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Tape: Oath Keepers Leader Said Prepare to 'Go in Armed' and 'Fight'; Biden Visits Florida Today as Death Toll Rises, Search Continues; Putin Signs Russian Law Illegally Annexing Ukrainian Regions; Mother Gives Powerful Testimony in Alex Jones Defamation Trial; U.N. Security Council to Discuss North Korean Missile Test; GOP Moves to Contain Herschel Walker Abortion Scandal; CNN Poll: 90% of Adults Say Mental Health is in Crisis in the U.S. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 05, 2022 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A secret recording revealed this morning in the nation's historic sedition trial. It is Wednesday, October 5, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.


The Justice Department releasing tapes played in court during day two of the sedition trial of five members of the Oath Keepers. This comes from one of the group's alleged November 2020 meetings.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Members of the far-right militia were secretly recorded by one of the attendees. They discussed bringing weapons to Washington, D.C., and being prepared to fight on behalf of the former president, Donald Trump.

KEILAR: CNN law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild is here with the very latest on this -- Whitney.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it was a bombshell moment very early on in the case that both the defense and the Department of Justice agree is one of the most important cases in decades.


WILD (voice-over): A new recording released by the Department of Justice of an alleged November 2020 planning meeting of the far-right militia group, the Oath Keepers.

STEWART RHODES, LEADER OF OATH KEEPERS: You got to be willing to go to D.C. and street fight Antifa. And you got to get them to street fight. Cause they're going to try to attack people. Don't be afraid, you know. Go there in large numbers. That's why we need to be there.

WILD (voice-over): Federal prosecutors played the secretly-recorded audio during the second day of the trial of five associates of the Oath Keepers facing seditious conspiracy charges. All five defendants have pleaded not guilty. This is the first major piece of evidence presented at the trial that

prosecutors have used to support their allegation the group planned to descend on Washington to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

RHODES: If the fight comes, let the fight come. Let Antifa go -- if they go kinetic on us, then we'll go kinetic back on them. I'm willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let the fight start there, OK? Give President Trump what he needs, frankly. If things go kinetic, good. If they throw bombs up and shoot us, great. Because that brings the president his reason and rationale for dropping the Insurrection Act.

MIKE GERMAN, FORMER FBI AGENT: One of the things you have to prove in a conspiracy case is that there's an agreement to commit a future crime. And this tape actually is that agreement occurring in real time, as it's happening. So it's very powerful evidence.

WILD (voice-over): In his second day on the stand, the prosecution's first witness, FBI agent Michael Palian, confirming the authenticity of the audio Tuesday, testifying the meeting lasted two hours and was secretly recorded by an attendee.

Palian confirmed during cross-examination that the audio does not state January 6th as the date the group wanted to go to Washington, but instead was referencing a march in November 2020 that saw no violence.

The audio predominantly features Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who advocates for pressure on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and tells members they should be prepared to fight.

RHODES: We're not getting out of this without a fight. There's going to be a fight. But let's just do it smart, and let's do it while President Trump is still commander in chief. Let's try to get him to do his duty, and step up and do it. So that's why you guys got to have discipline. Don't make it easy for them to pop you with a conspiracy charge.

WILD (voice-over): Also on the recording is Kelly Meggs, discussing what weapons are legal in Washington D.C.

KELLY MEGGS, OATH KEEPER: Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal. And stun guns are legal. And it doesn't hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it.

WILD (voice-over): Palian testified the person who recorded the meeting sent the tip to the FBI later in 2020, but was not contacted by agents. The person resubmitted the tip in March 2021, and it was then investigated.

One defendant in the case, Thomas Caldwell, says he was not an active member of the group. Palian testified that he was, quote, "part of the group," even if he did not formally pay dues. Caldwell spoke outside the courthouse.

THOMAS CALDWELL, ON TRIAL FOR SEDITIOUS CONSPIRACY: It went well. It went well. There's a -- there's a long way to go, and the truth is going to come out. The truth is going to come out. And I have faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, it's going to be fine.


WILD: The defense is contending that what the audio actually shows is that these people were taking great pains to try to work within the law, Brianna. That is a theme that you'll see quite a bit throughout this trial.

KEILAR: Yes, I think we will. Whitney, thank you so much for that report.

BERMAN: So this morning, President Biden and the first lady are set to travel to hard-hit Fort Myers, Florida, to offer support in the wake of Hurricane Ian. The hurricane has now claimed 109 lives so far.

The president will speak with home and business owners who have been pretty much wiped out by the storm. The president is also set to meet with Republican governor Ron DeSantis today.

CNN's Boris Sanchez, standing by live in Fort Myers. Boris, what do we expect?


President Biden is expected to keep a tight schedule when he arrives here in Southwest Florida shortly before 1 p.m. The president first is set to take a helicopter tour of some of the most devastated areas in the region before sitting down with federal, local, and state officials to discuss the recovery efforts, including Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis.

Those two, obviously, have had a difficult political history, lobbing attacks back and forth over a number of issues.

The president is then set to hear from local business owners, as well as residents about their needs and the difficulty of recovering amid a slow and devastating storm that hit them.


Then the president will deliver some remarks affirming his support for Florida before departing back to the nation's capital shortly after 5 p.m., John.

BERMAN: You mentioned the political differences between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and President Biden, obviously a Democrat. What's the White House saying about this meeting?

SANCHEZ: Yes, John. These two have collaborated before, amid heartbreak here in the Sunshine State. So expecting fireworks today? Not likely.

We've seen Governor DeSantis welcome President Biden previously to Florida, following the Surfside condo collapse and that tragedy. The two of them collaborating on that. Yesterday we heard Governor DeSantis thanking the administration for expediting federal funds to help folks here in this region. President Biden had previously said that it's important for Americans to set aside their political differences at times of heartbreak.

So we're not anticipating any public awkwardness between the two of them, but behind closed doors who knows what that conversation is like -- John.

BERMAN: That's a great point. Boris, you're doing great work down there. Thank you so much.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signing new laws, claiming to annex four Ukrainian regions. This after what the U.S. called sham referenda there.

And all while the Ukrainians retake territory in these very areas. Ukrainian forces broke through some Russian defenses in the South, liberating more every day.

Frederik Pleitgen in Kyiv for us, tracking the latest developments. Fred, the Ukrainian military continues to make progress.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly are making a lot -- a lot of progress, actually, over the past couple of hours.

If you look at the East of the country, you look at the South of the country, as well, the Ukrainians really are eating into that territory that had been held by Russian soldiers for a very long time.

If you look in the East especially, John, the area around Lyman, which obviously is one of those strategic towns, a logistical hub, it was for the Russian military. That's not only been taken by the Ukrainians but they've managed to advance well beyond that, as well. And they continue to do so.

So that obviously leaves a big problem for Vladimir Putin. You were just alluding to the fact that he has now signed that decree, essentially annexing those four areas.

He's also installed temporary heads of those areas, which actually have already been in place before.

But the big problem the Russians have right now is that they're essentially claiming that the Ukrainian military is on territory that they now consider to be territory of Russia.

And the huge issue that the Russians have with that, is that right now it seems that they're in no position to try and take that territory. In fact, it's the Ukrainians that are making headway.

And if you look at some of the statements that have been coming from the Ukrainian side over the past couple of hours, they've been saying that these annexations means absolutely nothing. Obviously, in international law, there's pretty much no country that has recognized this.

And the Ukrainians are also saying they plan to take back all of their territory, including Crimea, as well, John.

BERMAN: What's going on in the South, near Kherson, which is a region the Russians have held, the most significant region the Russians have held since the beginning there, where the Ukrainians, again, are making some progress?

PLEITGEN: I would say -- first of all, I would say you're absolutely right. It is definitely one of the most significant regions that the Russians have held.

In fact, the capital of that region, Kherson, which is also called Kherson, that is a really important population center, was also one of the first places that the Russians managed to enter when they began their invasion in February.

And, you know looking especially at late last evening, the Ukrainians apparently have been making some sweeping gains in that area moving from the north, taking town after town, village after village.

I think the Ukrainians themselves were surprised at the headway that they've been able to make.

What we've also been doing, John, is we've also been watching state TV in Russia. And they are now also acknowledging that things are going very difficult for them on the battlefield, especially there in the South. They're calling all of this a regrouping, but again, they also say unclear when they might be able to strike back. Certainly, it seems right now they're in no position to do that, John.

BERMAN: Truly notable and fascinating, when Russian state TV starts tot admit losing ground in key areas like Kherson. So Fred, I know you'll be watching this very closely today. Thank you very much.

KEILAR: The mother of a 6-year-old killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School testified Tuesday on what she's endured as a result of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' coverage of the shooting.

She says even while attending a grief meeting of mothers whose children were murdered by gun violence, one woman didn't believe her son's killing was real.


FRANCINE WHEELER, SON WAS KILLED IN SANDY HOOK MASSACRE: She looked at my necklace, and I have a picture of Ben. I have Ben's ashes in a treble clef, and I have this picture.

And she said, "Who's that?"

And I said, "That's my son, Ben. He died in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook School."


And she said, "What?"

I said, "Yes, he died at Sandy Hook."

And she said, "You're lying. That didn't happen."

And I said, "It did happen."

She said, "But they said it didn't happen. They said it was all a lie."

And I said, "Who said?"

She said, "They said."

And I said, "No. It happened. It really happened."


KEILAR: Alex Jones is no longer expected to retake the stand and testify in his defamation trial today.

Joining us now is CNN correspondent Jean Casarez. I mean, what a moment for her to endure, Jean.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was watching the testimony. It was amazing when she said that.

You know, as each and every parent takes the stand, legally it's called foundation, but they talk about their backgrounds, how they were raised, their dreams, their goals, their aspirations, what they achieved.

And Francine Wheeler testified that, as a little girl, she loved to sing. And she was a vocalist. And she kept going. She kept singing. And when she finally became an adult, she moved to New York City. She got a job as a singing waitress.

And then she went into musical theatre, and for 20 years it was her passion.

Once she got married, once there was the massacre, she didn't want to know about this Alex Jones, and that it was a hoax and a fraud. She didn't want to hear about it.

But one night she couldn't sleep, and so she watched, she testified, each and every video of Alex Jones. She said that passion, that career that she'd for so long was completely turned around. Take a listen.


WHEELER: They took my videos and my work of 20 years, and they doctored them, and they made fun of them. And they said, Look, see, she's an actor. And they took -- they took my identity. They took my husband's

identity. They took my surviving child's identity, who was hiding in the gym.


CASAREZ: In the gym closet. He hid there, Brianna, and that's how they believe he survived.

KEILAR: And there was -- I mean, that -- she testified, as well, about how Jones' lies affected her other son.

CASAREZ: That's right. He's in college now, but he wants to be anonymous. He doesn't really want to reveal his identity at all. She says he's been damaged. Take a listen.


WHEELER: Nate suffers from severe anxiety and other ailments. Partly due to his trauma.

I worry that he's never really going to know how to really trust the world. And that's really sad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being told that his brother wasn't real.

WHEELER: His best friend wasn't real. His best friend who was killed wasn't real. His best friend that he heard get killed wasn't real. That is -- that's devastating. I'm worried for him.


CASAREZ: I have to tell you this also. After lunch yesterday, this is an example of creative lawyering -- one of the fathers was on the, stand and the question to him by the plaintiffs' attorney was, During lunch where were you?

"I was upstairs."

"What were you doing?"

"I looked out the window, and I saw a press conference with Alex Jones."

And then the question, "Minutes before that, your wife was testifying about the pain and the anguish that she had gone through with all of this. Did you see Alex Jones in this courtroom minutes before?"

"No, he wasn't there" -- Brianna, John.

KEILAR: We know what these families have gone through, Jean. I mean, we know it. But to hear them in their own words is just -- it is devastating --


KEILAR: -- even just to listen to it. Jean, thank you so much.

CASAREZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: Happening today, the U.N. Security Council set to meet after North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile, causing alarm in Japan as it soared over that country. In response, the U.S. and South Korea launched four missiles off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.




CNN's Alex Marquardt is live at the Pentagon with the very latest. Alex, this meeting today at the U.N., what do you expect from that?


This meeting was called by the United States with the support of several allies. It's due to take place this afternoon.

We do expect to hear widespread condemnation of this ballistic missile test, though likely not unanimous condemnation, because China and Russia are also on the Security Council.

Now this test that North Korea conducted, in clear violation of the U.N. Security Council, it is the longest range test that we've ever seen out of North Korea, that rocket flying almost 3,000 miles, or some 4,600 kilometers.


It's the 23rd missile test just this year by North Korea.

Here's what the White House's John Kirby had to say. Take a listen.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION: We made it clear to Kim Jong-un, we're willing to sit down with no preconditions. We want to see the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He hasn't shown an inclination to move in that direction. In fact, quite frankly, he's moving in the opposite direction by continuing to conduct these -- these missile tests, which are violations of Security Council resolutions.


MARQUARDT: So John, not much optimism for denuclearization. In fact, some analyst expect that we could see a nuclear test in the near future.

So we do expect anger today at the U.N., though not clear whether any concrete action will be taken, John. BERMAN: So if North Korea keeps doing this, Alex, I mean, the United

States and South Korea launched these missiles off the Korean Peninsula today. How does the U.S. handle this?

MARQUARDT: Well, what the U.S. is keen to show right now two things displays of unity and displays of ability. And that's what we've been seeing over the past 24 hours.

We have seen that unity between South Korea, Japan, and the United States. The U.S. and Japan carrying out joint drills with fighter jets in the air. And then on the ground, South Korea and the U.S. launching long-range rockets, including four rockets that are known as ATACMS. They fly some 200 miles, or 300 kilometers.

The U.S. keen to show that the U.S. can strike and precisely, where North Korea is launching these rockets from. So a real ratcheting up of the tension around the Korean Peninsula, John.

BERMAN: Alex Marquardt at the Pentagon. Great to have you this morning. Thanks so much, Alex.

And we will speak to former U.S. defense secretary, Mark Esper, on what this all means ahead.

So the alleged abortion scandal surrounding Herschel Walker now has the Republican Party scrambling to contain the fallout. We have new CNN reporting ahead.

KEILAR: And America's national debt topping $31 trillion. That's an all-time high. We're going to break down the grim financial milestone.

Plus, nine out of ten Americans agree the U.S. is facing a mental health crisis. The issue that topped the list.



KEILAR: Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker and his campaign are scrambling to contain the fallout from a new report alleging that in 2009 the hardline anti-abortion candidate paid for his then-girlfriend to have an abortion.

Walker is denying the allegations. One person close to his campaign said, "Once we have more of the facts, we can go about our jobs and go win this thing."

Joining me now is CNN reporter Gabby Orr. Gabby, what is the latest here from the campaign?

GABBY ORR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the campaign has gone silent since Monday evening, when they first put out that initial denial that this happened. And at that time, they had threatened to sue "The Daily Beast," which was the first to report this story, for defamation by Tuesday morning, which they still have not done. We do know, based on what sources told me yesterday, that some of the senior campaign officials planned to have a frank conversation with Herschel Walker yesterday afternoon. The goal of that conversation was basically to determine, was there a relationship with this unidentified woman? If so, what was the nature of that, and how can we move forward from here?

So as they're plotting their next steps as a campaign in turmoil at this point, they -- they wanted to sit down with the candidate.

We also know that campaign aides yesterday were making frantic calls to state legislators, to GOP officials across the state, even to their grassroots volunteers, just to determine whether there had been some loss of support, based on the story that broke.

So that's where the campaign is as of this morning. Radio silent, we don't know what Herschel Walker's schedule looks like, when he's going to hit the campaign trail next. And he did avoid questions yesterday from CNN's Manu Raju, who is down on the ground in Florida, trying to get into a campaign event to ask him about this story. The campaign would not let Manu in.

KEILAR: Has there been any loss of support? I mean, how are Republicans, for instance, on Capitol Hill reacting to this?

ORR: Look, the Senate is at stake this election cycle, and so Republicans are standing by Herschel Walker. That's their primary goal: winning back the Senate, and the path to do so is partly through Georgia.

And so the NRSC, the -- the Senate leadership fund, the group aligned with Mitch McConnell, have all come out with statements saying that he has denied the allegations, and they are sticking by him.

I also spoke with a source at the NRSC yesterday, who said that they're not going to reconsider this $8.5 million joint ad buy that they had set aside with the Walker campaign between now and election day.

So they're maintaining their investments in this race. They are saying that he has sort of adequately met their threshold, which is to deny these allegations; and they're moving on.

And it's also worth noting, Brianna, that President Trump -- former President Trump came to Walker's defense yesterday, as well. Walker was essentially a hand-picked candidate by Donald Trump, much to the frustration of a lot of Republicans, who said from the get-go he was vulnerable and had -- might have issues with electability. But Trump came to his defense yesterday.

KEILAR: All right. So much ahead in this story, I think. Gabby, thank you.

A new poll reveals that nearly all Americans agree the nation is facing a mental health crisis. We have Dr. Tara Narula joining us next. BERMAN: Former President Trump urging the Supreme Court to intervene

in the review of his Mar-a-Lago case involving classified documents. Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court justice, it's all before him right now.


BERMAN: A new poll conducted by CNN, in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, finds that nine out of ten people believe there is a mental health crisis in the United States.

With me now is CNN medical correspondent Dr. Tara Narula. Dr. Narula, what are people pointing at when they say there's a mental health crisis?

DR. TARA NARULA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The numbers are not great. And what a better time to get a snapshot of how Americans are feeling than now, after we're coming off of COVID, where we're seeing record levels of drug overdoses and we have increasing suicide rates.

So the Americans that they polled, about 2,000 over the summer, identified a couple things as crises. Over two-thirds identified the opioid epidemic. About 50 percent, mental health problems in kids or teens or severe mental illness in adults.

Another 45 percent highlighted anxiety and depression. And then get this: about 38 percent pointed to stress and anxiety over politics; and about 25 percent pointed to loneliness. And just overall, about one in three noted some anxiety in the prior year.