Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

ABC News Reports, Trump's Ex-Chief Of Staff Gets Immunity To Testify; House GOP Selects Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) As Speaker Designee; CNN's Abby Phillip And Guest Panel Discuss House Speakership; Actor Richard Roundtree Dies Passes Away At 81; New Details Surface On Hamas' Attack Plan On Israel. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired October 24, 2023 - 22:00   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Tonight, we are learning more about how the planning for that deadly October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel went undetected for two years. Sources tell CNN tonight that Hamas operatives were actually communicating through a network of landlines that were built into those tunnels that we have discussed that are underneath Gaza. We'll have more on that tomorrow night.

Thank you so much for joining us. CNN Newsnight with Abby Phillips starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Three major stories tonight. The war in Israel has taken a new turn, Donald Trump's former chief of staff reportedly flips on him, and the House is still without a speaker as the Republican Party implodes. That's tonight on Newsnight.

And good evening. I'm Abby Phillips. It has been an extraordinarily bad day for MAGA Republicans and their leader, and perhaps the biggest development in the serial indictments against Donald Trump. Mark Meadows has reportedly been given immunity to testify in the federal election interference case, that according to ABC News. And on top of this, just hours before, another of his co-defendants in the Georgia case pleaded guilty. That now makes four.

In the civil case against his empire, his former fixer directly implicated him for fraud. Trump and Michael Cohen came face to face in the courtroom for the first time in five years today.

But even as Trump faced some of his most significant legal setbacks, he appeared hell-bent to flex his influence over on Capitol Hill. Just hours after Republicans chose their third candidate for the speakership, his candidacy ended abruptly with a Trump Truth Social post.


REP. MIKE WALTZ (R-FL): We need to get our act together. As we say in the Army, get our head out of our rear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They would like to see Congress stand up and act like adults.

WALTZ: My fear is if we keep doing this, somebody is going to end up siding with the Democrats.


PHILLIP: With Congress paralyzed, the American people are the ones losing. But Trump's sway on the Hill may be masking his weakness in the courtroom.

Joining me now are CNN Political Commentator Alyssa Farah Griffin, the former Trump White House communications director, and Mimi Rocah, the district attorney of Westchester County, New York, who is also the former chief of the Southern District of New York.

Alyssa, I want to start with you on all of this with Meadows. Are you surprised to hear that he may very well have been, at least for some time now, cooperating with Jack Smith?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's kind of been the million-dollar question in Washington, D.C., where has Mark Meadows been? Even when the DOJ indictment came out, there were fingerprints of Meadows, but you didn't see the very -- you didn't see specific mentions of him throughout.

Now, I've known Mark Meadows for many, many years. If there is one thing who people who know him consistently say, it's that he says different things to different people. So, I'm cautious about this reporting in the sense that I do think that he is cooperating to some degree, but I think he's trying to pull off this balancing act, where he can give DOJ just enough but then try to keep this public image of somebody who's aligned with Trump and aligned with the Republican Party.

I will be curious to see how this plays out in the coming days, because his team is pushing back in saying he didn't flip, he didn't turn on Trump. I don't know if that is, in fact, the case.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, they have not been specific, just to be clear, about what they're pushing back on in the first place. But, I mean, Alyssa brings up an important point. I mean, first of all, I should say, CNN has not individually confirmed this reporting, it's coming from ABC News, but this idea of immunity, what would Jack Smith give to Mark Meadows in exchange for the testimony that we appear to see outlined here, which is that Trump knew and was told that the election was not stolen?

MIMI ROCAH, WESTCHESTER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Right, so I mean, again, that there are so many different forms of immunity and cooperation, and I think we're all struggling a little bit because it's based on one report.


We don't know exactly what it looks like yet. And so we have to be a little careful of, you know, did he get just immunity for going into the grand jury and testifying. That's a very formal but narrow type of immunity. It's not a full-on, as we usually talk about, cooperation agreements, you know, people really flipping.

That doesn't mean it's not valuable to prosecutors. It absolutely would be if the substance is what we're hearing that it is because it -- in whatever form, it turns on its head, Trump's what is likely to be his central defense of I believed that I really won the election. No, you didn't. Even your chief of staff was telling you that there was no real fraud. So, that's one form.

There could be a fuller cooperation agreement. That seems a little unlikely to me given that he was charged in Georgia, not impossible, but unlikely that a federal cooperator, as we think of it, would have been charged by a state prosecutor.

PHILLIP: I want to come back to that in just a second. But, Alyssa, one of the interesting things about this reporting, if it turns out to be as it's described, is that Mark Meadows is telling on himself, he wrote this whole book in which he set out to defend Trump. He also wrote this, the people asking questions about the election were only reacting to what they were seeing, actual evidence of fraud right there in plain sight for anyone to access and analyze. He says, I could not believe that more news outlets were not writing about what was going on. Well, he didn't believe it either.

GRIFFIN: So, this is what is going to be remarkable about Mark Meadows as a witness, regardless of what this potential deal looks like, is on the one hand, it is huge if he is cooperating, because this is someone who knows more than anyone other than Donald Trump himself what was going on in the final days, the Stop the Steal effort, the lead-up to January 6th and so on.

Mark Meadows was in the room. In many cases he was pulling the strings. He was organizing the meetings. But on the other side, Mark Meadows is a known liar. Not just as someone who knows him, but what he wrote in his book. And then there was an example of one anecdote not related to the election, where he walked back and said his own writing, what he said was fake news once Donald Trump criticized it.

PHILLIP: Well, we know he didn't write -- actually write the book. But even still, I mean, he put his name on it.

GRIFFIN: I think that will make it a bit hard for the Department of Justice to kind of flush out how credible he actually is. Of course, he was privy to a tremendous amount, but he's also someone who's just not trustworthy.

PHILLIP: So, Mimi, you made a really interesting point. This is a question that I have had. Mark Meadows tried to move his Georgia case into federal court, failed. But if he is a cooperator in some degree on very similar charges at the federal level, what would that require? I mean, would it mean that Georgia prosecutors would have to know about that cooperation? Would they still charge him even if they knew about it? Could this complicate their case going forward? ROCAH: I mean, in an ideal world, and, you know, I feel like they -- everyone who's been asked, either at DOJ or in Georgia, oh no, no, we're not talking to each other. I mean, prosecutors at the state and federal level who are working on similar cases that overlap should be talking to each other. I understand why it may sound problematic to the outside world, but actually they should be.

And, you know, I don't know if they are or not, but in an ideal world, they are and they're communicating about this. I mean, it may be that Meadows couldn't get a cooperation agreement if he is cooperating federally in Georgia. You know, they're doing things in a different way in Georgia than the Department of Justice does normally. And maybe he's just hoping if he cooperates in the federal case, he will get some credit eventually in Georgia. He's also trying very hard still to move his case to federal court, right, and he would far prefer to have everything there.

But, you know, I hear the things that Alyssa's saying about him, and you know, as a prosecutor, I'm like having seizures, right, because you're hearing someone not credible, changes what he says. And I think as a witness, though, they can still deal with that, right, because he's not going to be an island. He's going to be with lots of other people who are saying lots of similar things about what they told Donald Trump about the election not being fraudulent and about who really wanted it.

PHILLIP: I guess if you're Jack Smith, it's better to have Mark Meadows speaking to Trump's state of mind in a way that helps your case than not, even if he's not the sole or even the most important witness at the end of the day.

Alyssa and Mimi, thank you both very much.

And we have some breaking news from Capitol Hill. Republicans have just chosen yet another nominee for speaker of the House after a couple of failed attempts.

I want to bring in now Manu Raju over on Capitol Hill. Manu, the fourth time is a charm. What's going on right now on the Hill?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Actually, a real warning sign yet again for Republicans as they named their fourth nominee in just three weeks.


Mike Johnson was named the nominee, Republican from Louisiana, won the majority vote in his conference with 128 votes just moments ago. But there's a real warning for him and concerns about his ability to get the 217 votes he will need to be elected speaker of the House. That's because there are 44 votes who voted for other candidates, 44 Republicans voted for other candidates. 43 of those voted for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

And that is causing enormous tension in the room next to me. Some members believe that McCarthy is intentionally undercutting Mike Johnson's ascent to the speakership and others including Mark Green, who was a candidate in this race, once he learned that some of those candidates were voting for Kevin McCarthy, said that people were playing games and he decided instead to endorse Mike Johnson, all raising more concerns about whether the Republicans, after three weeks of gridlock, of infighting, of dealing with a leadership crisis that has left the House completely paralyzed can actually get out of the crisis that they themselves caused here because of the fact, that even though they have another nominee who has a majority of the support within the Republican conference, this person at the moment, Mike Johnson, does not have the 217 votes he needs to be elected speaker, raising even more questions, Abby, about how they will resolve this, who could come next, what the next plan might be if nothing changes and the next 24 hours or so as all these huge issues wait for that for the House to act whether it's dealing with Ukraine aid, Israel aid or taking steps to avoid a government shutdown. None of that can happen given this infighting that's happening in the Republican Party, the inability to get behind a candidate and the aftermath of the ouster of the speakership just three weeks ago, something that they have yet to resolve as they remain battling behind the scenes about how they should resolve this, Abby.

PHILLIP: It is really important incredible that this is still going on. And as you point out, the chaos isn't over. Their nominee still doesn't have the votes to become speaker as of right now.

Manu, thank you. We're going to stay close as this develops tonight.

I'm also going to be talking to one of the Republican lawmakers who was just inside of that room voting and deliberating on speaker candidates. He'll be up in just a few minutes.

But, first, I just want to bring in now CNN Senior Political Commentator Adam Kinzinger. He's a former Republican congressman himself. He was also on the House January 6th committee, to react, Adam, to everything that you just heard Manu say. They cannot come up with a speaker.

And I want to just add one more factor in here, too. All of the last few candidates who were just up tonight, they all voted to not certify the last election. And this is where things stand right now. What do you make of it all?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let me first off say it's a good night to be a former Republican member of Congress, because, otherwise, you're going to be up until 10:00 and continuing to battle each other.

Here's the thing I think people need to understand. What this division that you're seeing playing out in public actually isn't new. My entire time in Congress, this was a dynamic that existed within the GOP conference. The difference is the -- we'll call them the moderates for the sake of argument, the people that are kind of like, you know, let's work together as a team, they're actually standing up and fighting back for the first time ever.

If you think back 12 years to anything the Republican majority since 2010 tried to do, there was always a group of people that was, you know, taking it down. You look at the Obamacare repeal and replace bill, which I actually think the one we had created was good until the far right came in and said, no, we want to make sure there's no protection for pre-existing conditions. They're always coming in and throwing bombs. And now you're actually seeing the regular folks actually fighting back against that.

And right now, look, Mike Johnson, I mean, I'll tell you, the guy started out fairly normally and then went really deep into Trump when he realized that's what it took to get re-elected. So, he may have the same issues Jim Jordan does as long as the so-called moderates continue to try to fight back.

I think we're going to see a point eventually, if I had to predict where this was going to go, it's either going to go into people need to just elect Patrick McHenry, who frankly everybody likes, he's just reluctant to do it, he doesn't want to be speaker. I don't blame him. Or, ultimately, a deal has got to be cut with the Democrats. But we'll see.

I think Mike Johnson will be a good test for everybody to see if kind of a regular name, not really a controversial name, can win this. And if he can't, then I think we're going to have to start thinking outside the box.

PHILLIP: Mike Johnson, the GOP conference vice chair, he's also the deputy whip for the Republican conference, as you point out, not really a household name, but also not someone who got more votes than the last person who was the speaker at designee. So, it's hard for me to see. The math is not mathing on any of this.

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thank you.



PHILLIP: We mentioned that chaotic speaker fight and I'll speak live, as I just said, with one of the members who is pretty frustrated and angry about how this has all gone on, as is the nation, frankly, right now.

But right now, we are also learning, when it comes to that war between Israel and Hamas, that Hamas planned their surprise attack over the course of two years, and that evaded Israeli intelligence, including through secret phone lines in their network of tunnels.


PHILLIP: And more now on this breaking news from Capitol Hill, GOP Congressman Mike Johnson was just elected speaker designee by House Republicans. The Louisiana lawmaker won the secret ballot with 128 votes, but he needs 217, remember that number, to become the next speaker of the House.

Now, Republican Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado joins me now. He was in that room just a few minutes ago, and he was also one of the eight Republican lawmakers who voted initially to oust Kevin McCarthy three weeks ago now.

Congressman, first of all, what on Earth is going on with the Republican Party on Capitol Hill right now?

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Well, Abby, we are finding a good speaker. We have a very good candidate right now. I am very confident, as I was three weeks ago, that we would find a good speaker. It's taken a little more time than we had hoped, but we're going to get to the floor tomorrow.


We're going to elect Mike Johnson as our speaker. We're going to move forward and we're going to solve problems in this country.

PHILLIP: So, he's not even close, as far as we can tell, to what he would need in order to actually become speaker. There were 44 holdouts. According to our reporting, it's believed that about 43 of them were for Kevin McCarthy. That's a sign of serious trouble for him as he goes to the Hill. What happens now?

BUCK: What happens now is Kevin McCarthy embraces Mike Johnson as our next speaker, asks everybody who voted for him to vote for Mike Johnson. Mike will take the floor tomorrow, and he'll get his 217 votes. I think he is the closest of anybody we've had so far to becoming our speaker, and I think he gets it tomorrow.

PHILLIP: But you -- it sounds like you're a supporter of Congressman Johnson, right?

BUCK: I am, yes.

PHILLIP: One of the things about the last week, when it came to Jim Jordan, one of the things that you said was that you were not a fan of the fact that he did not vote to certify the election. He did not -- you know, he bought into the sort of election denialism. I wonder when it comes to Mike Johnson, I mean, he also didn't vote to certify the election. So, how can you support him?

BUCK: Well, no, that's not what I said about Jim Jordan. Jim Jordan did a number of things. If you look at the January 6th report, the commission report, that sort of were election denialism in their highest degree. He sent a text message to Mark Meadows on a legal theory of how people on the floor could vote not to certify the election.

He was on a phone call -- two phone calls with President Trump while the riot was going on. Jim Jordan was involved in all of the post -- not all of the, but much of the post-election activity. Mike Johnson was not. He voted to decertify, absolutely. That wasn't my vote, but I can't -- we need to move forward. We have some important business.

PHILLIP: So, you think it's okay for him or any other speaker candidate to have voted to decertify the last election, which was free and fairly won by Joe Biden?

BUCK: I don't think it's okay, Abby. I think it's a mistake. But I think people make mistakes and still can be really good speakers. We're at a point now where we need to move forward and make sure the government stays open, that we fund Israel, we fund Ukraine, we fund the border efforts, and that's going to take a human being in that speaker position, not a perfect human being, but a Mike Johnson who has done his very best to move issues forward and is a really good person.

PHILLIP: We don't know how this is going to go for Mike Johnson. I think this time yesterday people thought Tom Emmer could do it. He wasn't able to. But just putting that aside for just a moment earlier, just this evening, just a few hours ago, there was a lot of talk about Kevin McCarthy-Jim Jordan unity ticket. And our sources say that that's being actively discussed. Is that something that you would be open to in any way?

BUCK: I don't think that's being openly discussed anymore or actively discussed anymore. I think that Mike Johnson is the designee. He will go to the floor and win. And I think that the idea that Kevin McCarthy is going to come back and get 217 votes is fanciful. It isn't going to happen. We have somebody. We need to get behind that person and we need to support them.

PHILLIP: And if that doesn't happen, Congressman, any regrets about your role in bringing the country to this point three weeks now without a speaker of the House, global problems of a massive scale? And it seems like Republicans are not really any closer today than they were a week ago or two weeks ago.

BUCK: I think we're much closer with the designee that we have. The massive problems around the world were not caused by a House not having a speaker. The Senate needs to work on the supplemental bill that the president sent over and then they will send it to the House. And by the time they send it to the House, we will have a speaker and we will be ready to do business.

PHILLIP: What makes you so confident that Mike Johnson will be able to even get to 217? There are, I mean, 43 people voted for Kevin McCarthy, it seems, it sounds like in that meeting tonight. Many of them have said they will not vote for anyone other than Kevin McCarthy. What makes you think he can get there?

BUCK: I don't think that's the case. I think that Kevin will move those people to Mike Johnson. And I think Kevin wants to make sure that he does the best thing for this country, as does Mike Johnson, as do the other members of the Republican caucus. And I think we are going to move forward in unity behind Mike and make sure that we get this job done.

PHILLIP: Has McCarthy said that to you, that he will move his supporters over to Mike Johnson?

BUCK: He has not said that to me. I have not talked to Kevin since the vote. But I am confident that Kevin -- he's spent a lot of time winning this majority and he's going to want to make sure that this majority produces and that's the way that we need to produce.

PHILLIP: So, before I let you go, Congressman, you mentioned that Jim Jordan's actions on January 6th with the reported plea deal involving Mark Meadows that's being reported tonight by ABC News.


Do you think that Jack Smith should be asking Meadows about the actions of people like Jim Jordan and perhaps others who are currently in your conference who might have had a role in these post-election activities?

BUCK: Jack Smith had a year and a half to investigate this case and I'm sure that Jack Smith asked about every possible, potential defendant for all the witnesses and reviewed documents, phone records and other things before making the decision on who he should prosecute.

He is comfortable with his prosecution and I don't think that the prosecution needs to move forward in any way.

PHILLIP: You don't think that Jack Smith should continue to prosecute former President Trump over January 6th?

BUCK: No, I'm sorry, I mean, move forward in terms of expanding and trying to find more defendants. I think Jack Smith is -- right. He has targeted those he wants to go after and I think the court process will proceed.

PHILLIP: Understood. Thank you, Congressman. Congressman Ken Buck, we appreciate you joining us tonight.

BUCK: Thank you.

PHILLIP: And with me now is CNN Political Commentator S.E. Cupp and CNN Senior Political Analyst John Avlon.

S.E., talk about a mess. What is going on over there and what is going on over there and why -- I mean, Ken Buck, has been, say, preaching optimism for a long time, now three weeks.


PHILLIP: On the networks.

CUPP: Right. And I think one of the things that's going on that I don't think enough people really point out is that a speaker is not made overnight. They take months of campaigns. I mean, Kevin McCarthy was running for speakers since he was eight, literally. I mean, he will tell you as a child, it was his ambition to be speaker of the House and it was the first thing he thought about when he finally got to Congress. He was working for years on eventually becoming speaker.

So, the idea that someone, that most people probably had to Google tonight, named Mike Johnson, or any of these other guys, is going to, overnight, get the consensus of this wild, raucous Republican Party is, I think, a fantasy. It's a complete fantasy.

PHILLIP: I mean, it is absolutely fanciful. I mean, in addition to, they had one hour to put their name in the ring to be speaker of the House.

CUPP: This is a high school treasurer. This is like -- you know, you campaign for this.


CUPP: I know.

AVLON: I mean, this is the -- you know, Congress is like high school, but that's, it's closer to junior high. This is what we're watching. But, of course, it's the country and, frankly, the world that's watching.

You know, I thought your interview with Ken Buck was interesting. What's striking to me isn't just that he's trying to pump up Mike Johnson and try to figure out, because I think there's a sense of exhaustion on the part of many Republicans. They got to get through this.

But, remember, his. issue you raised it with Jim Jordan was he is still denying the results of the 2020 election. Election denialism, that was the deal breaker for Ken Bush.

PHILLIP: That's actually the litmus test for being able to even run for speaker in the Republican Party.

AVLON: That's the point. So in this -- in the wrestling match between Trump and the truth, you know, the truth hasn't been winning. And Mike Johnson, you know, he was the lead actor pushing an amicus brief to overturn the election. And so I assume that was sincere. So, we need to get an update on that because Ken Bush is apparently overlooking that.

But you look at the fact that Donald Trump took a full court press to take out Tom Emmer, you know, four hours as the speaker designate, on the same day that his lawyer, Jenna Ellis, is crying in court, saying that, you know, she was basically lying and had been, you know, misleading people willfully or not, this contradiction can't stand. And yet that election lie litmus test seems to be the standard for speaker of the House. That's unsustainable. And I don't know how you get to 217 in that situation.

PHILLIP: I've been covering Washington for a long time at this point. I'm generally a pretty optimistic person. Generally, they work their stuff out. But I'm not seeing the pathway here. Everybody is in their corners. And now there's word that maybe Kevin McCarthy might be making some mischief, trying to gin up some support. Where does this really end if Republicans, no one in the Republican Party wants to back off of their position?

CUPP: Well, there have been phases of this, right? First you had the trouble makers, right, led by Matt Gaetz. Then you had this rise of, I don't know if you want to call them RINOs or cucks, I've been called all of those, whatever you want to call them, the rise of those folks who want moderates and consensus building. Well, that's the exact opposite of what most of the House Republicans want. So, this is going in phases and iterations, and it's not coming to a place of consensus around anyone.

And I've been saying Republicans should give up on this. They should put McHenry in with some limited powers until January and take the next two months, right, a good amount of time, to find a candidate that they could get a couple of Democrats. to peel off and vote for.



PHILLIP: But how does McHenry, even with limited powers, fund the government in a scenario in which the conference is so divided on the path forward that they -- how are they going to get a bill on the floor?

AVLON: They need to stop thinking about the party first instead of the country. They need to have some kind of bipartisan coalition that has a reality-based governance. And that means that you can't have election lies be a litmus test for the next speaker of the House. Make a deal with enough Democrats to cross the aisle, have someone who's conservative, but who also has trust and respect across the aisle so that the government doesn't shut down.

CUPP: Yeah, make sure you have concessions.

AVLON: So, that Israel and Ukraine and Taiwan and the border get funded. And regular order is put in place. This does not need to be a fan-dictus script. It's actually the way government works, lest we forget.

PHILLIP: I agree that that is the way government should work but you know, we're already hearing people like Elise Stefanik in leadership basically saying if you make a deal with Democrats -- you know, there are so many Republicans who are saying if you make a deal with Democrats, that'll be the end of you.

CUPP: Well, it was the end of McCarthy. It was McCarthy's fault.

PHILLIP: There's no leadership team that can be constituted in this Republican Party under those circumstances.

CUPP: No, nor can there be governing and problem-solving. A lot of these people did not come here to do any of that. They came here to get famous. They came here to grand-stand. They came here to to make money. And so, they're exactly interested in the opposite of all of that. They don't want to actually govern or get anything done.

AVLON: Some degree of bipartisan coalition is going to be what it takes to get anything done. And by the way, this is not a both sides problem because remember Democrats are similarly narrow margin and Nancy Pelosi got a lot done, including a lot of bipartisan legislation.

She could -- the idea that she has pointed out many times -- look, the idea that the only thing that's unacceptable is making any deal across the aisle for the country to make progress is self-evidently insane. It doesn't fit the basic formulation of reasoning together that the Democratic Republic's based upon. So, we need to get rid of this illusion that that's normal. It's not.

PHILLIP: I just want to come back to one thing that S.E. said, because I think this is really important. Even if Mike Johnson emerges as the speaker in all of this, I mean, he's, you know, Deputy Whip. Okay, fine.

But as you pointed out, it takes a long time to be able to make deals in Washington, because it's not just the conference that matters. There's a Senate controlled by Democrats. There's a Democrat in the White House. How does that work?

CUPP: It doesn't. I mean, you can't do this overnight as someone from the back bench. You really -- you just can't. I think they need to take the time, because obviously all of these shenanigans are not producing a speaker.

And frankly, it feels like Republicans would much rather be in the minority than the majority. They don't want the power and responsibility that comes with the majority. They just want to fight each other. Even more than they want to fight Democrats.

AVLON: This is the structural problem. You just said we have divided government. So, to get anything done, Republicans are going to need to make deals with Democrats. Anyway, that can't be the thing that you -- everyone in the conference has to embrace a lie that the lawyers are telling the American people they knew was a lie, at the same time they're saying.

We're not going to refuse to deal with Democrats about anything. That's not actually how government works, even and especially in a divided government.

So, grow up. Set an example for the people that the government can work instead of driving us down in a ditch out of your own hyper- partisan ego.

PHILLIP: Wow. Don't hold your breath. I mean, on that optimistic note. S.E. Cupp and John Avlon, we'll see where tomorrow brings us on this story. Thank you very much. And up next for us, an in-depth reporting revealing how Hamas militants planned their attack for more than two years without being detected by Israeli intelligence.



PHILLIP: Tonight, we have new details on that planning that went into Hamas's deadly attack on Israel. According to sources, the group organized the attack over the span of two years. And during that time, a group of fighters operated in a small cell within Gaza's network of tunnels using hardwired phone lines to communicate with one another.

Now, that helped them avoid detection by Israeli intelligence. Then, just before launching into its attack, That small cell prepped a much larger group of fighters above ground. I want to bring in CNN Military Analyst General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. General Clark, really good to have you here.

Look, this new reporting is stunning in many ways. And it also just points to this network of tunnels here. When you see these orange marks on the screen -- these are the tunnels. They're all over Gaza, especially in the north. They're not incidental to this story. They're actually central to it. They were planning in there. They were communicating in there. Hamas is rudimentary in a lot of ways. But what does it tell us about what kind of an opponent they are for Israel?

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, first of all, it tells us we cannot always rely on technical means for intelligence collection. So, listening to cell phones, looking at social media, trying to get signal intercepts, that didn't work here.

And so that's the first thing. They knew what we do, and they avoided it. So, they're smart. They have good operational security. They kept it to a small group. They used landlines, probably face-to-face meetings as much as possible. They took the time needed to do it right. So, you have to respect this opponent. They're serious. It's not just a group of terrorists.

PHILLIP: And right now, the reporting is that the U.S. is actually trying to push Israel to delay this ground invasion for a little while, partly because of the complexity of the fighting. One of the sort of parallels that people have made is in the fighting in Fallujah.

I'm just going to show the audience here. This is just a bit of a snapshot of what that looks like. It's block by block. It's close quarters.


Do you think that is wise for Israel to take a beat and think about the possibilities of what a ground invasion could look like?

CLARK: Absolutely. Absolutely. And any advice we can give them, they should welcome. Look, they've never done an operation as complex as this in Gaza. They did go into Gaza in 2014. They made some penetrations to seal the tunnels that led out. They were there about two weeks. They took 66 killed. They've never done anything like Fallujah. And Fallujah is one-tenth the size of Gaza.

PHILLIP: Yeah. And this is what, just so that folks are aware, this is what Gaza City looks like now after, you know, weeks of a punishing assault by Israel. Is this kind of landscape more difficult to navigate in that kind of ground combat?

CLARK: Well, it's certainly difficult, because you've got to look at it day by day where you can move your armored vehicles. Now, the whole city, as you can see, it's not all rubble-ized yet.


CLARK: But the rubble will increase. In Gaza, there were like 50,000 structures in an area that was 1 tenth the size of, I mean, in Fallujah, 50,000 structures. Every one of them was cleared.


CLARK: That's the way they did it. Here, this is an area 10 times as large. And just to give you a feel for this, Abby, we planned Fallujah over a period of six months. There was an information plan. There was a deception plan. There was reconnaissance plans.

And it was elaborately planned. That's the reason it was as successful as it was. It wasn't a sort of ready, fire, aim kind of an operation where you rush into an urban area. So, I think it's wise that the Israelis take as much time as they can to go into this.

PHILLIP: I just want to show folks right before we go here, again, this is the network of tunnels. It's incredible. One of the Hamas captives who was just released by Hamas, she called it almost like a spider web. And that's really what it looks like, incredibly complex operation that Israel could be getting into. General Wesley Clark, thank you very much for joining us on all of that.

Another guilty plea in the Georgia election interference case, and this time it is Trump's former campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis. She's had a bumpy evolution between being a Trump critic and a Trump loyalist. We'll have all those details next.



PHILLIP: The fourth of Trump's co-defendants to plead guilty in Georgia has had quite the evolution.


JENNA ELLIS, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: My name is Jenna Ellis and I'm the Senior Legal Advisor to the Trump campaign.


PHILLIP: But she did not always start out as a hardcore Trump loyalist. Here is Ellis when Trump first ran for president in 2016.


ELLIS: Why should we rest our highest office in America on a man who fundamentally goes back and forth and really cannot be trusted to be consistent or accurate in anything that he says?

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIP: Now, during the 2016 campaign, Ellis also used a long list of adjectives to describe Trump. Quote, idiot, boorish, arrogant, a bully, a fascist, disgusting, unethical, corrupt, liar, dirtbag, treacherous, abusive, unholy, not a real Christian, and a criminal. Now, fast forward to the aftermath of the 2020 election.


ELLIS: This is an elite strike force team that is working on behalf of the president and the campaign to make sure that our constitution is protected.


PHILLIP: Now, that so-called strike force team included Ellis, Rudy Giuliani, and Sidney Powell. And they blanketed the airwaves with lies, conspiracies, and just flat-out bogus information.


ELLIS: President Trump is right that there was widespread fraud. The election was stolen and President Trump won by landslide. We have this overwhelming evidence of fraud. This election was fraudulent. It was corrupted. All of these false and fraudulent results.

We select our president through the electoral college not because it disenfranchises voters, but because it is a security mechanism for exactly the type of corruption that we are uncovering. This election was irredeemably compromised, irredeemably corrupted. It is irredeemably compromised.

The question is fundamentally flawed when you're asking where is the evidence. This is not a law and order episode where everything is neatly wrapped up in 60 minutes. We know that President Trump won in a landslide. This is absolutely a legitimate legal basis.

Look at all of these people who are interfering, really. It's actually election official fraud. There is massive election official fraud. This is election official fraud. All of your fake news headlines are dancing around the merits of this case.

We had significant, not just concern, but actual evidence. We have evidence that we will present to the court. I don't think any honest person can look at all of this and say, yeah, this was an election that was conducted fairly.

This isn't about policy. It's not about politics. It's not about Democrat versus Republican. It's not even about President Trump versus Joe Biden. This is about election integrity.


PHILLIP: Now later, Ellis would admit that many of those very claims that you just heard there were lies. When she was censured first and then now after being charged. Ellis has struck a plea deal in which she'll serve probation, she has to write a letter of apology, and she'll testify in all the other cases with her former co-defendants. Here was her tearful statement in court today.



ELLIS: What I did not do, but should have done, Your Honor, was to make sure that the facts the other lawyers alleged to be true were in fact true. I believe in and I value election integrity. If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges. I look back on this whole experience with deep remorse.


PHILLIP: Now, it is worth noting that Ellis has received more than $200,000 in crowdsourced donations under the premise that she's being targeted and that the government is trying to criminalize the practice of law. Now, it's unclear whether she'll keep those donations after her plea deal.

Now just in, a huge loss in the entertainment world reports that the star of "Shaft", Richard Roundtree has died at the age of 81. His life and legacy, that's next.



PHILLIP: And just in tonight, reports that Actor Richard Roundtree has died at the age of 81.


VOICE-OVER: Shaft's his name. Shaft's his game

UNKNOWN: Can't say he gonna be here in a game.


PHILLIP: He's best known for his performance as the tough talking "Private Eye" in the 1971 movie "Shaft", which became a cultural touchstone. Roundtree had a career that spanned five decades with over 150 screen credits. May he rest in peace, and we'll be back in just a moment.



PHILLIP: It's been a busy, busy night of news. Thank you so much for watching "NewsNight". Laura Coates with "Laura Coates Live" starts right now. Laura. You got a lot to fix with what's going on in Washington so, help us out.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Oh, you think I can fix it? Who -- I'm the one to fix this? No, no. You will not put that on me today. PHILLIP: Laura, alone, can fix it.

COATES: Well, then, so you have some very, very, high hopes. Thank you so much Abby Phillip. Nice to see you as always.