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Delaware Prepares for Migrants; Jones Calls Judge a Tyrant; New Book on McConnell and Trump's Impeachment. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 21, 2022 - 06:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Turning now to Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis slapped with a class action lawsuit for flying roughly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard without shelter or resources planned. That suit, filed on behalf of advocacy group Allianz Americas (ph) and other migrants, says DeSantis and other officials defrauded vulnerable immigrants to advance a political agenda.

Meantime, chaos erupting on Tuesday after reports of a plane full of migrants scheduled to leave Texas and stop in Florida before ultimately landing in President Biden's home state of Delaware. State officials and volunteers scrambled to prepare for the possibility of migrants arriving in Georgetown unannounced.

Let's get to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez, who is live in Georgetown, Delaware, for us this morning with the very latest.

So, what happened in the end?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Erica, volunteers and state officials descended on the airport behind me just yesterday, ready to support migrants who might arrive in what some are calling a political stunt by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.


ALVAREZ (voice over): One week after nearly 50 migrants were flown from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, a legal group has filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of the migrants and a non-profit migrant advocacy network.

The lawsuit names Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida Department of Transportation and others as defendants, saying they designed and executed a premed, fraudulent and illegal scheme by allegedly recruiting the migrants from a facility in Texas with false promises of jobs, housing and other assistance.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They were hungry, homeless. They had no - no opportunity at all. The state of Florida - it was volunteer -- offered transport to sanctuary jurisdictions. ALVAREZ: DeSantis responded to the suit in a statement, taking aim at

the Biden administration's border policies and saying that the migrants left on a voluntary basis. The local sheriff in San Antonio says his office is opening a criminal investigation into the matter.

Without notifying officials, several Republican governors have sent migrants to more liberal jurisdictions they call sanctuaries in recent weeks. And, early Tuesday, it was officials in Delaware scrambling after reports of an incoming flight from Texas.

SHERIFF JAVIER SALAZAR (D), BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: We had word this morning that there was going to be a flight leaving -- arriving to San Antonio and then leaving with a plane load of migrants towards Delaware. But my understanding is, at the last minute, we received word that that flight was postponed.

ALVAREZ: Though the flight never arrived, officials in Delaware said they were prepared just in case.

: We've seen the same reports that you have seen and we have made those preparations and we are ready.

ALVAREZ: President Joe Biden's home state has been mentioned by Florida's governor in the past.

DESANTIS: We're happy to help out in any of that when we can, including not just sending New York and D.C., you need to be sending to Delaware as well.

ALVAREZ: When asked about any plan to send migrants to Delaware, Biden sent DeSantis a clear invitation.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.

ALVAREZ: Amid the back and forth, some Republicans support the idea of sending migrants to blue states.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I personally thought it was a good idea. But if you add it up, all of the illegals who have been taken to Chicago or Washington or Martha's Vineyard, it would be fewer than people down in Texas have to deal with on a daily basis.


ALVAREZ: And, Erica, it's not just Florida. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is sending migrants to D.C., New York City and Chicago on buses. And Arizona governor sending only migrants to D.C. All of them defending their actions.


HILL: We will keep watching all of it.

Pricilla Alvarez, appreciate it. Thank you.

A critical test this morning to determine when NASA's Artemis moon rocket will be ready for liftoff.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Alex Jones expected to testify today at his Sandy Hook damages trial. The conspiracy theorist slamming the judge and the trial itself before taking the stand.



BERMAN: This morning, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones expected to be called to the stand in his defamation trial to determine how much he owes for spreading the lie that the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax. Jones called the judge a tyrant for ordering him to enter a guilty plea.

CNN's Jean Casarez has been following this and joins us now.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, and, ironically, there was an extremely important witness yesterday for the plaintiffs. But Alex Jones, he arrived at the courthouse, he looked directly at the cameras, zeroed in and spoke directly to the judge.


ALEX JONES, HOST, INFOWARS: This is a travesty of justice, and this judge is a tyrant.

CASAREZ: Alex Jones speaking outside a Connecticut courthouse Tuesday saying he wasn't lying when he called the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax.

JONES: I was not wrong about Sandy Hook on purpose. I questioned it. Just like Jussie Smollett, just like WMDs in Iraq, just like Gulf of Tonkin (ph).

CASAREZ: Judge Barbara Bellis previously found that Jones, along with his company, Free Speech Systems, did not comply with discovery orders and were liable for defaming the 15 plaintiffs in the case. She has ruled he cannot now testify he is not libel.

JONES: She's now ordered me to not say I'm innocent and ordered me to say that I have not profited from Sandy Hook. That's ordering me to perjure myself.

CASAREZ: Jones' comments outside court came on day five of the damages trial to determine how much money Jones and Free Speech Systems will have to pay the plaintiffs for baselessly saying the shooting was a hoax.


The attorney for the plaintiffs introduced testimony from counterterrorism social media expert Clinton Watts. Watts' analytics team reviewed Jones' content and the business model for product sales on several platforms.

JONES: I said they are launching attacks, they're getting ready. I can see them warming up with Obama. They've got a bigger majority in the Congress now and the Senate. They are going to come after our guns. Look for mass shootings. And then magically it happens. They are coming, they are coming, they are coming.

CLINTON WATTS, COUNTERTERRORISM SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERT: It's fear over loss of weapons, which he uses as the justification. He stokes anger by repeating that it was some sort of a plot. And he uses demonization by picking the target for his message, as in what the perpetrators or existential threat to what they are behind.

CASAREZ: According to Watts' expertise in the field, demonization is a huge factor in garnering trust in a huge audience.

WATTS: If you demonize an individual under false pretenses, for example, if you say that they're acting or that an event didn't really occur, you anger them, that they have been betrayed. This is under false pretenses, but it makes the audience angry. And then you strike fear in them that it's an existential threat.

CASAREZ: Watts testified that between 2012 and 2018 Alex Jones' Sandy Hook lies had a huge presence on social media.

WATTS: Adding together YouTube, Twitter and the Facebook calculation together, just related to lies about Sandy Hook, the minimum audience that we could measure was 550 million.


CASAREZ: And we cannot forget the family members of the victims. They are in that courtroom. They have to relive this day after day because it's very important for damages purposes for the plaintiffs to establish the intent of Alex Jones, the motive of Alex Jones, and that these families were defamed, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unjust enrichment, unfair trade practices because of all the money that he made.

Now, another thing, the judge, in part, is going to determine the damages in this case. Yes, there's a jury, but there's part that is the responsibility of the judge.

BERMAN: The judge, whom he called a tyrant?


BERMAN: So, there's that.


BERMAN: Jean Casarez, thank you very much.

A new book gets the behind the scenes stories of the impeachments of Donald Trump. How close did Mitch McConnell come to convicting the former president? HILL: And, caught on camera. Dramatic video shows the moment a woman

-- look at that -- cheats death in the streets of New York. A crane falls on her car. We have more about the aftermath ahead.



BERMAN: A new book set to be released next month details how close Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got to convicting - to voting to convict former President Trump in his second impeachment trial. The book is called "Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress' Botched Impeachment of Trump." And the book sheds light on how party leaders on both sides of the aisle prioritized their political interests and ultimately failed to hold the former president accountable.

HILL: In an excerpt released just minutes ago, the authors discussed the discussion Senate leader - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wrestled with, writing, since the harrowing events of January 6th, the Senate GOP leader had been all but certain that his party was finally going to shun Trump. A development he'd welcomed with a sense of relief. The former president, he was sure, had done impeachable acts and posed a toxic danger to democracy. But while McConnell was ready to be done with Trump, his party, it seemed, was not.

BERMAN: With us now, the authors of the book, CNN political analyst Rachael Bade, and "Washington Post" Pentagon correspondent Karoun Demirjian. Our friends.

Nice to see both of you and congratulations on the upcoming book.

There's this image of Mitch McConnell as this puppet master, always pulling all the strings, always being many steps ahead of everyone else. And I just got finished reading the excerpt that you guys wrote this morning and it seems, in this case, in one of the most important moments of his career, he wasn't the puppet master, he may have been the puppet. He was having his strings pulled. Explain.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, he basically got sandbagged by his own members. There's sort of this narrative out there that Republicans were never going to convict Trump, that McConnell would never take that vote. But our reporting indicates in this book that he was very close.

After January 6th happened, he was furious with Trump. He came back to his office from his evacuation site and saw all the damage to the Capitol and told his aides specifically that Trump -- we all knew Trump was crazy. I am never going to speak to him again.

And he thought there would be enough Republicans to convict Trump. But then they started to coalesce around this argument about constitutionality, that you can't impeach a former president, which Trump would have been a former president. And McConnell really wrestled with this question, we found. He debated with his counsel, why would the framers put something like that in the Constitution if they want to limit it to only a current office holder. And then ultimately, he was sort of forced into taking a position when one of his members, Rand Paul of Kentucky, forced a vote on this issue before he had even decided whether he agreed with this argument. And so that's -- he ended up taking -- siding with Republicans and not taking the jump.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, AUTHOR, "UNCHECKED": And you point out how, you know, the question of leading versus following, the puppet master versus the puppet. I mean you see in this excerpt, the number of times that Mitch McConnell reached out to Liz Cheney, reached out to Lindsey Graham, reached out to his council, what should I do, what should I - what should I do. And when people were looking to him for what are you going to do because that will help us, and that's what the rank and file does with a leader, he was nowhere to be found and was not giving any sort of pointers for where his party should go. So, it's the leader who wasn't leading in this moment as he was wrestling with his own decision of whether or not to buck Trump or not, even though it's clear that he really was inclined to do so if he had followed his gut.


HILL: And it is fascinating that behind the scenes, the conversations that you lay out with both Lindsey Graham and with Liz Cheney as they're both trying to pull their - pull the strings of Mitch McConnell on their own. In terms of him giving direction, he ultimately says, you need to vote with your conscience, which it appears that Mitch McConnell didn't do. It was more a vote, as you've all pointed out, of politics.

BADE: Yes, I mean, it's interesting because in his final floor speech when he decides he's going to acquit Trump and not vote to convict, he specifically cites this constitutionality argument about not being able to impeach a former president. But, clearly, he had his own problems with that.

And you bring up Liz Cheney. I mean he and Liz Cheney talked about how - how best can we turn the party away from Trump. And Cheney encouraged him to bring the Senate back quickly, impeach and convict Trump quickly and step out, use your leadership position to give Republicans cover to do that vote that's going to be politically toxic. And he said to her, I agree with you that Trump is a danger to democracy, but let's just ignore him. He started to worry that if they were to convict Trump, that that actually might empower him more and he would become sort of a martyr and come back.

DEMIRJIAN: It says in the excerpt that Mitch McConnell considered this constitutional argument an off ramp. I mean that says by itself, that's not your conscience talking. That's looking for a way out of a difficult situation.

And it's difficult in these sorts of situations for Republicans to follow their guts, to follow their conscience, to buck a very powerful figure like Trump. And McConnell, in his own estimation, thought of this as something that would get him out of that predicament.

BERMAN: Look, Trump drove down that off ramp and is still riding on the highway right now. BADE: Yes.


BERMAN: Mitch McConnell, really, according to this excerpt, really didn't want Trump to be able to run for president again. However, he was getting some legal advice that even if the Senate had convicted and then said you can't run again, it may not have held up. Explain.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, there was this presumption that basically, you know, that maybe that somebody would challenge it in court and it would take a very long time, or as Rachael cited before, that if Trump looked like a martyr in the eyes of the party and it still didn't work, that it would maybe, like, be the wind at his back and beneath his wings to have a resurgence.

And there was this assumption I think by a lot of people that, maybe if we can just get him out of office and get to the end of his presidency, he'll just go away and we can turn the corner because we can somehow steer the party in a different direction. But as we've all witnessed, that's not how history bore out. That's not what all these members of Congress did. And that's definitely not what former President Trump did either. He's in no way inclined to just disappear gracefully into the shadows because he's not in the White House Oval Office anymore.

BADE: Yes, no, I totally agree.

I do think it's interesting that even after they took this vote, this just shows you how close McConnell was. Even after he sort of went on the floor and took this vote saying the trial was not constitutional, you cannot impeach a former president, he still grappled with this. I mean he continued to debate with his staff. You know, now that the Senate has spoken and said, OK, Democrats said this trial is constitutional, should I change my position? Should I take the plunge? And they even laid out arguments for both sides in terms of putting together his final floor speech. If he were to convict, these are the arguments he would say. But, ultimately, he didn't have the courage to do it. So.

BERMAN: Rachael, Karoun, I can't wait to read the whole book, if it's anything like the excerpts that we got our hands on this morning. Thank you so much. And, again, congratulations.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you.

BADE: Thank you.

BERMAN: So, Jimmy Kimmel out with a big announcement about his future. Why he says he's looking forward to quiet quitting.

HILL: It's so trendy.

Plus, Americans bracing for another interest rate hike. What does it really mean for you and your money?




STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Joe Biden made big news on the "60 Minutes" this weekend when he maybe kind of prematurely declared that the pandemic is over, which marks the first time that Joe Biden has ever moved too fast. Let's go. Come on. Pa- ching (ph). Who's with me?

JAMES CORDEN, HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN": Biden will be in New York on the last night of Harry Styles' Madison Square Garden residency to address the U.N. Um-hum. Yes. Sure. I bet during his speech Biden will be like, regarding our relationship with Vladimir Putin -

CORDEN (singing): You know it's not the same as it was.

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Former President Trump has reportedly said that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stole his idea to send migrants to different states, also his idea of standing like it's your first time.


HILL: That was funny.

BERMAN: Yes, I don't know - I have no comment on that.

HILL: I don't know what to say. I'm just going to laugh because it was actually funny.

BERMAN: Exactly.

HILL: While we're laughing, Jimmy Kimmel, hoping to keep you laughing for a little bit longer. He's going to stay awake with you for three more years. Not with us because, you know, there's sleeping involved. But signing a new contract with ABC as host and executive producer of "Jimmy Kimmel Live." In a statement he said, after two decades at ABC, I'm now looking forward to three years of what they call quiet quitting. Kimmel holds the all-time record as ABC's longest running late night talk show host. Come January, the show enters its 20th season.

For a little context, there you go. Stephen Colbert started hosting "The Colbert Report" 17 years ago. Then he replaced David Letterman in 2015 at "The Late Show." John Oliver began guest hosting "The Dailly Show" in 2013. Now entering his 9th season as host of "Last Week Tonight." Seth Meyers took over "Late Night" in 2014 when Jimmy Fallon became the host of "The Tonight Show." And in 2015, James Corden began hosting "The Late Late Show" and Trevor Noah, "The Daily Show."

BERMAN: You know, Ted Koppel, I think, actually holds the record for longest running late-night host at ABC.


HILL: Really?

BERMAN: And let's hear it for "Nightline." A little shout-out for news in the late night.

HILL: There we go.