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McConnell Pushing Pompeo; Netanyahu Wins Party Leadership Race; Killed and Displaced in Idlib Bombardment; Ugly Ending to Quick Lane Bowl; Polls Ahead of Iowa Caucuses. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 06:30   ET



REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: He undermined the system itself, the military justice system by getting involved throughout the case. And he's just going to -- making it harder, I think, for the SEALs to move past this.

You look at -- I just saw -- that was the first time I saw Gallagher's statement there, but just so clear that there is this rife tension between -- inside the SEAL community. And I think -- I just don't think it's good for the country -- it's certainly not good for the SEAL community -- that we're now rehashing this over and over and over again.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Admiral Kirby, thank you very much, as always.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We'll be talking more about this in the program now that these stunning new videos have been released.

AVLON: We will.


All right, up next, is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gearing up to leave the Trump administration? New reporting about where he may be headed and who could replace him. That's up next.


AVLON: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been eyeing a potential Senate run in Kansas. And he's got until June to decide. But "The Washington Post" reports that President Trump is already searching for a potential replacement.

Back with us, Seung Min Kim and Joe Lockhart.

So, according to his home state paper, Secretary of State Pompeo has been to Kansas at least four times in the last year, drawing a lot of speculation. I want to read you one assessment from "The Washington Post's" Josh Rogin about the background on this with Mitch McConnell pressuring him. He writes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing Pompeo to

jump -- hard to jump into the Senate -- Kansas Senate rate several officials and GOP lawmakers told me, out of fear that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach might win the primary and then lose the general election to a Democrat. Pompeo is also mulling a run for president in 2024 and McConnell has argued the Senate would be a perfect perch from which to do that.

All right, so Trump has apparently been floating four names, Robert O'Brian, current national security adviser, Steve Mnuchin, secretary of Treasury, Rick Grenell, who's the personal ambassador to Germany, and Pompeo's deputy.


Question for you, Seung Min, has this been the talk around the White House? The president's been looking for a replacement and certainly the Pompeo move has been rumored for a while, but hotly denied, we should say?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. But it's definitely been talked about for a while. I mean I can't tell you how many times we've talked about the Pompeo speculation.

AVLON: Right.

KIM: It's definitely been for months now.

But we've seen moves lately from the secretary of state that does raise our eyebrows a little bit about what exactly his plans are. I mean he launched his own personal Twitter feed a couple of weeks ago where he has that beautiful photo of the Kansas farmlands and several other moves. He frequently does interviews with Kansas outlets. He goes back to his home state several times. He appeared at the McConnell Center in Louisville sitting next to the majority leader, who's been very much pushing him to run.

And Republicans certainly haven't been shy about -- about getting him to run.

And what's been interesting is that Republican sources have told me that Pompeo getting mixed up in the whole Ukraine matter, obviously his role at the State Department has come under scrutiny by House Democrats. Republicans tell me, though, that that hasn't dented at all how much they want him to run. They don't think that hurts him in Kansas. They still think he is the best candidate to take on that seat, particularly as "The Post" article mentioned, if Kris Kobach does kind of -- stays in the race, because he is the reason -- he's a hard-liner, particularly on immigration, a controversial figure, he is partly the reason why the Kansas governor is controlled by the Democratic Party right now.

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Joe, why is being a senator from Kansas better than being secretary of state for running for president? AVLON: That's a great question.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's being secretary of state in this -- with this White House. I mean I think he sees it as, he's got what he needed out of it, a credential to run for president. He's much better off in the Senate. I don't think he's doing this to help Mitch McConnell. He's doing it to help Mike --

CAMEROTA: Meaning you think he has concluded -- you believe that he has concluded that this is a liability, it's staying longer in this administration.

LOCKHART: I -- I think he -- I think he's concluded that he runs a high risk of going down with the ship. And getting out now and getting into the Senate, it's better for him.

I think on the, you know, who Trump will pick, you know, in contrast to, you know, Lincoln's famous team of rivals, we'll have the team of sycophants. We'll have someone who fits Trump's mold of no particular expertise but is willing to go out there and defend whatever the president says. Which Pompeo has had a harder time doing. Remember, one of his last trips out, he talked to the Wichita state newspaper and was shocked that they were asking him about Ukraine instead of how great it was that he was back in Kansas. So --

AVLON: No, and he's certainly tried to be a very good soldier for the president, but that gets more difficult and difficult to do if you have your own ambitions.

Seung Min, one fascinating thing, if he's looking for a loyalist, two of the people being floated, Rick Grenell and Robert O'Brian, are both known as sort of Bolton acolytes who got summarily dismissed from the Oval Office not that long ago.

How does that play out in the president's calculus?

KIM: They might -- they might be known as Bolton loyalists, but right now they have been pretty good as Trump loyalists, as well as the administration. I think Rick Grenell is actually a fascinating figure to talk about. And he has been a combative figure in Germany. The German government officials have kind of complained about his style. But that's been something that's been attractive to Trump.

And Robert O'Brien, the current national security adviser, obviously a little bit more of an unknown entity since he came into that role after Ambassador Bolton was summarily dismissed from that job, but the president, as at least appear -- doesn't appear to have been frustrated with him so far. So those candidates would be interesting to watch.

But any secretary of state nomination fight will be a tough one in this administration. I mean we are far from the days where secretary of state candidates would be confirmed with 90, 94, 95 votes. Both Tillerson and Pompeo had been very close votes this -- and it would be contention as well.

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Robert O'Brien was dispatched to help free ASAP Rocky, OK.


CAMEROTA: So why didn't we lead with that?


CAMEROTA: I mean is -- doesn't that make the choice obvious?

AVLON: The single most important qualification for secretary of state, clearly.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

Seung Min, Joe, thank you both very much.

AVLON: Thanks, guys.

CAMEROTA: Over 100,000 people in Syria are fleeing as the regime bombards the last opposition-held territory. We have a live report for you next.



CAMEROTA: Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrating a big victory. He won his party's primary's decisively, even though he is facing criminal indictments.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live in Jerusalem with more.

So how did this play out yesterday?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was looking for a big victory to show that not only was he still in large of his own Likud Party, the party he's led for more than a decade, but he was also the undisputed leader of Israel's right wing, and that is exactly the kind of victory he got, pulling in 72.5 percent of the vote and really leaving his opponent, rival, Gideon Saar, in the dust on this one. Saar pulled in only 27.5 percent of the vote.

Shortly after the victory, Netanyahu tweeted claiming victory and said, with God's help and with your help, I will lead the Likud to a great victory in the coming election and will continue leading the state of Israel to unprecedented achievements.

This morning, Netanyahu said he won despite the fake news and fake polls being against him. And that's almost a bit odd because most political analysts said he was going to win and the question was just by what margin. Netanyahu has already started making big promises ahead of the March elections, saying he'll push for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the settlements, he'll push for normalization with the Arab states, if he wins in March.

And that is where we now look now, to the third straight election within 12 months in Israel. An unprecedented, political situation amid political deadlock.

John, the real question at this point is not, can Netanyahu fulfill these big campaign promises he's already making, it's, can Netanyahu shift any votes having failed to form a government twice already? And early polling suggests probably not. Israel may well be headed to more political deadlock after the March elections.

AVLON: Thank you, Oren.

All right, over the past week, reports of dozens killed, and an estimated 235,000 displaced as the Syrian regime and its allies bombards the country's last opposition-held territory in Idlib.

President Trump issuing a warning as Assad's army stepped up its attacks.

CNN's Arwa Damon live in Istanbul with more.




And that warning issued by President Trump has not altered the course of brutal bombardment ongoing inside Syria's Idlib province, the last rebel-held province. And this violence is causing desperate parents to grab their children and just flee with whatever they can. But the problem is, John, they don't know where to go.


DAMON (voice over): Abut Ismal's (ph) children don't need an explanation anymore. They have done this so many times that the notion of a home, a warm bed to feel safe and snug, that ceased to exist long ago.

We go, we come back, Abut Ismal (ph) says. We don't know where to go or where we will end up.

It's an existence on the move, trying, praying that the bombs won't catch up to them, or when they do, that they will somehow survive.

But this time it feels different. The bombing's more intense, final, deliberate. Entire areas in and around Idlib province are emptying out again. Upwards of 130,000 people are on the move.

The children couldn't sleep through the night. They were crying every hour, Abu Usama (ph) says holding his daughter. So young, this is all she knows.

It's a cycle they all know well, one that starts with renewed intense bombings, then the panicked packing up, the overwhelming sense of feeling lost, not knowing where to go, but having to flee, finding some sort of makeshift shelter.

I'm taking my family and we're heading to a tent, Ibrahim Eltar (ph) says. Whether or not we can have a tent is still unknown.

The province, Syria's last rebel stronghold, has never been able to meet the humanitarian needs of the growing displaced population. One of the few aid organizations, the Turkish IHH that operates in Idlib says they don't have the resources.

The first night we came, we slept on the ground. We didn't even have blankets, this woman says begging for a tent, a stove, anything. Many end up just establishing themselves along the road once they think they have reached safety. But as the regime with Russian backing closes in, that may not be far enough.


DAMON: And, Alisyn, the way this bombardment is unfolding, many are telling us that it is deliberately targeting these civilian areas. And it's not just one bomb. Often after the first explosion, you have a second, third or even fourth bomb that lands in the same or close to that very same area known as the double-tap, this despicable, disgusting tactic of war. And even as civilians are trying to flee from these areas, we received numerous reports of bombings very close to the main highways that they're using to try to escape as well.

CAMEROTA: Arwa, your reporting always opens our eyes to really what is going on, on the ground. We couldn't see this without you. Thank you very much for this.

Back in the U.S., a Michigan woman's secret Santa turned out to be one of the world's most famous billionaires. How did this happen? How do I get him as my secret Santa? And what did she get, next?



AVLON: Bowl season kicks into high gear this weekend and there was a wild finish to the Quick Lane Bowl last night.

Andy Scholes has more with the "Bleacher Report."

Andy, what you got?


You know, we got two playoff games taking center stage tomorrow. And if you missed the Quick Lane Bowl last night, you actually missed a really great game. Pitt was down 30-27 to Eastern Michigan. With under a minute to go, Kenny Pickett going for the end zone and Taysir Mack, an incredible one-handed grab for the touchdown. Take another look. Pitt takes the lead there. And then on the ensuing possession, Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike

Glass, he's going to be rolling out here, throws an incomplete pass. Then I guess something was said to him by one of those opponents and he gets up, throws a punch at one of those defensive players. Then while swinging at another one, apparently hits an official. Glass, a senior, ejected from the game. Pitt would win it 34-30. And, afterwards, Eastern Michigan Head Coach Chris Creighton said Glass was very sorry for what happened.


CHRIS CREIGHTON, EASTERN MICHIGAN HEAD COACH: Absolutely zero excuse for what happened. And he knows it. He's in tears in the locker room, begging me to talk to the team before I could say a word.

So, he made a mistake. And he is truly sorry for it.


SCHOLES: And Glass took to social media afterwards to express his regret, posting in a tweet, I let God and my family down.

All right, ESPN is reporting that the Pelicans are trying to teach Zion Williamson how to walk and run differently to work on the kinetic chain of his body to help try to prevent further injury. Well, "Inside the NBA" last night on TNT, Charles Barkley kept it simple.


CHARLES BARKLEY: Zion, this is how you walk. You put one foot in front of the other. That's how you walk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who doesn't walk like that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how do you run?

BARKLEY: OK. I'm going to -- see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. OK. OK, Twinkle toes, I see you.


SCHOLES: Alisyn, I've watched that like ten times this morning and I've laughed every single time. But here's hoping that Zion Williamson makes his debut sometime in the near future.

AVLON: Very helpful for Sir Charles to lay that out for us.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that was helpful.

Andy, thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

CAMEROTA: All right, only 38 days until the Iowa caucuses. Who is going to win? Only one man knows, and that's CNN politics senior writer and analyst Harry Enten.

Harry, what's the answer?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: I know how to run better than Barkley does. I'm not quite sure I could tell win -- who's going to win the Iowa caucuses.

Let's take a look right now and sort of give you an idea of where we're at.

So this is a Harry's polling average of the polls that were conducted in November and December. And what we see here, folks, it is a true mess. Buttigieg at 21 percent, Biden in 19, Sanders at 19, Warren not too far behind at 15 percent. It's very, very, very close.

And, you know what? Take a look here. This gives you an understanding of why at this point a two-point race with the leader at 21 percent really doesn't tell you a whole heck of a lot.

So basically I took a look at where the person who went on to win the Iowa caucus was polling at this point, one or two months before the caucuses, with the undecides allocated. I then took a look at the result and I looked at the difference. And take a look here. The median difference between where the person who went on to win the caucuses was polling at this point and where they actually ended up was 9 percentage points. Nine percentage points.

A lot of things can change. Some years the polls are very accurate. You know, last time around, Ted Cruz was at 31 percent. He ended up getting 28 percent. But some years the polling doesn't really tell you a whole heck of a lot at all.

CAMEROTA: Look at 2000, the Republican, they were polling at 73 percent and then they only got 41 percent.

ENTEN: That was George Walker Bush. I should point out that there was only one poll in that average. But, you know, you just see this. There are a lot of potential errors that can occur in the polling.

AVLON: Sure.

ENTEN: Or not errors, but a lot of things can change.

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: OK, recent polls. Show us.

ENTEN: Here's another reason why we take a lot of suspect in this. You know, basically I have no idea what the heck's going on in Iowa.


In December of 2019, only two public polls have been conducted and released. And when you have fewer polls, the averages are less predictive. Zero, zero, zero, zero, zero of the public polls have been ones that call cell phones. And, you know what, when pollsters don't call cell phones, they tend to have less predictive results. And guess when the last time there was a public poll that called cell phones? That was all the way back, November 8th to the 13th of last month.

CAMEROTA: Are they just lazy?

AVLON: What's up, people?

CAMEROTA: I mean are pollsters just lazy? What's this about?

ENTEN: I think there are a few things going on. A lot of polling on impeachment. Polling is very, very expensive. And the third thing I'll point out, there's no Republican caucus going on, so there's less of a reason to go into Iowa.

AVLON: Right.

ENTEN: And, you know what, I will say that this is rather unusual. Last time around, there were eight polls during -- during one or two months before the caucuses. In 2012, there were 12. In 2008, 15. You'd have to go all the way back to 2000 when there was just that one poll that we mentioned earlier.


AVLON: That's unbelievable.

CAMEROTA: That is really good context. This is fascinating.

AVLON: This is why -- this is -- this is why your --

ENTEN: This is why we don't know what's going to happen.

AVLON: And you can sing it or just call it a mess, it's still not exactly confidence-inspiring.

CAMEROTA: Harry's really angling for a jingles career, but first --

AVLON: That's R&B (ph) for him.

ENTEN: Well, my cousin --


ENTEN: Cousin Derra (ph) had a jingles career. She was beautiful and had a great voice.

AVLON: Of course.

ENTEN: You know what, let's talk about something a little bit more, something that I actually do have a little bit -- knowledge to impart on you. Take a look here.

So this is the endorsements for president from a sitting governor of member of Congress. I want you to look here. Joe Biden has 32, well more than anyone else. Booker's at 13. But all of his are from his home state. And Klobuchar, the same thing at six. No one is anywhere close.

But what does it mean to have all these endorsements? Well, I want you to take a look at this. This is so important.

So I basically took a look at the endorsement leaders at this point in primaries with no incumbent running in a given primary. Take a look here. The nominee, did they end up being the nominee? A lot of green checkmarks here. Not a lot of black x's. Overall, 10 the 14 endorsement leaders at this point went on to win their party's nomination.


ENTEN: Leading in endorsements is something that's actually quite predictive. Maybe not nearly as much in the past few years, but usually it is.

AVLON: But that's fascinating because conventional wisdom says endorsements don't matter anymore. This would say they do.

ENTEN: They do matter.

AVLON: Fascinating.

ENTEN: And here's another thing to keep in mind here. Look at this, endorsements leaders at this point who also led in the national polls, a lot of green checkmarks here. Remember, Biden's leading in the national polls as well. Those folks have gone on to win the nomination seven out of nine times.

So, again, Biden, if you look at the endorsements and look at the national polls, and combine them together, you'd have to say is in pretty decent position.

CAMEROTA: You're going to get an endorsement from a chicken sandwich company. We know that much.

ENTEN: The Popeyes chicken sandwich, hopefully.

AVLON: And hopefully some more (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: Yes, the Popeyes chicken sandwich. That's what you are also angling for.

Meanwhile, very special day.


ENTEN: Very special day. My mommy, she took --

CAMEROTA: Is that her?

ENTEN: This is actually Martha Washington --

AVLON: That's Martha Washington.

ENTEN: And I'll point out that that's not actually my mom.

AVLON: Please.

ENTEN: She turns 45 in mom years on Sunday. Happy birthday, mom.


CAMEROTA: What are mom years?

ENTEN: Mom years are the years that keep you so young and beautiful despite the fact that you have terrible sons like myself.

CAMEROTA: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I got it. Happy birthday.

AVLON: This math is great.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

ENTEN: It's math, it helps.

AVLON: All right.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Harry's mom, for delivering this to us. Thank you.

AVLON: Thank you. This bundle of joy.

CAMEROTA: This bundle of joy.

AVLON: All right.


AVLON: The fiance of an ESPN reporter who died Tuesday on his 34th birthday is now giving new details about how he died. Ed Aschoff's fiance, Katy Berteau, tweeted that Aschoff was first diagnosed with phenomena and given antibiotics after an emergency room visit. When that treatment failed, she says he was admitted to the hospital and was being treated for HLH, a rare decease of the immune system when he died. Aschoff and Berteau were set to be married in April.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, that is such a sad story.

Meanwhile, this is happier. A Michigan woman is enjoying holiday gifts from a very special secret Santa. The woman named Shelby received an 81-pound package from her secret Santa who was none other than billionaire Bill Gates. This was through an annual gift exchange on Reddit Gifts. Inside was an original manuscript of "The Great Gatsby."

AVLON: Shouldn't that be in the Smithsonian or something?

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. I feel as though it should be.

AVLON: It should be.

CAMEROTA: She -- that was signed by Gates and then Harry Potter and Twin Peaks memorabilia.

AVLON: There's a descending scale of rareness, but still awesome.

CAMEROTA: Well, there's also toys for her cat.

AVLON: Which is also nice.

CAMEROTA: Listen to this.


SHELBY: So I logged into my tracking page and I saw that the package weighed 81 pounds. He wheeled the big, giant box back into the FedEx location. And everyone was really delighted to get a peek and what was inside.


CAMEROTA: Shelby she the most personal gift from Gates was a donation to the American Heart Association in memory of her mom. She died just ten days before Shelby's wedding in April.