direction.

But as for now, I mean, he has still maintaining this defiant posture, not saying anything at all in court for a senator, not addressing the press. Not at all, just kind of, you know, head down, walking out, holding his hands -- his wife's hands behind him, so they can make their way through the crowd of reporters.

I mean interesting, he's on the side of the courtroom. And when he's looking out, he can see a courtroom entirely filled with press that were remaining behind, waiting him for him to leave and following out down the hallway into the elevator bank where the marshals took him to the other floor to be processed. But he didn't at all address. The media didn't say a thing. So, it's really going to be really interesting if he says anything as he walks out here today.

BASH: OK, Kara. We are watching those microphones right along with you. Let us know if you see and hear anything else from reporting inside the courthouse before he comes out. I want to go to Capitol Hill now, my colleague Lauren Fox is there.

Lauren, one of the arguments that we're hearing kind of quietly made from the Menendez's world is, well, first of all, why would he resign his seat when he maintains his innocence? That's first and foremost. But just tactically, if he did acquiesce and resign his seat.

The question would be whether or not he would lose leverage in this court case, lose leverage in any potential plea deal? Although, we have no indication that he is even going there yet. That is, that has to be a reality that the colleagues that he has in the Senate and in the House too, fellow Democrats, know about.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, Dana. But that doesn't stop the reality for some of those Democratic colleagues who are also facing their own political considerations here. Given the fact that you have a number of Democrats running in red states or competitive states that have come out very swiftly saying that Senator Menendez should step aside in part because they can argue on the campaign trail.

One thing about Donald Trump potentially, and then deal with another thing when it comes to their own colleagues. So, I think that that is the consideration you're starting to see. But we should just take a step back. There are now more than 30 Democratic senators calling for their colleague to step aside and resign.

And one of them is Senator Dick Durbin, the number two in the Senate who just days ago, Dana, told you that he thought that that was a decision that Menendez should make. But then, hours ago, tweeted, "leaders in New Jersey, including the governor and my Senate colleague, Cory Booker, have made it clear that Menendez can no longer serve, he should step aside." And just to put in context for viewers and a couple of hours, we're going to hear directly from Senator Chuck Schumer. He goes to the mics. He gives a press conference on the day after lawmakers returned to Washington.

So, we're going to look forward to that because you can expect he is going to be pressed by reporters who are going to ask him. You now have 31 Democratic senators calling for Senator Menendez to step aside. Are you also going to call for him to step aside? Obviously, the majority leader's position here, very important, even though ultimately, it's always going to be up to Senator Menendez to decide what he's going to do. Dana?

BASH: Yes. Absolutely very important. But as David Chalian said, will it change anything, given the fact that there is such a huge number. As you said, 31 Democrats just in the Senate alone, which is a pretty remarkable. And my understanding, Lauren, is that part of the reason why we're seeing the leadership, except for Chuck Schumer, start to come out and say that Senator Menendez should resign. Is some frustration about his stubbornness in not acquiescing even to the notion of saying that he wouldn't run for reelection.

OK. Thank you so much. Let us know if you get any more reporting. You're seeing on the screen there. We are waiting at that federal courthouse in New Jersey to see if Senator Menendez comes out. But we're going to take a quick break.


And when we come back, why I'm here in Simi Valley, California, and that is there is a debate tonight. It is a time for choosing or has the choice already been made. Republicans will hit the debate stage here in California. It will happen once again without Donald Trump. We're going to talk about all of that after a quick break.


BASH: We are waiting to see if Senator Bob Menendez comes out to cameras at that courthouse that federal courthouse where he just pleaded not guilty, innocent to federal bribery charges. We will go live back to New York when that happens. Now to tonight's Republican debate and why it matters?

Donald Trump will not be here. And seven who will take the stage here in California, understand that at this point, it's a battle for survival. Shiny debate moment may translate into momentum and the kind of cash required to carry on a presidential campaign into the fall.


I want to start now with again my colleague, David Chalian, who is here with me in Simi Valley. David, can you just sort of set the table and explain what we should be looking for? And why, what we're going to see tonight matters if at all?

CHALIAN: Well, it does matter, because there is still a significant enough swath of the Republican Party that remains open to considering somebody's not named Donald Trump. And as long as that exists, these candidates not named Trump, who will be on the debate stage, have a case to make and try to grab them.

Now, they also have the mission with Donald Trump so far ahead of needing to peel away some Donald Trump supporters to their cause. But we know that some Donald Trump supporters do also have consideration of other candidates. So that's key.

The other thing I would just note here. Donald Trump, Dana, is so dominant in the information flow. He's in every headline, he is the dominant force. This is an opportunity for these candidates tonight to capture the attention of Republican primary voters directly, one on one basically, into their living rooms, without a Donald Trump headline interfering. That is not something they get all that often.

BASH: And when you talk about early voters, of course, we don't need to remind our viewers. We are talking first and foremost about voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let's just look at the snapshot of where the polls say things stand.

This is the latest CBS/YouGov poll. In New Hampshire, Trump 50 percent, DeSantis, I mean, way, way, way behind at 13, Nikki Haley 11, Vivek Ramaswamy eight, Chris Christie eight as well. And then in Iowa, you have the same situation. DeSantis is doing a bit better there. But he's -- everybody's still trails in a very big way.

CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, DeSantis is still 30 points behind. Now, their theory of the cases, Donald Trump's not going to remain at 51 percent. That that's kind of a high watermark for him. As this campaign moves forward, we'll see, right?

They are not just the DeSantis, but all these campaigns, Dana, are pursuing a theory of the case that they can draw blood in Iowa or New Hampshire, and then change the whole dynamic of the race. Now, that may happen, that may not happen. But it's the one theory of the case they're pursuing because it's the only one available to them when they're running against somebody 30 or 40 points ahead.

BASH: Yes. Such a good point. David, thank you so much. I want to bring in for their reporting and their insights, my colleague, Kasie Hunt, CNN's Kasie Hunt, Astead Herndon of The New York Times, and Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe. Hi, everybody. I wish I was with you in person.


BASH: I won't make you jealous. I won't make you jealous. Let's talk about one of the many excellent points that David just made, which is whether or not any of these candidates will or can "draw blood," "political blood," "metaphoric blood," of course.

Let's start with some of the arguments that we've heard from Ron DeSantis, who's going to be in the center of that stage tonight. Seven candidates, he will be at the center. And kind of the preview that he has made when it comes to the man not there, Donald Trump. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's running in 2024, on a lot of the same promises he ran on in 2016 and didn't deliver on. He said he was going to drain the swamp. They didn't drain the swamp at all. He said Mexico was going to pay for the border wall. That didn't happen. They started the wall. But we've got a lot more to be able to do to finish the wall. He said he was going to eliminate the national debt. They added almost $8 trillion to the debt in four years.


BASH: Before I bring you and I just wanted to play one other soundbite. And this is from Chris Christie way back in June after he announced. You might sound -- the argument might sound familiar.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump spent more money then, you know, Barack Obama did into a four-year period, and left us with a bigger deficit, even though he promised that he's going to balance the budget in four years. I mean, I stood on that stage eight years ago and heard him say, I'm going to build a big beautiful wall across the entire border and Mexico is going to pay for it. Well, four years later, we got a quarter of a wall and not one peso.


BASH: Kasie, I'll start with you. It was really striking to me to hear Governor DeSantis go there, not on the democracy issue, which Chris Christie also does. But just on the notion of Donald Trump as basically as an incumbent president, obviously, he's not president.

But looking at somebody who has a record in the White House and the things that he didn't do. Clearly, we're going to hear something along those lines from Ron DeSantis tonight, and he hadn't done a lot of that before.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No, you're absolutely right, he had not. But you know, Dana, I got to tell you. I think the question for Ron DeSantis is whether this is just too little too late. I mean, think about what the reaction would have been like, if he had come out of the gate right after he announced he was running for president.


With this strong argument, I mean, there would have been, you know, headline after headline, instead there were just questions about whether and how would he be able to take on Trump, would he not. And I think one of the things that, you know, a lot of these candidates have failed to learn about the Trump years is that it takes a lot to break through when you are trying to run against Donald Trump. And that I think is true for all of these candidates.

And Ron DeSantis had the best shot of anybody to be able to do that. And he has clearly struggled out of the gate. You can see it in the polling, some of the recent polling over the weekend, showed that he dropped nearly 10 points in New Hampshire, turning that race for second place into -- against Trump into an absolute dogfight.

So, you know, when I talk to sources, I think they really think this is Ron DeSantis' last stand here. And I don't know that there's a lot of belief that it's really going to stand out from the pack at this point, especially when you saw Nikki Haley in the last debate, really come out very strong. And she made the exact, I mean, you could have shown a clip of her making this exact same argument about the deficit.

BASH: Yes. She did and she did. And she was -- she stood out in the first debate for that reason. She was about the only one to do that on the substance sort of in her lane, as they like to say. Astead, what are you looking for tonight?

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. I think to you all's point, this is kind of a race to make this a race, right? Like the goal of all those candidates on the stage is to kind of fashion a competitive primary out of something that hasn't been really that competitive at all.

I remember, at the beginning of the year, when we were kind of starting this coming out of the last year's midterms, there was a sense that this would be something that Donald Trump would have to win on the substance, we have to kind of reremind voters why he was the best option. And that's something like Ron DeSantis will be making those substantive arguments.

I think Kasie is really right. DeSantis left that on the table, not only just not doing so when he announced, but then the length of time it took him or two (Ph) for him to announce in the first place, right? There was a time that happened in the middle there, which allowed Donald Trump to look at the narrative. And Republican voters aren't really planning on to. He's trying to make that conservative case against Trump from the right.

But when you talk to conservative voters, they have so many built in excuses for Donald Trump. They'll say, he was stymied by Congress that Democrats tried to block him. But people like Mitch McConnell tried to block them. They have in those excuses. But even when people are trying to make that substantive argument. it's not really landing. They have to find a new way to cut through that.

BASH: And Jackie, when it comes to the candidates who will be on the stage. The only one left Asa Hutchinson did not make the debate stage. He will not be there tonight. So, the only one left, who is going a step further and making the point about Donald Trump being a threat to democracy. His issues aside will be Chris Christie.

You saw the way he was greeted, when he did that in Wisconsin that the first debate with Booz as was Asa Hutchinson. How much is that going to play out tonight? And, you know, talking about the dynamic with regard to Donald Trump not being there and how much he's going to still be there? JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Well, and so, I think one of Chris Christie talked a good game about really coming at Trump. I think it was actually pretty muted in the last debate and you didn't hear the sort of fire that you've heard in other places.

One of the things you haven't seen from a lot of these candidates is, they're talking a lot about themselves, why them but why not Trump? Because they've tried to bring Trump voters closer and not alienate them. So, who can thread that needle tonight? That is open question. And there is room out there to pick up support.

When you look at that CBS poll that you all mentioned earlier. There are voters that are for Trump and someone else. They're not just the, you know, non-Trump voters. I think David that a plurality, are open minded to someone else will give them I mean, whether someone on that stage can give someone to vote, something to vote for, and why you shouldn't vote for former President Trump. That's an open question.

BASH: Yes. Such a good point. Thanks, everybody. Don't go anywhere. We're going to take a quick break. And on the other side, we'll talk about the Senate moving forward with a plan to prevent a government shutdown. Three days from now, that's when it will happen, if there's no action in the United States Congress, and there's no guarantee that the House will be able to pass that the Senate is doing. We're going to give you all the ins and outs after a quick break.