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Midterm Elections; Trump Organization Tax Fraud; Ukraine Accused Of Planning To Use Dirty Bomb; New Respiratory Virus Called RSV; Economy And Abortion In The Midterm Elections. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired October 24, 2022 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Democrat John Fetterman is locked in a close, contentious race with Mehmet Oz. And tonight in Florida, governor Ron DeSantis holds his only televised debate with challenger Charlie Crist to victory for DeSantis could launch a bid for the White House. This morning, Bernie Sanders is warning his party, actually, he's an independent, he's warning Democrats to focus more on the economy and less on abortion rights. Nancy Pelosi is pushing back arguing why not both? And in Arizona, Trump backed election denier Kari Lake is still attempting to sow doubts about the integrity of the voting system in her race for governor.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Are you confident that this election cycle in Arizona will be a fair election?

KARI LAKE: I wish I could sit here and say yes, but I'm not. I wish I could sit here and say I have complete faith in the system. I don't have faith in the system.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right, let's go now to Atlanta and bring in CNN national politics reporter Eva McKend with the very latest on the races we're watching there in Georgia. Good morning, Eva.

EVA MCKEND: Good morning, Brianna. Another busy weekend on the campaign trail, with candidates making their case to voters just two weeks before votes are tallied. Midterm campaigns entering their final stage, with early voting underway in several key states. Georgia's Secretary of State released early voting figures Sunday. Over 7,400 Georgians have cast their ballots in person so far, 300,000 more than at this point during the 2018 midterms.

Over in Arizona, two armed men dressed in tactical gear were spotted at a ballot dropbox in Maricopa County, which left election officials concerned. The sheriff's office responded, and the two men left the scene. With early voting already in progress, prominent progressives like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders worried the party's economic message not strong enough.

BERNIE SANDERS: I am worried about the level of voter turnout among young people and working people who will be voting Democratic. And I think again, what Democrats have got to do is contrast their economic plan with the Republicans. What are the Republicans talking about? They want to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid at a time when millions of seniors are struggling to pay their bills. Do you think that's what we shouldn't be doing?

MCKEND: President Joe Biden, for his part, criticizing the Republicans economic plan head on.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mega, mega trickle down. Mega, mega, trickle down. The kind of policies that have failed the country before, and it will fail it again.

MCKEND: Still, some Republicans feel the momentum is in their favor, given inflation and rising gas prices.

MIKE LEE: We've brought in over $4 trillion into the federal government's conference last year. We spent nearly seven. That is literally what causes inflation. We've got a Democratic Congress that rubber stamps everything Joe Biden does, and he wants more spending that results in inflation.

MCKEND: Democrats ramping up their campaigning in the final two weeks with the help of former President Barack Obama. The key Democratic surrogate has already been featured in a series of digital and radio ads in key battleground states. He will hit the campaign trail later this week with his first stop in Georgia, where a nailbiting Senate race between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker could determine control of the Senate. Georgia is one of seven battleground Senate seats up for grabs. Over in Pennsylvania Tuesday, Republican Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman will debate for the first and only time since Fetterman suffered a stroke earlier this year. Both parties laserfocused on these races.

ROY BLUNT: Just one or two seats need to change and suddenly your side is in charge.

MCKEND: Now, as both parties try to land on the winning issue they want to focus on, it seems like Democrats are going to face a steeper challenge because when I speak to Republican voters, they almost always say their top issue is inflation and the economy. But when you speak to Democratic voters, it's a range of issues that they name as their number one. Whether it's reproductive access, climate change, gun violence, and then some say the economy as well. The pitch the Democrats have to make, it seems here, is much broader. Brianna?

KEILAR: It certainly is. Eva McKend live for us in Atlanta. Thank you.

BERMAN: In just a few hours, jury selection begins in a criminal tax fraud trial involving the Trump Organization. The company is accused of an off the books compensation scheme for executives to evade payroll taxes. The former CFO is cooperating with prosecutors. seeing as Kara Scannell is covering this case and joins us now. Lay out what we're going to see here.

KARA SCANNELL: Right. So we begin today with jury selection. The judge will bring in hundreds of Manhattan residents and begin the screening process to narrow down until they can get 12 jurors and alternates, people who are impartial can hear this case.

You know, the backstory here is the Trump Organization was charged with nine felony counts. This is all related to this off the books compensation scheme. And just in the last several weeks, there were some plea negotiations according to sources. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office had wanted the Trump Organization to plead guilty to felonies. The Trump Organization attorneys wanted to plead guilty to misdemeanors.

And the former president, according to sources, didn't want his company to plead guilty at all because he doesn't think they've done anything wrong. He's also, according to sources, concerned about the political impact of actually pleading guilty compared with, say, maybe potentially being convicted at trial. Different things at play there.

So, key thing here, prosecutors will be bringing in a number of current Trump Organization officials who will get this insight into the company and how it works, at least as far as the compensation scheme goes. And one of the key people will be the Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg. He's been with the company for nearly 50 years, and he's on paid leave now.

So, he is cooperating in the sense that he's going to - his lawyer says he's going to answer questions truthfully. He's been meeting with the prosecutors in recent weeks, but also meeting with the Trump Organization attorneys in recent weeks. He will be the insider who can walk the jury through this complicated financial tax type of scheme. And if he testifies truthfully, prosecutors have agreed to this deal where he could serve as little as 100 days in jail. If he doesn't, he could face as many as 15 years in prison. So, a lot at stake for him and also for the company.

BERMAN: So, he's got to be very careful in how he answers. Although he's indicated he's not going to testify against Donald Trump exactly, but the organization, yes. It really is a fine line he's trying to walk here. What's at stake for this company?

SCANNELL: Well, so if the company is convicted under New York state law, the maximum penalty it could face is $1.6 million, which is kind of a drop in the bucket for a company of this size. The unknown question here is what the collateral damage will be. Will it make it harder for the company to get new loans, to engage a new business? Because some businesses, some industries have rules where you can't be in bed with a convicted felon. So that remains to be seen.

The company has managed to raise money through different sources, not through the traditional banking channels. So, it's really unknown at this point if they are convicted what happens. If not, then it will be a talking point for them. They have said that this was a witch hunt, and it's politically motivated.

BERMAN: Three weeks, a month? Is that we're thinking in terms of length of the trial.

SCANNELL: So, the judge said he's going to tell the jury today about four weeks, but also tell them be prepared to be here longer if necessary.

BERMAN: Kara Scannell, I know you'll be covering the whole thing. Thanks so much for being with us.

KEILAR: It appears the House January 6 Committee believes former President Trump will comply with their subpoena. Committee cochair Liz Cheney telling NBC's Meet the Press any Trump testimony will be behind closed doors, and for good reason.


LIZ CHENEY: He's not going to turn this into a circus. This isn't going to be his first debate against Joe Biden and the circus and the food fight that that became. This is far too serious set of issues.


KEILAR: CNN's Katelyn Polantz is with us now. She's saying it's not going to be a circus. At least that's her intention.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, I mean, the House does what they can, and they're going to do what they can to get Donald Trump to sit for testimony here. But if we've learned anything over the last three, four years of this Democrat led House, they don't just snap their fingers and get results, especially when it comes to Trump. So, he's fought a lot of things in court. He's even fought allowing the National Archives to turn over documents, so we could very well see a court fight.

There could be a circus in that regard, but even if he does sit for testimony with the House, there would likely be demands for transparency from the wider public, right? This is about getting him under oath and also getting answers for the American people that Congress can force. But if you look back in history, one of the most secretive things that can happen in getting people under oath is grand jury testimony.

Bill Clinton testified to a grand jury under oath. It wasn't as secretive as that proceeding usually is, even in that sense. And it did play into a large part of what we know publicly and what we see and remember from the Star investigation at that time. It was recorded on video, and you can find it all on YouTube now.

KEILAR: When do we expect that Trump will decide on this?

KATELYN POLANTZ: Well, he's going to have to make some decisions in the coming weeks. November 4 is the deadline for documents to be turned over, and then November 14 is the deadline of that subpoena for testimony. So, we are going to have to see something from his attorneys.

They have told our reporters that they are considering what to do. But one of the things that happens in these investigations with the House is that there's often a lengthy bit of negotiation. Deadlines can shift. So, we're just going to have to wait and see what happens in the coming weeks. Obviously, the House is going to try and enforce what they can as quickly as they can.

KEILAR: Katelyn, as always, thank you for the reporting.

BERMAN: This morning, the United States is dismissing Russia's fears of Ukraine using a so called dirty bomb with a false flag operation. Officials are warning that Russia is trying to use that accusation to escalate its invasion of Ukraine. CNN'S Nic Robertson is live in Kyiv with the latest here. And again, this was a Russian claim that Ukraine is planning to use a dirty bomb. What's the international reaction been?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN'S INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: To tell the Russians that they're getting it wrong. A transparently false accusation is what the joint statement by the foreign ministers of the United States, of France, and the UK. Now, we know that just a couple of days ago, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had a phone call with Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defense Minister. We got a very slender readout from that phone conversation, saying that it was important to keep conversations going.

Really surprisingly, just three days later, you have the defense secretaries of the UK, France, and Lloyd Austin again, and the Turkish Defense Minister all calling and talking to Sergei Shoigu at their own request. So, clearly, something in that first conversation with Lloyd Austin and Sergei Shoigu a few days ago led to a level of concern that we haven't seen before. Russia's accusation that Ukraine might be about to use a dirty bomb. President Zelensky says very simply, and we've seen this before with Russia, that if Russia is making these accusations up now, this can mean only one thing: that Russia itself is potentially preparing to use a dirty bomb. There is no evidence of this presented by either side yet.

A dirty bomb, remember, not as bad as a tactical nuclear device. This would be a bomb that has radioactive components, maybe from medical use, that would disperse radioactive components over the bomb blast area. It is still a dangerous and potentially deadly device, but not at the same scale.

BERMAN: Nic, what's the status of what's happening in Kherson? And this is the key southern city that the Russians have occupied since really the beginning of their invasion. There's some indication that some of the Russian services are now pulling out?

ROBERTSON: Yes, and we've just had this readout from the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency here in Ukraine, and he says that they can see that some of the banks are pulling out. We know that the civil administration has been pulling out, getting itself on the other side of that big strategic river, the Dnipro River, so taking itself further away from the advancing Ukrainian forces. But at the same time, this intelligence chief says they can see, the Ukrainians can see Russia is bringing more troops into Khershon for the fight. The civilians are being forced out. He says that all but the sort of most badly wounded who can't physically get out of the city are being forced out.

So, there's a real level of concern here that while they push the civilians out, clear out the banks of money and cash and take it over the river, that they might stand firm. There's also an assessment, though, that perhaps Russia is just putting in those low-grade conscripts into Khershon and pulling out its better grade fighters.

BERMAN: Something is definitely happening there. Bear [ph] is watching very closely. Nic Robertson, thank you so much for your reporting.

KEILAR: Right now, pediatric hospitals are overwhelmed with cases of yet another respiratory virus called RSV. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now with more. So, how unusual is the rise at this time of the year, and how are pediatric hospitals across the country handling this, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, two unusual things are happening. To see this much RSV at this time of year, that's unusual. And to see numbers like this. Let's take a look at the rise in cases over the past about two months. That is a very steep rise, especially again for this time of year.

So, two records that were broken that you really kind of don't want to break, the week of October 9, 7,000 cases of RSV in the US. That's the worst in two years. 75 percent of pediatric hospital beds are in use. That is high. That means there's not a lot of wiggle room in there. That's why, Brianna, we're seeing hospitals setting up tents sometimes to handle overflow or even treating children in hallways. They put the beds in the hallways, Brianna.

KEILAR: And, look, clearly, the concern with RSV is really the respiratory distress. That's something you want to be on the lookout and get ahead of. So, what should parents be, what should they be focused on?

COHEN: Right. So, what you want to be looking for is a set of symptoms that unfortunately look a lot like other things, too. And I'll get to that in a minute. But fever, decreased appetite, your child just doesn't want to eat, coughing, sneezing, wheezing. I know as a mother of four, I look at that and think, well, all four of my children had some elements of that at some time or another, so, so and I'm sure your kids did, too, Brianna.

So, a couple of things. One, not every child has all of these symptoms, and also, trust your mommy or daddy gut. If your child just seems different, they've been sick before, but this just looks different. That is reason enough to get them to a doctor.

KEILAR: Yeah. So important. Elizabeth, thank you so much. It's such an important time to be informing ourselves on this. There's some new data this morning on the devastating impact of the pandemic on young students.

BERMAN: And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushing back on criticism that Democrats are focusing too much on abortion ahead of the midterms.


PELOSI: Nobody said we're doing abortion rather than economy, but it's about both.




SANDERS: What the Democrats have got to say is we are going to stand with working people. We're prepared to take on the drug companies, we're prepared to take on the insurance companies and create an economy that works for all of us. Is the abortion issue important? Yes. But we have also got to focus on the struggles of working people to put food on their table.


BERMAN: That's Senator Bernie Sanders telling CNN's Jake Tapper that he is still, quote, worried about Democratic turnout in the midterms among young people and working people if Democrats do not redefine their economic message in the final weeks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing back.


PELOSI: Nobody said we're doing abortion rather than economy, but it's about both. And I can tell you that that issue is very, very provocative and encouraging people to vote.


BERMAN: With me now, Senior Political Correspondent at Puck, Tara Palmeri and CNN Senior Political Analyst John Avlon. Now, if you listen very closely to what they're both saying, it's actually kind of the same thing, that we can do both as Democrats, they're saying. But why is Bernie Sanders leaning so hard into this, John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because that's Bernie Sanders' core message over his career.

BERMAN: You mean for, like, the last 50 years.

AVLON: Yeah, exactly right. But I do think it is the thing that Democrats haven't been hitting hard enough to Bernie Sanders' point. Look, the best defense in politics as well as in sports is a good offense. And that's what Bernie Sanders is essentially arguing.

BERMAN: I wasn't going to bring up sports. I wasn't going to bring up sports.

AVLON: I saw what happened to your eyes just then. You got to appreciate Berman could not resist.

BERMAN: I did. I haven't said anything. I haven't said anything about sports.

AVLON: OK, but moving on to the issue at hand. Look, Democrats, and Bernie's saying this is like, look, you got to make a stronger case for middle class economics. That has been a hallmark of not only Bernie Sanders' square, but what Joe Biden has tried to do in the White House and what Democrats can try to do in the House. And they have been leaning into abortion as opposed to the economy. And it's always the economy, stupid. It's always the economy, stupid.

TARA PALMERI, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AT PUCK: Right. I think this is just the curse of the incumbent government. When you are in power and people are unhappy with the state of the economy, the state of their pocket book, they're going to blame the people who are in power, rightly or not. It's a global inflation issue. But Democrats have not been offensive. They've been flatfooted on this, and therefore, they're just not able to provide real answers about what they're going to do to change this. Because if they could do it, I think voters feel like they would be doing it right now.

Republicans, on the other hand, aren't offering any answers either except balance the budget, stop runaway spending. But it's not exactly clear how that's going to change the problem that we have, and I think that's mainly what Bernie Sanders is saying is, come out there, don't make this a referendum on abortion because the Republicans are making this a referendum on the economy, and you are governing.

AVLON: Yeah, but I think actually, I mean, look. One of the points he made that I think, for example, manufacturing. Manufacturing has actually seen a resurgence. Now, whether that impacts people more than inflation, this is one of these quandaries about this economy, where relatively low unemployment, but relatively high inflation but not globally. It's a muddled message for Democrats to make, but they need to make the case that Republicans in control are not going to help middle class and working-class folks more than a Democrat might.

BERMAN: A little bit this sounds like the hammering [ph] and frustration after the 2016 election, where Democrats were frustrated Hillary Clinton didn't make more of an economic message. Instead focused on outrage over Donald Trump. Liz Cheney, who is still a Republican, is talking about what might happen if Donald Trump runs again in 2024. Listen to what she said.

CHENEY: I think that the party has either got to come back from where we are right now, which is a very dangerous and toxic place, or the party will splinter, and there will be a new conservative party that rises. And if Donald Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party, the party will shatter, and there will be a conservative party that rises in its place.

BERMAN: Tara, thinks or hopes?

PALMERI: I think she hopes. I think she sees herself as that splinter, as the standard bearer of the new anti-Trump Republican Party. The question is, are there enough people behind her in the GOP primary electorate that could actually make that happen? I think she's going to be an interesting dynamic during the election if she does run because she will get all of the press.

You've got, like, half a dozen candidates all made by Trump, associated with him historically, and they're not going to be hitting him. And she might be there on the campaign trail, or maybe even on the debate stage, just pummeling him. And she might be the contrast. And who knows? She may end up rising up as the standard bearer [ph]. I don't think she'll still get enough votes to win a primary.

AVLON: Well, there are two things here, right? I mean, one is clearly the possibility that Liz Cheney is running to warn Republicans about Trump. Look, Trump's a lot of things. He's not conservative, and that's her core point.

The other issue is whether there could be a third-party independent conservative challenge, which is kind of along the lines of what we're seeing Evan McMullin mount against Mike Lee pretty effectively. But that's actually about one-party states and actually drawing that contrast really clearly. But I do think it represents the fact that for true old school conservatives, a return of Donald Trump is the opposite of everything they believe. And they're not going to simply appease him as some folks looking to get into power in the short term are willing to do.

BERMAN: You want to say the word splinter, and again, she wasn't focused on this. The Republican Party rules in the primary benefit someone who can get 30, 40 percent, which is Donald Trump. I mean, she may be right that it will splinter, but if it splinters, he may be the beneficiary, which isn't what she was focused on there. John, Tara, thank you both so much for being with us. I did not talk about sports.

AVLON: But you thought of.

BERMAN: But I was off camera smirking.

AVLON: I just thought I'd share it with the viewers.

BERMAN: Thank you both very much.

KEILAR: Thank you.

BERMAN: A new survey out this morning shows concerns over a, quote, further slowing of the economy. What else are economists predicting?

KEILAR: Appalling and unacceptable. Reaction this morning to the historic decline in test scores because of the pandemic.