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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Special Counsel: Supreme Court Should Hear Trump Case Now; Dem. Sen. Blumenthal Calls For Justice Thomas To Recuse Himself From Trump Immunity Case; Supreme Court To Review Obstruction Law used To Charge January 6 Rioters; Michigan's Republican Party Rocked By Financial Turmoil And Infighting; Chicago Man Who As Wrongfully Convicted Based On Testimony Of Blind Witness Freed After 12 Years In Prison. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired December 21, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And leading this hour, brand new filing today from Special Counsel Jack Smith setting up the latest debate before the U.S. Supreme Court. Smith pushing back on a request from Donald Trump and his legal team. Trump wants the court to stay out of a question about whether or not as a former president he gets immunity in the federal election subversion case against him. The special counsel says the Supreme Court needs to get involved and now.

Saying in today's new filing, quote, "The public interest in a prompt resolution of this case favors an immediate definitive decision by this court. The charges here are of the utmost gravity. It's just one, just one Trump related case before the US Supreme Court right now. And we're going to start with CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero and CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic.

Joan, what do you make of this urgent request from Jack Smith?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, he wants to reiterate as strongly as possible, as the justices are considering it at this very moment, the importance of the case. Why delay would hurt the situation, hurt the public interest, not so much hurt the government's case, as much as hurt the public interest. He says nothing short of democracy is at stake. He really uses the fact that we're dealing with a former president here.

He wants to say why he's -- Donald Trump is not like any other defendant? Why he needs to jump over an Appellate court at this point, because Donald Trump should have to account for his actions back in 2020. He doesn't mention 2024 election at all, he wants to -- he's talking about the imperative of have been able to hold him accountable. And he just reiterated it and tried to beat back a lot of what Donald Trump's lawyers had said yesterday about there's no reason for haste.

TAPPER: And Carrie Cordero, Trump yesterday obviously urged the Supreme Court, don't skip over the appeals court process, basically saying take your time. CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER COUNSEL TO ASSISTANT ATTY. GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: Well, take your time -- this is all about timing. And the Appellate court actually has scheduled a hearing on it, it has scheduled briefing. So the Appellate court, in some ways has expressed an interest in moving promptly because they could take a much longer time. But -- and from the former president's perspective, of course, he wants to delay. As far as possible, he wants the Appellate court to take its time so that then he -- that then would trigger a clock where even though he's going to appeal that no matter what the outcome is, he would take it up to the Supreme Court anyway but then that gives him more time whether or not to make his appeal. So it would stretch out the timeline, and therefore push his trial date, most likely.

TAPPER: And Joan, we've also been following this Colorado Supreme Court ruling, which would bar Trump from appearing on the state's ballots in 2024. We're expecting Trump to appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court as well, probably next week, he'll file that. Is it possible that the court will take up both cases immunity and the Colorado Supreme Court case and ruling them together?

BISKUPIC: Maybe during the same timeframe, but not in joint opinion. They --

TAPPER: They're not a joint opinion but like we're, you know, release both opinions at the same day?

BISKUPIC: Probably not. But they will be heard simultaneously. First of all, as a threshold matter, both of those cases have to be decided by the Supreme Court. The court would have to be the last word on whether the president can be shielded from a criminal prosecution, which is the first one we had. But also it's in the courts hands whether the 14th Amendment Section Three provision that would bar Trump from the Colorado ballot and maybe other ballots in other states, it has to decide that.

And the fact that they're coming up together, Jake, might actually in some ways benefit the Supreme Court that isn't thrilled about getting Trump litigation, because Trump litigation is always fraught and pulls them into the political muck. But in this case, you know, it might give them a way to frankly rule in some ways that would help Donald Trump in other ways that would not. And you know, you know how John Roberts --

TAPPER: He loves to do that.


TAPPER: He loves to be seen as the great moderator and then here -- he could rule against the Colorado court and against Trump --


TAPPER: -- on the immunity question. Carrie, we're also hearing calls for Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself if the court does take up these January 6 related cases because his wife Ginni Thomas, is a very outspoken election design denier and a major influential conservative activist, especially around January 6. Look at this text message between Ginni Thomas and then Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on January 10 2021, "Help this great president stand firm, Mark. The majority knows Biden and the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history," unquote. OK, first of all, that's just nuts.

But second of all, that's a Supreme Court justice's wife. Yesterday, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut wrote a letter to Chief Justice Roberts saying, quote, "Mrs. Thomas's close interactions with senior Trump administration officials about overturning the 2020 election results, the very subject of the litigation, certainly creates circles stances where Justice Thomas's impartiality might reasonably be questioned." I don't think he's wrong. It's a reasonable question. What do you think?


CORDERO: Well, and that language is the key language when the -- his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. So, it's a subjective judgment.

TAPPER: Right.

CORDERO: And the judgment completely resides with a justice himself. He is going to have make the own -- his own decision about whether or not to recuse from the case. My own view is that a reasonable person would look at this, look at, you know, for example, the message that you just played and come to the conclusion that he should recuse. But there's an interesting tension here between this other issue of the Appellate court weighing in on the case, because if Justice Thomas recuses, then we have an eight person Supreme Court --

TAPPER: Right. Divided four to four.

CORDERO: -- and you could potentially have a tie. And so then the Appellate level court would be the determining decision. So when the Supreme Court -- if the Supreme Court ever were to tie in something, the prior decision is the decision that holds. So there's an argument why the Appellate level court actually should --


CORDERO: -- have a view here.

TAPPER: And also the odds that Clarence Thomas would recuse himself are zero, absolutely zero.

Joan, why do you think Jack Smith wants the court to weigh in so quickly? Is it because he wants the trial to start in March and he wants us all done before the Republican National Convention, the Democratic Convention?

BISKUPIC: Yes. Yes. I think the ultimate interest is doing this before we're even mired in another political election controversy. He's not saying that, but clearly November 5 is looming. And, you know, we're already probably past now what -- no matter what happens, we're past that March 4 deadline that the trial court judge had said. But what he wants to happen is for the Supreme Court to at least resolve this, while it's in its current term, which runs through the end of June. Because if you -- if we wait months for whatever could happen in the Appellate court, because even though the Appellate court has expedited the briefing schedule, you know, writing an opinion will take time.


BISKUPIC: And the appeal up to the justices will take time. So we're already deep into spring, if not the summer, when we have the national conventions, and then the November election looming.

TAPPER: And we should just take a moment to acknowledge, Carrie, these are important weighty decisions. The presidential immunity is the president immune from criminal charges for things he did when he was president? Or, you know, did the president engage in insurrection? Does that make him not, you know, not eligible to be president according to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? These are serious issues.

CORDERO: Absolutely. I mean, these are cases that the former President Trump is involved in, but these are cases about the presidency itself. And that is what all of the courts, the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court are going to be considering. The Supreme Court of Colorado, in its decision said we are in uncharted territory. We know, we, the Supreme Court of Colorado know that we are ruling on novel issues of constitutional law.

So there is an argument that the courts should be taking their time in conducting a constitutional analysis for the history books for future presidencies, not just the former president.

TAPPER: Yes. I wonder how many future precedents these decisions are going to be relevant. Hopefully not many. Thanks so much for both of you --


TAPPER: -- for being here, Joan and Carrie.

Also in our law and justice lead, today, Rudy Giuliani filed for bankruptcy in federal court. This is just days after a federal jury ordered him to pay nearly $150 million to two former Georgia election workers whom he defamed. Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell.

Kara, what exactly is Rudy claiming in this bankruptcy filing? And what does it mean?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rudy Giuliani is claiming that he is saddled with debt as much as $500 million and saying that he only has up to $10 million in assets, so he's trying to delay this pay out to these two women. I mean, the largest of his debts in the bankruptcy filing is the nearly $150 million payment to those to Georgia election workers that the jury handed down last week. But we're also learning a little bit more about Giuliani's finances. He also has $1 million dollars in unpaid taxes to the federal government and to New York State. In addition, $1.7 million in unpaid legal fees to some of the lawyers who had represented him in many of the legal issues he's had over the past several years, as well as $30,000 in phone bills.

Now part of this is Giuliani estimating that he's going to face potentially a lot more in either legal fees or damages from court cases because he's facing a number of other lawsuits including a harassment lawsuit from a former employee, lawsuit seeking $2 million from a grocery worker who says that Giuliani had falsely gotten him arrested. As well as three defamation lawsuits, all related to the election actions after 2020. So Giuliani facing a lot of potential legal bills here. Now his lawyers are saying that, and a spokesman are saying that the timing of this should not be a surprise to anyone because of the judge ordering yesterday Giuliani to begin these payments to these women and Giuliani saying that he just doesn't have the money, Jake.


TAPPER: Maybe he shouldn't have told all those lies. Kara, the two people Giuliani owes the most money to, at least as of right now, the night is still young, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, the to Georgia election workers, what was their reaction to this news that he's filed for bankruptcy?

SCANNELL: So there were issued a statement in which he said this maneuver is unsurprising. It will not succeed in discharging Mr. Giuliani's debt to Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. And just as a reminder, they filed a new defamation lawsuit against Giuliani on Monday for repeating many of the same lies that he has already been found to have defame them for. So, you know, his legal problems are very far from being over there, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Karis Scannell, thanks.

Coming up next, the hunt for bad actors at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The remarkable new account of a woman using honey traps on the dating app Bumble to track down rioters. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back. We've been talking about two possible big cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Colorado ruling barring Trump from the state's 2024 ballots because he is an insurrectionist, according to the court. And Donald Trump's immunity case about whether or not he's immune from the fostering of the insurrection, because he did it while he was president.


There is another, the U.S. Supreme Court saying it will review the obstruction law which overturn could derail convictions of January 6 rioters or insurrectionists, whatever you want to call them could deal a blow, of course, the Jack Smith prosecution of the former president because that's one of the charges. NBC News Justice Reporter Ryan Reilly joins me now. He's the author of a fantastic new book, "Sedition Hunters, How January 6th Broke the Justice System." I cannot recommend it more highly. I don't have a lot of NBC Correspondence on CNN very often, but this is a really good book and he's really good reporter.

Ryan, thanks so much for being here. So the Supreme Court is looking to review the conviction of Joseph Fischer. Just to inform folks at home, he was charged with multiple crimes related to January 6, including assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct and obstruction of congressional proceeding. The courts going to review whether the obstruction law is too broad, and whether it can be applied to January 6 cases. So what kind of impact would that have if they find that the application of the obstruction law is too broad?

RYAN REILLY, JUSTICE REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Really huge. And I've spoken with some people inside the Justice Department who are kind of worried about this, right like this effect over 300 cases. And just to give you a sense of the scope of this investigation, when you say Joseph Fischer, a former cop who assaulted law enforcement officers on January 6. You actually have to be specific about which Joseph Fischer you're talking about. There are two Joseph Fischer's, both of them former cops, both of them accused of assaulting law enforcement officers.

One of them was from Pennsylvania, he's the guy we're talking about here. The other one is actually a former Boston PD officer. And lo and behold, actually, the way that sleuth identified him, in part, was because they were looking through footage from the Boston Marathon bombing. And that Joseph Fischer was in the back of a clip from the Boston Marathon bombing. And the Boston Marathon bombing for the Soyuz (ph) is kind of like this event that is almost a sort of warning sign about how this could go poorly and why it's so important not to put names out there in the public unless you have them 1,000 percent confirmed to run these through law enforcement to work with journalists, not to just throw names out there.


REILLY: So it's this weird thing where it's like, there's this tie to the Boston Marathon bombing, and like that was such a big lesson.

TAPPER: That's so interesting, because in 2013, I remember first of all, the New York Post had to pay a defamation settlement because they put somebody on the cover that they were doing the sleuthing to and they were wrong. But I remember doing a story and we ended up not airing it for the same exact reason, we didn't know if these sedition hunters in this case, it was a Boston Marathon bomber hunters, we're correct. So this was done really spectacularly well. Your book also details some of the interesting ways that the Capitol rioters were tracked down by the Sedition hunters, including how one woman set up so called honey traps on the dating app Bumble. Tell us about that.

REILLY: Yes, the honey traps were -- so, a woman who I call Claire (ph) in the book, basically was sitting at home, she lived in navy yard at the time and was seeing a bunch of Trump supporters flow back from the Capitol to a hotel near where she lived at and then saw the FBI asking for help. And she said, OK, let's get to work. So, she fired up Bumble, she had a photo from the Women's March after Donald Trump's inauguration, a protest event. So she's had to switch that obviously, because that wouldn't line up with what he was going for.

TAPPER: Right.

REILLY: She switched her profile to conservative and she got to swiping she ended up talking to about 12 guys, got three of them to admit they were near the Capitol. And this one guy who they sent in Andrew Taake, who actually just pleaded guilty the other day, basically said, yes, I was on the front lines. So like, you know, he was talking to a young woman online and couldn't resist sort of bragging about themselves. So, ended up sort of getting himself in trouble there because of her effort.

TAPPER: What a patriot, that young lady. So the House Republicans say that they're going to release all the Capitol Hill security footage from January 6. And I want you to listen, that we've been told they're going to blur the faces. Listen to Congressman Barry Loudermilk, explaining why Republicans are going to blur the faces.


REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK (R-GA). We also want to protect the privacy of certain individuals, especially those who are innocent, who may have been here at the Capitol. They didn't do anything wrong. So they're -- we're taking efforts to if there's close ups, you know, external cameras, where you've got some people just standing out there, we want to make sure that they're protected.


TAPPER: What do you think?

REILLY: So, the video actually, even if it's blurred it can still be useful to the snooze (ph) because for the most part, the CCTV footage isn't actually that high quality. The best images of these individuals often come from their own footage from the rioters themselves, who were just filming the crowd outside. So, you'll go to -- if you go to the, you know, the database of the sedition hunters have put together it'll show a lot of photos that obviously weren't taken inside the Capitol, but they found those people inside they counted Capitol, right? So they'll be a really clear photo taken from an iPhone that may have been snapped at the Trump rally or it may have been snapped outside of the Capitol, but that's the clearest image of it. That's the one that can really trigger facial recognition matches, which is how a lot of these come to be.

But the snooze don't count on just facial recognition. They need to have some other confirming factor to make sure this is really them, right? So often if you have a pair of people together that's a really good way to confirm them because OK maybe there's a false facial recognition lead, but there's not going to be two of them.

[17:20:11] Or maybe it's an item of clothing. They're often items of clothing that were in social media. And then they'll find say a pinkie ring, right, the same pinky ring on someone who was inside the Capitol, and up there it is on their Facebook page. And in addition to the facial recognition match, and perhaps some of their social media content about stop the steal, you can pretty much lock it up.

TAPPER: What is really amazing about the book and also the sedition hunters themselves is the responsible way that so many of them did this. Obviously, there were some bad stories here and there. But generally speaking, people were really responsible. They didn't just go on social media and say this guy did it, this guy did it. Itt was a team effort and you chronicle it fascinatingly.

Ryan Reilley, the book of "Sedition Hunters on January 6, Broke the Justice System." it's Christmas, you know it's a good -- it's a good gift for anybody in your family who loves, I don't know, the United States of America, justice? Ryan Reilley, thank you so much. And thank your buddies and NBC for letting you off the leash there.

Coming up next, what new U.S. intelligence reveals about Hamas and the influence of the terrorist group since its horrific October 7th attack.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. Despite horrific firsthand accounts of the barbaric terrorism Hamas inflicted on innocent civilians on October 7 and since, CNN's Katie Bo lidless today reports on a new U.S. intelligence analysis showing that Hamas has actually gained influence and credibility across the Arab world and beyond in the months following the October 7 attack. As the terrorist group presents itself as a defender of Palestinian rights even though it cowardly embeds itself among the civilian population of Gaza. And Hamas leaders have spoken openly about not caring about how many Palestinian civilians are killed. CNN's Will Ripley reports down from Israel after a day of intense rocket exchanges as the country's leader signals there is no plan to slow down.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another day in Israel, another round of rocket fire, Hamas targeting Tel Aviv with a barrage of rockets from Gaza. Israeli media reporting some 30 rocket interceptions by the Iron Dome, no injuries or major damage. The Israeli military warning Gaza residents it will retaliate with more airstrikes aimed at areas already reeling from more than two months of brutal bombardment. Even as President Joe Biden ways whether or not to support the latest U.N. ceasefire resolution.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're negotiating right now at the U.N., the contours of a resolution.

RIPLEY (voice-over): The U.S. is concerned the resolution as drafted could actually slow down the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid. U.S. intelligence agencies warn Hamas' credibility and influence has grown dramatically in the more than two months since the October 7 terror attacks. As global outrage grows over Israel's military response, nearly constant Israeli airstrikes on Gaza plunging hospital hallways into total darkness, putting countless patients in peril. The World Health Organization warns --

SEAN CASEY, W.H.O. EMERGENCY MEDIAL TEAM COORDINATOR: What we found here as a hospital that's really almost completely stopped functioning.

RIPLEY (voice-over): The W.H.O. says northern Gaza has no functioning hospitals left, only nine of 36 hospitals operating in all of Gaza, all of them in the south. Doctors describing unbearable conditions.

On the ground in Gaza, fierce firefights Israeli forces going door to, door building to building snipers opening fire with deadly results. The Israeli military says it killed hundreds of Hamas militants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning more bloodshed is coming.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The choice I am offering Hamas is simply, surrender or die. They do not have and will not have any other option.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Those grim words after Hamas rejected Israel's offer for a one week pause in fighting in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli hostages, prioritizing women, the elderly, and patients desperately in need of medical care. A Hamas statement saying they won't agree to any talks about prisoner swaps until after Israel ends its military operation in Gaza. An operation that only seems to be intensifying the Israeli military taking the fight underground, uncovering what it calls hidden Hamas tunnels, underground bunkers beneath the battle scarred streets.


RIPLEY (on camera): That massive explosion you just saw is what Israel calls a subterranean complex underground tunnels that were housing senior Hamas leadership, there were apartments and offices and they were placed right underneath, in many cases, civilian targets that Israel have been striking. Of course, that's Hamas is MO, putting themselves under hospitals and homes and sometimes even churches and then, of course, packed with people seeking shelter from the relentless bombardment.

Israel says so far they've killed at least 2,000 Hamas militants since the ceasefire. The overall death toll in Gaza, Jake, according to the Ramallah health ministry, 20,000 people.

TAPPER: Will Ripley in Tel Aviv, thanks so much. Coming up inside a state's Republican Party and a must win state, one person describing it as an incompetent dumpster fire engulf by infighting and in deep financial debt where the GOP and that state is pointing blame. That's next.


TAPPER: In our 2024 Lead, this latest CNN poll shows former President Donald Trump leading in the battleground swing state of Michigan. It's a state that President Biden carried in 2020 and one where Trump won in 2016. There is trouble brewing within the Michigan's -- state of Michigan's Republican Party though. A CNN investigation finds that the Michigan GOP is out of money and rocked by infighting and turmoil. And as CNN's Jason Carroll helps explain, Republicans fear that that turmoil could jeopardize their chances in 2024.


KRISTINA KARAMO, CHAIRPERSON, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN PARTY: Michigan is ground zero for the globalist takedown of the United States of America.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the person some are accusing of being behind the trouble plaguing Michigan's Republican Party.

KARAMO: I saw firsthand the systemic election corruption.

CARROLL (voice-over): She's Kristina Karamo, former community college professor, former poll watcher, election denier and conspiracy theorists and the current chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party.


ANDY SEBOLT, MI GOP DISTRICT CHAIR: She's very charismatic. When you hear her speak she can get a crowd going.

BREE MOEGGENBERG, MI GOP STATE COMMITTEE MEMBER: She was grassroots. We're grassroots.

CARROLL (voice-over): For time, Bree Moeggenberg and Andy Sebolt were among Karamo's biggest supporters. Now they are some of her strongest critics calling for her to be removed from office.

MOEGGENBERG: I'm sorry, because I voted for her.

SEBOLT: She's losing supporters. I mean, literally hemorrhaging supporters.

CARROLL (voice-over): Another state committee member referred to her in an e-mail as a tyrannical, incompetent dumpster fire. Karamo lacked much political experience but rose quickly within the state GOP promoting her steadfast support of Donald Trump and strong Christian beliefs. In 2022, she lost the race to be Michigan Secretary of State, but in February was elected Chair of the State's Republican Party. Since then her critics say the state party has been bogged down with infighting, dysfunction and according to documents, dismal fundraising.


CARROLL: You're broke?

CARPENTER: Yes, correct. Now she ran it into the ground.

CARROLL (voice-over): Warren Carpenter is a former party district chair and former Karamo supporter who shares her election denying views and conservative values her disdain for the establishment and lack of political or business experience was also part of her appeal to her supporters.

CARROLL: You understand what some of your critics will say? They'll say you got what you asked for and this is the person --

CARPENTER: I was wrong. Yes. Full stop, I was wrong. I was on her team until I saw the financial situation.

CARROLL (voice-over): Warren shared documents with CNN that appeared to show the party had a net income of about $71,000 between March and November of 2023. Compare that to how much Karamo said she hoped to raised.

KARAMO: That will require I believe at least $50 million. And I'm very confident that I will be able to raise out.

CARROLL (voice-over): Millions needed and little to show for it, a couple that with what critics call questionable spending decisions like taking out a $110,000 loan to pay actor Jim Caviezel, who has pushed false QAnon conspiracy theories to speak at a major event the party hosted in September. This situation is so dire, some members of the party's Budget Committee have resigned.

A member warn the party faced imminent default on the line of credit. And now worries the dysfunction in Michigan could have broader implications in a state where Trump won in 2016, then flipped and Biden won in 2020, both by narrow margins.

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: When a state party is falling short on its fundraising, it can have an impact on anybody who's on that ballot, president, senator, mayor, member of Congress.

CARROLL (voice-over): Karamo wouldn't speak to CNN.

JOEL STUDEBAKER, MI GOP DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: We come to the table with almost no political experience. And we don't view that as a bad thing.

CARROLL (voice-over): But her deputy chief of staff, Joel Studebaker and Ken Beyer, a district Chairman, say Karamo's critics have not given her a chance.

CARROLL: How much have you raised this year?

STUDEBAKER: Far less. It's been a challenge. It's been a challenge.

CARROLL: How much can you put it down? STUDEBAKER: I don't know the exact dollar amount. But it's, you know, I don't know that it's over a million.

KEN BEYER, MI GOP DISTRICT CHAIR: She's not a business person. We knew that when we elected her.

CARROLL: But is that now starting to come back to sort of to bite chip because the business of this is not working, it's failing.

BEYER: What she's doing is she's motivating a bunch of people within the community to get active inside their own neighborhood.

CARROLL (voice-over): Beyer says the Republican establishment set Karamo up to fail by sending their donations to other GOP state organizations.

BEYER: These folks are pulling the rug out from Kristina and then blaming her for falling.

CARROLL (voice-over): But Karamo's critics say she's not making enough effort to reach traditional Republicans arguing she has gone out of her way to alienate them with statements like this.

KARAMO: The Michigan Republican Party operates like a political mafia.

CARROLL (voice-over): A conference volunteer list leaked to the press also has not helped. It ranks potential volunteers one to four. One being patriot to four being me first or Rhino. State committee member Bree Moeggenberg was ranked to four.

MOEGGENBERG: She's disenfranchising the voters, she's disenfranchised us. And that is not how you build up a team. That is not how you unite the Republican Party.

CARROLL (voice-over): Karamo's detractors took steps to try to remove her from office in this meeting.

BEYER: If they would stand down and take the energy that they're using to try to destroy us and try to help us with the experience that they have, we'd be unstoppable.

CARROLL (voice-over): Too late for former supporters such as Warren Carpenter.

CARPENTER: I don't want her to do anything except for resign. And I'll tell you what, if she doesn't, then we'll remove her.

Jason Carroll, CNN, Dearborn, Michigan.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Jason Carroll and his team for that report.

Let's talk with our panel here. Karen Finney and Ramesh Ponnuru about that report and much more. Ramesh, your response, I mean the Michigan Republican Party shouldn't be ascendant but we have seen it's actually in the horrible shape.


RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes. You know, it's funny when you think about the fact that Trump made these huge inroads for the Republicans in 2016, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, all three states have Republican parties that are doing worse than when he came around. They're doing worse than they were doing before Trump took office. I don't think that's an accident. I think that shows you something about Trump's effect on the Republican Party, which is on net and shrinking it.

TAPPER: Well, and just to make an observation, I know this from being from Pennsylvania, it seems as though they're doing the same thing they're doing in Michigan, which is it's not about expanding the party. It is, as you know, it's about shrinking the party. So it's all about Donald Trump, and his election lies. That's the main focus and the thesis of the GOP in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. And it follows a trend actually, that we saw in 2022, where election deniers did not do well in their races, I don't know that putting them in charge of the state party was clearly was not a good idea, particularly to the point that I mean, there is no plan right now in the Republican Party to expand their base, right? It is all about cater. We're seeing this play itself out in the 2024 primary. It's all about catering to that far right wing.

The one other thing, though, that I mentioned, I mean, as a state party chair, your number one job is to raise money and get resources to your people on the ground. So the fact that you can't even raise money that is very -- would be very troubling to me if I was still at the DNC, and that should be very troubling to the folks at the RNC.

TAPPER: Well, she ran for Secretary of State, she got trounced. And she's still -- I don't think she's even conceded yet from that race, because she's --

FINNEY: Because she's still denying the election.

TAPPER: She's an election lying. Yes. It doesn't matter.

PONNURU: She's not going to counting votes or money.

FINNEY: Right. There you go.

TAPPER: Right. Apparently.

TAPPER: So let's turn to the other subjects about a lot of these Trump lawsuits or Trump filings, et cetera. The Supreme Court, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis today said more about the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling which would ban Donald Trump because they say he's an insurrectionist from the state's 2024 ballot. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What's keeping a Republican state from saying Biden shouldn't be on the ballot, he led 8 million illegal aliens into this country, maybe we can say that is an insurrection or rebellion. So what the Colorado Court did had no precedent in American history. And it's not something that's going to be upheld by the Supreme Court.


TAPPER: I mean, this was one of the precedents people were worried about, is that if the Colorado Supreme Court does this, regardless of the merits, you're going to have things like, you know, I take the point that DeSantis is making what's to stop the Texas Supreme Court from -- well, go ahead.

FINNEY: Well, that's a little bit absurd because Joe Biden did not participate in an insurrection. We've seen overwhelming evidence to the role that former President Trump actually played in the events of January 6th. So it's a little bit of an absurd, typical DeSantis kind of comment. At the same time, you know, Donald Trump engaging in the 20 -- any election is going to be unprecedented given what happened during his term, given what happened on January 6th.

TAPPER: What do you make of the Colorado ruling?

PONNURU: I think it was an astonishingly reckless ruling. And I think that part of the problem is it doesn't set up limiting principles. So there is in fact, a question of whether what Trump was engaged in and engaged in is also a key word in this.

TAPPER: Right.

PONNURU: Amounted to an insurrection as the 14th Amendment uses the word insurrection or rebellion. But maybe even more importantly, if you accept this analysis, who makes the judgment, and the judgment is just scattered among election officials, state judges, it's a kind of crazy way to handle this.

FINNEY: I don't think that's going to be the way out, right? I mean, because Adam Serwer had a great piece in "The Atlantic" today sort of making the point that tactically if you're an originalist, there's a lot in the way this was written that would say, well, he did it. If you believe that he engaged in insurrectionist activities, he shouldn't be qualified. At the same time, who decides, the people or the court? We saw what happened in 2000, when the courts got to decide. I think our country is far less stable than we were in 2000. So the court is probably going to have -- is going to find a way to weave itself out of having to take the decision away from the people.

TAPPER: So let's talk about some of the other candidates. We just talked about Trump, we just talked about DeSantis. Nikki Haley, Ramesh, was confronted by a voter in Iowa, who said Trump is a grave danger to the United States. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to support you, I also want to hear from you that you also think there's a danger here because this is not good for our country and it's not good for the church. And I want to be able to support someone who agrees with that.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wouldn't be running if I didn't think that he's not the right person at the right time. I've said multiple times. I don't think it's good for the country for Donald Trump to become president again. I've made that very clear.



TAPPER: I don't know that that's what he was looking for though.

PONNURU: Yes. She didn't explain why she thinks that Trump is the right person. And I think there's a reason for that. I think that she has been trying to walk a fine line. She's been ramping up the criticism of Trump lately in her run. Of course, prior to her run, she went sort of back and forth on questions related to Trump. But she's been unwilling to -- to make that really strong, pretty -- she's actually been tougher and making the argument against DeSantis than against Trump, because she's been regarding DeSantis as the near term challenge she has to overcome.

TAPPER: Well, the other issue, though, for Nikki Haley is however much she wants to say X, Y or Z, 65 percent of the Republican Party likes Donald Trump, even if they don't necessarily want him to be the nominee. He's still very popular among the Republican base.

FINNEY: Absolutely. And to the conversation, we're just having about the Michigan party that is the reality that these guys are facing in all of the states is how do you walk that very fine line? As you know, Jake, I've long said that I think Nikki Haley could actually get the momentum and keep the momentum. She would be tougher to beat in a general election.

TAPPER: You used to say it quietly. But now you say that's --

FINNEY: That's not true. I've said it, I'll find you take.

TAPPER: So, no, you've said it before, but are you used to whisper it to, you used to whisper it but.

FINNEY: Frankly, I think this is an argument for Chris Christie, galvanizing his support behind her if I was a Republican that would be what I --

PONNURU: They don't even say, DeSantis and Haley don't even say on a consistent basis, Trump lost the 2020 election. I think that's important because it's true. But it's also part of the argument for not nominating him. And they're just incapable of making it.

FINNEY: But they can't make that during the -- in a primary. That's a general election message -- TAPPER: No one ever said running for president was easy.


TAPPER: Karen, Ramesh, good to see both you thank you so much.

Ahead, the forces behind so many wrongful convictions recently overturned. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with the stunning overturning of a murder conviction in Chicago. A 30-year-old Chicago man, Darien Harris, is now free after the critical revelation that the prosecution star witness was legally blind. The witness had picked Harris out of a lineup in the days after the deadly shooting. CNN's Josh Campbell takes a look at this case and several other convictions that had been overturned this month with a common theme.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations. Right here sir.

DARIEN HARRIS, EXONERATED: I finally made it. Two and a half years I made it.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Darien Harris waited more than a decade for this moment arrested and accused of fatally shooting a Chicago man at a gas station in 2011 just before graduating high school. The now 30-year-old walked out of Cook County Jail a free man earlier this week. Charges dropped after a new revelation in the case. The prosecution star witness when identified Harris on a lineup was legally blind.

HARRIS: He said that he witnessed the shooting 80 feet away at night. He can even see back through the front of him.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): Harris was wrongfully convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 76 years in prison. His attorney tells CNN that a gas station attendant who also witnessed a crime told police at the time that Harris was not the shooter.

LAUREN MYSERCOUGH-MUELLER, STAFF ATTORNEY, THE EXONERATION PROJECT: All of this evidence kind of culminates together to show some of the big problems with eyewitness testimony.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): Harris is the fourth man to be exonerated in Cook County just this month. James Soto and David Ayala are cousins wrongfully convicted in the 1981 murder of two Chicago teenagers. They were freed earlier this month after spending 42 years behind bars.

JAMES SOTO, EXONERATED: I feel excited, elated, exuberant, but as I mentioned before a bit of righteous anger. It should not have taken 42 years for this to happen. CAMPBELL (voice-over): Brian Beals was a college football player in 1988. He was convicted for murdering a six-year-old at Chicago, spending 35 years in prison before walking free.

MIGUEL SOLORIO, EXONERATED: A few weeks ago I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family for the first time in 25 years.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): After two and a half decades behind bars Miguel Solorio is finally home. One of two men in prison for murders that prosecutors in Los Angeles now say they did not commit.

SOLORIO: I was wrongfully convicted of a murder I had no knowledge of. I was only 19 years old.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): Solorio was arrested after a 1998 drive by shooting that killed an elderly woman after being misidentified in a police photo lineup. Also exonerated in Los Angeles, Giovanni Hernandez arrested for murder in 2006 when he was just 14 years old.

GEORGE GASCON, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: A new analysis of Mr. Hernandez's cell phone records by the FBI shows that his phone was not at or near the location of the shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in the scene of this crime.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): One common theme and at least seven exonerations announced across the country this month, police relying on statements from bystanders later shown to be faulty and contrary to other facts in the case.

GASCON: We have known that eyewitness identification has been a problem for at least 20 years.

MYSERCOUGH-MUELLER: Certainly relying on a blind eyewitness is not how justice is supposed to work.

CAMPBELL (voice-over): If their innocence now declare those wrongfully in prison say they will continue to speak out.

HARRIS: I got to be the voice for the people that's being silenced right now. These people they feel like they never come home.


CAMPBELL (on camera): And Jake, it's important to point out that none of these wrongful convictions came to light because of the work of law enforcement rather, because of the work of volunteers and public defenders and nonprofits like the innocent projects with works to ensure that those who are being held in custody are not held unjustly. Now, obviously, the work of law enforcement is critical. But all these cases show that law enforcement officers are not infallible, which is why it's so important to have these outside groups, essentially checking the work of the police to ensure that people aren't convicted and sent to jail for crimes that they didn't commit. Jake?

TAPPER: Yes, I know this issue pretty well. In the case of Darien Harris, Josh, how did authorities learn about the faulty witness?

CAMPBELL: You know, this is incredible. I mean, you think about the criminal justice system. In that case, this murder took was at a gas station. You had someone who worked at the gas station who said it wasn't Darien Harris nevertheless authorities relied on this other witness who was later determined to be legally blind, it was Darien Harris in his jail cell. I talked to him just a couple hours ago, he said that his jail cell mate, who was working to overturn his own case had learned about the law enough to know that this witness presented a problem. He provided that information to a new set of attorneys they took it to the D.A. he's now a free man. Jake?


TAPPER: All right, Josh Campbell, thanks so much. We'll be right back.





AGUILERA: Thank you.


TAPPER: In our Christmas Lead, the queen of Christmas spread some cheer at the White House. The video was posted just a few hours ago on the President's Twitter account with the caption quote, it's time, reference to her hits on "All I Want For Christmas Is You" released in '94, which makes that song 29 years old. Oh my god. Mariah Carey was in the area last week for a concert in Baltimore that my daughter went to. She loved it. She stopped by the White House with her 12-year-old twins, Moroccan and Monroe. What a lovely song and lovely visit.


If you ever miss an episode of THE LEAD, you can listen to the show once you get your podcast. Our coverage continues on with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". I'll see you tomorrow. Merry Christmas.