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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Federal Judge Says, Trump Does Not Have Absolute Immunity; The Political Obituary of Rep. George Santos (R-NY); Israel Restarts Strikes in Gaza as Hamas Truce Collapses; Democratic Congressman Adam Smith's Home In Washington State Vandalized With Graffiti; Evangelical Conservative Bob Vander Plaats Endorses DeSantis; Authorities Identify The Inmate Accused Of Stabbing Derek Chauvin. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 01, 2023 - 22:00   ET




FELICITY HUFFMAN, ACTRESS: And so it was sort of like my daughter's future, which meant I had to break the law.

I kept thinking, turn around, just turn around. And to my undying shame, I didn't.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: In 2019, Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison, a year of probation and 250 hours of community service. He was also fined $30,000. Do the work yourself. Study hard, you might get ahead.

I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see you later on this weekend. Thanks for joining us. CNNNewsnight with Abby Phillip starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Capitol Hill custodians waste no time erasing any memory of George Santos. That's tonight on Newsnight.

Good evening. I'm Abby Phillip in Washington.

Today, an era has come to an end. The locks have been changed and his name has been removed from the halls of Congress. And George Santos goes back to wherever he came from. More on his exit and his lies in a few minutes.

But, first, the Constitution versus Donald Trump. Two separate legal losses say that the former president does not have immunity.

Breaking tonight, a federal judge tossed a motion to make election subversion charges against Donald Trump disappear. Judge Tanya Chutkan ruling with precision, quote, the court cannot conclude that the Constitution cloaks former presidents with absolute immunity for any federal crimes that they committed while in office.

Also today, a ruling on the former president and the January 6th violence that he unleashed. It's a decision that may set off a chain reaction for our democracy. Today, a federal appeals panel says lawsuits filed against the former president, they can move forward.

The lawsuits were filed by members of Congress, police officers and others who were injured in that Capitol attack. And the crux of the ruling rests on what is considered official or unofficial.

Now, Donald Trump argues that his words, just minutes before the rioters overran the Capitol, fall under the former.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

We're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.

So, let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.


PHILLIP: But the court is not so sure. They rejected Trump's blanket assertion that simply being president makes anything that he does an official act, quote, the office of the presidency, as an institution, is agnostic about who will occupy it next. And campaigning to gain that office is not an official act of the office.

Now, quite predictably, the Trump echo chamber offered up a CYA, or you could call it a CYT.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: All of these suits are absurd. They should be dismissed. Any lawyer who files them should be sanctioned. But it's all part of the law fair being waged to take down Trump.


PHILLIP: But look, this is not a weaponized deep state judiciary exacting election revenge on Donald Trump. Just take a look at the makeup of the appeals panel. There's one Obama appointee, one Bush appointee, and one Trump appointee. And not just any Trump appointee, but Greg Katsas, the former deputy White House counsel for the former president that he put on the bench in 2017.

Now, the panel held back on ruling about the merits of this case, and if Trump were campaigning or presidenting, as it were, but that will be a question that will be settled at a trial to decide if Trump is in fact liable for the physical and the emotional anguish that were suffered by people like James Blassingame, the Capitol Police officer who stood on that day in the breach.


JAMES BLASSINGAME, CAPITOL HILL POLICE ATTACKED ON JANUARY 6: It looked like a sort of a hoard of zombies, you know, just people as far as you can see, just salivating.

And I looked to my left and to my right and there's like maybe eight, nine of us and I'm thinking, (BLEEP).

I've never been called a (BLEEP) to my face in 39 years. I might have been called a (BLEEP) but I've never been called one to my face. That streak ended on January 6th. I was called a (BLEEP). I was called a traitor. If I put my gun out and start shooting, I'm throwing kerosene on it.

Maybe there's a chance I'll survive if I don't put my weapon. But if I do, I'm probably not going to make it out of here alive, you know, you don't have enough bullets.



PHILLIP: Pam Hemphill is among the many who participated in the January 6th insurrection. She served two months in federal prison for her in the riot. And Pam Hemphill joins me right now. Thank you for being here.

Can you tell us what is your reaction to this ruling, no immunity for Trump from civil suits? Do you plan on suing in light of this?

PAM HEMPHILL, JANUARY 6TH PARTICIPANT: Absolutely. Yes. Yes. I was stumped on and trampled on. They pulled my shoulder, cut my knee. If it wasn't for the Capitol Police officers, I would be dead, and Trump is responsible.

PHILLIP: If you were to sue, do you worry about the backlash from his supporters, maybe people you even know because you were among them at one point?

HEMPHILL: No, not when you're doing the right thing. Backlash doesn't bother me. I've already gotten enough already, so, no, that wouldn't bother me at all.

PHILLIP: So, while all of this is going on, you know, former President Trump, he's facing multiple criminal trials. But in spite of it all, he is the frontrunner in the Republican presidential race right now. You were such a strong supporter at a certain point that you were at the Capitol. It landed you in jail. Do you have a sense of what keeps people so loyal to him and what it might take for them to change their minds, as you did?

HEMPHILL: Well, as a lot of people are starting to recognize, Trump is a cult leader. He turned MAGA into a cult. And so they're listening to it. He gaslights them and gives them out a lot of lies. First, he started with the love bombing, and he keeps doing that.

But, actually, I don't think we need to be afraid of Trump as much as we need to be afraid of the Republican Party. If you're familiar with 2020 -- I mean, sorry, 2025, Project 2025, that's what you need to be afraid of, because whoever becomes president, the party now wants to have a dictator in there, and we're going to lose our democracy.

PHILLIP: You said earlier that you believe that Trump is responsible. What is it, in your view, that he did that makes him culpable for what happened on January 6th?

HEMPHILL: Well, he knew the election wasn't stolen. And why is he having everybody go down to the Capitol? See, when I got there, the crowd was so big, I couldn't get through. So, I walked around and asked, what else was going on that day? And they said, I think I heard Trump is going to be at the Capitol. And as I'm walking there, I'm thinking, well, why are we going to the Capitol? He just had a talk.

So, I feel like he had it all planned, that he wanted the people to attack the Capitol. That's just my feeling. But, no, he's responsible, because he said, march down there. He tries to use peacefully. No, he said, go fight like hell is what he said. And he was talking to the wrong people because they took that literally.

PHILLIP: Do you think that Trump will ultimately face any consequences for his actions, whether they are legal or criminal?

HEMPHILL: I believe so. I think we can have a lot of faith in Jack Smith. He knows what he's doing. He's got the receipts, you know. And I think that's -- sadly, we're going to have to wait till court for people to start realizing that Trump has lied about everything and Trump is a criminal and he needs to have his day in court to be proven what we already know, that he's a criminal. He knows it.

PHILLIP: This election could come down to President Biden or Donald Trump again. Who will you be voting for?

HEMPHILL: Well, Biden, of course. You have no choice.

PHILLIP: And if Trump were listening, what would you say?

HEMPHILL: Retire, get honest, it's time to stop. You know, you're too old now -- not too old, but I don't think he will, though. I don't think anybody could say anything to him, so that's why I'm really hoping that Jack Smith can bring the receipts and the proof and have him put in prison for what he's done to this nation.

PHILLIP: Pam Hemphill, thank you very much for joining us and sharing that perspective.

HEMPHILL: Thank you.

PHILLIP: Tonight in Washington, Capitol Hill is reflecting on the brief political life of Republican Congressman George Santos.

This is his political obituary, a son and a grandson of apparently fake 9/11 and Holocaust survivor, Santos was a devoted man of myths.


He achieved a long and completely fabricated career as a volleyball star, a Goldman Sachs workhorse, an animal charity founder, and a Broadway producer of Spider-Man, the musical. He graduated from a high school and a college that were not the high school and college of which he claimed.

And in his brief time in Congress, he personally introduced 40 bills, two of which were named after pop stars Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. None of the aforementioned bills were ever even considered by committees or brought to the floor.

But despite those legislative failures, Santos did achieve history. He became just the third person since the civil war to be expelled by the United States. And in his last words at the Capitol, they were, quote, to hell with this place.

Now Santos is survived by 112 Republicans who probably didn't like him very much, but they voted to keep him, and 105 Republicans who really did not like him and voted to kick him out. Santos leaves behind a loud soundtrack of his most infamous hits.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Good morning, Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

I've seen how socialism destroys people's lives because my grandparents survived the Holocaust.

I'm a Latino Jew.

My mom was a 9/11 survivor.

They sent me to a good prep school, which was Horace Mann Prep in the Bronx.

I actually went to school on a volleyball scholarship.

But I put myself through college and got an MBA from NYU.

When I was in Baruch, we were the number one volleyball team.

But I also founded my own nonprofit organization.

I sacrificed both my knees and got very nice knee replacements from HSS playing volleyball.

It was in summer of 2021 Fifth Avenue and 55th. I was robbed by two men.

I've lived an honest life. I've never been accused of any bad doing.

Good morning, Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Company at the time, we lost four employees that were at Pulse Nightclub.

She was in the South Tower and she made it out. She got caught up in the ash cloud.

Did I embellish my resume? Yes I did and I'm sorry.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What was the source of your funds, sir?

What was the source of that money?

Mr. Santos, you listed the wrong name of a treasurer. Why did you list the wrong name of your treasurer on your campaign finance forms?

SANTOS: I'll have a conversation with you when you become a better, honest reporter.

RAJU: I'm asking you directly.

SANTOS: You're a dishonest reporter, and you know that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sapphire, she's really probably pretty happy about this too. This poor little girl, she suffered the last three or four months of her life because he stole money from me and from her.

He needs to be in jail, and that's where he's headed.

I just saw all the things that he spent money on, all those clothes, Botox, Sephora. I wonder what he spent Sapphire's money on, probably some makeup, probably a stupid pair of red shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it true that you have an OnlyFans page and you can peel a banana with your feet?

SANTOS: I don't have one and it's -- you know, I'll indulge you this. I just discovered what OnlyFans was about three weeks ago when it was bought up in a discussion in my office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just can't tell the truth.

SANTOS: Nobody tells me to do anything. I made a decision on my own and I thought that's representative of the interest of the (INAUDIBLE).


SANTOS: Guys, you get to relax. You're assaulting me at that point.

I'm a boring nerd, dork, whatever you want to call me.

I mean, Mitt Romney, the man goes to the State of the Union of the United States wearing the Ukraine lapel pin, tells me a Latino gay man that I shouldn't sit in the front, that I should be in the back. Well, guess what? Rosa Parks didn't sit in the back and neither am I going to sit in the back.

I was not a drag queen in Brazil, guys. I was young and I had fun at a festival. Sue me for having a life.

They all act like they are on ivory towers with white pointy hats and they're untouchable. I mean, within the ranks of the United States Congress, there's felons galore, there's people with all sorts of shiesty backgrounds, and all of a sudden, George Santos is the Mary Magdalene of United States Congress.

Is this D.A. going to start criminalizing criminals?

REPORTER: How do you know what's --

SANTOS: Where's Hunter Biden's indictment two years of a laptop full of treasure trove of crime?

REPORTER: Well, about you?

SANTOS: I'm not running for re-election. Not because this was a damning report. I'm not running for re-election because I don't want to work with a bunch of hypocrites. It's gross. I have colleagues who are more worried about getting drunk every night with the next lobbyist that they're going to screw and pretend like none of us know what's going on and sell off the American people, not show up to vote because they're too hungover or whatever the reason is.


SANTOS: One of my staffer's baby, look at this baby, Mr. Speaker.

REPORTER: Congressman Santos, what are you doing to stop the ongoing genocide of Palestinians?

SANTOS: Excuse me, do not record this baby.

REPORTER: What are you doing? We won't record the baby. What are you doing to stop the ongoing genocide of civilians in Palestine? What are you doing to stop the ongoing kill -- yes, and many children are dying in Palestine.

SANTOS: And the next time he tries to accost me with a child in my hand, I want him out of here. He's an animal. I am holding a child. He is a terrorist sympathizer. You can go look at the video.

REPORTER: Mr. Santos, who?

SANTOS: The gentleman back there is a terrorist sympathizer that has no business in this building. What is happening in Israel is a war. What is happening to the people of Israel should not be defended. Nobody defending Hamas has any business in this building, whether you're a leftist, whether you're a civilian. It is a disgrace that we allow people to parade that kind of thought in here.


PHILLIP: That was a lot. But with every obituary comes an autopsy and some interesting moments this week in a debate over his expulsion, including this one from one Matt Gaetz who was against his dismissal.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Since the beginning of this Congress, there's only two ways you get expelled. You get convicted of a crime, or you participated in the civil war, neither apply to George Santos.

And so I rise not to defend George Santos, whoever he is, but to defend the very precedent that my colleagues are willing to shatter.


PHILLIP: Now, it's interesting that Congressman Gaetz is suddenly a fan of precedent in the United States Congress.


GAETZ: Far too often in Washington, D.C., we revert to a failed and often corrupt muscle memory on how to do things.

That isn't the way we have run since the mid-90s. And I'm trying to break the fever and liberate us from those up or down votes.

Here's why I want to break the fever. Since the mid-90s, this country has been governed by either continuing resolution or omnibus spending.

What I'm trying to do is break the fever dream that is the continuing resolution way of governing.

I think the House of Representatives has been paralyzed for the last several decades as we've refused to pass a budget.


PHILLIP: And there was another interesting moment involving Gaetz's colleague, Nancy Mace of South Carolina. She tweets this. George Santos is an ass who, like every other American deserves the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. Charges are not a conviction.

Now, that is noteworthy and also, to be fair, true, since Congresswoman Mace believes that she knows the outcome of another case, one involving Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, with or without charges there.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): American people will decide whether or not Joe Biden is corrupt and he should be president, but by this time, it's pretty obvious how this is.

This does not in well for Joe Biden. I can guarantee you that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: But isn't it supposed to be evidence that leads you to pursue impeachment, an impeachment inquiry?

MACE: Well, that's what the inquiry is for?

COLLINS: But there's already three investigations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIP: Now, one thing to watch for going forward in the post-Santos era are bipartisan calls to expel Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who is also facing charges of his own. His, though, do involve allegations of being a foreign agent.

And next for us, Israel stepping up strikes tonight after its truce with Hamas collapses, this as fallout intensifies over the warning that Israel reportedly dismissed about this Hamas plot. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton will join me.

Plus, just in, the home of Democratic Congressman Adam Smith allegedly vandalized by people advocating for a ceasefire. Adam Smith will join me live just ahead.



PHILLIP: Breaking news tonight, Israel restarting the strikes over Gaza as the truce with Hamas collapses. Now, this comes as Israel is facing heat over this New York Times report that the Israelis dismissed intelligence of a Hamas plot a year before this attack.

And with me now to discuss this is John Bolton. He's a former U.N. ambassador and was national security adviser for President Trump.

This wasn't, Ambassador Bolton, an intelligence failure. It seems to have been a failure of the government to act on intelligence that they already had, right?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think it helps to understand how intelligence works. A lot of information comes in to superior intelligence agencies, and Israel's are generally considered superior. A lot comes into U.S. intelligence agencies. And one of the key things is trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, the signal from the noise, as they say.

So, the fact that -- look, this is a gross intelligence failure. There's no doubt about it. But it it's not entirely clear to me that we've identified the reason for that failure. And I think that's going to be part of the post-hostility forensics.

You know, the document that The New York Times reported this morning could well have been examined as disinformation as a way to get Israel to focus on the wrong thing.

PHILLIP: But there was the document and there was also eyes on a dry run of this attack, what ended up being the October 7th attack, that matched what the document laid out. So, it's the combination of those things. Don't you think that should have raised some flags?

BOLTON: Well, look, they failed, they got it wrong, there's no doubt, about it but the dry run could have been disinformation too. And The New York Times report says this information circulated widely within Israeli intelligence services. So, I think that's some indication, if that's accurate, at how widespread the failure was. [22:25:04]

You know, the intelligence collection brings in a lot of information. And the real issue is whether the screens that try and remove the bad information, the irrelevant information, the disinformation, work correctly or they don't. And here, they clearly failed.

But it's not -- you can't say after the fact, well, here's the plan, they missed it, as if, you know, it should have been obvious to them back in the day that it was the right plan.

PHILLIP: One of the big questions now is what happens with the rest of the war. Israel says they want to move into the south pretty aggressively, but there is tremendous pressure to be more targeted in their attacks and not to kill as many civilians, more than 15,000 killed so far. Can they do that, in your view?

BOLTON: Well, I call that argument that really is trying to inhibit what the Israelis do, the terrorist veto. Israel has a right to self- defense. That right to self-defense includes eliminating the threat that manifested itself on October the 7th.

Now, to say that somehow Israel has done something wrong here so far and may do further wrong, you have to say either that they deliberately targeted civilian personnel or installations or that they failed to weigh adequately the importance of the military target compared to the collateral damage.

PHILLIP: And I think that that is exactly what people are asking, is whether they are not sufficiently weighing in the collateral damage versus the target, which is Hamas.

BOLTON: Look, people can use rhetoric all the time. Let's have some specifics where they didn't purportedly weigh it adequately. I think that there's a question here that people have to address seriously, which is the responsibility of a lot of people in the Gazan population who have been Hamas supporters and enablers.

And to say that the Israelis cannot pursue their legitimate right of self-defense means by definition they have to live in fear of terror. That's what the terrorist veto is. I don't think the Israelis are going to succumb to it. We'll see.

PHILLIP: Turning quickly now to Liz Cheney. She spoke with CBS this morning and she issued this warning ahead of 2024. Listen.


FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): He's told us what he will do. It's very easy to see the steps that he will take. People who say, well, if he's elected, it's not that dangerous because we have all of these checks and balances, don't fully understand the extent to which the Republicans in Congress today have been co-opted.

One of the things that we see happening today is sort of sleepwalking into dictatorship in the United States. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: Is she right about that, Ambassador?

BOLTON: No, I don't think so, with all due respect to Liz. Look, I think a second Trump term would be very damaging to the United States and could cause damage in many respects that's irreparable. But I think it's a mistake to overstate it. I think it exaggerates the risk and underestimates the strengths of our institutions.

When Donald Trump was president, he tried to steal the election and failed. So, whether he can steal this one or not, we don't know. But even when he gets in, that's one branch of government. There are two other branches of government.

The Constitution has lasted through so far worse than Donald Trump, and I think it will outlast him this time, although I will say again, I think it's very dangerous to elect him president.

PHILLIP: I think you've seen the reporting that I have. A lot of people around Trump who know him well say that this time he has a plan to use the executive branch to frankly break the law. Are you worried about that?

BOLTON: Sure, I'm sure I'm one of his targets. I was before, and I'm sure it will be again. But, look, it is important to assess the danger, assess the threat accurately. It doesn't do any good to minimize it but it doesn't do any good to exaggerate it either. Trump will damage us if he's elected again, but he will not cause the Constitution to fall.

PHILLIP: All right. John Bolton, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you.

PHILLIP: Tonight, Congressman Adam Smith reporting his home was graffitied with calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. We'll speak with him next.



PHILLIP: New tonight, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith says that his home in Washington State was vandalized with graffiti urging a ceasefire in the Israel and Hamas conflict. That was also a quote that says, "Baby Killer". And Congressman Adam Smith joins me now on all of this. Congressman, thank you for joining us. You were in Washington when this happened. Does law enforcement have any leads on who could have been responsible?

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Not to my knowledge. My wife was home and discovered it. We called the Bellevue Police and the Capitol Police and they've taken a look at it. But as far as I know, they don't. But look, I mean, this, you know, sadly, the extremes on the left and the right have increasingly seen intimidation and in some cases violence as a legitimate way to advance their viewpoints. And it's very troubling.

And like I said, we've seen it on both sides of the political spectrum. But you know, we need to have respect for civil society and representative democracy and know how to disagree with each other without going to this level of intimidation.

And it's something that's been going on in the Seattle area. I know a lot of city council people and county elected officials have had people come to their homes and vandalize them and threaten them at their homes. So, it is very problematic in American politics right now.

PHILLIP: Yeah. I mean, it certainly is. You've said previously that you're personally strongly supportive of Israel's goal of eliminating Hamas, but you have also called for humanitarian pauses and the fighting, and you've said that Israel should work to minimize civilian casualties. Do you think that it is because you are a strong supporter of Israel that this happened to you?

SMITH: A hundred percent. I mean, there's really no question about it. You know, we've seen these types of protests all over the country and all over the world.


Essentially, they call themselves peace activists, but I think that's the wrong word for it. They are on the other side of the conflict. You didn't see these people protesting what Hamas did or any number of other terrorist attacks. So, they're attempting to use that intimidation to push an anti-Israel, and in many cases, not all, but in many cases, frankly, a very anti-Semitic approach.

We've had similar vandalism occur at synagogues in a number of places in my district in the last couple of weeks. And I think it's really important that we all stand up against this. Regardless of where you're at on the issue, we have the opportunity to talk about this.

I have met with pro-Palestinian and other left-wing activists on a wide variety of issues. I met with them a week ago to have this conversation. I will never silence people. I'm open to the dialogue. But you have to have respect for people who disagree with you if you're going to have a functioning representative democracy.

PHILLIP: We've had some, you know, we've had a pro-Palestinian protester who was at the DNC a couple weeks ago when there were some protests there. What I hear from some of them is that there's too much focus on the protest tactics and not what they are protesting about. When you hear that after experiencing what you did, what would you say to them?

SMITH: I think they're a thousand percent wrong. I think the tactics are very damaging. They are an attempt to shut down democracy and civil society as it should function. These are the same tactics that we saw in the most extreme form on January 6th. Okay, the tactic was, we don't care what the outcome was, we are going

to use threats, intimidation and violence if necessary to get what we want. It goes at the very heart of representative democracy. If you want to have your message or issues more the focus, then choose those tactics.

These tactics are not accidental. They are an attempt to intimidate people into silence, an attempt to overthrow democratic norms in order to force what people want. So I would a thousand percent disagree with that. I think these tactics are enormously problematic and should be the focus of how we discuss this issue.

PHILLIP: Congressman Adam Smith, we appreciate you joining us so late on a Friday night. Thank you.

SMITH: Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

PHILLIP: And next, could Donald Trump face a real challenge in Iowa? Our next guest, Evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, thinks that Ron DeSantis could be the one to bring it. He'll explain why, next.




PHILLIP: As goes Bob Vander Plaats, so goes the state of Iowa. Well, Ron DeSantis certainly hopes so. The Florida governor picked up this critical endorsement of the conservative godfather of the state and sometimes kingmaker.

Joining me now from Urbandale, Iowa, influential Evangelical Conservative and the President of The Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats. Mr. Vander Plaats, thank you for joining us tonight.

BOB VANDER PLAATS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, THE FAMILY LEADER: Thanks for having me. It's always a pleasure.

PHILLIP: So, the most recent Iowa polls show DeSantis, who you recently endorsed, hovering around 20 percent in Iowa. You've said that Iowans will eventually rise up against Donald Trump. When do you think we'll start to see that reflected in the polls? Because so far, we haven't seen it.

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I'm not so sure when it will be reflected in the polls but we are seeing it on the ground. And I've told people for a long time is that I've been around this for a while. Governor Huckabee broke late in 2008. Rick Santorum did in 2012. And Ted Cruz did as well in 2016.

And what I see with Governor DeSantis is he has a great organization. It's well-built. And after that debate last night with Governor Newsom, I think people have a renewed sense of energy. That could be the game-change moment to turn this in his direction. PHILLIP: A game change-moment by debating someone he's not running

against? I mean, why haven't we seen that kind of DeSantis on the debate stage against his actual opponents in this primary?

VANDER PLAATS: I think it's kind of the guy that he is. He has a tremendous amount of respect for those people that are competing for the Republican nomination with him. But I think what you saw last night is you had a blue state governor with Governor Newsom and him being a red state governor -- governor of Florida. It was a tale of two states.

And I think what it was is that the data was on his side and he delivered it passionately. And so, there's a lot of renewed energy in regards to people saying this may be what it takes to turn the page so we can win in 2024 and then lead for two terms versus being a lame duck on day one.

PHILLIP: Let me put it a different way. I mean, the DeSantis that we saw last night -- do you think that he needs to actually do that when it counts on a debate stage against his opponents in this race?

VANDER PLAATS: I think the debate situation is his natural habitat. And I think when you see the debate that's coming up next week, I think he'll be very forceful, very passionate, very clear why this is a two-person race.

Either you want the former president and Donald Trump, which is fine if that's what you want, but if you're willing to turn the page and if you want to go with a fresh leader, again, that can win and lead for two terms, I think he's going to make that case passionately in the debates going forward.

PHILLIP: Is this a critical moment? If he doesn't do that and perform strongly next week on that debate, is that a problem for him?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, you know, Governor DeSantis has been a candidate for president for about six months. And I see him getting better and better and better. Matter of fact, at our Thanksgiving family forum, which was on November 17, he knocked it out of the park. That's when it was very clear to me that he would be the candidate that I would endorse.


What he did last night with Governor Newsom, I think going forward, people are paying attention. He's energized. He sees the momentum on the ground, as well. He has the historical endorsement of Governor Reynolds. So, everything's lining up for him to be successful in Iowa. And if he wins in Iowa, it'll be game on to the nomination.

PHILLIP: Well, just on that point, in 2016, you endorsed Ted Cruz. He won Iowa, but didn't stop Trump. Iowa hasn't picked a presidential winner since George W. Bush. So, is the winning of Iowa really all that important anymore, for the Republican Party in particular?

VANDER PLAATS: Oh, yeah. Well, I believe this year it really is. I think Iowa's role has always been to narrow the field. So, in '08, you had Huckabee, and you had Romney, and you had McCain, and in '12, you had Santorum and Romney, and in '16, you had Cruz, Rubio, and Trump. I think we've done our job narrowing the field.

But this time, I believe you really want to make sure that this is a two-person race going forward in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Governor DeSantis has made that case. Not only can he win the nomination, but he can win the general election.

I think for a lot of people, their fear is, Trump may be able to win the nomination, but they don't believe he can win the general election. And while they think Nikki can win a general election, they don't believe she can win a nomination.

PHILLIP: Speaking of Governor Nikki Haley, she's picked up some critical endorsements from the Koch network. That includes their significant financial backing, but also from an unlikely source, perhaps. JP Morgan, Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, he wants donors to jump in for Haley. That's the kind of momentum that I think the DeSantis campaign probably would like to see. Does it concern you that it's not coming his way?

VANDER PLAATS: No, not at all. Matter of fact, that's kind of her lane. And her lane would be more the George W. Bush lane, Mitt Romney lane, the Chamber of Commerce lane. But when I take a look at it, I think the Never Back Down, the Super PAC supporting Governor DeSantis, and they're hitting every door, door knocking, they're putting out flyers of Governor Reynolds and the other endorsements for Governor DeSantis.

You see Governor Reynolds on the airways with Governor DeSantis, as well. I think what this is, is I really do believe I will rise up. I think DeSantis has a great, great shot, add up ending the former president and making this a two-person race.

PHILLIP: One more note on Governor Haley. Here's what she said about the Florida governor today. Listen.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he went after my record as governor because he's losing. I mean, who else can spend a hundred million dollars and drop half in the polls?


PHILLIP: Does she have a point? Hundred million dollars, huge Super PAC, spending a ton of money knocking on doors. The momentum is heading in the wrong direction, at least according to the polls.

VANDER PLAATS: I think with Ambassador Haley, she's in the race because she believes there needs to be an alternative to Trump. So, every attack that she's making on Governor DeSantis is really an in- kind contribution to the former president.

So, I think we need to take a look at it for what it is. I think Iowa caucus goers and the way again that I see the organization for DeSantis on the ground versus say a Nikki Haley on the ground or Donald Trump on the ground, I think has a chance to be exceptionally successful here. And if he is again, it'll be the two person race we're looking for.

PHILLIP: All right. Bob Vander Plaats. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us tonight.

VANDER PLAATS: Good to see you. God bless.

PHILLIP: And tonight, we're learning new details about the prison stabbing of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted of George Floyd's murder. We'll discuss that next with Laura Coates.




PHILLIP: Tonight, authorities are identifying the inmate accused of stabbing Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who was convicted for George Floyd's murder. Now, John Turscak now faces an attempted murder charge after he allegedly stabbed the former police officer 22 times.

Joining me now to discuss this is CNN Anchor and Chief Legal Analyst Laura Coates. Laura, earlier this week you spoke with Derek Chauvin's attorney. He was pretty frustrated at the time receiving, according to him, not a whole lot of information about this case. What do you think happens now? Do they have more reason to argue, perhaps for Derek Chauvin to be moved to another facility or for something to happen as a result of this?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, we didn't know how seriously injured he was. That was a lawyer's frustration, not knowing how many times, where he had actually been stabbed, what was the weapon of choice, what were the circumstances, what was the motivation.

It's all coming clear now in documents that we're seeing, and it seems that he was targeted precisely because he is a high profile inmate, precisely because it was a symbolic gesture on what is known as Black Friday. Because of the different symbolism involving Derek Chauvin and what he did and was accused of and convicted of for George Floyd.

And so, there are a lot of arguments to be made today if you are his counsel about his general safety. Of course, the downside, if you are Derek Chauvin, is that solitary confinement or being very close quarters with oneself is not the ideal circumstances for any inmate to be in. And he truly does not want be in that circumstance. At the risk though, is his safety.

And of course, every inmate deserves the opportunity to be safe in prison. We are not supposed to be a society where we inflict cruel and unusual punishment and continually endangering people who are serving out their sentence. And so, there's a bit of a conundrum right now for the Bureau of Prisons.

PHILLIP: Yeah, there certainly is. And you're exactly right. I mean, this is not a vigilante justice type of system that we are in, and they've got to figure out how to keep their inmates safe.


COATES: Right.

PHILLIP: Laura, thank you so much for joining us for a few minutes. You've got your own show at the top of the hour. I know everyone will stick around and we'll be watching.

COATES: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIP: And this Sunday, CNN will bring the all-new CNN film, Chowchilla. It tells one of the most shocking true crime stories that you've never heard, the 1976 kidnapping of a school bus full of children and their driver. Here's a preview.


UNKNOWN: Chowchilla was a wonderful place to grow up.

UNKNOWN: They were little innocent children.

UNKNOWN: Never did I think that something like this could happen.

UNKNOWN: How does a school bus start missing?

UNKNOWN: I did not want to go down there.

UNKNOWN: It was like somebody just took them up off the planet.

UNKNOWN: Was it a thrill crime?

UNKNOWN: Your guess is as good as mine.

UNKNOWN: It was a mystery. You had no answers.

UNKNOWN: They recovered a journal encrypted in unusual writing. Never seen anything like that.

UNKNOWN: The kidnappers hit this town right in its heart by taking those children.

UNKNOWN: All the way through, they thought that they had thought of everything.

UNKNOWN: It would have been very live. And I thought to myself --

UNKNOWN: If we're going to die, we're going to die getting the hell out of here.

UNKNOWN: When we got home, I thought life would be okay.

UNKNOWN: The kids were not okay.

UNKNOWN: God forgive them, because I won't.

UNKNOWN: It was possibly the story of the century.

UNKNOWN: Chowchilla. Sunday at nine on CNN.