Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Rudy Giuliani Pleads Not Guilty In GA Election Subversion Case; Proud Boy Just Sentences To 18 Years For Role On January 6th; Huge Manhunt For Extremely Dangerous Escaped Murderer; Rudy Giuliani Pleads Not Guilty In Georgia Election Subversion Case; Millions Of Americans Expected To Travel This Weekend. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 01, 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, Rudy Giuliani just entered a not guilty plea in the Georgia election interference case. We are following a busy day of new legal filings and awaiting a critical ruling that could come at any time.
Also tonight, one of the longest prison sentences yet connected to the January 6th riot, a Proud Boy who led members of that far right group to the Capitol was just ordered to serve 18 years.
And we're tracking a huge manhunt for a convicted murderer on the loose after escaping from a Pennsylvania prison. Authorities now warning he is extremely dangerous and likely heading toward Mexico right now.
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.
First this hour, Rudy Giuliani is now the most prominent Trump co- defendant to enter a not guilty plea in Georgia, besides, of course, the former president himself.
Let's get straight to CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider. So, Jess, we have seen a series of new not guilty pleas in this election interference case today, including Giuliani. What is the latest?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex. So, we now have 12 not guilty pleas of the 19 defendants, Rudy Giuliani just the latest to plead not guilty here. And by entering these pre-arraignment pleas, all of these defendants including Rudy Giuliani, including the former president, they will all be able to avoid going to court and appearing in person on Wednesday, September 6th. So, any of the remaining defendants between now and then who don't file this paperwork for this pre-arraignment, they will have to appear in court on September 6th.
So, all of this is happening in the midst of a flurry of legal filings as well, especially from Kenneth Chesebro. So, he was the Trump campaign lawyer who was indicted along with those other 18 defendants. But Kenneth Chesebro, he has asked for a speedy trial, he's already been given a trial date of October 23rd, but he's now asking for the prosecution to really speed up the discovery. They need to hand over all of the documents.
Prosecutors have now said that they will hand it all over by September 15th. But Chesebro is saying that that is just too late because that would just be about five weeks before a trial. So, he's demanding the prosecution hand everything over before September 15th.
Also, he's asking for a solo trial here. Since he's going to trial so soon, also Sidney Powell has asked for a speedy trial, Kenneth Chesebro wants to be separated from Sidney Powell in particular. He said that he never communicated with Sidney Powell, that they are not accused of the same thing. So, Alex, he wants to make sure that he has a solo trial that Sidney Powell is in no way involved in.
MARQUARDT: And so, Jessica, when can we expect the decision from the judge on the crucial question of whether some of the cases should be moved to state to federal court?
SCHNEIDER: Well, it could come at any time now, Alex, because all briefing is in as of yesterday late afternoon. So, the judge in this case will likely issue some decision before that Wednesday arraignment date of September 6th. The judge has all the briefing in.
Of course, he's asked for that crucial question. He basically said, since Mark Meadows, one of the charges the racketeering conspiracy, and there are a number of overt acts alleged as part of that, the question being, does Mark Meadows only have to prove that he was serving as a federal official for just maybe one of those acts.
Of course, Mark Meadows team came back in the briefing and said, yes, he only has to prove that he was acting as a federal official for one of those acts. Fani Willis' prosecutor team said no, they came back and said no, because we're charging this as a full conspiracy, not just one act.
So, the judge has all of the arguments in his hands. Likely, Alex, he'll make some sort of decision before that Wednesday arraignment date. So, it could be any minute or any day now.
MARQUARDT: All right. Jessica Schneider, lead us off tonight, thank you very much.
Let's break all this down with our legal and political experts. Thank you all for joining us.
Norm Eisen, I want to start with you. That guilty plea by Rudy Giuliani, not much of a surprise, but how do you see him navigating this case? We also expect him to ask to move this to a federal court.
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he's going to navigate this case, as he has with some of his other legal problems, with difficulty. The challenge for Rudy Giuliani is that he played such a central role as Donald Trump's outside attorney in the alleged scheme.
And he touches every different part of that complicated conspiracy that Fani Willis has charged.
We know he's also having financial difficulties. It is very expensive when you're in that kind of a central role in one of these cases.
But I think the real problem with Rudy Giuliani is, and it is shown by what he's allegedly accused of doing in this election overturn scheme, his judgment is poor.
And so if you have somebody who is facing these charges, who is not able to think clearly, understand the law, you're going to get into the same kind of trouble. He just got a default judgment in a libel case by the two election workers who we can say, now that there is a default judgment, that he libeled.
So, I think great turbulence ahead as Rudy Giuliani navigates forward.
MARQUARDT: And on that point, Kristen, about how Giuliani is going to pay his legal bills, some of these has been well reported by you and our colleagues. We know that he's already having difficulties. We know that this long process is just getting started. So, how are Giuliani and some of the other co-defendants now navigating this in terms of raising funds to pay for these mounting legal bills?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when it comes to Trump's co-defendants in Georgia, he is not paying for any of their bills, which means they're all facing a huge amount of legal bills.
We can start with Giuliani, because he's the one person who Trump is somewhat helping. As you mentioned, he is holding a fundraiser for Giuliani at his Bedminster resort next week, a $100,000 a person. But that is all he's doing. All of these other co-defendants are having to find out how to raise the money themselves, and they're turning to creative, alternative solutions, including crowd funding. At least four of them have gone on a faith-based crowd funding website.
Now this is very different from some of the other investigations that we have seen. Trump paying the legal bills for advisers, aides, employees both former and current, in both the January 6th committee investigation and those federal investigations.
Now, Trump himself seemed to differentiate with those cases and his co-defendants in Georgia. Take a listen to what he said about his co- defendants in Georgia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It is so sad. And they don't have a lot of money, and some of them almost nothing. They don't even know what they're being charged for. It is just a horrible thing. I don't even know -- again, I don't even know some of these people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: I don't even know some of these people. I feel that some of them might have taken some offense of them since many of them were trying to overturn the election on his behalf.
But I will note that a lot them, again, they are facing legal problems, as you said, financial problems. One of them, Harrison Floyd, had to spend a week in jail because he couldn't afford an attorney.
MARQUARDT: He says it's so sad, but no inclination that we have seen so far that he's going to help out some of these people, who does, in fact, know very well.
Tia Mitchell, Giuliani has also just lost this defamation suit that was filed by two election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. So, how does that fit into all of his legal troubles?
TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Well, it fits in because, number one, we know that Ruby Freeman was one of the witnesses who was called to testify before the special grand jury and more than likely the regular grand jury and more than likely Mrs. Freeman and as well as her daughter, Shaye Moss, could be called as witnesses in whatever trial that proceeds on this racketeering case.
And it is a central element in some of the charges that the grand jury brought against the case, that there were lies told by Rudy Giuliani and others as they tried to overturn the election. And some of those lies deal directly with what was said about Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.
MARQUARDT: I want to bring in our Elie Honig into this conversation. Elie, Chesebro also pleaded not guilty today, as well as Giuliani. Chesebro, like Trump, wants to be tried separately. He says that he should be able to sever his October trial from fellow co-defendant Sidney Powell because their actions, he says, are like oil and water. Do you think that will be successful?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Kenneth Chesebro, like any defendant in Georgia, is certainly entitled to a speedy trial. He has invoked that right, that is why he has a October 23rd trial date. And, by the way, he's right that it is absolutely unjustifiable for the prosecutors to say we need another two weeks to give you discovery. That is about a quarter of the time between now and when he's entitled to a trial.
These prosecutors took over two and a half years to charge this case. They should have had discovery out for these defendants on day one.
On the separate question whether he's entitled to his own individual trial, the answer is, he is not. It is up to the judge to decide whether it makes more sense in terms of judicial efficiency, in terms of not having to have everyone replicate effort to try him together with Sidney Powell. On the other hand judges do sometime like to give each individual defendant a shot at individual live justice. [18:10:03]
So, I suspect that prosecutors will going to oppose this and say you all need to be tried together, all you early birds, but each of those defendants count on them asking the judge to be tried alone.
MARQUARDT: So, now we have efforts, Norm, by some of these co- defendants to sever themselves from others. We have efforts to try to move their trials from state to federal court. How likely is it, do you think, they will have multiple trials for multiple defendants and then how much of a blow is that to Fani Willis, the district attorney, who is now trying to do this all in state court, all together?
EISEN: I suspect you'll have clusters of defendants who are tried together. I don't think you're going to have 19 trials. I suspect that Chesebro and some of the other lawyers, contrary to his motion, will be tried together, including Powell, maybe Eastman.
That is not a blow to Fani Willis as long as it is kept to a reasonable number. That is what courts like to do in a big multi- defendant case, if they must sever to have two or three groups under these circumstances.
MARQUARDT: We do not have a plea yet for Mark Meadows, Elie. He's waiting, of course, for this decision about whether his case will be moved from state to federal court. So, what do you take away from how the judge could rule on specifically that Meadows' request?
HONIG: This one is right on the razor's edge, Alex. The fact that the judge asked that specific question tells us that he's having a hard time figuring this out. There is no answer. This is going to be new law, whichever way the judge decides it.
Two things we know for sure, one, even if Mark Meadows succeeds in getting to federal court does not necessarily mean Donald Trump or anyone else will succeed, and, two, whatever these judge rules, it will be appealed up to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
MARQUARDT: So, many moving parts in all of this. Thank you all for helping us break this down.
Coming up, two more Proud Boys were just given lengthy sentences in federal prison today for the roles in the January 6th riot.
Also ahead, the latest developments in the manhunt for a dangerous escaped prisoner in Pennsylvania. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MARQUARDT: This just in to CNN. A federal judge has just sentenced the man who led the right wing extremist group, the Proud Boys, during the January 6th riot to 18 years in prison. That now ties the toughest penalty handed down so far. CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is covering this story. So, Evan, what are the details of this latest sentence?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, Alex, Ethan Nordean was the leader of the Proud Boys on January 6th. He took over leadership of the group after Enrique Tarrio, the founder, the leader of the group, was arrested just before January 6th.
And according to prosecutors and what he was convicted of is he led the crowd toward the Capitol. He knocked over fences and really helped drive some of the violence that day for members of the group.
Now, the judge really emphasized in all of the sentencing that we've seen this week, that what the members of the Proud Boys did that day was not just the violence, it was also taking away from the American public the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power, which is obviously something that the country was known for until then.
I'll read you part of what he said from the bench today. He said, if we don't have the peaceful transfer of power, I don't know what we have. And he also said that the violence that day did not honor the founders, it was the kind of thing they wrote the Constitution to prevent.
This obviously, the 18-year sentence that the judge handed down, Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, by the way, as you pointed out, is the longest for all of the January 6th cases. It ties the 18-year sentence that Stewart Rhodes, founder of the -- leader of the Oath Keepers, another pro-Trump right wing group, also received, Alex.
MARQUARDT: An extraordinary amount of time. Evan, this was the second sentence handed down for a Proud Boy. What happened earlier?
PEREZ: Well, Dominic Pezzola, who was one of the -- he was the only one of the five of the members of Proud Boys who was not found guilty of seditious conspiracy, he tearfully stood before the judge, apologized for his actions.
And we've seen that a lot in the other sentencings this week. The members -- other members who were sentenced, Joseph Biggs, and Zachary Rehl is the other one. I almost lost his name. 17 and 15 years, those two got. All of them have been very apologetic to the judge, saying that they were sorry for what they did.
However, after Dominic Pezzola was sentenced, as he walked out of court, of the courtroom, he raised his fist and said Trump won.
Of course, as you know, the former president has already said that he believes, a lot of these people are being treated unfairly. I believe we have sound of the former president promising that he would pardon at least some of these men. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I am inclined to pardon many of them. I can't say for every single one because a couple of them, probably, they got out of control.
I would say it will be a large portion of them.
You know, many of them are just great people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: And, of course, you could look at pictures there, Dominic Pezzola, the one who broke the window leading the crowd into the Capitol. Of course, I'm not sure of those -- if he would qualify for a pardon under what the former president says are great people. Alex?
MARQUARDT: Yes. Shouting Trump won doesn't exactly shout contrition. Evan Perez, thank you very much for that report.
MARQUARDT: Other news, that we're following, state and federal authorities are searching for a dangerous convicted murderer who is on the loose after escaping from a prison in Pennsylvania.
CNN's Brian Todd has been covering this story for us. So, Brian, what is the latest?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alex, every hour now is crucial as law enforcement tracks this man. And officials are mincing no words and telling the public just how dangerous it could be to try to approach him.
TODD (voice over): Hundreds of law enforcement officers on the ground, helicopters, drones, K-9 teams, on the hunt tonight in Eastern Pennsylvania for an escaped convicted murderer. 34-year-old Danelo Cavalcante, a man law enforcement official say whose depravity knows no bounds and who has nothing to lose.
CAPT. BOB WAGNER, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: I want to reiterate, this man is very dangerous. If you see him, don't approach him and call 911.
TODD: Cavalcante broke out of the Chester County prison about 30 miles west of Philadelphia yesterday morning. He was spotted later walking along a road near the prison. Officials believe he hasn't gotten far.
DEB RYAN, CHESTER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We believe that he is still in the general area. There is no evidence at this time to suggest that anyone has helped facilitate this escape or is assisting him at this time. We believe that he is hiding somewhere locally and that he is alone.
TODD: Other new information tonight, law enforcement believes Cavalcante wants to head south. RYAN: When he murdered Deborah Brandao in 2021, he headed toward Brazil. We have evidence to suggest that he was captured in Virginia, but the ultimate goal was to go to Mexico and then to Brazil, which is his native country.
TODD: Deborah Brandao, was Cavalcante's former girlfriend who he is convicted of murdering in 2021 by stabbing her 38 times in front of her two young children. Investigators believe his motive for her murder was because Brandao had discovered that Cavalcante was wanted for another murder in Brazil.
Law enforcement describes him as being fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, as being five feet tall and weighing 120 pounds.
MICHAEL TABMAN, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: He doesn't sound like a physical imposing individual but he's violent, he is desperate and therefore he's dangerous. He's going to be become desperate just for food and drink and places to stay. So, he's going to have to do something and not get noticed, and that could lead to violence.
TODD: What kind of mistake could Cavalcante make to get himself caught?
TABMAN: It could be something simple, like a shoplifting. He was just hungry and goes in and grabs something and someone calls the police or not knowing who he is, someone gets in a confrontation with him for that.
TODD: Cavalcante's escape comes just weeks after another high-profile manhunt of a violent escaped inmate also in Pennsylvania. Michael Burham escaped from the Warren County jail and was later captured. Law enforcement experts say staffing shortages at these jails often lead to security breaches.
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: It is just not the greatest place to work. I mean, think about it. Who wants to work inside of a prison, who doesn't have to?
TODD (on camera): There is now a $10,000 reward for information leading to Danelo Cavalcante's capture. Law enforcement officials telling residents of that area, now that the Labor Day weekend is upon us, and a lot of people may be going out of town, to keep an eye on the homes of their neighbors who are going out of town with the idea that Cavalcante might try to steal something from a home like that. Alex?
MARQUARDT: All right, Brian Todd, thank you so much for that report.
Coming up, what is next for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell amid mounting concerns about the freezing incidents that he's suffered recently? I'll also be speaking with someone who just talked to McConnell by phone. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:25:00]
MARQUARDT: Tonight, questions about Mitch McConnell's future are persistent and growing after the Senate Republican leader froze up at a public event for the second time in just a matter of weeks. The U.S. Capitol physician's claim that McConnell is, quote, medically clear has failed to erase concerns about the health of the 81-year-old senator.
CNN's Melanie Zanona has more from Capitol Hill. So, Melanie, what happens next in this discussion about McConnell and his leadership role?
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, next week is going to be critical for Mitch McConnell to assuage concerns about his health and also to tamp down speculation about his political future. And that is because the Senate is returning after a month-long recess next week.
And McConnell is going to face reporters and cameras at his weekly press conference, where his performance, no doubt, will be heavily watched and scrutinized. But he's also going to face his own members for the first time. They have the weekly party lunches and there is also been some chatter among the rank and file Republicans about forcing a special conference meeting to specifically talk about his leadership.
It would only take five Republicans to force such a meeting to happen, but there is no formal mechanism to formally remove Mitch McConnell.
So, really, this is a conversation and a question about whether Mitch McConnell intends to serve beyond 2024, which is when his current term as leader is set to expire.
And, you know, it is really unclear whether he would run again or whether he would have the support even within his own conference to do that. But whenever he does decide to step aside, it is going to be a scramble to replace him. Remember, he has served in this position since 2007. He's the longest serving party leader. Already there is some discussion about theoretically who might replace him, including three senators, all with the first name John, John Barrasso, John Thune and John Cornyn.
Of course it is still early in those discussions. But there is starting to be a glimpse inside of the GOP of what a post McConnell GOP would eventually look like, Alex.
MARQUARDT: But no one really wants to talk about it publicly just yet. Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.
Let's get more on this now with CNN Political Commentator Scott Jennings and Bakari Sellers. Thank you both for joining me this evening.
Scott, I want to start with you. You were with the senator earlier this week in Kentucky and I understand that you spoke with him earlier today. First of all, how is he doing? And then what did he tell you about the increasing concerns about his ability to lead Republicans in the Senate?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, he's doing fine. I've spoken to him multiple times. I've seen him numerous times this week.
I saw him before the incident, give a speech to a lunchtime crown, answer a bunch of questions and saw him right after the incident when he headlined a fundraiser for Jim Banks of Indiana, who came over to Louisville to have an event.
So, I've seen him in action, and, honestly, it was business as usual. If you haven't known something had occurred up in Northern Kentucky, you would not have known anything happened at all because of the way he was acting.
And on our phone calls he's been just fine. He feels fine. He's looking forward to watching Louisville versus Georgia Tech tonight, which is big day for him, the start of the college football season for the Louisville Cardinals. And I know he's looking forward to get back to Washington to tackle some big issues next week. I mean, everybody is talking politics, but lest we forget, the Congress has some big issues to deal with.
MARQUARDT: Yes, certainly a very busy legislative season ahead of him. We are obviously very happy that he's feeling well after that really scary incident but there are growing noises on the conservative and Republican side about his ability to lead. The conservative magazine, National Review, which has praised McConnell in the past, they released an op-ed calling on McConnell to step down as head of the Senate Republicans. This is how Editor Rich Lowry described it. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: These incidents are not normal. And even if it is just lightheadedness, he's clearly visibly aged since his bad fall back in March. And we just think it behooves him for his sake and for the sake of his colleague to go out on his own terms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Scott, how do you respond to that?
JENNINGS: Rich Lowry hasn't talked to Mitch McConnell, hasn't observed Mitch McConnell. And although I like Rich, he's simply uninformed about the capacity of Mitch McConnell right now.
And I was looking for some material to line my chicken coop with at home, and though I'm a usual avid reader of the National Review, I know where that one is going to find itself when it comes to my house. So, with all due respect to Rich, I have not seen any evidence, whatsoever, that Mitch McConnell is diminished in any way, shape or form.
MARQUARDT: Well, this incident certainly raises concerns about the question of age on both sides of the aisle, Bakari. There is obviously Senator Dianne Feinstein and then, of course, 81-year-old President Biden is now running for re-election. And there is polling that shows that more than three quarters of Americans, 77 percent in fact, think that Biden is too old to effectively serve another four-year term.
So, Bakari, what kind of impact do you see these growing concerns, these growing conversations about are aging politicians having on Biden's chances of re-election?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, there are few things, I think the first is that my prayers, and I said this on Twitter and it got blown up, because I didn't know that, as a country, we became so toxic so quick.
But my prayers go out to Mitch McConnell because you never want to see anybody go through anything like that, whatever he's going through, particularly in front of the world. This is the second time it has happened. And my prayers go out to him, his well being, making sure that he's okay, making sure he's healthy and his family understands the ramifications of everything he's going through. So, that is first.
And regardless of how people may feel about me saying that, I just think that that is the very human thing, the very Christian thing, just the thing that people should do more of in this world of politics, which is to understand what people are going through and wish them well. So, my hat is off to Mitch McConnell, I wish you well. That is first.
Second, on the larger issue of politicians going through this question of age or ageism or whether or not you're too old to serve, I think it is a very real question. I think if Joe Biden had a moment like Mitch McConnell, unfortunately, Republicans would pounce. We saw when Hillary Clinton actually just had a little bit too much heat and she wasn't feeling well, when she stumbled back to a car, they question whether or not she had the fitness to do the job, when we see today she was probably the most fit person to do the job. So, those are questions that arise.
What you're asking is a better question, which is a campaign strategy, of how Joe Biden is going to assuage or just deal with those concerns. That means Joe Biden has to get out on the campaign trail. I mean if you can't keep him in Washington, D.C. or in Delaware. That means he needs to be in South Carolina, he needs to be -- even more specifically, and he needs to be in Detroit, Michigan, he needs to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he needs to be in Atlanta, Georgia, he needs to be talking to black men in barbershops, he needs to be at high school football games on Friday nights, college football games on Saturdays. And he's be doing these things that people are doing these days to show people that he's of the fitness.
And I believe that he could meet those challenges. I don't think that Joe Biden deserves to be in the same sentence as Dianne Feinstein or even Mitch McConnell, with what he's gone through. I think he's shown the fitness to be president of the United States and there is nothing to question that fitness today.
I pray for all of our leaders and I wish, honestly, that we had a younger generation of leaders and I think there are younger generation of leaders on both sides of the aisle coming up. But until that torch is passed or until that torch is taken, we need to make sure that the people who are leading us are fit, and I believe Joe Biden to be fit.
MARQUARDT: Well, Scott, does this make this -- do these episodes that we've seen from McConnell over these past two months make it more difficult for Republicans to go after Biden for his age in this election?
JENNINGS: Well, a couple of things. Number one, McConnell is not on the ballot in '24, he's not up until '26. Number two, I actually think there's two different issues that are being conflated. McConnell is recovering from an injury. He fell and had a concussion. And so this is not really as an age related issue. It is part of the normal recovery process from a concussion, according to the note I read from the Capitol physician. So, I think some conflating is going on here.
But I agree with Bakari. Ultimately, it is voters who make these decisions. We could sit here and opine about it all we want. But, ultimately, next year, the ballot is going to come out and people are going to look at it and voters are going to decide who they want to lead the country. And it is really up to them to make those decisions about who they want their leaders to be and I trust that they'll do it.
MARQUARDT: Okay. Well we could all agree, and we hope that many others do agree that we are wishing Senator Mitch McConnell all of the best in his recovery. Scott Jennings, Bakari Sellers, thanks very much for joining us.
SELLERS: Thank you.
JENNINGS: Thanks, guys.
MARQUARDT: And coming up, Ukraine's foreign minister has rebutting critics of the counteroffensive. We'll have the latest update on the fighting from the war zone.
Stay with us.
MARQUARDT: Ukraine is pushing back on criticism from its allies about the counteroffensive against Russia.
CNN's Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour spoke with Ukraine's top diplomat who rejected the idea that the ongoing military campaign is failing. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: If Ukraine was failing, I would probably be the first one to speak the truth. But we are not failing. We are moving forward. We liberated thousands of square kilometers of our land through minefields, with no air coverage.
How does it feel when you come back from your mission and you take back your phone, you open it and you start reading all of the smart people saying how slow you are and that you are not doing well enough.
You just lost two of your buddies, you were almost killed, you crawled one kilometer on your belly, demining the field. You sacrifice yourself, you dug the damn Russian trench in a fierce fight and then you read someone saying, oh, guys, you are too slow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: CNN's Melissa Bell joins us live now from Ukraine. So, Melissa, how much progress are those forces in the south actually making against Russia?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, it is extremely slow but they say it is very steady as well. Beyond Robotyne, they're now moving on to another village toward the south and fighting for another one towards the east, making gains very slowly, they say, and yet, one step at a time.
And, of course, it is those initial mine fields that they've had to get through that you heard Dmytro Kuleba speak to there.
Beyond that, let me show you some of these images we've managed to get exclusively from Ukraine's security service that show very clearly what lies beyond that and they're now having to take on it. You're looking at this very long line of so called dragons teeth, the anti- tank sort of pyramid structures, the ones that show on those pictures go on for 70 kilometers, beyond that, another trench with more Russian positions.
And what these security services have told us, as they shared these images, they were taken by the way yesterday with a drone that they had over those Russian positions looking ahead to the next strategic town they're trying to take is that they've been watching Russians build these fortifications now since about March of 2022, so just a month after the invasion began.
The Russian have been created these fortifications extremely deep as well as long. Ukraine watching them do it all of the time. Now they're having to take them on. But they say they're managing to do it partly helped with the western artillery they've been receiving, which has allowed them, they say, to push the Russian artillery positions back. And that has helped a great deal. That's what official say.
This even as the war is moving increasingly clearly, Alex, towards Russia itself, it is daily now that you hear of fresh drone attacks. We have had another series this morning. And what has changed is not just that Ukraine is beginning to accept that it is behind some of these, but actually claiming that the ones that we saw up in the very west of the country earlier this week were launched from inside of Russia, some 600 kilometers from the Ukrainian side. So much more brazen attacks and a much clearer determination to claim them, Alex.
MARQUARDT: Yes, which really shows the reach that Ukraine has inside Russia, really incredible attacks. Melissa Bell in Zaporizhzhia, in Ukraine, thank you very much.
Up next, I'll be asking Republican Presidential Candidate Asa Hutchinson about Donald Trump's trial schedule and other big concerns that are hanging over the Republican Party and the 2024 election.
MARQUARDT: We are following a new rush by Trump codefendants to enter not guilty pleas in Georgia, including his longtime lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Joining me now is the Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson.
Governor, thank you so much for joining us.
I do want to start by asking you about the legal troubles of your most formidable opponent in the primary field. Trump wants to delay his Georgia trial passed the October start date that was proposed by the Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, possibly until after the election.
So, do you think it is critical that these criminal cases resolve before the election?
ASA HUTCHINSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think there is a great public interest to resolve before the election. And when you're looking at speedy trial requirements, that's just not for the defendant but also for the public as well because the public has an interest in having these, an outcome on this cases. And particularly the voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and on Super Tuesday, you know, they'll be voting blind unless some of these cases are resolved.
And so, the facts will come out. It's a huge distraction. It's hard for the candidates to get the message out. But it is critically important that we continue to fight that battle, talking about the economy, talking about border security and the fentanyl crisis. I'll be talking about those things. But it's easy to get it drowned out with all of the court appearances of Donald Trump, which will continue throughout the election season.
MARQUARDT: I'm sure you saw earlier this week that very disturbing and scary incident when Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell froze. That was the second time in as many months. He was speaking to reporters in Kentucky.
This is how your rival -- your fellow rival in the Republican field, Nikki Haley, responded to the incident. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Right now, the Senate is the most privileged nursing home in the country. I mean, you know, Mitch McConnell has done some great things and he deserves credit. But you have to know when to leave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: The most privileged nursing home in the country. What do you make of those comments?
HUTCHINSON: Well, they're not supporting institutions that are important for our country. The Senate has got its issues. But at the same time, they serve us well.
And we wish Mitch McConnell well. No one likes to see that kind of health episode. And we want him to recover and we want him to toot will. He will make his decision at the right time about his future. And I think Kentuckians can make those decisions as well.
So it's really not about taking advantage of the moment politically but it is about expressing our best wishes to Senator McConnell as he recovers and gets back to work.
MARQUARDT: And we certainly do.
I also want to highlight some comments from another one of your opponents, Vivek Ramaswamy. He's now under fire because of what he said that the U.S. military would not be used under his administration to defend Israel if it was attacked by Iran. This as what he said in response to that criticism earlier today.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have said that we would back Israel fully, militarily. But I've also said I don't want our sons and daughters, U.S. troops, to die and that conflict. And if they're going to destroy that state, I'm not going to -- I'm happy to have the debate where Nikki Haley, or Mike Pence, or Chris Christie can state help many soldiers that like to see type in the conflict.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Governor, your thoughts on that question and his comments?
HUTCHINSON: Well, it really to me is not an American thought. That we recognize that freedom and liberty and security comes at a price. And we don't ever want to send our men and women into combat when it's not necessary, but thank goodness our men and women in the military have been willing to go and fight for our freedoms. I think he's very dismissive about it. He doesn't want to fight for
Taiwan, and their freedom. Support Israel. He doesn't want to do that. He doesn't want to fight against Putin.
And our men and women aren't there. There is no threat of that. But my goodness, were not an isolationist country. We're a country that has led freedom across the globe and he is wrong on that issue.
I'll debate him on any college campus or anywhere he wishes to do that in terms of the role of the United States of America in working with our allies to ensure security and freedom. That's what's important. Our relationship with Israel is critically important. They -- when you look at the threats of Iran, we have got to partner with Israel and we cannot have any division between us.
MARQUARDT: All right, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, thank you very much for joining us, wishing you and your family a happy Labor Day.
HUTCHINSON: Great to be with you, thank you.
MARQUARDT: Take care.
More news just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including a preview of Labor Day travel the United States as more Americans are crowding airplanes and highways.
We'll be right back.
MARQUARDT: This Labor Day weekend, millions of Americans will be hitting the road and taking to the skies.
CNN's Pete Muntean has the story.
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a climatic end to a record breaking summer of travel with a new survey saying more than half of all Americans expect to travel for Labor Day.
At Chicago O'Hare, officials are bracing for a 7 percent increase in passengers compared to the holiday weekend last year. The TSA says after this weekend, the summer will set a new air travel record with more than 227 million people screened at airports since Memorial Day.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says flight cancelations are going down. But the latest numbers from FlightAware show it is delays that have increased. This summer, more than 25 percent of flights arrived late by an average of 57 minutes.
PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: This year, we have seen significant improvement. That doesn't mean that the system was immune from some tough travel days this year and this summer.
MUNTEAN: AAA says, even still, travelers remain undaunted, booking 4 percent more domestic trips compared to last Labor Day weekend, and 44 percent more international trips with destinations like Vancouver, Rome and London topping the list.
SCOTT KEYES, AIR TRAVEL EXPERT: You are seeing flights and trips over to Europe, and down to Latin America booming right now, with numbers that are significantly higher than what we saw pre-pandemic.
MUNTEAN: The crowds also stretched to the roads. AAA forecasts that popular routes like Palm Springs to San Diego and the Jersey Shore to Manhattan will hit peak congestion on Monday. Before this weekend, the average price for a gallon of regular gas flirted with a seasonal record set back in 2012.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like everything else, it just keeps going up and that's why I'm meeting my family half way. I would have driven all the way down to Baltimore and back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We knew they were going to go up. We knew it. So, we filled up before we left Jersey.
MUNTEAN: Pete Muntean, CNN, Reagan National Airport.
MARQUARDT: And "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.