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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Sen. Bob Menendez Defiant Amid Bribery Charges; Trump Accuses Mark Milley Of Treason, Suggesting Top General Be Put To Death; Asa Hutchinson Won't Be In Second GOP Debate. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 25, 2023 - 21:00   ET




KATHERINE HOWE, AUTHOR: So, like most great fortunes, if you scratch the surface a little bit, there are a lot of unfortunate lessons about human nature that you can come to.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): The Astor money maybe gone, in America. But you can still see the Astor name, all over New York City, especially in Astor Place and Greenwich Village, where, on the walls of the subway stop, if you look closely, you'll find ceramic tiles, depicting beavers, the source of the fortune, John Jacob Astor, so relentlessly and ruthlessly carved, out of the American wilderness.


COOPER: Well, the book, "Astor: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune" is out now. I hope you enjoy it.

The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.


Senator Bob Menendez defiant, now trying to explain the hundreds of thousands of dollars, in cash, stashed around his house, as a third Democratic senator, calls for him to resign.

Plus, former President Trump, threatening the highest-ranking Military officer, in the nation, who also happens to potentially be a witness, in the Special Counsel's case, against him. We'll get reaction, from Trump's former Defense Secretary, in moments.

And the Trump campaign first said that he bought a gun, today, in South Carolina. But after an immediate uproar, they walked it back. What's the law for someone, who's been indicted four times?

I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.

Tonight, New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, is refusing to resign, despite the growing calls from within his own party, now, three Democratic senators, calling, for him to step down.

And just in tonight, former Speaker, Nancy Pelosi joined them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The charges are formidable. And if in fact we're going to say that if you're indicted, you should resign.

It'd probably be a good idea if he did resign.


COLLINS: "Probably would be a good idea."

The Democrat, who has now been indicted, for a second time though, says he has no intention of doing so.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be the New Jersey's senior senator.


COLLINS: These were his first comments, on camera, since being indicted.

And the member of the Senate Banking Committee offered, this explanation, for why nearly half a million dollars, in cash, was somehow safer, in jackets and closets, in his home, rather than, say, a bank.


MENENDEZ: For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars, in cash, from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies, and because of the history of my family facing confiscation, in Cuba.


COLLINS: Menendez did not offer an explanation, for the gold bars, or the Mercedes-Benz sports car that prosecutors say he received, as bribe payments, for using his position, to funnel money, in Military aid, to Egypt.

Allegations that of course are made all the more brazen, given he was the top-ranking Democrat, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


MENENDEZ: Throughout my 30 years, in the House of Representatives, and the Senate, I have always worked to hold accountable, those countries, including Egypt, for human rights abuses, the repression of its citizenry, civil society and more.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: The Senator made no mention, about running for reelection, today, as he insisted that the rest of the details, he believes, will come out in court.


MENENDEZ: The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system.


COLLINS: I should note that justice system has a strikingly bipartisan track record. Currently, two sitting lawmakers are facing charges, Senator Menendez and Congressman George Santos, one Democrat, one Republican.

But given the allegations, against the Senator, focused on his position, to influence arms sales, and U.S. aid to Egypt, I want to get straight, to THE SOURCE, tonight, the Democrat and co-founder of the Egypt Human Rights Caucus, Congressman Don Beyer, of Virginia.

Congressman, thank you, for being here, tonight.

You heard Senator Menendez there. He says he's not resigning. But you believe that he should. Why?

REP. DON BEYER (D-VA): Yes, absolutely.

First, there is a strong tradition, in the Congress, that when indicted, you should resign. You're still going to get your day in court. He hasn't been convicted yet. But I don't know how he can do his job, effectively, with this incredibly damning indictment, hanging over his head.


BEYER: And, frankly, I wasn't --

COLLINS: Go ahead.

BEYER: -- impressed by the press conference today.

COLLINS: What questions did he not answer that you still have?

BEYER: Well, first of all, if you believe that that's why he has the hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash hanging around? And even if he did have it, why wouldn't you put it in a safe at home?

But that doesn't explain why he texted a list of the U.S. embassy employees that ended up in Sisi's hands. Doesn't explain why he goes through the memo that called for lifting the hold on Military aid. It doesn't explain why he had the secret meeting, with Israeli Intel, or with the Egyptian intelligence.

[21:05:00] Yes, we've been pushing hard against Egypt's human rights violations. There are thousands of people that are held indefinitely, incarcerated, the torture, the rape, the violation of just human rights.

And so, the Senator says one thing that he does these letters. But then he does exactly the opposite, when it's not in the public eye.

COLLINS: Yes. And I should note, on the money, some of it was in a safe deposit box. But you're right, a lot of it was found, either in jackets, or just around the house.

But you mentioned Egypt. And I know, obviously, that has been something that has been a huge issue for you, how they are, on human rights.

And you heard the Senator. He's stepped down as the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, for Democrats, for the time being, following Senate Democrats' rules.

But he made this defense, of his record, on Egypt, today.


MENENDEZ: One fact is indisputable. Throughout my time, in Congress, I have remained steadfast, on the side of civil society, and human rights defenders, in Egypt, and everywhere else, in the world. If you look at my actions, related to Egypt, during the period described, in this indictment, and throughout my whole career, my record is clear.


COLLINS: Is that how you see his record? Or what new questions, do you have, about the actions he took, regarding Egypt, given these allegations?

BEYER: Well, Kaitlan, let's look at his action. So, he says he wrote a letter, and he stands up for human rights.

But the only tool we really have, in our diplomatic box, is to withhold Military aid. And under the conditions of our agreements, we can uphold -- withhold up to $300 million, every year, in aid to Egypt, because of the human rights violations.

Well, he actually -- and the Biden administration, right now, is withholding $65 million, and considering withholding the rest of it.

But Senator Menendez, on the other hand, was working actively, to make sure they got all of their money. So, he's doing one thing -- he says one thing, but he does something completely opposite.

COLLINS: What do you think this, warrants from the Administration? I mean, they just announced $235 million in Military aid, in recent weeks, to Egypt. Of course, I know that you had put out a statement on that as well. What questions does this raise, about that relationship, going forward? BEYER: Well, the biggest question it raises is Egypt, a friend, and an ally, ostensibly, is conducting a, essentially an espionage operation, within the U.S. Senate, right here, in Washington, D.C. I think that calls for a much stronger response from the Biden administration. And that the straightforward one is to withhold the whole $300 million.

COLLINS: So far, three Senate Democrats have called, on Senator Menendez, to resign. We just heard from former Speaker, Pelosi, a few minutes ago.

Do you believe that Senator Schumer, and other Democratic leaders, also need to call for him to resign?

BEYER: I think everyone approaches it, in their own way. I think it's harder, when he has been a colleague, for year after year.

The Nancy Pelosi calling is very powerful, because she's still the most important person, in Congress, even in her emeritus status.

And you notice that Phil Murphy, the Governor of New Jersey, and a Democrat, and I'm sure a longtime associate, with the Senator, Menendez, has also called for him to step down.

COLLINS: Yes, he certainly has been an ally, of Menendez, as he was one of the first to come out. We haven't heard from Senator Cory Booker yet.

If he stays in the Senate, what does it do, for your party's credibility?

BEYER: It hurts it. I mean, I think we all make mistakes. But while we make mistakes, we have to own them, and take responsibility, for them. Whether they're our own, personally, or whether they're part of our family, or in this case, our Democratic caucus. And it won't help us, to have him hanging around.

COLLINS: Well, right now, he says he plans on doing that. We'll see if that stays the case.


COLLINS: Congressman, thank you, so much, for joining us, tonight.

BEYER: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Don Beyer.

I'm joined now by Leslie Caldwell, who eight years ago, was a prosecutor, for the Justice Department, announced a different set of bribery charges, against Senator Menendez, and a Florida doctor.

I should note Menendez was acquitted, after the jury deadlocked, in that case. And that former President Trump actually commuted that doctor's sentence, in another case, on other charges.

But regarding this indictment, Leslie, what do you make of it? And do you believe it's stronger than what the Justice Department tried to bring, in that previous case, against Senator Menendez?


That the first indictment of Senator Menendez was filed, and tried, when the law was one thing, and then actually when it was filed, when the law was one way. And then, between the indictment and the trial, the law changed, in the form of Supreme Court decision, making it much harder, for prosecutors, to prove public corruption.

This is a different kind of indictment with very different fact pattern. And the indictment is very careful, to allege links, between specific conduct, and specific benefits that were provided, to the Senator, and his wife. So, I think that makes a big difference. And we'll see how it shakes out.

COLLINS: Yes. And of course, what you're referring to is the Supreme Court, essentially changing what counts as bribing a public official. That was while his first trial was going on.


And after that trial, one of the jurors, in the case, said this, about why they did not convict him, ultimately, in 2017.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no smoking gun in this case. We didn't see. So, that's all. We went by that. We all pretty much went by our hearts. And, you know, we didn't find -- think that there was enough going on there, in the case, to convict him.


COLLINS: In these charges, obviously, Leslie, there are pictures of gold bars, cash that was found in his house, text messages, complaining about late payments. I mean, how challenging, do you believe, are the facts that are laid out in this indictment, the allegations? How challenging is that to rebut?

CALDWELL: I think it's going to be very challenging. I mean, the first case involved an individual, for whom -- from whom he was getting benefits. But that individual also was a longtime friend. That's not a fact, in this case, apparently.

And the allegations, the sort of visual power, of the items, that were given, to him, and the amounts, that were given to him, is much more significant than it was in the earlier case.

I think it's going to be very difficult to explain the gold bars. I understand he's already made some statements about the cash. But I think it's all going to be difficult to explain, particularly when there are allegations, of links, to very specific behavior by him.

COLLINS: He did offer an explanation, for the cash, today. I mean, and just as background, I mean, the average Senator makes $174,000 a year. But this is what Senator Menendez said, to explain why he had nearly half a million dollars, in cash, in his home.


MENENDEZ: Now, this may seem old-fashioned. But these were monies drawn from my personal savings account, based on the income that I have lawfully derived, over those 30 years.


COLLINS: If you were prosecuting this case, how would you respond to that defense?

CALDWELL: Well, I'd first want to test to see if it was even accurate.

I'm sure the government is subpoenaing, if they haven't already, his bank records, from his personal savings account that he says this money came from, to see what the flow of funds was, in and out of that account.

Apparently, according to the allegations, some of the envelopes that contained cash had fingerprints, and DNA, of some of the co- defendants, which is difficult to explain. So, I think it's going to be very challenging.

COLLINS: Yes. We'll see what he says going forward. Of course, he said, obviously he does have the presumption of innocence, until proven guilty. He's got that first court appearance, on Wednesday.

Leslie Caldwell, thank you, for your time, tonight.

CALDWELL: Thank you.

COLLINS: And still ahead, America's top general facing a disturbing new threat, including from the man, who appointed him, Donald Trump insinuating that General Mark Milley be executed.

What does Trump's former Defense Secretary, who served alongside General Milley, have to say about these remarks? Secretary Mark Esper will join me, in moments.

Plus, the Trump campaign first saying that the former President bought a gun, then correcting themselves after an uproar. Of course, remember, Trump is under four filling indictments. Can he even legally purchase a firearm? That's next.



COLLINS: General Mark Milley, tonight, is facing an onslaught, of violent rhetoric, just days before he is set to retire, as the nation's top Military officer. On Friday, former President Donald Trump baselessly accused the departing Joint Chiefs Chairman, of treason. Quote, "An act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been death."

Republican congressman, Paul Gosar, then suggested, in a newsletter rant, on Sunday night that Milley be hanged, along with other disgusting remarks that do not bear repeating, and therefore won't be repeated, here, tonight.

Both Trump, and the congressmen were piling, on Milley, for his response, to the January 6th attack, including phone calls that Milley had made to allies, and to government officials, in China, reassuring them, at that time that the U.S. was still a stable government, despite what had happened, in Washington, that day.

As a reminder, Trump handpicked General Milley, to the role that he has now, in 2018, and showered him with praise, at the time.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Mark Milley, he's a great gentleman. He's a great patriot. He's a great soldier.


COLLINS: Joining me, tonight, former Defense Secretary, under former President Donald Trump, Mark Esper, who of course worked alongside General Milley, in the Administration, and wrote about his experience, in "A Sacred Oath," his book.

Secretary Esper, I mean, how dangerous, do you believe, this post, from Donald Trump, is?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Look, it's very dangerous, Kaitlan. It's wrong. It's disgusting. It's despicable.

And it's not just an assault, on one person, Mark Milley, who has served his country, nobly, and who now has to fear that somebody may act, on such remarks. But it's also an attack, on institution, of the Military officer corps, the professionalism, and their sworn oath, to defend the Constitution of the United States.

So look, I see this, on multiple levels. And either way you look at it, it's just despicable.

COLLINS: One thing that kind of stands out, when Trump says something, like this, that is obviously so egregious, and you typically would never hear a president -- a former President attacking, the person he put in, is the Joint Chiefs Chairman, is kind of how muted the response to it is, certainly, from Republican leaders, on Capitol Hill.

Do you believe it's important, for them, to speak out, about this kind of incendiary comment, from Trump?

ESPER: Yes. Well, look, first of all, I'm offended that one American would say this, about another American.

Far, far worse is the fact that the President, the Commander-in-Chief, no less, is saying this against -- about the four-star Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has spent 40-plus years, in uniform, in war and peace, fighting, defending his country, and his family sacrificing along with him.

So look, I do think -- I think it should be condemned, from folks, on the right, the left, Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals alike. This type of talk should be condemned, once and for all.

COLLINS: And Secretary Esper, at the heart of this, what Trump is talking about, he's? Can you just clarify what did happen, with those phone calls, to government officials, in China? Who directed those? Why those would have happened? Despite what Trump is obviously implying in social media?

ESPER: Yes, look, there's two incidents, one in January of 2021, which I was not part of, because I was fired in November.

But the other one happens in mid-October. And, as a result, Milley has been accused, of being a rogue general, acting on his own, possibly sharing information, with the Chinese, so forth and so on.


And look, I think, much of this is due to incomplete and inaccurate reporting, by a few authors, most of whom, I have respect for, but who were, I think, trying to depict the hero, fighting against a lone president.

But the story is much more complicated. I mean, the accusation that Milley called the Chinese, on his own, is simply wrong.

I had reached out, to my Chinese counterpart, in mid-October of 2020, to send the message, because of what we were hearing through intelligence channels, through open sources, and whatnot that the Chinese were scared, alarmed, uncertain about what was happening, in Washington.

So, I wanted to send a message to them that "Everything was OK. We had no intentions about them. We want to keep the lines of communication open," so forth and so on, because I wanted to avoid any type of accidental conflict, or confrontation, with the Chinese.

So, about a week later, after my call, through a suborder, was initiated, I was in a meeting, with Mark Milley, and Admiral Davidson, and others. And I had conveyed to them that we had sent this message, to the Chinese. And as has typically happens, is we have others in the chain of command, do the same.

Milley, Davidson, and I spoke about this. I directed Milley to reach out to his counterpart as well, and convey the same message, which he did, a few days later, with the help of some of the civilian appointees, who work for me. And by the end of October, he conveyed the message.

And the good news is the Chinese came back and said, "Thank you very much. We've been very concerned. We appreciate what's going on."

Because look, at the end of the day, nobody wants some type of accidental conflict, to happen, with the Chinese, or with any country, for that matter. So, I thought it was always good diplomacy, and responsible statecraft, for the DOD, to be doing this.

COLLINS: And the Joint Chiefs Chairman, I mean, they just take orders, from either the Defense Secretary, the role that you were in, or the President, right?

ESPER: Yes, absolutely.

Look, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is an adviser, to myself, to the President, to the National Security Council. He has no formal command authority over anybody. He's an adviser. He is a coordinator. He can be a communicator.

And so, what he was acting on was my directive, to reach out to his Chinese counterpart, which is something we did, typically. We would do it with regard to the Russians, in Syria. We would do it with other militaries, around the world, to make sure we were passing along a unified coherent message --


ESPER: -- up and down the chain of command, about our intentions.

COLLINS: And I have -- when I was reading this, and reading this post, I was thinking of how we reported, several months ago, that General Milley actually met with federal investigators, over that recording, of Trump allegedly discussing classified documents, after he left office.

I mean, Milley could potentially be a witness, in that case, maybe in the election subversion case as well. Do you believe that that could be part of why Trump is targeting him now?

ESPER: Who knows? It's hard to say.

Look, I think Trump is obviously not happy, with what Milley has apparently said, before the committee. Milley and others are not -- I'm sorry, Trump and others are not happy with some of the reporting, coming out of some of the books that were written, about the Trump administration, where Milley is quoted as doing or saying this or that.

Look, I think part of that has been unfair to Milley, by authors, again, sometimes inaccurately or incompletely writing, about situations, and looking to find a hero, to strike a contrast, against a villain. And so, all these things get amplified.

And look, Milley's tenure was extraordinary. He did a great job. He has served honorably. And he deserves our praise and thanks. And he does not deserve what he's receiving, from President Trump, right now.

COLLINS: You mentioned this new reporting. There is a new piece, in "The Atlantic." And part of that says the Milley has told friends that he expects, if Trump does return to the White House, which he's obviously trying to do, that the newly elected president will come after him.

And Milley has reportedly told people, quote, "He'll start throwing people in jail, and I'd be on the top of the list." Do you think that's a justified concern?

ESPER: Look, I think it's a legitimate fear.

If you recall, from my memoir, that you mentioned, at the top, I cite a circumstance, where the President, egged on by his close advisers, wanted to call back to active duty, Admiral McRaven, and General McChrystal, to court-martial them, for some things that they allegedly said, in the public domain. And Milley and I had to talk the President out of doing that for any number of reasons.

So, is it possible that a new loyalist, sitting around Trump, in the Oval Office, will say, "Let's call up Milley?" Yes, it's quite likely.

Now, the good news is, if there's a silver lining, in all this, is Trump's kind of poisoned the well. I don't know that a jury could, or anybody would find that he could be given, what we would call, command influence, that such a thing could happen. But nonetheless, I think it's a legitimate fear.

The President's also said that a second term would be about retribution, right? So, I think these are all legitimate concerns.


COLLINS: But can we just take a moment? And I mean, you were his Pentagon chief. The former Defense Secretary is saying that it is a legitimate fear, that the former Commander-in-Chief, who is seeking to be the Commander-in-Chief again, would want to seek retribution against someone, like General Milley, simply because he doesn't like the way, that that tenure is being reported, in books and in articles?

ESPER: Yes. And I think simply also, because the way Milley conducted himself, which was to offer candid frank advice. If it wasn't what the President wanted to hear, because of what Milley was saying, or he didn't want to hear, what I was saying? Look, he doesn't like that. He wants to find Yes-men in his office. And so, yes, he would do that.

It's hard for me to believe I'm saying that as well. I wish I didn't have to say that. But if I didn't have the experience, in the Oval Office, with President Trump, seriously wanting to call back to active duty, McChrystal, and McRaven, to court-martial them, I would be less certain. But unfortunately, it is what it is.

COLLINS: Just remarkable.

Secretary Mark Esper, thank you, for joining, with your perspective, tonight.

ESPER: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Coming up, Donald Trump seemingly gun-shopping, on the campaign trail, in South Carolina, today, saying he wanted to buy this handgun that actually had his face on it.

But because, he has been charged with multiple felonies, questions were immediately raised, about whether or not he can even legally do so. We'll discuss, next.



COLLINS: Former President Donald Trump made a campaign stop, at a gun store, in South Carolina, today. The 2024 Republican front-runner seen on camera, admiring and posing with a handgun, that had his face on it. And he was heard, on camera, saying that he was interested in buying it.


TRUMP: They like me.



TRUMP: I've got to buy one. I want to buy one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir? Sir, if you want one, there's one.

TRUMP: No, I want to buy one.


COLLINS: Moments later, his spokesperson posted online, that Trump had bought the gun, saying he bought that Glock, immediately raising questions though, about Trump's ability, to do so, and to obtain a new weapon, now that he is a criminal defendant, in multiple jurisdictions.

Not long ago, the Trump campaign spokesman deleted that post, and clarified to CNN that the former President did not actually buy a gun, despite saying initially that he had.

Joining me now is CNN Contributor, Stephen Gutowski, who is a Gun Safety Instructor, and Firearms Reporter, for

Obviously, Stephen, the first question that everyone had, and the reason I believe that that post was likely deleted, is it raised questions, about what Trump can legally do here. Given he's been indicted, four times, he's facing those 91 counts, can he legally buy a gun, now that he is a criminal defendant?

STEPHEN GUTOWSKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: As the law stands, right now, he can't.

Anyone who's under felony indictment is prohibited from receiving new guns. They can keep the guns they have. But they can't buy or obtain new ones, so long as they're under that indictment.

COLLINS: But does this raise any constitutional questions? I mean, has the law, stopping criminal defendants, from owning a gun, from receiving a gun, been tested in the courts before?

GUTOWSKI: Yes. There's actually quite a lot of controversy around this law, right now. There's been decisions on either side of whether it's constitutional, since the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Bruen.

And so, it's, the constitutionality of this law is questionable. But, at the same time, it's still in effect. There're no Circuit -- no Appeals Court has ruled that this law is unconstitutional yet. We may soon get that ruling. But as of now, it's clear that he could not buy that gun.

COLLINS: But isn't this the same issue that we've heard Hunter Biden's attorneys weighing, over his gun charges, that they believe essentially, it's on shaky legal ground, and that they can challenge that?

GUTOWSKI: It's similar, yes. It's a different law. Hunter Biden's charges deal, with him, lying on the background check, about his drug use, and being a drug user, while owning gun.

But the same legal theory applies in both cases, because of that Supreme Court ruling, in Bruen, which says any modern prohibition, any modern gun law, has to have a historical analogue, that dates back to the time of the founding. And it's not clear whether these laws do.

COLLINS: So, when it comes to Trump, specifically? I mean, we saw him. He's at a campaign event, in South Carolina. He stopped at this store. He was there talking to the person, who was selling these firearms. I mean, legally, what can he do, as he's facing this indictment?

GUTOWSKI: He can keep the guns that he already has. He can go shooting. It's not a possession ban, like you'd see for somebody, who's convicted of a felony. It's a ban on receiving new guns. So, he can't buy a gun.

In fact, if you've ever bought a gun, you fill out the background check form. They explicitly ask you, if you're under indictment for a felony, on that form. And if you say yes, you fail the background check.

But yes, he also likely can't receive guns, as a gift, which is a pretty significant problem, when you're running, as a Republican, who's pro-Second Amendment guy. There are, oftentimes, people want to give you guns, on the campaign trail, especially Donald Trump, who there's a number of companies that make these guns, that have his face on him. COLLINS: Yes, I mean, that was exactly the issue that was at hand, today. I mean, I think what caused all of this was not that just people saw him there, and assumed, "Oh, he's in this gun store. He's trying to buy something."

It's that his own spokesperson had posted that he had actually purchased said gun, before later saying, "No, he didn't. He didn't actually post it."

GUTOWSKI: Yes. I mean, this is a fairly obscure law. I guess, for most, the average person might not know about this. People know that the conviction of a felony makes you prohibited from owning guns.

A lot of people might not understand that just being indicted, on any felony, whether it's federal or state, would trigger this federal prohibition. So, it seems like his campaign staff certainly didn't understand that, and seems like he didn't understand it either.

COLLINS: Yes, not something typically the campaign staff would have to know. But obviously, this is an extraordinary circumstance.

Stephen, thank you so much, for joining, with your expertise, on this, obviously.

GUTOWSKI: Thank you.

COLLINS: Meanwhile, House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is plotting his next move. Big question about what exactly that's going to be, as the government is hurtling toward a shutdown, tonight, and his job is potentially on the line. The White House saying it's Republicans, who are to blame.



COLLINS: Tonight, President Biden is blasting hard-right Republicans, for driving Congress, potentially towards a government shutdown, now just less than six days away.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Now, a small group of extreme House Republicans, they don't want to live up to that deal, and everyone in America could be faced with not -- with paying the price for that.

We made a deal. We shook hands. We've said, "This is what we're going to do." And now, they're reneging on the deal, which is not much of a surprise these days.


COLLINS: This may not surprise you, what I'm about to say. But former President Trump is backing those few, on the hard-right, telling them they should shut down Washington, unless they quote, "Get everything" that they are asking for. Of course, the problem is, there is almost no chance of that happening.

But without a deal millions of people, Americans, could be impacted, by a government shutdown that could happen, just days from now.

It could potentially mean that active-duty troops and Border Patrol agents would have to work without getting paid. Nearly 7 million women and children, who rely on food assistance programs, would potentially be cut off. Farmers could lose access, to their loans. And air travel could see disruptions if those unpaid TSA officers call out of work.


House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is facing a defining decision by the end of the week, when it comes to this. He could either potentially put up a bipartisan Senate bill, maybe, risking his speakership though. Or, he could side with the hard-right flank, and it would eventually trigger a shutdown.

Let's discuss the options, here, with Jamal Simmons, who was the former Deputy Assistant, to President Biden; and Doug Heye, former Communications Director, for the Republican National Committee.

So Doug, I want to start with you. Because, I mean, House Republicans would essentially need some kind of legislative trick, at this point, to avoid a shutdown, given they have such little time. And Speaker McCarthy sent them home, last week.

How does the GOP get itself out of this if they even potentially can do so?

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The short answer is we don't know. We know there's going to be a shutdown, almost 99.44 percent chance of that happening. It seems an impossibility for not -- for it not to happen.

So then the question becomes, if we shut down the government, how do we reopen it? And what is the deal that can be cut, between Kevin McCarthy and Senate Democrats? Democrats, obviously, the White House as well. And what is he allowed to do with his own Conference?

And his challenge is, it only takes five people, to move a deal south, and to make a motion to vacate the chair. So, whatever he does, it's a very difficult situation. It's why the elections in 2022 were disappointing for Republicans. Even though we won back the House, Democrats threw the party.

And this is essentially why Republicans, in the House, have found themselves, in a very precarious position. The government's going to close. And they don't know how it's going to reopen, at this point.

COLLINS: Yes. It's such a slim majority.

And Jamal, I mean, President Biden, you saw him, today, weighing in on this. They're coming out in front of it. So is the press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, essentially saying, "If this happens, it's Republicans who are to blame." I think the reason Trump is obviously advocating for a shutdown is because he believes chaos, in Washington, could benefit him.

I mean, do you think the White House, is doing enough, to emphasize who it is that would be responsible for the shutdown?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The White House is doing that. They are sending out different Cabinet Secretaries, as you were talking about, a minute ago, different Cabinet Secretaries, every day, to tell us what's going to happen, in each individual place.

And look, at some point, the weight of this, and what its impact is going to be, on real people, will start to matter.

When I was a kid, my stepfather was an entrepreneur. We had a couple years, where we didn't make ends meet. We were on WIC payments.

And you know what's worse than having to depend, on the government, to help feed your kids? Not having the money to feed your kids. And so, if WIC payments and these payments, for moms, dries up? Those moms are not going to go down without fighting. Same thing is going to happen with Military pay. Same thing is going to happen with Border Patrol.

So, I think we're going to have a real -- if a real shutdown happens, it doesn't have exemptions in it? That might be the counterweight that finally gets this thing to move.

COLLINS: Yes. And you just heard what Doug mentioned there, the idea of a motion, to vacate, comes up, for Speaker McCarthy. I mean, Democrats could potentially play, a pivotal role, in deciding his fate. Should Democrats help Kevin McCarthy keep his job? I mean, what do you -- what's your sense?

SIMMONS: My sense, after calling around some people? That is not going to happen. There is no stomach, in the Democratic caucus, to help Kevin McCarthy keep his job.

Now, Democrats do want to keep the government open.

But Kevin McCarthy also has a problem. Doug can speak to this probably better. In the Rules Committee, they've got to get a bill, out of the Rules Committee, which means he's going to need some Republicans, because the balance isn't quite the same. He's going to need some Republicans, to get that bill, out of the Rules Committee.


SIMMONS: That will be the test for him.

COLLINS: And, of course, they're struggling to even get their own GOP -- or their own defense bill passed, last week.

Doug, I know that you were coming on here, to talk about this. And I do want more of your thoughts, on Kevin McCarthy.

But we do have some breaking news, from the Republican National Committee. They have just announced who has qualified, for the second Republican debate. That's going to be happening, this Wednesday.

And, right now, that list includes North Dakota Governor, Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Vivek Ramaswamy, and Tim Scott.

But notably not on there is former Arkansas Governor, Asa Hutchinson.

What do you make of what that debate is going to look like, on Wednesday night, with one fewer candidate on the stage?

HEYE: I don't think there's any reason to expect that it'll be any different than the last one. We might see some more breakout moments, from different people, here or there.

But ultimately, all of these candidates need to ask themselves the question, are you running to win the nomination? Or are you running for something else? And everything we've seen so far, sort of suggests that there's a something else, because they're awfully hesitant, to go after Donald Trump, directly.

And when you have an opponent, who's got a huge lead, and then gets indicted? In politics, whether you're running for mayor, Congress, President, what have you? You use that against them.

Instead, what we've seen, from most of the Republican candidates, in these debates, and outside of the debates, is not just not going after Trump, as they normally would do. They reinforce Donald Trump's messaging. That's unheard of, in American politics.

So, what we're going to have to find out, Wednesday night, is somebody running for real, and are they going to go after Trump? Now, we don't know if that's going to be successful or not. But we sure know it won't be successful if it's not tried.


COLLINS: Well Doug, let me ask about that though. Because Asa Hutchinson, is someone, who was willing, to criticize Trump, and often did so, pretty regularly. I mean, he's not on that debate stage either, because he didn't meet the fundraising, or polling threshold. So, what does that mean?

HEYE: Well, I think, first, it means Asa Hutchinson is a good honorable man. He was a good governor for Arkansas. It's time to get out. It's time to winnow that field down.

And coming out of this debate, whatever happens, we should see more Republicans, get out of this. If you want to be the nominee, you want fewer people running, and you want to draw those contrasts, with your opponent. And that opponent is Donald Trump.

And look, everybody who's seen Star Wars, knows, Luke Skywalker had to confront Darth Vader. He couldn't sit back and just hope that The Force or Han Solo would take care of it.

COLLINS: OK. You had Jamal laughing at that. Doug Heye? Jamal Simmons?

HEYE: Goal accomplished.

COLLINS: I'm going to say I've never seen Star Wars. Don't kill me.

HEYE: Won't tell Kasie Hunt that.

COLLINS: Thank you both.

Coming up, a major U.S. city is facing a water crisis, tonight. The Army Corps of Engineers is now involved, planning to send 36 million gallons, of fresh water, a day, to hold off the threat, inside the plant, to save the drinking water, in New Orleans. That's next.



COLLINS: Breaking news, tonight, as the Republican National Committee has just announced the list of candidates, who will appear, on stage, for the second Republican debate, on Wednesday night.

Former Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, who was there, on the first -- on stage, for the first Republican debate, did not meet the criteria, to participate.

He has now just joined us by phone.

Governor, thank you so much, for joining us.

What does this mean for your campaign that you are not going to be, on that stage, Wednesday night?

ON THE PHONE: ASA HUTCHINSON, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: We're going to continue the campaign. Whenever you look at where we need to be, I've set a goal to be at 4 percent, by Thanksgiving, or by the next debate. And so, we set internal goals. We're not going to let everything be dictated by the standards that are set by the RNC.

And so, we're excited to continue. This week, I'll be in a number of different venues, be in three or four different States, over the next couple of weeks. We'll continue to campaign. We will evaluate.

I know that there's going to be those that says we ought to step aside. But whenever you look at the role that Iowa and New Hampshire plays, we're going to continue to compete there, and measure it, based upon the response we get in those States.

COLLINS: OK. So, it sounds like Thanksgiving is your next date, for when you'll reassess this campaign.

Governor, I mean, you have been one of the few 2024 GOP candidates, who has spoken out, against Trump, who was very critical directly of him. What does it mean, if you're not on that stage, Wednesday night, without that criticism of the Republican front-runner? ON THE PHONE: HUTCHINSON: Well, we'll see.

But I heard your previous guest that criticized the Republican candidates for not being tough, on Donald Trump. And, they got to recognize that I went out there, and I made my case. And I'm not on the next debate stage. So, there's a lot of critics that are outside the realm of the candidates, and they're going to offer a lot of advice.

But I think that you will see the candidates, going after Donald Trump. He's the leader. And if you're going to run against him, you've got to make your case. You got to do it in a way that presents your own arguments. And that's what we're going to do.

Nobody brings more experience, to this race, than me, as a governor, as head of the DEA, on the issues that we face. That's the case that we make. And, I think, as time goes on, voters will be responding to that.

COLLINS: Governor Asa Hutchinson, it was just confirmed that you will not be, on the debate stage, Wednesday night. But you say that you will not be dropping out of this race. You say you'll reassess, come Thanksgiving.

Governor, thank you so much, for quickly hopping on the phone, with us, tonight.

ON THE PHONE: HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Kaitlan. Have a good evening.

COLLINS: And you just heard the story we teased, a few moments ago, on the water crisis happening, in New Orleans. Back on that story, with Bill Weir, in just a moment.



COLLINS: A serious situation, unfolding, in New Orleans, tonight, as saltwater, from the Gulf of Mexico, is now threatening the City's water supply.

The Mayor, signing an emergency declaration, as the Army Corps of Engineers has planned to barge 36 million gallons of fresh water, daily, into the lower Mississippi River.

This is the second straight year that climate change has made the river drop so drastically. And it has made it less resistant, to the saltwater that is coming in, from the Gulf.

Joining me now, CNN's Chief Climate Correspondent, Bill Weir, is here.

I mean, obviously they're trying to fix this.


COLLINS: This has happened before. What is their plan to do that?

WEIR: Well, they're building a sill underwater.

Basically, what has happened, couple years ago, we lowered the Mississippi River, which means a lot bigger ships can move, up and down it. But a lot bigger threat for this to happen.

And, as a result of this incredibly dry record hot year, the Mississippi just isn't strong enough, to push out the Gulf of Mexico. It should be running about 300 cubic feet per second. It's less about half that, less than half that. It could go even lower, as this drought continues.

And it doesn't just threaten water systems, one's, because they don't filter it. If it gets in the pipes, if it's lead pipes, it's about 50,000 of those in New Orleans, it could cut loose heavy metals, and make it more toxic as well.

People won't accidentally poison themselves. You'll taste the salt, before it'll make you sick. But it is a huge concern. And this is -- because it has happened back-to-back years, they never predicted this sort of thing.


WEIR: Same time, the barge traffic, trying to get all the grain, liquefied natural gas, out to the world, is now in a bottleneck, because of this problem.

COLLINS: But they're saying, don't panic. You don't need to --


COLLINS: -- to stockpile water, or anything yet.

WEIR: No, not yet. The folks, in New Orleans, especially. There's a couple thousand folks, in Plaquemines Parish, down south, that are starting to be affected. And those folks deserve to have the bottled water, in case they need it. But this is a slow-motion disaster. This will be four or five, six weeks, this will take.

COLLINS: Yes. And I know something else, though, as we're monitoring that. You also spent a lot of time, recently, in Maui, after we saw the wildfires happen there. Some residents were finally able to get back into there, their neighborhoods, today. What do you know about that?

WEIR: Yes. At least a dozen families were let in, with PPE gear, under supervision, from the authorities. They're hugely painful, as you can imagine there, so many weeks since it's happened. They're opening up wider, in a couple weeks. I'll be there for that as well.

But it's interesting that the fatality count was at about 115, for a few weeks. They modified that downward. It's now 97. They found some of the remains, where they're double-counted, or non-human remains. There were over 300 missing, for a while. That list is now down to 31. So, it's still the deadliest fire, in modern history. But thankfully, that's not as bad, as we feared, a few weeks ago, but.

COLLINS: Yes. And, well I mean, what are officials saying about what they plan to do, going forward, about that? I mean, the configure (ph) said it's a reoccurring issue.

WEIR: Well, yes, I mean, how they rebuild, will be the world will be watching. There is a huge fight between Native Hawaiians, and longtime locals, about water rights, about land rights, about affordability, and not letting just resort developers come in, and take over that place, as they try to rebuild.

And you got to think about fire resiliency, in Pacific Islands, and a lot of other places we never thought about, for those kinds of disasters before. Adaptation in real-time, on the Mississippi, and in Hawaii.

COLLINS: Yes, it's just devastating, for those families.

WEIR: It really is, so bad for them.

COLLINS: Hopefully getting back in helps at least some.

WEIR: Yes.

COLLINS: Bill Weir, I know you'll be back there soon. So, thank you.

WEIR: Yes, you bet.

COLLINS: Keep us updated.

WEIR: You got it.

COLLINS: And thank you so much, for joining us, tonight.

"CNN PRIMETIME" with Abby Phillip, starts, right now.