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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Maine's Top Election Official Removes Trump From 2024 Primary Ballot; Haley Tries To Clarify Civil War Comments After Backlash; Haley Tries To Clarify Civil War Comments Amid Backlash; Recordings, Emails Show How Trump Operatives Flew Fake Elector Ballots To D.C. In Push To Overturn 2020 Election; Israel Confirms Last U.S. Female Believed To Be Held Hostage Was Killed Oct. 7; Gypsy Rose Blanchard, Who Pleaded Guilty To Helping Kill Her Abusive Mother, Is Released From Prison. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 28, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: You see this flight wobbling side to side as it approached. You know, everything actually seemed okay, we're told, until the plane was seconds from touchdown and the winds really started to howl. Some of the gust, by the way, clocked at up to 70 miles an hour.
This was a flight from LA to Heathrow in London. And while that's tough to watch, what's kind of remarkable, too, is when you add in the audio reaction as this plane is coming in for a landing. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, oh! Oh, oh, oh, stop it! Oh, oh!
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HILL: Sums it up. Remember to put up your tray tables, everything under the seats. Thanks for joining us. AC 360 starts right now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right. The breaking news, and it is big, just a week after Colorado did it, Maine becomes the second state to bar Donald Trump from its Republican primary ballot. John Berman here, in for Anderson.
And the decision from Maine's Secretary of State cannot be any plainer. Quoting now, "He is not qualified to hold the Office of the President under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment," period. She joins us momentarily. This comes on a day in which the former president was temporarily back on Colorado's ballot pending a Supreme Court decision.
CNN's Katelyn Polantz joins us now with this breaking news out of Maine. What can you tell us about this decision, Katelyn?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: John, there's a lot of meat to what Secretary of State Shenna Bellows wrote for "Maine Today" in her ruling. One, January 6th was an insurrection. She made that finding.
Two, Donald Trump engaged in that insurrection.
Three, that means he's not qualified to be on the primary ballot in Maine.
And four, she found it is her responsibility to make these decisions.
So putting that all together, this came because voters had asked her to look at this, to make a ruling under the way that the state lays out. She can, as the Secretary of State, to determine if people are eligible for the ballot there in Maine. She looked at the evidence.
Some of that evidence was much of what the House January 6th Committee found. She looked at statements by Donald Trump. She said, you know, it's even kind of a close call on whether Trump engaged in this insurrection. It would have been easier if he had been tried already in criminal trial, either acquitted or found guilty. But she did come down on the side of saying yes, indeed, Trump does fit this profile and that I believe, as a Secretary of State, he cannot be on the ballot.
Here is what she wrote specifically, "I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment." That's the insurrection clause. "I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection. The oath I swore to uphold the Constitution comes first above all."
Her ruling is on hold for a little bit. But this is a very clear ruling from the Maine Secretary of State coming down on Donald Trump as an insurrectionist and saying he can't be voted for in the primary.
BERMAN: And how has the Trump campaign responded to this?
POLANTZ: The Trump campaign did put out quite a lengthy statement through a spokesperson already. They're saying a couple of things. They're attacking her as a leftist, saying she is an elected Democrat. That should weigh into what people believe about this finding from Shenna Bellows.
They're also saying that this sort of thing is partisan election interference. It shouldn't be the sort of thing that states are even allowed to do, to remove Donald Trump from the presidential ballot. And they say they're going object in state court.
Under the law, they are allowed to do that. She does say she's going to wait to see the next court's ruling here. And the way that the law works in Maine is that they have to come to some determinations on this pretty quickly in the state court system.
Of course, that Colorado ruling similar to this from their Supreme Court in Colorado, the highest court in Colorado is before the US Supreme Court. And so, there is a lot at play right now. A lot of things could happen in the coming days and weeks -- John. BERMAN: All right. Katelyn Polantz, stick around. We're going come back to you shortly. Joining us now is the person in middle of this all, the Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
Secretary, thank you so much for being with us. The 14th Amendment Section 3 says no person shall be a senator, representative in Congress, or elected president and vice president or hold any office -- it goes on to say -- if they shall have engaged in insurrection. In your mind, why does that mean Donald Trump cannot be on the Maine primary ballot?
SHENNA BELLOWS (D), MAINE SECRETARY OF STATE: The oath I swore uphold the Constitution comes first and foremost. The textual analysis of the Constitution and the facts laid before me at the hearing that I was obligated to hold under Maine law brought me to this decision.
BERMAN: You have decided that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection.
BELLOWS: The weight of the evidence brought forward under Maine law in the Section 336 challenge that was brought made it clear that Mr. Trump was aware of the tinder he laid in the multi-month efforts to challenge the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and then in an unprecedented and tragic series of events chose to light a match.
BERMAN: And you make that decision, even though he has not been charged or convicted with insurrection?
BELLOWS: At the hearing, we reviewed the evidence. We reviewed the facts and the law. And certainly, the question of whether Mr. Trump engaged in the insurrection is a closer one than whether January 6th 2021 was an insurrection, which I also ruled.
But the question of whether Mr. Trump had -- was found guilty, the applicability of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does not turn on whether an office seeker has been convicted of a crime. We looked at precedent in the civil war. We looked at the law, we looked at the facts, we looked at what was brought forward in this hearing that is specific to Maine law.
BERMAN: Why is this your decision to make?
BELLOWS: So, the Constitution gives the states time, place, and manner, abilities to have different election laws. We have different voting rights. We have different ballot access laws. That's why in our neighboring state of New Hampshire, for example, there are more than a dozen Democratic candidates on the presidential ballot, more than a dozen Republican candidates on the presidential ballot.
Here, in Maine, there are two Democratic candidates on the presidential ballot and less than a dozen on the Republican primary ballot. So it is not uncommon for states to have different ballot access requirements. We do, however, have to uphold the constitution and the rule of law equally. We do not set the qualifications. But under Maine law, the Secretary of State is tasked with assessing those qualifications when presented with a challenge by any registered named voter.
And in this case, we had two former Republican state senators, Kimberley Rosen and Thomas Saviello, former Democratic State Senator Ethan Strimling, as well as two individuals -- Ms. Royal and Attorney Gordon -- who brought challenges under Maine law to the ballot access.
We had qualified Mr. Trump for the ballot. They challenged that. We're required to hold a hearing. And then when we looked at the weight of evidence, it became clear that January 6th was an attack not only on the Capitol, on government officials, but also an attack on the rule of law that it was an insurrection, and that the US Constitution does not tolerate an assault on our government on the foundations of our government. And that Maine election law and the constitution required indeed obligated me to act.
BERMAN: Now, this is stayed until a higher court in Maine weighs in. Do you want the US Supreme Court to get involved here? And what questions, if so specifically, do you want the Supreme Court -- the US Supreme Court to answer?
BELLOWS: So it's important for people to understand that, yes, the next step is that the challenger or the candidate may appeal in Superior Court. It then goes to the Maine law court, which is our Supreme Court, and then could be appealed to the US Supreme Court.
BERMAN: Again, do you want the US Supreme Court to get involved?
BELLOWS: So I think it's really important that all of us have a role to play. And I certainly do think the United States Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. So yes, I think, ideally, they will rule, and they haven't yet. But certainly, should they rule, we will abide by their ruling.
BERMAN: I was -- I'm asking, because I was talking to Michigan's Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last night who wants the Supreme Court to get involved here in a sense of answering some of these questions, which is what is an insurrection? Does Section 3 of the 14th Amendment mean that someone can be kept off the ballot here? Face the big questions and answer them. Do you want the Supreme Court to do that?
BELLOWS: Certainly, yes.
BERMAN: As we said, the Trump campaign has responded to your decision, saying in part, quote, "We are witnessing in real-time the attempted theft of an election and the disenfranchisement of the American voter. Democrats in blue states are recklessly," this again is from the Trump campaign, "and unconstitutionally suspending the civil rights of the American voters by attempting to summarily remove Donald Trump's name from the ballot," end quote. How do you respond to this allegation that this is somehow disenfranchising Maine voters?
BELLOWS: So, again, I am so mindful, and I said this in my decision that it is unprecedented. No Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, but no presidential candidate has ever engaged in insurrection and been disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
BERMAN: And you did make that clear in your ruling, which I have right here. Just again, final question, because you know and you say this, you realized that everyone is looking at this. Everyone has questions about it. And there are people saying this shouldn't be left up to one person, in this case, being you. How do you respond to that?
BELLOWS: So I swore an oath to uphold the constitution. I am duty- bound to uphold Maine law. And under Maine law, when I'm presented with the facts, I can't permit, for example, an 18-year-old on the ballot. I can't permit a noncitizen to be on the ballot.
My rule, as set forth in Maine election law, is to interpret qualifications and make determinations. Indeed, my office, I made the determination that Mr. Chris Christie did not qualify because of a failure to secure sufficient signatures. And the Superior Court upheld my decision last week in that particular matter. So these are decisions that are part of my obligations and part of my duty. And that is what I'm compelled to do by the constitution of law.
BERMAN: Madam Secretary, we appreciate your time. I know this was a big day for you and a very difficult few weeks. Thank you.
BELLOWS: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right. Katelyn Polantz is back with us, along with CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, also CNN Political Commentator and former Utah Republican Member of Congress Mia Love.
Elie, counselor, I just want to start with you. Again, it was an interesting discussion and an interesting take from the Maine Secretary of State here. The 14th Amendment Section 3 says, in plain text, that if you shall have engaged in insurrection, you can't be in office. She takes that to mean that if she determines that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection, he can't be on the Maine primary ballot. Is it that simple?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, it's not that simple. So, clearly, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment says engage in insurrection, you're out. We all have that. The complicated part and where we are going to see this play out in the courts is who gets to decide and by what process.
Now, it's important to note -- and in the ruling -- the Secretary of State we just heard from says, she's basically following the same legal reasoning as the Colorado Supreme Court did last week. And she says in her ruling, if this gets struck down in Colorado, we're out of luck, too. So, she is basing it on the same legal argument.
Let me sort of lay out the arguments both sides. And by the way, it's worth saying we're all theorizing here. We're in legally unknown territory. The argument against is, first of all, the 14th Amendment Section 5 says Congress has the authority to pass laws to implement this. They did. They passed the criminal law. And the argument is that means Congress, not the states.
But perhaps -- and this is the argument that the Maine Secretary of State and Colorado made -- the states can do it, too. If that's true, then Section 2 -- question two is were the processes -- were these hearings fair? Did they comport with due process?
And I think there's a question there with regard to what Maine did because if you look at the hearing, and she details this in the ruling, they heard from one fact witness, a law professor. She based her ruling on a lot of documents, but also YouTube clips, news reports, things that would never pass the bar in normal court. She's not a lawyer, by the way. It's a smartly written decision, clearly consulted with lawyers, but this is an unelected. She is chosen by the state legislature.
BERMAN: She's elected by the people.
HONIG: Chosen by -- chosen, elected by legislature, but not democratically elected. Not enough, that's just the way it's set up in Maine.
And this hearing, look, it doesn't have to be a criminal trial. We don't have to have all the protections. But I think the argument you'll hear from opponents is, one, not up to the states to do this. This is why we have all different decisions from all different states. And two, the procedures were not up to snuff.
BERMAN: Mia Love, Congresswoman, what do you think that the Trump campaign will do with this? Does this add fuel to their argument?
MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it actually does. I think it's a bad idea. I always say that whenever we err on the side of giving people as many options as possible to vote, it's better.
Now remember, Trump did not win the last election. He lost. And we need to trust the American people to do what they believe is right. If he's on the ballot, it doesn't necessarily mean that he is going to win. As a matter of fact, there's a very good chance that he will lose.
I -- it will backfire. I think this something that will backfire where the president will just be emboldened. And he'll give credibility. They'll give credibility to the argument that Trump supporters are making that the system is rigged against him. And that's (inaudible) ...
BERMAN: Which is (inaudible) it's a -- this is a political --
LOVE: ... at this point, it would be unfairly -- it would be rigged against him at this point.
BERMAN: I just want to say, you're making a compelling case here, but it's essentially a political argument. The Constitution says what it says. If the Constitution says that someone who engaged in insurrection can't be in office, does it matter whether or not it's good politics? [20:15:16]
LOVE: Now I believe that he engaged -- that the president engaged in insurrection. What the rules are in between, who defines what is where it gets a little blurry. It's one of the things I had to deal with in Washington when it comes to the policies.
Okay, what did congressman so and so mean by this, what does this mean? And it's the judge's jobs to interpret the Constitution. But there are a lot of -- there's still a lot of unanswered questions, which we just talked about.
LOVE: And we -- and I think that -- I have a strong feeling that the Trump team will appeal to the Supreme Court. They want the Supreme Court to get involved.
BERMAN: All right. Katelyn, walk us through what these steps are. We heard a little bit of that from the Maine Secretary of State.
POLANTZ: Right. So what happens next is that Trump's team says they're going to appeal to the state court. So the first court they go to is a trial level court called the Maine Superior Court. That court has 20 days to decide what to do with this, whether they uphold what Shenna Bellows decided here or they strike it down. And then after that, there's another mechanism, a very short timeline for the highest court in Maine to play into this as well and say what they want to do if there's an appeal filed with them.
At any time, people could go to the federal court system. Trump's team, the other side, depending on who is winning and losing in the courts in Maine. So there's a lot of things that are taking place, but there is a structure in Maine to figure this out essentially by the end of January, at least in their court system.
But that Supreme Court case with Colorado is sitting there now where the Colorado GOP told the Supreme Court just this morning, John, just in their briefs this morning and last night that the Colorado Supreme Court made a decision to take Trump off the ballot. It's going to pick up steam now.
Other states are going to be doing the same thing. It's going to create chaos. It's going to create confusion among voters. It's going hurt the elections.
Supreme Court of the United States, please get involved and figure out if the states can do things like this, who in the states can make these decisions. Can courts? Can secretaries of state? All of that is sitting before the US Supreme Court.
And so, we are in really like a jump ball essentially of who is going to determine what to do first. Will the US Supreme Court make a law across the land before primary ballots go out?
And one of the things, too, about the calendar is that primaries don't start with Iowa and then with Super Tuesday in March for Colorado and Maine. There are deadlines for ballots to be printed and sent out well before that to overseas voters and to other mail-in voters. So we're running up into a ...
POLANTZ: ... calendar that somebody is going to have to do something.
BERMAN: And ballots are printed well before the elections actually happen. And that in a way is a certain deadline.
Elie, we keep on talking about the US Supreme Court weighing in. One of the big questions is weighing in on what.
BERMAN: Do you expect the Supreme Court to say Donald Trump engaged in or did not engage in insurrection?
HONIG: No. I do think the Supreme Court is going to take this case. I think tonight's ruling makes it even more likely, because now, as Katelyn just showed, we have a split. The majority of states, secretaries of state, and state courts have rejected this. But now we have two that have done this.
I think the Supreme Court is going to take the case. They're not going to get into whether he engaged in insurrection. They're going to take on two questions.
One, is this solely for Congress or can the states do this, as we saw in Colorado and Maine? If the states can do it, did they have fair due process? Were the hearings, the quasi trials, were they enough due process? And was it known in advance?
Part of due process is you have to know what the process is in advance or are they sort of making it up after the fact and applying it retroactively. So I do think this all but ensures the Supreme Court will take it, and I think the ruling is going to be based on due process.
BERMAN: All right. Elie Honig, Mia Love, Katelyn Polantz, thank you one and all. Again, so many unanswered questions here, big, big questions. We'll wait and see what the Supreme Court does.
Next, Nikki Haley's cleanup attempt today on a question she got last night and which was answered, frankly, 163 years ago. What caused the civil war?
And later, the remarkable story of a woman's murder. Her daughter who was just freed from prison today and the horrifying abuse she suffered.
[20:21:46] BERMAN: At the end of a day that just saw Maine's Secretary of State remove Donald Trump from the ballot under the 14th Amendment, his opponent, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was trying to clean up remarks she made about the war, which inspired that amendment. She was talking today about her answer last night to a basic question about the civil war. It's one that most fifth graders have no trouble answering.
It's a question many applicants for citizenship are asked. Question 74, in fact, quote, "Name one problem that led to the civil war." The first of three acceptable answers, slavery.
And it's not like this is some new idea. In 1860, South Carolina lawmakers said so themselves -- it's about slavery. They said so, in writing, repeatedly in their declaration of secession. In it, they complained about, quote, "an increasing hostility on the part of non- slaveholding States to the institution of slavery."
The document uses one form of the word slavery or another 18 times. Last night, Governor Haley did not mention it once until prompted. And today, she blew right past it, saying that if you grew up in the south, it's a given that the civil war was about slavery -- of course. But to her she said, it was about freedom, which is true, but only in the biggest, broadest, blandest sense. And maybe that's intentional.
But if serving up such word flavor comfort food was her aim, it's worth asking, why? Why is what South Carolina's secessionists said in writing 160 years ago so hard to talk about now?
We'll ask distinguished historian Michael Eric Dyson. First though, CNN's Eva McKend.
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course, the civil war was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned, always the case.
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice over): Nikki Haley playing cleanup today after this exchange with a voter during a New Hampshire town hall Wednesday night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the cause of the United States Civil War?
HALEY: Well, don't come with an easy question or anything. I mean, I think the cause of the civil war was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn't do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the year 2023, it's astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word slavery.
MCKEND (voice over): After not mentioning slavery in her initial response, Haley acknowledging in interviews and campaign appearances the civil war was about slavery.
HALEY: You grow up in the south, it's a given that it's about slavery. To me, it was about freedom. What do you do? It's bigger than slavery. That was such a stain on our history. But what do you take from it going forward?
MCKEND (voice over): The former South Carolina governor also claiming, without evidence, the questioner was a Democratic plant. The audience member who asked the question declined to share his full name or party affiliation when asked by reporters.
HALEY: It was definitely a Democrat plant. That's why I said what does it mean to you? And if you notice, he didn't answer anything.
MCKEND (voice over): The episode sparking swift blowback from Haley's primary rivals.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just think this shows this is not a candidate that's ready for primetime.
MCKEND (voice over): And Vivek Ramaswamy saying "When you try to be everything to everyone, you're nothing to anyone."
President Joe Biden also weighing in, saying clearly it was about slavery. Haley's handling of the question also drawing fresh attention to her complicated public posture toward the confederacy.
HALEY: I say that as a southern governor who removed the confederate flag off the state house grounds, and I say that as a proud American of how far we have come.
MCKEND (voice over): CNN's KFILE found in 2010 Haley said this about the confederate flag.
HALEY: This is not something that was racist. This is something that is a tradition that people feel proud of.
MCKEND (voice over): But in 2015, a shooting at a historically black church in Charleston spurred then-Governor Haley to call for the flag's removal from state house grounds.
HALEY: We heard about the true honor of heritage and tradition. We heard about the true pain that many had felt. The confederate flag is coming off the grounds of the South Carolina State House.
MCKEND (voice over): The stumble by Haley comes as she has steadily gained momentum in the GOP primary with a recent New Hampshire poll showing her securely in second place, behind former president Donald Trump, but well ahead of DeSantis and Chris Christie.
MCKEND: So some of her supporters really unsway by this, even still enthusiastic about the campaign. But there was one pointed question that she got from a voter this evening in which, in his words, she -- he suggested that she needed to redeem herself from this debacle and categorically reject that she would be Trump's running mate.
She neglected to do so. She didn't categorically reject it. She instead leaned on a familiar refrain that she gives time and time again when she says that she is not in this contest to play for second place. So the questions remain this evening -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Eva McKend, thank you so much for being with us.
Joining us now, Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished professor of African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt University. He's also co- author of "Unequal: A Story of America."
Professor, Ambassador Haley is now saying that, of course, the civil war was about slavery. Why is it you think she didn't say that in the first place?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN AMERICAN AND DIASPORA STUDIES, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, thanks for having me. First of all, she knew full well it was about slavery. It was pitch tone deaf to the truth, but one pitched toward MAGA crowds and the far-right wing that doesn't want to acknowledge that slavery was the driving force for -- of the civil war.
And when they do, they talk about it and couch it in terms of states' rights. The state's right to do what? To own flesh and human beings.
So this is her attempt to avoid the manifest truth and to play to the galleys, so to speak, while appearing to be informed about the multifarious constitutive elements that led to enslavement as opposed to dealing with the central one that the attempt of American people to own other human beings of African descent to deploy them without pay or compensation for their work is what slavery was about and what the civil war was about and drove it to the heights that we saw in American society.
BERMAN: So as part of her cleanup today, she said that, to me, it was about freedom. It's bigger than slavery that was such a stain on our history. But what do you take from it going forward? And that's the end quote there. What do you think that says? What was she saying there?
DYSON: Well, she's trying to mangle the truth, and she is trying to merge it and fuse it with her own kind of conservative right-wing theme about the absolute ability to do what you want as the demarcation of freedom.
No, African-American people in this country -- enslaved Africans who were here fighting against the worst form of human -- dehumanization that one has seen in centuries in this country and it's -- before it even got founded is the fact that this continued inability of brothers and sisters beyond African American communities to acknowledge that this is the truth. It's not freedom from what, freedom to do what, freedom with the ability to do what.
It had to do with enslavement. It had to do with color. It had to do with the inability of America to acknowledge that black people were fully human, the three-fifths clause.
Of course, it was about counting, but it was also about the dehumanization of black people. So this is the inability, again, of Nikki Haley to say straightforwardly it's about slavery. America is -- in its history has enslaved human beings. And that's a nasty and nefarious part of our particular history.
But the right wing wants to remake that historical trajectory and narrative. This is why we have governors like DeSantis who are trying to determine what happens in AP courses trying to ban books and, therefore, ban black bodies, and black brains, and also black history.
When you have a society that is obsessed or a segment of it obsessed with eviscerating that history, there is no doubt that attempts like this to remake history in the image of the far right wing that refuses to acknowledge the centrality of slavery is what we get in this society.
BERMAN: So you don't buy that this was a gaffe last night. She just forgot to mention it.
DYSON: Of course not. Nikki Haley is a very smart woman. She knew what she was doing. And by avoiding saying that it was about enslavement, she was playing to her base, or at least one of them that she hopes to secure in the absence of Donald Trump being physically there.
We know that Donald Trump is the shadow candidate looming over the entire horizon of the GOP, but she wanted to buy some of that, you know, give me a vow, Alex. And, you know, Pat, I'm sorry. And try to play up to the right wing in a way that took some of the thunder from Donald Trump without explicitly doing so.
She is too smart to know that in the history of the Civil War, that slavery was the driving force. Of course she knew that. This is her attempt to have her cake and to eat it too, to not acknowledge enslavement is to play to the right wing and then be -- to be forced the next day to talk about it. It looks like, oh, she's just being politically correct.
They're forcing her to do it. She doesn't really believe it. So she's able to really straddle that line. And in the ultimate sense to have her cake and eat it too.
BERMAN: Professor Michael Eric Dyson, thank you for your time tonight.
BYSON: Thank you for having me.
BERMAN: Now a story that you will only see here about how far the former president's 2020 campaign went to overturn the election using bogus ballots from fake state electors. CNN has obtained recordings revealing the last ditch effort to get some of those ballots to Washington in time for then Vice President Mike Pence to use them on January 6th.
CNN's Marshall Cohen got the scoop, joins us now. Marshall, what are these new recordings and emails tell us about the fake elector's scheme? MARSHALL COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, well, we have known bits and pieces of this story before, but this is the first time that we're getting the full picture. It comes from Ken Chesebro, who, in many ways, was the architect of the fake electors plot back in 2020. We have obtained recordings of his recent interview with Michigan investigators and hundreds of emails that he also turned over.
They reveal that last minute scramble on the eve of January 6th to get those fake certificates to Washington, D.C. Take a listen to Chesebro here describing what happened when Trump campaign officials realized the day before that the ballots from Michigan and Wisconsin were stuck in the mail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNETH CHESEBRO, PRO-TRUMP ATTORNEY: The general counsel of the Trump campaign is freaked out that Roman reported that the Michigan votes are still in the sorting facility in Michigan, which doesn't look like they're going to get to Pence in time.
So the general counsel campaign was alarmed, and was chartering -- they didn't have to charter a jet, but they did commercial. This is like, yes, so this is a high-level decision to get the Michigan and Wisconsin votes there. And they had to enlist a, you know, a U.S. senator to try to expedite it to get it to Pence in time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: Remember, John, they needed to get those ballots to the floor of the House because they wanted to make Pence throw out Joe Biden's real electors and replace them with Trump's fake electors. In the end, the campaign did not end up chartering a jet.
Staffers booked some last minute tickets on commercial flights. They ferried the ballots to D.C. on January 5th. Once they got to D.C., there was a series of handoffs and couriers. It even included some help from Senator Ron Johnson's office. The ballots did eventually reach the Capitol in time, but Mike Pence's team said they didn't want them.
John, he refused to go along with their plan.
BERMAN: So how does all of this, Marshall, factor into Special Counsel Jack Smith's criminal case against Trump?
COHEN: Well, this whole incident here, this episode is vaguely referenced in Jack Smith's indictment against Trump. Sources tell CNN that some of the people who were involved, including the staffers who were on those flights, they've spoken to Smith's team, but it's honestly not clear how many of these new details about this last minute scramble are going to factor into Trump's trial, which as you know, is scheduled for March.
BERMAN: So what did Chesebro say about the people he worked with on the Trump campaign? COHEN: He was pretty upset. He vented to the Michigan prosecutors and basically thinks that he got burned. It's true also, as he pointed out, that some Trump campaign lawyers did tell the January 6th committee that they basically washed their hands of the fake electors plot.
But look, the emails that we obtained show that at least some of them were involved in these 11th hour discussions about how to get the ballots to Pence.
Take a listen. Here is Chesebro telling Michigan prosecutors that basically he was thrown under the bus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHESEBRO: To have the three top campaign lawyers in interviews with Congress claim they pulled out of this on December 11th and I ran off and did it with Giuliani, when in fact, they were day-by-day coordinating the efforts of more than a dozen people with the GOP and with the Trump campaign.
For them to basically say they had nothing to do with it and it's because me and Giuliani, is that's what really rankles. So, I could have avoided all this. So it's been it's been a real lesson in not working with people that you don't know and are not sure you can trust. Because it really went south on me.
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COHEN: John, he says he learned the hard way and that's probably why he's now cooperating with state prosecutors in Michigan, Wisconsin and other places where they tried to pull this off.
BERMAN: Good scoop from a hard working reporter. Marshall Cohen, thank you so much.
Just ahead, we remember the latest hostage in Gaza confirmed killed, 70-year-old mother and grandmother, Judy Weinstein.
BERMAN: Sad news tonight from a kibbutz in southern Israel. Word that a woman taken from there on October 7th and thought to be alive was in fact killed that day.
Judy Weinstein was a 70-year-old citizen of the U.S., Israel, and Canada. A mother of four, a grandmother of seven. She was abducted with her husband, Gadi Haggai, who was declared killed last week. Both bodies are still being held by Hamas.
President Biden said in a statement, quote, "I will never forget what their daughter and the family members of other Americans held hostage in Gaza, have shared with me. They've been living through hell for weeks. No family should have to endure such an ordeal. And I reaffirm the pledge we have made to all the families of those still held hostage. We will not stop working to bring them home."
Weinstein's death means there are no remaining female Americans held by Hamas. Six American men are still believed to be held captive. One is Hersh Goldberg-Polin. He lost his left hand and part of the arm while he and his fellow concert goers were taking shelter from Hamas. His mother, as well as father, have been outspoken advocates for the hostages, including on this broadcast.
Rachel Goldberg joins us once again. Rachel, your son, Hersh, has been held hostage for 83 days. The last time you were on the program, we'd just seen many hostages released. You were feeling hopeful and happy for the families who are at their loved one's home, but today we learned that Judy Weinstein, the last Israeli American woman believed to have been held by Hamas was murdered. How are you feeling tonight?
RACHEL GOLDBERG, MOTHER OF HERSH GOLDBERG-POLIN: We're feeling really terrible for her family. No, she just found out also in the last handful of days that her father was also murdered. So we went from thinking that we had 8 remaining hostages to suddenly a few hours ago, understanding that we now have six remaining American hostages.
You know, John, people also are forgetting that on October 7th, 31 Americans were murdered. You know, the massacre that took place, and then 12 hostages were taken American hostages. And now we only have six left who are there. As you can see, today's day 83 and I -- we're all very concerned. The American families are very concerned what are we going to do about securing the release of these six American civilians.
BERMAN: I understand you and your husband, John, were recently invited with some other families of hostages to a meeting with the Israeli Cabinet. What did they tell you and what was your message to them?
GOLDBERG: Look, the war cabinet has made it clear that there are two objectives what they're working on. One is to diminish Hamas's capacity to have the military ability to perform more October 7th, which were, you know, was a day that was filled with unbearable and indescribable atrocity. And the other prong is to free hostages, but, you know, for hostage families, we're just, you know, in anguish that no one can really imagine.
And we're very concerned. And we also know that during, you know, while all this is taking place that there's unbelievable suffering for many, many innocent civilians in Gaza as well. So there are many people suffering during this time.
BERMAN: Do you believe that that bringing the hostages home is a priority if not the priority for the Israeli government?
GOLDBERG: Look, I certainly hope so. I certainly hope it's a priority. I don't know that it's -- I know that it's not the only priority because I know that as any country wants to, you know, protected citizens and what happened, you know, we had had a ceasefire up until October 7th when this happened, this atrocity happened that has made the country, you know, filled with trauma and fear.
But my focus is really on the fact that we have these six American civilians who are there and I really want America to help get those Americans out, get as many Americans out as you can. And then, look, President Biden has been a really wonderful advocate for he's saying, they're all humans. They're all there. We have to get them all out.
And of course, we feel that, all of us feel that. But I also feel very concerned that there's -- the number keeps dwindling of Americans who are alive. And we know they don't have a lot of time and we know that some of them are wounded and we need to step on it. It's 83 days.
And just lastly, your son Hersh was supposed to be traveling to India now and the pilots of an El Al flight to Asia called your husband John while they were flying over India last night. I want to play part of that conversation.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are currently flying above India, and we were informed that Hersh was supposed to fly today to India. So El Al and all the people in Israel are wishing that he will return to us soon, to you, to his family. And maybe later, he will get to begin his trip in India.
JOHN GOLDBERG, FATHER OF HERSH GOLDBERG-POLIN: We strongly hope he will return soon, and he will be able to fly with El Al, of course, to India and take this trip that he planned for years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: How much was Hersh looking forward to this trip and just what does it say about him?
GOLDBERG: Well, you know that Hersh has been planning this trip since he was in first grade in Mrs. Carlton's class in Richmond, Virginia, where she lit the fire under him to fall in love with geography and with different cultures. And so from first grade, he has had a huge map that he's been planning all these years to take this trip that he's been looking forward to.
And so yesterday we went to the airport with 50 of our friends and family and we gave stickers to all the people going on that flight to India. And we said, when you get where you're going, put up these stickers of Hersh so that eventually when he gets to go, God willing, on this trip that he'll get to places. That people have already put his sticker up in these far flung places all over Asia.
So we're hopeful. We're hopeful and optimistic, you know.
BERMAN: What a lovely, lovely tribute and how wonderful that would be.
Rachel Goldberg, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
GOLDBERG: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me and Happy New Year.
BERMAN: Still ahead, the woman who was sentenced to a decade in prison in 2016 for her role in killing her abusive mother, her story and new freedom, next.
BERMAN: Tonight, Gypsy Rose Blanchard is a free woman, released from prison on parole today. Her story gained national attention after being sentenced to 10 years for aiding in the murder of her abusive mother, Dee Dee Blanchard was believed to have had a rare psychological disorder that played a role in her daughter's abuse.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard has an upcoming book on her story. More now from our Gary Tuchman.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a little girl whose mother, Dee Dee, was known as a loving, caring single parent of a profoundly disabled child.
DEE DEE BLANCHARD: It's Mayberry. We're moving to Mayberry.
GYPSY ROSE BLANCHARD: I remember my mom had gave me this little glass house and she said, this -- one day, this will be real. And now it finally is.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gypsy and her mother had just moved into a Habitat for Humanity home in Missouri after their house was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. It appeared to be a feel good story for this child whose mother said she had brain damage, leukemia, asthma, muscular dystrophy, and was not able to walk. But it was all a lie.
Dee Dee Blanchard had fabricated it all. Gypsy was victimized by her mother's apparent Munchausen syndrome by proxy, in which a guardian causes or exaggerates illnesses. Gypsy never went past second grade.
G. BLANCHARD: It just proves that happy endings are not just in fairy tales, they're real and true in real life also.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): The elaborate scheme that Dee Dee concocted did indeed get her sympathy, like at this charity function.
G. BLANCHARD: In our darkest found world.
D. BLANCHARD: I've always said you're the reason I was born to be your mama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: State of Wisconsin versus Gypsy Blanchard.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): But then, in 2015, Gypsy and a long distance boyfriend were charged with murdering Dee Dee. Gypsy told Nicholas Godejohn about the lifetime of abuse she endured. They came up with a plan to kill her mother. And Godejohn was accused of stabbing her to death in their Missouri home.
Police reportedly found out about the killing from this violent post on a Facebook page that Gypsy shared with her mother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you're about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
G. BLANCHARD: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you state your name for the record, please?
G. BLANCHARD: Gypsy Blanchard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how old are you.
G. BLANCHARD: I'm getting to 25 years old but 24.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gypsy's boyfriend was found guilty and is serving a life sentence.
NICHOLAS GODEJOHN, GYPSY'S BOYFRIEND: I would have never did it if it were not for me and her.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Prosecutors felt Gypsy needed to be held accountable. But because of the abuse she experienced, they agreed to a plea bargain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's to be sentenced to 10 years in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): While in prison, Gypsy talked with TV personality Dr. Phil about how her mother lied to doctors, and how her mother handled her medical appointments.
G. BLANCHARD: She told me that I couldn't speak during a doctor's appointment. She would tell me, you know, sit in the wheelchair, play with your Barbie dolls and let me talk and don't interrupt. My mother told the doctors that I was mentally incompetent.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gypsy also said her mother tried to convince her how helpless she was.
G. BLANCHARD: She would always use the medical term for everything that was wrong, that I had microcephaly, which is small head, that my brain didn't develop right. And I'll never mature past a six-year- old's level.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): After she was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Gypsy was told this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She'll have to do 85 percent of her sentence before she's eligible for parole. TUCHMAN (voice-over): And today, that 85 percent is now over. Gypsy Rose got married while behind bars, to a Louisiana school teacher, a relationship that reportedly began as pen pals. She is now free to be with him, to live as normal a life as possible, while she and we remember the things she was once forced to say, like this about her new house.
G. BLANCHARD: It's beautiful, and it's happy, and it's full of love.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.
BERMAN: All right. Joining us now is criminology professor and former FBI special agent Bryanna Fox. Bryanna, what do you make of the fact that Gypsy was released early after pleading guilty to second degree murder in her mother's death?
BRYANNA FOX, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA, PROFESSOR OF CRIMINOLOGY: Well, thanks for having me, John. That shows that she obviously was very willing to take responsibility for this, and that's what parole boards essentially look for when they're making these types of determinations. She also wanted to -- her abuse and trauma she experienced, that made sure the -- essentially people knew why she did what she did.
BERMAN: Yes. Considering the abuse she experienced, what do you make of the fact that she was sentenced to 10 years?
FOX: Well, it's extraordinary, especially considering that her boyfriend was sentenced to life in prison. It shows that the prosecutors really understood the compelling nature of her story, what she went through, and that essentially a jury would have given her at least a reduced sentence, or something that really would have been commensurate with what she'd gone through as a child.
BERMAN: So, you know, Gary Tuchman mentioned in the piece, Dee Dee Blanchard, the mother, was suspected of having Munchausen syndrome by proxy. How difficult is it to detect and diagnose that condition?
FOX: This is one of the most difficult things to detect for a variety of reasons. One, the medical field is set up so when someone's brought into the hospital and they're complaining of different ailments, symptoms, pain, that's not something they can just ignore.
Even when they're going through different tests, if it's not coming back the way they expect, you have to keep running it down. And even when Gypsy Rose's mother was told for some various elements that she claimed Gypsy had, no, the tests aren't coming back, she'll go to a different doctor and she kept going to different doctors until she heard what she wanted to hear.
At that point, it's very difficult for prosecutors to say you're actually faking this or you're putting your daughter through all of this trauma and abuse.
BERMAN: Had this abuse been exposed earlier, what type of punishment would she have faced if any?
FOX: Well, Gypsy Rose probably wouldn't have engaged in what she had done but her mother on that hand probably would have been charged with child abuse. Gypsy Rose may have been transferred to live with her father or other family members or even taken in by the state.
But considering that Gypsy is one of the few people that actually improved in health and her wellness after serving almost a decade in prison, that really shows what she went through and how destructive it was as a child.
BERMAN: And again, back to the condition that her mother allegedly had, any other responsibility fall on the doctors who treated Gypsy for conditions she ultimately didn't have?
FOX: I think that doctors are in a tough situation. They want to trust clients and they want to, you know, make sure they're not -- it essentially is telling somebody no and to leave. But when doctors are turning down medications or when they're turning down treatments repeatedly, and that's usually a sign they don't believe what's going on.
And instead of just turning a blind eye, I think that more people should make sure they're saying something. Reporting this to authorities saying something to other family members. People in Gypsy Rose's family had been aware of accusations of what her mother had been doing, but essentially none of this came forward to authorities in time.
BERMAN: Bryanna Fox, thank you so much for being with us.
We'll be right back.
BERMAN: A lot of news tonight. Maine now the second state to ban Donald Trump from the primary ballot. The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.