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Trump Seeks Split From Georgia Co-Defendants After Not Guilty Plea; Doctor Says Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Medically Clear After Freezing Incidents; Significant Hurricane Damage In Florida As Biden Set To Visit; New Video Purports To Show Prigozhin Days Before Plane Crash; Justice Thomas & Alito Files Disclosures After Ethics Uproar. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 31, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Donald Trump is asking to sever his case from his co-defendants in Georgia after pleading not guilty to election subversion charges. Our legal experts are breaking down Trump's strategy and what it could mean for the timing of his trial.
Also tonight, a day after Senator Mitch McConnell froze up in public again, the U.S. Capitol physician now declaring him medically clear for his duties. But will it calm concerns about McConnell's health and his leadership role?
And we're getting an up close look at significant damage in the Big Bend region of Florida, where Hurricane Idalia roared ashore. CNN is on the scene of cleanup and recovery efforts as President Joe Biden is now set to visit the disaster zone.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with new legal maneuvers by Donald Trump's defense as his criminal prosecution in Georgia is now moving forward.
Let's get straight to CNN's Sara Murray. So, Sara, walk us through what happened today, including Trump's request to separate his case.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with Donald Trump entering his not guilty plea officially, saying he is going to waive his arraignment. He now joins about a handful of folks in this sprawling 19-defendant case who have entered their pleas on paper, not guilty pleas. Those include Sidney Powell, Trevian Kutti, Attorney Ray Smith and Attorney Jenna Ellis. So, he's not going to have to show up in this Georgia courtroom on September 6th.
He also made it clear, he wants to sever his case from these other defendants. We have seen a couple of folks in this case, again, Attorney Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell, say that want a speedy trial. Donald Trump's team is making clear they don't want anything to do with this.
Here is what his attorney, Steven Sadow, said in his filing today, respectfully, requiring less than two months preparation time to defend a 98-page indictment charging 19 defendants with 41 various charges, including a RICO conspiracy charge with 161 overt acts would violate President Trump's rights to a fair trial. Sadow also points out he's about to go to trial in September on another issue.
Again, these are all hindrances for District Attorney Fani Willis, who wanted to try all 19 of these defendants together. We're seeing how difficult it is for her to try to approach the case that way.
MARQUARDT: And we're also seeing, Sara, new filings in Mark Meadows' case, his effort to move it from the Georgia state court to federal court. What's the latest on that?
MURRAY: Yes. That's right. So, there was a 5:00 P.M. deadline. Everyone made their deadline. Meadow's team filed. Fulton County district attorney's team files by 5:00 P.M. And, perhaps, unsurprisingly, they see the case differently. Meadows team is saying, look, if he did one thing that was related to his role as White House chief of staff, it's all related to his role as White House chief of staff, and this should move to federal court.
Fani Willis' team is saying he participated in a conspiracy. That entrance into the conspiracy was not part of his role as White House chief of staff. So, the fact that maybe one of the actions he took could have pertained to his chief of staff duties isn't enough to move this to federal court. Essentially, the judge should have what he needs by now. It sets him up to rule on this at any point.
MARQUARDT: All right. Sara, stay with us. I want to bring in our legal experts and start off with what Sara was just talking about.
Laura Coates, Trump now asking for his case to be separated from his co-defendants, those co-defendants, some of them, asking for a speedy trial in this Georgia election interference case. So, how does this judge balance that need to give these defendants time to prepare for trial with Fani Willis' desire? How does this reconcile with her desire to try all 19 of these co-defendants at the same time?
LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Remember when she announce the indictment, there were questions about the ability to try them all together not just because of the ambitious trial date that she wanted to have within, I think, she said six months at that time, but because of the prospect of this very thing happening.
When you sever something, the whole goal is to obviously distinguish your case from that of your codefendants. One reason might be because you're going to have inconsistent defenses. You don't want the stench of the person next to you to then float on to you in front of this jury, or it might be that there is some reason to believe that you want a quicker trial date.
Now, in Georgia, they're a little bit unique. They had a speedy trial, right, which belongs to the defendant exclusively. For example, Fani couldn't say to them, look, you must do this by this point in time for reasons you raised, preparation.
But if some do want that and it is odd with what Donald Trump may want, you might have a scenario where the jury pool that will ultimately decide on a case for the latter defendants will have a preview of testimony, unchecked by an attorney whose interest is to protect their client, their individual defendant.
And so it's not necessarily a great thing if you're the other defendants to have your case go after. On the other hand, you get a preview of the strength of the prosecution's case, and you may have that ability going for you.
MARQUARDT: And that could be absolutely critical. That Andrew McCabe, would be the strategy on the defense side. But how would separating this case change the prosecution by D.A. Fani Willis?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: She's made it clear from the start, Alex, that she wants all these defendants together, behind the same table or maybe group of tables, in this case, 19 people. And that is because she want to be able to put all of the evidence that they have against many different individuals together in the same pile. It creates a much more devastating and incopating (ph) view for all of the defendants. It's easier to get a single jury to kind of round the people up into one big group than it is to take your chances with multiple juries against smaller group of people.
MARQUARDT: We've lost track of how many ways all of these different cases are unique, but, Norm, the latest one is we now know that cameras will be allowed in the courtroom, in Georgia. What do you think the impact of that is going to be? What are you expecting?
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It will have a beneficial impact on the whole. There will be downsides. On the plus side, this is a matter of the utmost importance to every American. The amount of attention which was substantial that the January 6th committee got for their televised hearings will be dwarfed by the ratings for these hearings because the American people want to understand what happened, who was responsible, and, ultimately, they're interested in the impact on Donald Trump. We'll see if he's in that courtroom for the first set of trials or not. I think he's probably going to be severed.
Now, there are downsides. We know that it's a very charged political environment. Anybody whose face is on television may have some level of risk. That can affect witnesses. I'm sure they'll protect the jury. It can affect court personnel. So, there's already enhanced security measures. Pluses and minuses, on the whole, the pluses predominate.
MARQUARDT: It would be an extraordinary, there drama extraordinary television no matter what. We have heard Trump and his team going after Fani Willis, Sara. Today, we heard the Republican governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp. He rejected calls by the Trump side for a special legislative session to investigate the D.A. Is that a surprise? MURRAY: In a lot of ways it's not. Look, Kemp said today that it is not feasible for him to call a special session. It may be unconstitutional for him to call a special session for this purpose. And he's kind of in the same boat he was before with the Trump allies. When they were trying to convince him to call a special session to try to overturn the 2020 election results, Kemp wouldn't go along with it at that point either.
I think he's sort of made it clear that whether he agrees or disagrees with this prosecution or with this case, he's going to let the Fulton County district attorney do his job. He's also not going to stick his neck out to do any favors for Donald Trump. They don't have a particularly great relationship. Trump recruited someone to run against him embarrassingly in a primary. So, I don't think Kemp is willing to go out of his way to try to do with the Trump allies wanted him to do at this point.
MARQUARDT: What about this defense by Mark Meadows, that everything he was doing was in his official purview as chief of staff? There is this court filing by prosecutors who say that it doesn't matter if some of these overt acts in this conspiracy were part of his job, Laura. What do you make of this argument?
COATES: Well, the arguments against what he's saying are actually sound. Just because you and I are having a conversation right now, it doesn't mean -- and I'm a lawyer and you're not, we have some kind of attorney attorney-client privilege happening right now. There are aspects of what I do personally that it going to be rogue from what I would do professionally.
The job of the chief of staff is not to put one's thumb on the scale of the state election, which, of course, is the purview of the states for that very reason. And the law actually dictates that if there's any sort of nefarious or criminal or personal reason for why you were motivated to act the way you're doing outside of your line of duties, you cannot have the protections.
And if you have that think of the illogical end to the conclusion here, that no matter what I do, as long as I say, I am currently employed, I am completely insulated from accountability, that would go against what we believe to be the case for why you're supposed to have that distinction.
MARQUARDT: Norm, you're nodding.
EISEN: Well, I agree. But the flipside here is very low standard to get removal and very favorable to federal officers because of other cases where there have been abuses. So, he may be able to meet that low standard. The judge seems to be thinking, well, does one drop of officialness matter?
But Laura is right, it shouldn't matter, Alex, because at the end of the day it's a three-part test. He almost certainly fails the second part and he, for sure, fails the third part, but we'll see what the judge does with that low standard and favorable law.
MARQUARDT: Yes, it's going to be a highly anticipated ruling.
I do want to get to some of the news today. We did see two more Proud Boys, two members of that far right group. Remember, Trump told them during that debate to stand back and stand by. Two of these members have just been sentenced to 17 and 15 years in prison for January 6th. Andy, what is your take on how severe, how long these sentences that are being handed down are for both these members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers?
MCCABE: You know, Alex, these are significant sentences, 17 and 15 years in federal prison. There's nothing minimal about either of those sentences. However, they are still far below what the government requested in this case. And I think most, notably, the judge made comments during the sentencing along the line that he wasn't weighing on whether these individuals engaged in domestic terrorism or acts of terrorism. He said at one point that's for others to decide.
Well, actually, it's not. It's for the judge to decide. He seems to have taken a pass on the terrorism enhancements that would have made the sentences longer, which is questionable in my view simply because of what these individuals engaged in so perfectly fits the definition in federal law of what constitutes domestic terrorism that it's, in my mind, applying the terrorism enhancement would have been the appropriate result.
MARQUARDT: And we are still waiting for the sentencing of Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys. Prosecutors have asked for 33 years in his case.
Thank you all, we have to leave it there, I always appreciate your perspectives.
And be sure to tune into Laura Coates right here on CNN Tonight at 11:00 P.M. Eastern.
And just ahead, we will be going to Florida for an update caused by Hurricane Idalia as President Joe Biden prepares to visit Florida.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MARQUARDT: The White House says that President Joe Biden will head to Florida on Saturday where he plans to visit the areas most affected by Hurricane Idalia.
Brian Todd is in Perry, Florida, for us covering the storm's aftermath. So, Brian, what's the latest?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, here in the town of Perry, block after block of sheer devastation. Take a look at this house. No fewer than four large trees crashed into the top of it, collapsing the roof. Look at the way that large branch stabbed through the roof like a spear and came out the other side.
Throughout this region, people coming back to scenes like this and just trying to come to grips with the damage.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I've seen a lot of really heart breaking damage.
TODD (voice over): Today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis touring some of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Idalia in the big bend region of the Gulf Coast.
DESANTIS: People really make good decisions, protected themselves. Also this forecast turned out to be accurate. It had been eyeing the Big Bend many days ago, and that's what ended up happening.
TODD: Now, as the remnants of Idalia make their way up the east coast, we're getting a clearer picture of the damage.
One of the hardest hit areas, the town of Perry, Florida, where many streets and homes are covered in downed power lines and massive trees. Alexis Griffin and her four children arrived back at their home in Perry to this, no fewer than four large trees had crashed on their home.
ALEXIS GRIFFIN, LIVES IN PERRY, FLORIDA: It just feels like, you know, out of your control that has been ripped out of your hands. It's kind of devastating.
TODD: How do you feel about how you start back?
GRIFFIN: You don't know what to think or how to think it. It's just taking it one step at a time.
TODD: This 83-year-old woman and their 92-year-old sister were in their house when most of their roof ripped off.
NANCY BARNHART, LIVES IN PERRY, FLORIDA: I thought it was a tornado that hit. The roof flew off and then it started leaking.
TODD: Dale Farmer says, although his home is damaged it doesn't matter to him. He's just grateful to be alive.
DALE FARMER, LIVES IN PERRY, FLORIDA: Material things don't matter anymore. Every day is a blessing what we have. And every day I get up, I tell myself today is going to be the best day of my life, and today is the best day of my life. And that's it.
TODD: Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach, about 22 miles south of Perry, as a Category 3 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. Across the region roads are littered with debris, power poles and trees, some completely ripped from the ground. And then there are unbelievable scenes like this, a home pretty much torn apart by the wind, no longer a roof covering it, yet somehow the bed in this upstairs room looks virtually untouched. Meanwhile, North Carolina seeing severe flooding today in places like Columbus County. South Carolina has already experienced inland coastal flooding and powerful winds tearing down trees and power poles. And in Georgia, crews worked to continue to restore power and clear roads.
Back in Florida residents and business owners in Cedar Key also picking up the pieces from what's left after Idalia, a process that those on the small coastal island say they aren't unfamiliar with and one that the community always comes together for.
HEATHER GREENWOOD, MANAGER, CEDAR KEY BED AND BREAKFAST: As soon as you hear Cat 3 and above, all of the community gets together. The boarding up happens. The library gets emptied, the museum. There's lots of prep, and all this can be rebuilt.
TODD (on camera): Alexis Griffin now says that the prospect of coming back to this house and actually stepping inside it, that she's simply afraid to. And as for the broader picture, the firm, Moody's Analytics, now says their preliminary estimates are that Hurricane Idalia caused between $12 and $20 billion in damage and lost output to this entire region. Alex?
MARQUARDT: Our thoughts are with all those families returning to those devastating scenes. Brian Todd in Perry, Florida, thank you very much.
Coming up, a doctor's statement about Senator Mitch McConnell's health leads to more questions than answers after the Republican leader froze up on camera for the second time in two months.
MARQUARDT: Tonight the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is in damage control after he publicly froze up for a second time with cameras rolling, the senator from Kentucky releasing a statement from the Capitol physician as he tries to make the case that he is fit to serve.
Let's get straight to CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. So, Manu, what are you hearing up there about the concerns about McConnell's health?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, McConnell is trying to alleviate those concerns, sending messages to his allies and his colleagues that he is fully able to lead the Senate, even as questions continue to persist about how long he will be able to be in charge of a conference he has led for the past 16 years.
RAJU (voice over): This is the moment, Mitch McConnell freezing again, and that pause opening up a new round of questions. The key one, can he continue to serve as Senate GOP leader.
This after the second time in many months he froze in front of cameras, prompting concerns about the 81-year-old Kentuckian's health.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, Daniel Cameron, do you have a comment on Daniel Cameron?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, I think the government (INAUDIBLE) very close.
RAJU: Behind the scenes, McConnell has sought to reassure allies he can continue the job he's held for 16 years, longer than any Senate leader in history. And today, McConnell's office releasing a letter from Brian Monahan, the Capitol's attending physician, clearing him to continue with his schedule and saying it is not uncommon to suffer occasionally lightheadedness for people who suffer concussions, as McConnell did when he fell and hit his head at a Washington hotel in March, sidelining him for nearly six weeks.
His confidants believe he will remain as leader through the end of next year. But Republican senators and aides tell CNN they are skeptical he will remain in the job until 2025, potentially opening up a leadership race between Senators John Thune, John Cornyn and John Barrasso.
After the first time he froze in July, GOP senators supported him staying as leader, but many would not say if they back him in the future.
Do you think that Senator McConnell should run for leader in Congress?
SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): Hell, I mean, the new Congress is 18 months away.
RAJU: Do you think if the next Congress, he ran for leader, he would get the job?
SEN. CYNTHIA LUMMIS (R-WY): Well I think that that's speculation does not necessary right now.
RAJU: After his Wednesday event in Covington, Kentucky, McConnell called key allies including Thune and Cornyn and attended a fundraiser for Senate Candidate Jim Banks, who told CNN that the Republican leader was sharp and engaging.
The question about McConnell's health is bound to intensify when he faces 48 GOP colleagues next week for the first time since before the summer recess.
Can he tell his 48 colleagues what happened?
SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): He should tell us if something bigger is going on. And whatever he tells me, I'll trust it to be true.
RAJU: Some Republicans fear that the impact of McConnell's fall in March could be worse than he's let on.
REP. KEVIN HERN (R-OK): Obviously, the fall he's had was more -- if that's what is connected, it is more damaging than most people thought.
RAJU: Yes. Do you think that he should stay as leader for the Senate Republican Conference?
HERN: That would be for the Senate to figure out.
RAJU: All of this putting a spotlight on an aging Senate, where a majority of senators are in their 60s and 70s.
Today, McConnell getting a phone call from someone he has known for decades, President Biden.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I spoke to Mitch. He's a friend. And I spoke to him today, and, you know, he was his old self on the telephone.
RAJU (on camera): And there's no way for any of McConnell's critics in the Senate GOP conference to try to force a vote to oust him from his leadership position. That is different from the Senate and the House. They can't do that unless he were to step aside voluntarily. And the next leadership election, Alex, won't be until after the November 2024 election, during that lame duck session in Congress. Alex?
MARQUARDT: Still so disturbing just to see that clip of McConnell yesterday.
Manu, stay with us. We're joined now by CNN Anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash as well as CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thank you both for joining us.
Sanjay, I want to go to your first about this extremely brief doctor's note. What is your take on that note, just three sentences long? And what concerns do you still have about McConnell's health?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean look, that note doesn't really tell us much at all. I mean, they say at the end that lightheadedness could be caused by dehydration, absolutely true, but not really relevant to what's going on there. I mean, everyone's saw these episodes that he's had, and that doesn't explain that.
He's entitled to his privacy, but they've tried to address some of these concerns but very inadequate note in terms of actually explaining some of this.
I think the biggest thing I got out of that note, frankly, was the doctor said he conferred with Mitch McConnell and he consulted with his neurology team. So, now, we know that the senator has a neurology team and that's good. I mean, that's really important. It sounds like he's been seen, he's been evaluated. He may even be getting treated. He could have something they're well aware of and sometimes may be breaking through the effectiveness of medications.
For example, you could have a breakthrough seizure, for example, if your medications drop off and then you're fine again after some time and after you take your medicine. That could explain what Manu was describing, where he has these episodes and then, shortly thereafter, seems totally lucid again. That would fit.
But that note, again, people are entitled to their privacy, but if they're trying to explain something here, they didn't do it with that note.
MARQUARDT: Yes. Of course, that he is certainly is entitled to his privacy but a three-sentence doctor's note is not going to stop these questions, Dana. Do you think that eventually he or his office are going to have to be more transparent about what's going on?
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, if the questions keep coming, and they likely will, again, not just from us in the media but from his constituents, most importantly, and also from the 48 other members of the Republican Conference in the United States Senate, those are all -- there are a lot of legitimate questions.
One thing that I will add to what dr. Gupta just said in that three- sentence letter from the doctor, the Capitol physician, it did note that the -- in which Manu talked about in his piece. That was back in the spring.
Not until this morning when Scott Jennings, who's a colleague of ours, who's a Republican analyst, and he also is a very longtime friend and aide, former aide to Mitch McConnell -- of the concussion Mitch McConnell had in the spring. That does seem to be an indicator what this is, but, again, just to underscore what Sanjay said and what Manu said and what you're alluding to, we just don't really know many of the details, and it's unclear how transparent he's going to be.
Look, he is known as a stubborn man, and that stubbornness is something that he takes -- that he's very proud of. But particularly when it comes to his health, he's of a different generation. But it's unclear how much pressure he genuinely feels to say more.
MARQUARDT: It does, however, appear, Manu, that at least his colleagues are hoping for some kind of explanation when they are back on the hill next week. You noted in your piece there's some skepticism that he may not be leading anymore in 2025. Oftentimes, conversations or reactions that we're seeing in public are very different than what's being said in private. So, what are you hearing, Manu, behind the scenes?
RAJU: Well, there are just a lot of questions. Remember, the Senate is on recess. In fact, the last week of a five-week recess, which is why a lot of these questions are going to be building. Remember, when the last episode occurred, Alex, that happened right before the Senate left for its summer holiday. So, essentially, these questions died down, everyone was back in their home states and were doing their own things. But now, these are right back into the floor after this latest episode. So, undoubtedly, members will have their own questions.
McConnell will face his leadership team. He'll have a sit down meeting with them on Tuesday, as he does every week, when they're in session. They will also have a full Republican conference meeting next Wednesday, in which possibly McConnell may address these questions then or maybe we won't even address. He's very private about these issues and perhaps may not even discuss it.
There is some rumblings behind the scenes, Alex, that perhaps a handful of members can try to force a special conference meeting to discuss their future leadership team, but that has not been decided. They have the power to do it if five members agree to do so, Alex. But, again, at the moment, Mitch McConnell seems content that he has the support to stay as leader. The question is for how long.
MARQUARDT: Dana, we only have a couple of moments left, but, obviously, there are questions about President Joe Biden's age as well. This seems to be -- this has to be a concern for both parties, no?
BASH: It is because these are two examples you just gave of the aging political class, the elected officials in this country. And it is in both parties and it is across up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, never mind the Supreme Court. So, that is definitely a concern among people in -- among American people. That is true, if you look at polls, and this is only going to keep that conversation going.
MARQUARDT: Yes, there's a recent Associated Press poll saying that -- asking Americans whether they favor a maximum age limit to run for Congress, and 68 percent were in favor.
All right, we have to leave it there. Manu Raju, Dana Bash and Sanjay Gupta, thank you all for joining us.
Just ahead, I'll be asking a prominent Republican about Senator McConnell's health concerns, Donald Trump's new not guilty plea and more GOP Presidential Candidate Will Hurd will join us next.
MARQUARDT: We are getting new reaction to Donald Trump's not guilty plea in Georgia and his attempt to separate his case from his codefendants.
Joining me now, one of Trump's opponents for the Republican presidential nomination, former Congressman Will Hurd. Congressman Hurd, thank you so much for joining us this evening.
I do want to start with that news, Trump pleading not guilty today in the Georgia election interference case and asking that his case be severed from his co-defendants. They want a speedy trial. What's your reaction to that, and how important do you think it is that this case is resolved before the election next year?
WILL HURD, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, of course, he's trying to separate this from everybody else, and he wants to draw this out as long as possible. I'm of the opinion if you have nothing to hide, then you should want a speedy trial and have everything resolved before the election.
It would be great to have this resolved and have all of these, what, 91 charges sorted out before the election. That's unlikely to happen. And that's why for those who want somebody other than Donald Trump to be elected, we have to get engaged in this primary season and make sure that the issue of the court cases don't have an impact on the election.
MARQUARDT: Yes. Well, District Attorney Fani Willis hoping that trial with the 19 co-defendants starts as early as October.
I want to ask you, Sir, about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. As you know, he had a second freezing incident. That's the second incident in as many months. He was speaking with reporters yesterday in Kentucky.
The physician at the Capitol now saying he's medically clear to serve.
Do you think he's fit to continue leading Senate Republicans?
HURD: If Brian Monahan said he's fit to serve, if Mitch McConnell said he's feeling okay, then I trust their word. I hope Senator McConnell is fine. The thing that I've learned in my time working with him when I was in Congress is he's going to do what's right and what's good for the American public. And so I wish him, you know, that he has success and has a great long weekend and looking forward to having his back in Congress when they're back in session.
But here's the reality. Age is going to be an issue. And if the American public thinks people are too old or maybe too young, then it's our responsibility to settle that at the ballot box.
The other thing that I'm hearing, we know age is going an election -- an issue, excuse me, not just in the Senate, but it's going to be an issue in the presidential race. And the thing that I'm hearing from people when I'm talking to them, whether it's in New Hampshire or Iowa, is people want elected officials that actually understand the issues they're dealing with now and going to be dealing with in the future.
One of those I get asked a lot about is artificial intelligence. People are worried about a robot taking their job, and they want to make sure that they have folks that understand these tools, have used these tools and know the best that we can take advantage of technology before it takes advantage of us. That's one of those issues of how age is going to play in some of these elections, one of the reasons I'm running for president. And, hopefully, people that believe in those things and want to make sure someone who's in their 40s and working on these issues, go to hurdforamerica.com and donate at least $1.
MARQUARDT: You do have a few young opponents, Vivek Ramaswamy, Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami, though, he just dropped out of this Republican presidential race, a move that he said he would make if he failed to qualify for that first debate. You, sir, also did not qualify. If you don't make it the second debate stage, are you going to consider dropping out?
HURD: Well, Alex, my focus is on hitting those requirements to meet the second debate stage. I've made it clear that I'm also not willing to sign the loyalty oath as is. So, the fact we weren't able to negotiate that with the RNC at the last time.
We're focused on continuing to move forward. We've met the polling requirements in New Hampshire. We're close to the donor threshold. And my focus is on these next couple of weeks and talking about issues people care about.
People are ready for someone who is not afraid of Donald Trump but also articulating a vision for the future. I recognize, Alex, I'm a dark horse candidate. I've always known that. Our goal is not to peak today or to peak tomorrow. Our goal is to peak when voting starts come late winter.
MARQUARDT: And, Congressman, before I let you go, I want to ask you about another opponent, Nikki Haley. She wouldn't rule today -- she spoke about not ruling out picking former President Trump as her vice president. What's your reaction to that, and what do you think that says about the state of GOP and the race?
HURD: Well, let's just say Donald Trump is not on my short list for V.P. And I think one of the reasons I'm running is Donald Trump has been a national security threat to our country. I think he's the reason that the GOP has lost elections. We lost the House in 2018. We lost the White House and the Senate in 2020. A red wave didn't happen in 2022 because of Donald Trump. And in wanting to mimic the patterns and behaviors of a proven loser is not the way that the GOP is going to change a trend for the last 20 years of losing the national popular vote.
MARQUARDT: Well, Congressman Will Hurd, former Congressman, best of luck on the campaign trail. Thank you so much for joining us this evening.
HURD: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: And coming up, new video purporting to show the Wagner leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in the days just before his death. That video has just surfaced. We'll have a live report.
You're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
MARQUARDT: There is newly released video purporting to show the former Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin appearing unconcerned about his safety just days before his death earlier this month.
CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is covering the story for us.
So, Fred, it really is quite eerie hearing this new clip from Prigozhin after his death.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, eerie and quite fascinating as well because he seems to sort of pinpoint the time he was talking about. That was mid-August and where he is, he says he's in Africa. As you mention he also addresses the speculation he might soon be killed.
I want to listen in to what Prigozhin said in that video.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER CHIEF (through translator): For everyone discussing whether I'm alive or not and how I'm doing, it's currently a weekend in the second half of August 2023. I'm in Africa, so for those who like to speculate about my elimination, my private life, my work there, or everything else, everything's fine, as a matter of fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PLEITGEN: Everything is fine, Yevgeny Prigozhin said in that video. Obviously, a couple days later if indeed that was recorded in mid- August, not everything was fine anymore for him. And it's quite interesting because, of course, we know, Alex, just a couple days before that plane came down, there was a video released by Wagner of Yevgeny Prigozhin allegedly in Africa, and Vladimir Putin himself also said that when the plane was brought down, that Yevgeny Prigozhin was returning from Africa as well.
The Kremlin coming out now and saying they are now investigating, as they put it, the chance the plane was brought down deliberately. Certainly that doesn't come as a surprise to many people.
Another thing that also happened today is one of the senior leaders of Wagner was also laid to rest. This was Dmitry Utkin who, of course, was instrumental in forming Wagner, allegedly also gave the organization its name, was also military chief of that organization as well.
One of the things that we picked up on quite interesting he was laid to rest in a memorial cemetery just outside of Moscow, in a suburb called Mytishchi, and he did receive military honors, of course, unlike Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alex.
MARQUARDT: Of course, major questions what will happen to Wagner in Africa where Prigozhin appeared to be.
Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much for that report.
For more on the story, I'm joined now Georgetown University adjunct professor Jill Dougherty, who's a former CNN Moscow bureau chief.
Jill, thank you so much for being with us.
Listening to that Prigozhin video, I can't help but think of that Mark Twain quote that reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. Except then, just days later, he was indeed killed on that plane. What do you make of this posthumous take?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, remember there really were questions where is he? And kind of disappeared for a while, but then he was also at the Kremlin for a meeting with Putin. So, there was a lot of mystery and also -- let's not forget, we have the president of the United States and other, you know, senior officials all over the world saying I'd watch what I were eating if I were he.
So, you know, that's not surprising, but I think let's preface it all by saying the Kremlin continues to say they had nothing to do with his death. But I think, you know, look at it this way, what Prigozhin did was unforgivable according to Putin, and I think Putin, the indications are, let him think that, that actually things were forgiven, come to the Kremlin, have other meetings.
But in the end, after they begun to dismantle and certainly made a lot of progress in dismantling his empire, they didn't need him anymore. That's a theory, and, of course, if they didn't need him anymore, he was gone.
MARQUARDT: And, Jill, we've now just seen one of the biggest drone assaults in Russia presumably by Ukraine since this war started, and it really is signifying how much this conflict is moving deeper into Russia. Do you think this will make Russians up to the realities of what Putin is doing in Ukraine or perhaps cause Russians to rally around Vladimir Putin?
DOUGHERTY: You know, I think it's almost a little more complicated. The whole thing that the Kremlin has been doing is saying since the beginning of this -- the invasion, don't worry, everything is under control, go back to every day life, nothing's happening, everything's okay.
And so, now, look what Russians are faced with. Right in the city of Moscow, they have drone attacks constantly and this big wave we just saw. Prigozhin is assassinated. There's a secret burial of Prigozhin.
You have casualties in the war. Inflation is skyrocketing in Russia and other economic problems. So I really think at this point it's really hard to avoid what they will end up thinking is another question.
MARQUARDT: There's also being a very steady diet fed -- a very steady diet of disinformation.
Jill Dougherty, thank you very much.
Just ahead, how two conservative justices are trying to answer questions over ethics on the U.S. Supreme Court.
MARQUARDT: Tonight with the U.S. Supreme Court mired in ethics controversies, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are releasing new financial disclosures.
CNN senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic is covering this story.
So, Joan, what do these new filings tell us?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: They reinforce the relationship that Justice Thomas has with Harlan Crow, a Texas real estate billionaire who we knew from "ProPublica" reporting had taken many trips with Clarence Thomas and had lavished all sorts of, you know, private jet travel, yachts, other vacation excursions. But in this report, Clarence Thomas himself is disclosing in 2022, he had two sets of private jet travels down to Dallas, Texas, and that he also had gone to Harlan Crow's private estate up in upstate New York.
Then, Clarence Thomas also disclosed something that had happened in 2014 involving Harlan Crow, when Harlan Crow had bought three-pieces of property that had been owned by the Thomas family, and that he said it was inadvertent he hadn't put than that on his prior filings. But it comes against the backdrop of questions over the fact that the justices have, you know, no formal ethics code, their actions often lack transparency and there's a very real questions about what should be disclosed and why are these reports are pretty skimpy.
Now, Clarence Thomas's lawyer did respond to some of the public criticism and he said that any mistakes that Justice Thomas had made were inadvertent and he also said the attacks on Justice Thomas are nothing less than ridiculous and dangerous and they set a terrible precedent for political blood sport through federal ethics filings.
MARQUARDT: Joan, we only have a couple moments left, but what do you -- what impact do you have on these calls for greater transparency?
BISKUPIC: Well, I think it's getting the attention of the justices themselves. You know, Alex, that Congress -- the Senate Democrats had been pushing legislation and the Senate Judiciary Committee had adopted the bill. But given how tightly divided the Congress is, it's unlikely anything will develop actually with the legislation. It's in the hands of the Supreme Court justices, and if they want to enhance public confidence and get Congress off their back they might act.
MARQUARDT: And, of course, you remember Samuel Alito saying essentially in Congress that you have no say over what we do.
Joan Biskupic, thank you.
I'm Alex Marquardt in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you so much for joining us this evening.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.