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The Situation Room

U.S. Says, Kim Jong-Un May Meet With Vladimir Putin in Russia; Festivalgoers Trapped For Days By Rain And Mud Finally Leaving; GOP Hopefuls On The Trail As Trump Widens Lead In New Poll; Four "Credible Sightings" Of Escaped Murderer Near Pennsylvania Prison. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 04, 2023 - 18:00   ET


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Also tonight, CNN is on the scene as tens of thousands of festivalgoers are finally able to leave the desert venue where they've been trapped by a muddy mess after a rare and rapid downpour.


And some of Donald Trump's 2024 rivals descend on New Hampshire on this Labor Day as the former president expands his lead in a new national poll despite his historic criminal indictments.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And this is a special edition of The Situation Room.

We begin with news of a potential meeting between two of Washington's biggest geopolitical rivals. North Korea's Kim Jong-un may be heading to Russia, where he would meet face to face with President Vladimir Putin.

CNN National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood is live at the State Department for us and Paula Hancocks joins us live from Seoul.

Kylie, first to you. How does the U.S. view this meeting? It sounds troublesome.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, NSC Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said that the U.S. is urging North Korea to cease negotiations, any arms negotiations with Russia.

This comes as she's also saying that the U.S. has information that it is Kim Jong-un who is expecting to have a meeting to engage with President Putin in Russia.

Of course, this comes as we have heard from U.S. officials over the last week or so that there are active pursuits between North Korea and Russia right now of an additional arms deal between the two countries. And we don't know exactly when this meeting between President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could actually come, but The New York Times, which first reported on the possibility for this engagement, said that their reporting is expected to happen this month. Now, we have seen some, what would be potential legwork for this meeting in recent months. We should note that the Russian defense minister, Shoigu, traveled to North Korea in July. According to the NSC, that was an effort to try and convince North Korea to sell artillery to Russia. We know that there was a follow-on meeting by Russian officials to North Korea following that meeting. And according to the NSC, Kim Jong-un and President Putin have also exchanged letters over the course of the last few months committing to deepening their relationship.

Now, when it comes to what could actually be in this potential new arms agreement between the two countries, here's what NSC's John Kirby said about that to reporters last week.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Under these potential deals, Russia would receive significant quantities and multiple types of munitions from the DPRK, which the Russian military plans to use in Ukraine. These potential deals could also include the provision of raw materials that would assist Russia's defense industrial base.


ATWOOD: Now, late last year, North Korea also sold infantry rockets to Russia. So, this wouldn't be the first time that North Korea would be providing Russia with military support for use on the battlefield in Ukraine. But U.S. officials have made it a focal point of theirs to try and reveal the possibilities for countries to provide support to Russia before it actually happens, of course, in an effort to try and deter the countries from going ahead with that. We'll continue to watch this and see when this potential engagement between Putin and Kim Jong-un actually happens. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. Kylie Atwood, thank you very much.

Let's go to South Korea to get more reaction on this story. Paula, what are you hearing from your sources in Seoul about the potential of an arms deal between North Korea and Russia? I have to think that their ears are perking up over there in Seoul.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jim, yes. This is something very similar that we have been hearing from the NIS here, the intelligence agency. Just last month, they said that they believed that there was a deal that was about to be put in place, pointing out the fact that the Russian defense minister, Shoigu, came to Pyongyang in July was really when this was brought up.

They go one step further, though. They point out what North Korea gets out of this potential deal. The NIS saying that they believe that there could be a reciprocal deal that Russia could be giving missile or nuclear technology know-how to Pyongyang. We know that's certainly happened in the past, also saying that they could be looking for more technical know-how on how to repair weapons and old equipment. So, that is what the intelligence agency here is saying, that North Korea could get out of this. But it is very clear that we saw back in July when Shoigu was in Pyongyang, he was at the military parade with Kim Jong-un. He was walking around an arms exhibition surrounded by military equipment with Kim as well. It was a very clear message that Kim was giving that this is his diplomatic priority, that he is moving closer to Russia.


He also had Chinese officials at the military parade as well, at the same time as any outreach from Washington or Seoul is being largely ignored from North Korea.

The one other point to make, of course, Jim, is sanctions, that North Korea is one of the heaviliest sanctioned countries on Earth. The fact that there are multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions forbidding many deals with Pyongyang, certainly an arms deal, would be involved in that.

These are sanctions that Russia signed onto in the past. But certainly that is a concern from the U.S. side and the U.N. side as well, saying that they will sanction entities who are going to be doing these potential deals with North Korea.

Now from the South Korean side as well, still no indication on when a possible meet-up between the two leaders could happen. The last time they met was in April 2019 when Kim Jong-un went to Vladivostok in the eastern part of Russia. He went there with his armored train. Potentially, that could be another meeting spot again, but at this point, there's no clarity on when that meeting could happen. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. The whole world's going to be watching to see how this relationship develops. Paula Hancocks, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, as Russia's defensive positions frustrate Ukraine's counteroffensive, CNN is getting an inside look at a team of Ukrainian drone operators trying to clear the way.

CNN's Melissa Bell is covering this story for us from the war zone. Melissa, what is it like for these drone operators near the frontline?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was so interesting spending this night with the SBU that is Ukraine's security service.

And going back to the conversation you were just having, those munitions that Russia is desperately trying to get its hands on to feed its war effort, well, Ukraine as well. We're also hearing from military leaders here over and over again, it is ammunition, ammunition, ammunition that we lack. We need much more of it than we're getting, and they're desperate to get that.

What we witnessed essentially with the SBU that night and their drone were their attempts to make sure that what they do have, some of those HIMARS, for instance, get to the right target because they're so precious in such short supply.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BELL (voice over): Ukraine's security service preparing for a raid across enemy lines in a war of artillery and drones and plenty of creativity.

It looks almost like a toy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is Chinese toy with some upgrades and some innovations with some magic.

BELL: Enough magic that this specially made drone will travel far beyond the Zaporizhzhia frontline. In search of a Russian air defense system, it flies deep into enemy territory towards a town that is one of the main objectives of the southern counteroffensive Tokmak.

At the other end of the phone and watching the same screen, a HIMARS unit is ready to launch. The call sign of this drone's unit commander is Bankir (ph), a reminder of his life before the war, when this land was still Ukrainian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now you can see on the road, this is Russians vehicles moving. This is checkpoint. Russians, you can see in Tokmak.

BELL: But tonight, they've been unlucky the air defense system they wanted to hit is no longer there.

Home for tonight is a field about 15 km north of the frontline. Using only red lights to avoid detection, they've got a bird's eye view of the battle below and what's happening beyond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are hunting for them for some time. We have some results. We know where they are hiding. We know where they are moving. So, it's question about time just to find them.

BELL: And each time it flies, the drone records precious information. The state of Russian defenses, vehicles and systems being moved, even if tonight a Russian air defense system and its four to five officers were, unbeknownst to them, spared.

Are you disappointed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we are not disappointed. This is our service. It's our work. And we will continue to do it.

BELL: Until he says every last inch of Ukrainian territory has been freed however long that takes.



BELL (on camera): What they told us also that night we spent with them in that field, Jim, was that they've been watching these defenses go up ever since March of 2022 here in the Zaporizhzhia region. They've been watching them go up, they say.

And what the Russian army doesn't have is terribly good fighters. What it puts many of its young men to use for is digging and building. Those defenses have been -- being built over time and in great depth. And that, of course, is exactly what the southern and counteroffensive is butting up against. It is making limited progress, but it is extremely difficult.

Still, Ukrainians believe there is some momentum here, and they're trying to consolidate those gains to the south of Robotyne. Still, they can see precisely what lies ahead for them, and it's a lot of work left, a lot of losses ahead, and no doubt a lot of time still. Jim?

ACOSTA: Absolutely. All right, Melissa Bell with a fascinating look at a crucial part of this war, Melissa, thank you very much.

For more on all of these developments, I'm joined now by Bruce Klingner. He's a former CIA deputy division chief for Korea. I'm also joined by Jean Lee, the former Pyongyang bureau chief for the Associated Press. Thanks to both of you on this Labor Day. I appreciate it.

Bruce, just how significant is this potential meeting between Putin and Kim Jong-un to negotiate an arms deal, and why now?

BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF OF KOREA: It's very worrisome, and we've seen in the last year that there has been growing improving relations between North Korea and Russia, and it's largely focused on military developments.

So far, the developments have been North Korea providing ammunition to Russia. A year ago, there were reports that they would provide millions of ammunition rounds. That number seems high unless it includes small arms rounds, but it most likely would be 122 millimeter and 152 millimeter artillery rounds and multiple rocket rounds that they have a lot of and which is compatible with Russian equipment.

And we've also seen Ukraine captured some of that ammunition and then using it to fire back at Russia, although it was fairly unreliable. So, it's a worrisome development, both for the continued operations in Ukraine, but also now if it seems that Russia may be providing technology to improve North Korean military capabilities, that is also very worrisome for the U.S., as well as critically important allies, Japan and South Korea.

ACOSTA: Well, and that brings me to Jean. You've spent an extensive amount of time reporting inside North Korea. What do you make of Putin and Kim Jong-un and what they're up to here? I suppose a lot of the conversation will be about the implications for Ukraine. But as Bruce was just mentioning, there's a lot to be discussed when it comes to how North Korea might be able to upgrade its arsenal with Russian technology and so on.

JEAN LEE, FORMER PYONGYANG BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I would say that it's also such an interesting time for North Korea as the country comes out of more than three and a half years of self-imposed isolation. And I do believe, and I've been saying that Kim Jong-un was preparing to make this reemergence on the world stage after he got done with his big celebration, Korean War celebration in July, that he was going to set the stage to reemerge.

So, he is resurrecting and strengthening this traditional relationship, this traditional alliance with Russia at a pivotal time. This is a way for him to reassure his people that they may have been isolated for three years, but they have not been forgotten by this superpower.

But also remember that because of those border closures, they are in desperate need of food, supplies, and perhaps some of that technological know-how to help them get their military, their nuclear program to the next level.

And there isn't often a time that North Korea, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, can offer something to Russia but here is a moment where Russia, where Putin has very few friends, and North Korea has something that he needs, which is munitions. It comes at a time when they are standing together in opposition to a U.S.-led coalition at the U.N. Security Council, where they are facing sanctions for their provocative behavior.

So, it's very interesting for me. I'm not completely surprised, but like Bruce, I am very worried, because this clearly has patients that go beyond the Korean Peninsula. They extend globally in terms of proliferation and in terms of the war in Ukraine.

ACOSTA: And, Bruce, it sounds as though both sides, North Korea and Russia, may be acting out of some desperation. It sounds like they need each other to some extent here.

KLINGNER: Exactly. The fact that Russia, which has extensive production capabilities for artillery, weapons as well as ammunition, the fact that they're scrounging for ammunition from North Korea and others, shows how desperate they are, the very high expenditure of ammunition in the Ukraine operations.


So, it shows that Russia is very desperate.

The artillery of that ammunition caliber is very old, and as we've seen with some operations in Ukraine, it's unreliable. But also, as Jean pointed out, North Korea is hurting very much economically, not only from its COVID isolation and international sanctions, but just its decades of failed socialist economic policies. So, these are two beggars who are very much in need of each other.

ACOSTA: All right. Jean Lee, Bruce Klingner, thanks to both you very much. I really appreciate those insights. Thanks so much.

Just ahead, this is what they're calling the exodus. You're looking at some live pictures right now from Black Rock City, Nevada, as we're going to go live to the Nevada desert just a few moments, where tens of thousands of festivalgoers are finally able to go home after days of being trapped by a dangerous mixture of rain and mud.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: In Nevada this hour, tens of thousands of people are finally escaping a dangerous situation at a popular desert festival where a rare onslaught of rain and mud kept them trapped for days.


CNN's Camila Bernal is on the scene for us. Camila, you've been out there for almost more than 24 hours now, and it sounds like the log jam is finally breaking and people can go home. Where do things stand now?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, people are very happy that they can go home, but they are going to have to wait. The exodus is underway. It is full blown, but the problem is that everybody has to wait in this line and it takes hours.

I want to just give you some perspective with the camera above me just so that you can see where I'm standing and why people are having to wait hours and hours to get out of here. This is the norm. People usually take a long time to get out of here. The problem is this time around, they're coming out extra muddier and extra happy to be out because the last couple of days have been very difficult.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a real sloppy mess out there.

BERNAL (voice over): Tens of thousands of people stuck at Burning Man in the Nevada desert over the weekend after heavy rains made a mess of the dirt roads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We drove out and got stuck and made one bad decision. It was up to here.

BERNAL: Hundreds of cars ended up stranded on roads leading out of the Black Rock Desert in the northwestern part of the state.

KAT BAE, FIRST TIME BURNING MAN ATTENDEE: Everything was shut down and getting out was a nightmare.

BERNAL: Paul Romero and his wife left Maui's devastation for what was supposed to be a relaxing honeymoon.

PAUL ROMERO, BURNING MAN ATTENDEE FROM HAWAII: It became a mini disaster for a lot of people. It was impossible to function and impossible to move around, impossible to communicate. Entire camps became pretty much destroyed.

BERNAL: Less than an inch of water fell over one 24-hour period from Friday to Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's so much water, we are flooded.

BERNAL: Organizers of the weeklong festival asked attendees to shelter in place and to conserve food, water and fuel.

TONY COYOTE-PEREZ, CITY SUPERINTENDENT: It's actually been fairly festive. Everybody is taking it in stride.

BERNAL: But not everybody. Some so called burners say the mood was festive until supplies started running out.

ZOHAR KENNARD, BURNING MAN ATTENDEE FROM NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: Everybody took their shoes off, started dancing in the mud. It was great. And then the reality sunk in that we couldn't leave.

BERNAL: Apart from one death over the weekend, which authorities say is not weather related, no serious injuries have been reported.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody was helping each other out.

THOMAS WESLEY PENTZ AKA DIPLO, D.J. AND BURNING MAN ATTENDEE: Some people are making mud sculptures.

BERNAL: D.J. Diplo and a few others, including comedian Chris Rock, managed to walk out and hitch a ride.

DIPLO: I think Cindy Crawford walked with us, Kyle Gerber, Austin Butler. It was a challenge, but it was honestly one of the highlights of the whole trip.

BERNAL: Tens of thousands are still slowly inching their way out of the event grounds. And the man burn, an enormous totem effigy ceremoniously set on fire at the end of Burning Man each year has been delayed until tonight, making this year still an epic event.

BOBBY WHITE, BURNING MAN ATTENDEE: It is kind of a bonding thing. This is going to be one of those years when you look back and be like, oh, I was there in 2023.


BERNAL (on camera): And organizers here say that they expect about 64,000 people to still stay in there tonight for that burn. Everybody that I talked to just excited to be here and telling me that everybody came together, despite how difficult the last couple of days have been.

So, they will close out with this celebration, and then they will have to wait hours as they stand or sit in a car and wait in this line to try to finally get out of here, Jim.

ACOSTA: Man, oh, man, look at that line of cars. Camila Bernal, I hope you can get to the front of that line and get out of there soon. Camila, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

BERNAL: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Coming up, can President Biden and former President Donald Trump convince voters they're not too old for another four years in the White House? We'll dig into a new poll on that topic next. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.



ACOSTA: There's some new movement in the 2024 presidential race tonight. Multiple Republican candidates are on the trail in a key battleground state as former President Donald Trump widens his lead over the GOP field in a new national poll.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is on the ground in New Hampshire. Jeff, you were at an event there today with several of Trump's rivals. What was their message?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jim, what the Republican rivals are trying to tell voters here that this is the beginning of the race.

Labor Day, of course, has long been the traditional kickoff of a presidential race. And these candidates, and, of course, rivals to former President Donald Trump are trying to make the case that this race is just starting. It is certainly not over.

And many voters we are talking to here and at other events, they say they are just tuning into this race. There is no doubt that former President Donald Trump is the overwhelming frontrunner in this race, those national poll numbers you mentioned, but, of course, primaries happen state by state.

Iowa will start the process early next year, followed by New Hampshire, and history will show the New Hampshire primary often surprises, where former Vice President Mike Pence was addressing voters earlier today, he's urging Republicans to go back in time to conservatism and supporting national security.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: If there ever was a time that we needed the people in the first in the nation state to step up and shape leadership in this party that is grounded in our party's longstanding commitment to a strong national defense, to American leadership in the world, to limited government fiscal responsibility, to traditional values and the right to life, it's now.



ZELENY: So, the former president making his case at that event. He'll also be speaking here behind me here in just a few moments at an event that former Senator Scott Brown is hosting with all of the candidates.

So, Jim, this is a typical New Hampshire political event. You have covered many of them, as have I, and voters that we talked to are just tuning in. The question is, yes, there is a pro-Trump camp, there is an anti-Trump camp that is now divided by all of those many rivals. One key indicator new Hampshire independent voters, they often come out in droves. It's about 40 percent of the entire electorate here. What will they do early next year?

So, this race feels like it certainly has been going on for quite some time, but we're entering a new phase here, and many of these rivals hope, as they say, it's the beginning and it's not already over. Jim?

ACOSTA: Yes, the pace is picking up and you're in a crucial state, as always. Jeff Zeleny. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Let's get more on all of this with CNN Senior Political Commentator Scott Jennings and Ashley Etienne, the former communications director to Vice President Kamala Harris. Guys, thanks so much. Happy Labor Day.

Scott, let's jump right into this, this new Wall Street Journal poll of the 2024 Republican presidential race. Your thoughts on Trump having this 46-point lead over his nearest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. I mean, what do you think? It's really sort of frozen in place or kind of glacially moving in Donald Trump's direction. Is it over?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's not over until people actually vote. But, certainly, the indictments of Donald Trump for Republican primary voters have been like rocket fuel for his campaign. I mean, if you go back in time to last November member after the midterms, Republicans were sour on Trump, and then he gets involved in all these legal issues and they go right back to him and have decided that this election should be about vindication for Donald Trump rather than really anything else.

Now, I do think there's a gulf between where Republican primary voters are and where general election voters are. But if you look at the Wall Street Journal poll, it's not just the primary results that were interesting. He's tied with Joe Biden in the head to head, and he was ahead of Joe Biden when you throw in the minor candidates that are also looking to be on the ballot. So, obviously, there is a world where this race is moving towards being over and that Joe Biden is in danger of losing to Donald Trump.

Although I find it unlikely that Trump would be elected president if he were convicted of a felony. You can see the American people are really troubled with their choices here.

ACOSTA: Yes. Ashley, what is your sense of this poll? Nearly three quarters of Americans, 73 percent, say President Biden is too old to seek a second term, which is 26 points higher than the number of people who would say that about Donald Trump, who is just three years younger. We don't really focus on Trump's age quite as much as President Biden's age. But the president did joke about this earlier today in Philadelphia. Let's watch.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Someone said that Biden, he's getting old, man. I tell you what. Well, guess what. Guess what? The only thing that comes today is a little bit of wisdom. I've been doing this longer than anybody, and guess what, I'm going to continue to do it with your help.


ACOSTA: Ashley, what's your sense of how the president is handling this age question?

ASHLEY ETIENNE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR V.P. HARRIS AND SPEAKER PELOSI: Well, I mean, I think he's handling it masterfully. I think he's absolutely right. I mean, he's demonstrating that he's experienced and he's seasoned. I mean, he's worked across the aisle, brought Congress together to do these big landmark pieces of legislation, from the infrastructure bill to reducing most recently health care costs.

But here's the thing. I'd love to take a step back, if you don't mind, to go back to The Wall Street Journal poll. Here's what really matters. It's way too early to overinvest in polls. There was never a poll that said that Donald Trump was going to win in 2016. And, remember, the polls in the midterm election predicted a wave that never actually materialized.

Here's a number that should matter most to Republicans. And that number is three. Donald Trump has lost the last three cycles for the Republican Party. Once the American people figured out who he was, they decided they didn't want any more of it.

So, I think for them to overinvest in these polls is a fool's errand. I think they need to take a step back and really assess the situation. They could have a situation where, according to the most recent political poll, 50 percent of the country thinks that the president is guilty of trying to overturn the election. They could have their frontrunner, who's actually tried, convicted, and potentially going to jail by the time of the convention.

ACOSTA: Yes. Scott, I mean, Americans might say Biden is too old to serve another four years in office, but if their other choice is Donald Trump, might Americans say, okay, I'll stick with the old guy?

JENNINGS: Yes, they absolutely might. And I don't really dispute some of that. I mean, if he is convicted of a crime by the time the election rolls around, I think there's a large cohort of Americans who are going to have a hard time associating their franchise with a convicted felon.

At the same time, you can hear the Democrats' entire strategy is just to run against Donald Trump. They're praying for Donald Trump. And, obviously, this polling shows he is in a strong position to be the Republican nominee.


But if you were to throw anybody else against Joe Biden, even 55 percent of Democrats -- it's not just Republicans, Democrats think he's too old to run again. And by a 51 to 40 margin, Americans thought Trump, not Biden, had a record of accomplishment.

You can see anyone south of 70 and not headed for jail would be in a pretty good spot against this incumbent. But as the poll shows, it's Trump right now.

ETIENNE: And by the way, they're both old guys. So let's be clear about that.

ACOSTA: Not too far apart. That's exactly right. Scott and Ashley, happy Labor Day. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.

Just ahead, a critical ruling is coming up in connection with the Georgia election interference case, how it could impact the prosecution of Donald Trump.


ACOSTA: This could prove to be a significant week in the Georgia prosecution of Donald Trump. It all depends on how and when a judge rules on Mark Meadows' bid to try and move his case to federal court.


Let's discuss with Marcus Childress, former investigative counsel for the January 6th Select Committee, and criminal defense attorney Vida Johnson. Thanks to both of you for being here on this Labor Day.

Marcus, to you first, what do you think, how do you think that the judge is going to rule in this Meadows matter here? I mean, this is a critical decision this judge is about to make.

MARCUS CHILDRESS, FORMER JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: Right. I think any trial attorney will tell you if the facts matter. If you have the facts on your side, you're feeling good about your chances of winning the day.

Look, we wanted to talk to Mark Meadows for the exact reasons we saw during cross-examination last week during his hearing. And that's because he was part of the greater conspiracy to overturn the election, particularly in Georgia.

And I think those are the facts that the Fulton County D.A. keeps harping on and keeps going back to. We've seen the Meadows team actually focus on little issues, such as scheduling meetings or phone calls. But as the Fulton County D.A. keeps pointing out, those phone calls weren't furtherance of the criminal enterprise to overturn the election.

So, if you keep going back to that being a conspiracy, the act that serves as the predicate for removal, I think that the Fulton County D.A. has to feel good about their chances.

ACOSTA: Yes, it's such a crucial question and all of this. And, Vida, I mean, do you think the Meadows defense team has proved its case that Mark Meadows was just doing these things out of his duties as the White House chief of staff? VIDA JOHNSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think it's important to remember that they carry the burden here. And I think it's going to be difficult for them. Obviously, they are going to succeed in proving that he was working in some capacity in his federal role.

But I think it's going to be really difficult to say that his conduct was under the color of his office, particularly in light of the fact that, according to Fani Willis, his conduct violated the Hatch Act, which is this provision that says that federal employees cannot be engaged in political activity. And so I think that makes his argument really difficult.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, Marcus, another question that has emerged, and we've heard this from legal scholars in recent days, is whether or not the 14th Amendment already disqualifies Donald Trump from running for president again based on a lot of what you looked into during the January 6th investigation.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democratic senator, weighed in on the possibility of this. Let's listen to this and talk about it on the other side.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): I thought actually it might have been a more productive way to go than the second impeachment to do a declaration under that section of the 14th Amendment.

So, I think there is a powerful argument to be made. My sense is it's probably going to get resolved in the courts.

I'll let the lawyers worry about the 14th Amendment. My colleagues and I are focuses on winning.


ACOSTA: Marcus, what do you think of that?

CHILDRESS: Look, if you go back to our report from December of this year, actually, we highlighted a recommendation for the 14th Amendment and how it can be used as a mechanism for disqualifying the former president or any federal or state elected official who goes against their oath of office.

Look, our report is full of details of how former President Trump might have provided aid or comfort in furtherance of insurrection. And I'll be curious to see who brings forth these claims and where they bring it and kind of the standing arguments that get presented in open court and also how they use the facts that we developed in our report to support maybe disqualification of the 14th Amendment.

ACOSTA: Yes. Vida, what's your sense of this?

JOHNSON: Well, I think it's such an interesting issue and it's relatively uncharted territory. I think it's something that's absolutely going to work its way up to the Supreme Court. And, you know, for better or for worse, three of those justices are Trump nominees and appointees. And then we've got two other judges that are very sympathetic to Donald Trump. So, I think it's anyone's guess what happens, but I think it will get decided before the nomination.

ACOSTA: All right, very good. Marcus Childress, Vida Johnson, thank you very much. Happy Labor Day. Thanks for coming in. I appreciate it.

Coming up, new reaction to the prospect of a meeting between Kim Jong- un and Vladimir Putin, a key Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee joins us next.



ACOSTA: Tonight, U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on contacts between North Korea and Russia as a potential meeting between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin may be in the works.

Joining me now to talk about this, a member of the House Intelligence Community, Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. Happy Labor Day. Appreciate you coming on.

What is your reaction to this potential meeting between Pyongyang and Moscow to discuss an arms deal? That sounds pretty concerning. What would the ramifications of that be?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, happy Labor Day and yes, it is concerning. It appears that North Korea has wanted to violate various U.N. Security Council resolutions an sell arms to the Russians for some time now, but the price they demanded, namely important technology for satellite launches as well as nuclear submarine technology, has been viewed by China and Russia as very steep. I think quite frankly, both sides are more desperate right now.

On the one hand as you can see in Ukraine, you know, the Ukrainians have taken the initiative, breaking through front lines near Zaporizhzhia and the Russians are running out of artillery and then, of course, in North Korea, the famine goes on and has become even more acute. And so, perhaps, they are more motivated to do a deal.

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, does this potential meeting suggest to you -- sounds like this is what you're saying, that Russia has been unable to get military equipment it needs and is sort of turning to North Korea out of desperation because in part, they can't get what they need out of China?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think that's in part correct. Remember the North Korean artillery shells that have been supplied around the world are kind of shoddy. They're not the best in their arsenal and they usually sell the stuff they're not going to use. And so, the fact the Russians are so desperate for North Korean artillery says something about the state of affairs in Ukraine.


And I think the meeting, if it goes forward, is going to be illuminating on the situation and desperation the Russians are facing.

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, let's turn to some of the upcoming developments here in Washington. House Republicans could soon vote on an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. What do you think of that? Is there anything Democrats can do to stop it?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think that -- well, I think Democrats like myself on the House Oversight Committee need to keep speaking up about the, quote/unquote, evidence that we see being presented by the other side with regard to the president's wrongdoing, namely that there is none. There's not a shred, not an iota of evidence of wrongdoing presented about President Biden, let alone any kind of evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.

So it amounts to what my colleague Republican Ken Buck has said, which is it's just impeachment theater. It's absolute fiction.

ACOSTA: And the House has just 12 legislative days to avoid a government shutdown. Speaker McCarthy and Leader Schumer on the Senate side both say they want to pass a short-term bill to avoid that. But, as you know, there are some hard line Republicans in that GOP conference who are opposed to that, they're asking for some items that are just nonstarters with a big chunk of both the House and the Senate.

How do you avert a shutdown in that kind of scenario?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think that Kevin McCarthy instead of giving in to these hard-liners on the extreme right do a deal with the Democrats. There are a lot of us who will work with him and speaker -- I'm sorry, Minority Leader Jeffries has done an excellent job of reaching out to the speaker to try to work with him, to try to keep the government functioning. I hope that he reciprocates.

But a government shutdown is absolutely unacceptable. We lived through a 35-day shutdown during the Trump years, and you know, seniors suffered because the Social Security Administration wasn't able to help them. Active duty military wasn't being paid on time and people who were disaster struck weren't able to get the aid that they needed from FEMA. So this is absolutely unacceptable.

ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you very much for your time. Again, happy Labor Day. Thanks for coming on.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Same to you. Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. Just ahead, as a massive manhunt for a convicted murderer enters its fifth day, Pennsylvania police are turning to new tactics including broadcasting a message recorded by the escaped prisoner's mother.



ACOSTA: Law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania are searching for a dangerous escaped murderer on the run tonight after breaking out of prison.

CNN's Brian Todd is covering this story for us.

Brian, what's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we're about to complete the fifth full day since this man's escape, and we have new information tonight about possible sightings and new tactics police are using in the manhunt.


TODD (voice-over): An escaped convicted murderer who police say is desperate, who they now say they have had four credible sightings of still remains on the loose tonight. The most recent sighting of 34- year-old Danilo Cavalcante was yesterday when a Pennsylvania state trooper had eyes on him.

LT. COL. GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: It was a trooper actually that observed him in some distance, gave chase but was unable because of the terrain and some of other obstacles there was unable to get to him before he disappeared.

TODD: Officials say all four sightings of Cavalcante have been within a 1.5 to 2 mile radius of the Chester County prison in eastern Pennsylvania which he escaped from on Thursday morning. A residential surveillance camera picked him up at 1:43 a.m. Saturday, emerging from a wooded area, less than two miles from the prison.

Police say they've also investigated two burglaries in the area. While they can't confirm the burglaries were committed by Cavalcante, residents nearby are getting increasingly nervous.

Lance Leman said he returned from a holiday trip concerned about his home.

LANCE LEMAN, WEST CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA RESIDENT: We want to make sure everything's clear, nothing's going on. He's not hiding in our structure.

TODD: And a new tactic from law enforcement. Residents near the prison are hearing a message from helicopters and patrol cars, a message recorded in Portuguese by Cavalcante's mother from her home in Brazil, urging him to surrender peacefully.

ROBERT CLARK, SUPERVISORY DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL: As desperate as he is, maybe he has a change of thought and hears his mother telling him to surrender, his family cares about him. He's desperate. He's hungry. He's been in the woods, he's dirty. Perhaps this puts him over the edge.

TODD: Cavalcante was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2021 murder of his former girlfriend, Debra Brandao. Prosecutors say he stabbed her 38 times in front of her two young children. The motive for that killing according to investigators, Brandao had discovered he was wanted for another murder in Brazil.

MICHAEL TABMAN, RETIRED SPECIAL AGENT: He has nothing to lose, he's looking at a life sentence. He's out, he has another taste of freedom. He's not going to want to give it up. When someone has a violent tendency and is desperate, that's a formula for danger.

TODD: Officials telling local residents don't play hero. Cavalcante remains extremely dangerous, they say, and citizens should not approach him. The pressure, police say, will come from them.

BIVENS: I intend to stress him, I want to push him hard. He'll make mistakes. He'll show himself. He's already shown himself, we believe, a few times. We'll contain him, and we will eventually catch him.


TODD (on camera): There's now a $10,000 reward for information leading to Danilo Cavalcante's capture. Lieutenant Colonel George Bivens of the Pennsylvania state police says if law enforcement finds Cavalcante and he's not actively surrendering, they're authorized to use deadly force -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Brian Todd, hope they catch him. Thank you very much for that.

I'm Jim Acosta, in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you very much for watching. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. THE SITUATION ROOM is also available as a podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

And my friend over at the 7:00 program, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now. Have a good night.