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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

The Real Victims Of Trump's Alleged Scheme In First Trial; 50- Plus Prospective Jurors Dismissed, Say They Can't Be Fair; Wins And Losses For Prosecution, Trump Defense On Day One; Retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton Weighs In On The Iran Attack On Israel. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 15, 2024 - 22:00   ET




CAITLIN CLARK, SELECTED NUMBER 1 IN WNBA DRAFT: I'm super excited. I know this will be super special. And I have a lot of family coming. My coaches are coming. Some of my teammates are coming. So, just getting to enjoy it and soak it in I think is the biggest thing because like this is once in a lifetime. This only happens once.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Also worth noting tonight, LSU's Angel Reese went six picks later as the Chicago's Sky second pick.

Thank you all so much for joining us. Congrats to both of them and everyone in the WNBA draft tonight.

CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: Why you shouldn't sleep on what Donald Trump's trial is really about, that's tonight on NewsNight.

Good evening. I'm Abby Phillip in New York.

In minutes, we will run you through a very busy day inside of the courthouse for Donald Trump where his legal team won, where his legal team lost, and the countdown to the shutdown of that jury pool by the numbers. And, plus, there's much, much more.

But, first, the matter at the heart of this Trump trial and why Americans shouldn't look the other way about the very serious allegations that face Donald Trump, the headlines that you may have read this morning probably played on just a few words, hush money, porn star, Stormy. And, yes, the details of Trump's allegedly falsifying of business records do belong in places like the National Enquirer.

But the deception is about much more than just $130,000 funneled to an adult film actress. It is about who Donald Trump was trying to deceive, you, the voter, and how he's still trying to deceive you now. Think back to when prosecutors say that Michael Cohen made that payment to silence Stormy Daniels. That was October 27th, 2016, just 12 days before that election, and 20 days after The Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump was caught on a hot mic explaining how he groped women.

Now, that story prompted the rarest of things, a Trump apology. But it also prompted panic inside of his campaign. Poll numbers like this, this was CNN's final poll just before the election, showing Hillary Clinton leading by six points. And it prompted a rush to catch and kill any other stories about Trump's history of bad behavior with women before November 8th.

Now, that kind of story could alienate suburban women who were revolted by a major party presidential candidate talking about grabbing women by the you know what, stories like an affair with an adult film actress. Then the election happened and Trump won.

And, look, it is impossible to interpret how more evidence of Trump's misogyny could have swayed the election but he made voters the victims. The affair story might have broken, but it might not have broken through with a few hundred thousand people who ultimately decide American elections. The point is Trump cared enough to bury it, to bend and to break the rules to make sure it didn't get out.

Now, whether that is a crime, whether he committed a crime, the jury is out on that question or they will be. But whether Trump has a pattern and practice of deception, that verdict is very much in.

CNN's Legal Analyst Elie Honig is joining me now from the magic wall. Elie, jury selection, it's just the beginning and we're nowhere even near the end of this process. Where do we stand in terms of that?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we're just getting started, Abby, eventful day today. But we started the process of narrowing down the 1.6 million residents of the island of Manhattan down to our eventual jury of 12 jurors and 6 alternates.

Now we started today. The judge called in a jury pool of 96 people. And the first thing he asked those 96 people is, how many of you are so biased that you just cannot sit on this case? And, immediately, over 50 of them, over half of that jury pool said, I'm out of here. And the judge basically let them walk out the door. Now, a few others were dismissed because of personal or professional hardship.

Now, here's what happens with the rest of those remaining jurors. First of all, they'll go through the 42 questions on the questionnaire. They started that process today. Here are the answers. Then the attorneys will get to ask questions of those people. And then we will get into the strikes, the ways we can get rid of some of these jurors.

Now, some of them will be removed by the judge for cause, because the judge finds that they're too biased and they can't sit on this case. The parties will be asking the judge to remove certain jurors they don't like for cause.

And then after that, the parties will each have these very valuable, what we call peremptory challenges, meaning each party can remove ten jurors who they don't like for almost any reason, not for racial discrimination or sex discrimination, but for almost to any reasons.


So, that's how the process is going to go we're going to keep repeating it until we are down to that magic 12 plus 6 alternates.

PHILLIPS: So, wins and losses today for both sides in the courtroom, what does what transpired today mean for the prosecution and for defense when it's all said and done?

HONIG: So, so some important rulings by the judge for the evidence that can come into this case. The judge said, Karen McDougal, she can testify. That's a win for prosecutors, because they want to show the jury this is a pattern. Donald Trump paid off several different women to keep them quiet. Judge also said the juror can hear about Trump's efforts to use the National Enquirer to put in politically damaging stories about his enemies. Again, it goes to that pattern.

The Judge ruled with the respect of that Access Hollywood tape you were talking about before, that grab them tape, but the jury is not going to get to see or hear the tape, but they're going to get to know what Donald Trump said in it. Perhaps they'll see a transcript. So, they will see it in a sort of dry form.

And then, finally, the judge ruled that evidence about Donald Trump's deposition in the E. Jean Carroll case cannot come in. That's a win, a minor win, but a win for Donald Trump.

PHILLIPS: One of the big questions looming over these proceedings now and probably it will be for the duration of this trial is Trump and whether or not he is violating a gag order. What happened today as it relates to that?

HONIG: Well, he did violate the gag order last week. One of the rules in the gag order is he cannot make public attacks on the witnesses. Well guess what Donald Trump did a few days ago? He posted calling Michael Cohen a, quote, sleaze bag, capital S, capital B. I don't know why. He calls him a total loser. This is a violation of a gag order. And so the D.A. went to the judge this morning and said, you have to do something, Judge.

Now, what can the judge do? Well, you can reprimand. You can say, don't do that again. Ordinarily, you don't want to get reprimanded by the judge. Trump doesn't really care. The judge can oppose fines. In fact, the D.A.'s office is asking the judges to fine. Don't laugh. The D.A. office has asked the judge to find Donald Trump $3,000 for all of his offenses. I don' think that's really going to deter Donald Trump.

Ultimately, a judge has the power to send someone to prison. That's not realistically going happen here with respect to Donald. Trump. But this is going be an ongoing battle, as between the D.A. and Judge Merchan trying to keep Donald under some set of rules, some discipline. This will be happening for the next few months or so.

PHILLIPS: I mean, look, it seems like it's already been a failure. So, what's the next step going to be?

Elie Honig, thank you very much.

HONIG: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIPS: And for more on all of this, I want to bring in my expert panel of legal minds. We have former Trump White House lawyer Jim Schultz, former Federal Prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers, and former Senior Investigative Counsel for the U.S. House Oversight Committee Chris Staszak.

So, each of you, first of all, if I had known it was that easy to get out of jury duty, I would have just raised my hand and just be like, Judge, I can't do it today. But what do you think really ultimately was the headline, each of you, of today's proceedings?

JIM SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: So, I thought today, the headline of today is proceeding was just that Judge Merchan is being impartial here, right? I think he's picked -- there's wins and losses on both sides, seems to be an impartial judge, making good decisions, you know, setting the stage for a fair trial.

PHILLIPS: Go ahead, Jen.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I honestly just want to take a step back and say it's historic that we're even here. I mean, the notion that were in a place in our country with all of what's gone on over the past handful of years, that we actually have a criminal trial against not only a former president but a presidential candidate, one of the most powerful people in the nation and the world, the head of his party.

I think it is pretty remarkable that the court system and criminal justice system has held up in this way. So, I'm pretty pleased with that, honestly.

CHRIS STASZAK, FORMER NEW YORK STATE ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think, whether it's the biggest headline or not, I don't know, but the most interesting thing is that more than half of the jurors, as you mentioned, said they can't be impartial. I actually think that's a good sign. I thinks it is progress, because you would much rather have these jurors say, now I can be partial than halfway through the trial or at the end of trial. I think it's interesting, it a little inside baseball, but I think that's sort of the headline from today.

PHILLIPS: It's really important, actually, because it just also gives you maybe a bit over 50 percent of the pool from today couldn't do it. So, we'll see how the rest of it goes. They've got to find 12 people.

But, Jim, Judge Merchan, you brought him up and his demeanor, he was being challenged on his ability to be fair by the defense. He was not happy at a lot of junctures with Donald Trump's legal representation. What do you make of what that portends for these proceedings? SCHULTZ: Look, I think he showed today that he's going to fair and impartial, like I said before. A lot of that air was taken out of the balloon today with some of the rulings that he made.

So, I do think interesting ruling, right, this whole idea of the underlying crime that they keep talking about in order to bolster this to a felony is this purported campaign finance violation or campaign finance law that was broken.

And in this case, you had Michael Cohen, who had pled guilty to the campaign finance charge, that guilty plea can come in, but they can't connect it to Trump.


And I think that was a key ruling by the judge in this case, because that's what's really going to play out here. What was the underlying crime that they were trying to cover up by allegedly making these false business representations?

PHILLIPS: Calling balls and strikes, I mean, do you see it that way? I also note, you know, Trump's lawyers, not necessarily the ones who were in the courthouse today, are still publicly maligning Judge Merchan, saying that he cannot be fair in this case.

RODGERS: Yes. Well, some of that is prospective, right? I mean, if this goes badly for him, they don't want to be out there having said the judge is fair, they want to be out there saying the whole thing is still a witch hunt.

So, he is reputed to very, very fair, in courtroom with his ruling, certainly in front of the jury. As annoyed as he may be with Todd Blanche and the legal team behind the scenes when the jury is not there, he would never let that show in front of the jury so that the jury isn't influenced by that in any way.

So, I think we can expect more of that fairness throughout the trial, which is, of course, how a judge should be.

PHILLIPS: Some of these rulings about what the jury can and cannot hear about this Elie just worked through, do you think that where they ended up on some of those things is fair? You know, can they hear about a Trump being accused by other women of sexual misconduct and things like that?

STASZAK: I agree with Jim and Jennifer. I think the judge showed fairness today. I think he split it right down the middle. I think some of the issue, particularly with letting -- if he did let the jury hear the actual recording, I think what the judge probably decided is if -- when it comes to that time in the trial, if that would be, is it going to be more probative to know that for the jury, or is it going to be prejudicial to Donald Trump?

So, I think he cut it right down in middle and I think it was fair. PHILLIPS: What about this gag order? I mean, as I said to Ellie, it looks like, okay, there's a gag order he's violated it. He will violate it. Are you going to put him in jail, fine him $3,000, or what?

SCHULTZ: Well, it's kind of funny. Elie said, discipline and Donald Trump in this sentence, which I thought was kind of comical. But I do think that, you know, he is going to continue to violate the gag order. The judge is going to continue to probably admonish him, maybe fine him. But, again, you're not throwing the former president United States in jail over the tweets that he sort of -- or whatever representations he'd make in the public domain.

So, I think that's just something we're going to have to contend with through this trial. It's not going to get any better. And I think you're going to continue to see the attacks, especially as it relates to Michael Cohen.

PHILLIPS: So, one of the interesting things is that Trump's lawyers said he would be a part of sidebars in the process of questioning the jurors. I don't even know what to say about that. Can you imagine being one of the jurors who's there, and Donald Trump, the former president, is staring you in the face? Like what is that going to do to the jury pool?

RODGERS: Yes. I never have seen it happen. I've never seen a defendant up there at sidebar.

PHILLIPS: I didn't see that either. I thought that was very odd.

RODGERS: I think it's -- listen, I guess it is his right. We'll see how long he wants to go do that. I think it's intimidating. I think the jurors are going to be intimidated. I mean, he is a tall, imposing man. He glowers at people. I think that they're going to intimidated, and I think the judge is going to keep a careful eye on what's happening up there and if he actually sees Trump trying to kind of intimidate people, glowering at them and so on, you know, he might make him take a step back, he may make them go back to the table. We'll see what happens.

PHILLIPS: That is -- that will be quite the thing to behold, although we are not necessarily seeing inside the courthouse.

Last thing, Trump on the witness stand, this is something that's going to be discussed. Do you think it's likely that he'll testify?

STASZAK: It's not going to happen. It's not going to happen. He says he wants to, and it is always ultimately it's the client's choice, but I think he didn't do it in the previous trials and he could have. He's not going to do with here. And I think you'd even run the risk, you know, maybe Jim would know better, but I think he would even on the risks of having the lawyers not want to represent anymore if he insisted on testifying.

PHILLIPS: One of his lawyers in the last hour said he would be a very compelling witness. Compelling, that's actually true. SCHULTZ: He would take it back, it would be.

PHILLIPS: Just maybe not in the way that they hope. Jim, Jennifer and Chris, thank you all very much.

And up next, the optics of Trump appearing to fall asleep in court, especially when Sleepy Joe is one of his favorite attacks against Joe Biden.

Plus, a right wing host is openly now telling Trump supporters to infiltrate the jury to try to sway this verdict, which is illegal.

And we've got breaking news out of the Middle East tonight, vowing to retaliate against Iran's attacks despite the U.S. and world leaders urging Israel not to. We'll take you there.

This is NewsNight.




DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me ask you, what's a better name? Sleepy Joe, Sleepy Joe Biden, or Crooked Joe Biden?

I did much better against, in those days, I call him Sleepy Joe Biden, but I like Crooked Joe.

Just the other day in Georgia, 3,600 votes that were duplicated so that you had double votes. Almost all of them were for Sleepy Joe Biden, right?

The head of the pipeline union endorsed Sleepy Joe Biden.


PHILLIPS: Sleepy Joe, it's a name Donald Trump frequently uses to attack President Biden, which is kind of ironic considering that Trump today appeared to fall asleep in court. That was according to reporters who were in the room.


For more on this, I want to bring in Republican Strategist and Political Commentator Joe Pinion along with CNN Political Analyst and National Political Reporter for The New York Times Astead Herndon.

Joe, falling asleep in the courthouse, first of all, this is a very serious thing that he is facing. To fall asleep in the courthouse when he's running against somebody who he wants the country to think is sleepy is not good for his re-election.

JOE PINION, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I would make the argument anyone falling asleep in the courthouse is not necessarily a good thing, but I think many people have dozed off in court, particularly when the proceedings leave you a little bit underwhelmed.

In juried selection, certainly, people know, it's probably a sleepy matter. I think, though, if you're comparing President Trump dozing off in court to Joe Biden stumbling up the stairs, tumbling down the stairs, falling off of a bicycle, I think it is a comparison that strains credulity a little bit.

PHILLIPS: I mean, if Joe Biden had fallen asleep anywhere, which -- look, he's been falsely accused of falling asleep, first of all. And if he had fallen asleep in a courthouse, that would be a huge scandal in conservative media.

PINION: A perception is reality, certainly par for the course, if the tide had been reversed, I think Republicans would have been screaming. But what we're really talking about is, do the American people believe Joe Biden is up for the job? Do they believe Donald Trump is up for the job?

And I think that if you're of the opinion that this instance of President Trump dozing means that he is not fit to hold office, then you should probably be trying to bring up Jill Biden and the entire DNC for elder abuse.

So, that's just the way I look at it. I think it's the way many Americans look at it. And I think it's why Democrats go out of their way to try to de-emphasize the perception that Joe Biden is quite literally not up for the job.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This isn't about Joe Biden. I mean, Donald Trump in this trial is making a kind of physical embodiment of the mockery. He's made of the legal process the whole way. He's done this throughout the investigation. He's done this in the trial now. He made a mockery out of the political process as candidates. He's made a mockery out of a norms while president.

And so I think this continues on with the trend that we have seen of Donald Trump, frankly, taking little beyond himself very seriously. But I don't think this makes it neutralizes the age issue for Joe Biden, even if the version of Joe Biden that conservatives have been trying to push, particularly on social media, particularly kind of falling off the stage, falling off the bike, is more of a caricature than the real reality.

When we look at the numbers, Joe Biden's numbers went up after the State of the Union. It's partially because he showed a different version of himself than I think a lot of folks have presented. And if we see that version of Joe Biden, I think some of those age questions go away.

They persist, though, around Donald Trump if he's going to be falling asleep across the campaign.

PHILLIPS: Look, he's going to be in court a lot over the next -- while Joe Biden, he is probably going to be on the campaign trail more than Trump because Trump has to be in court. And that alone is going to be a huge drag on this campaign.

I mean, when do you think this really ultimately kicks off? I mean, is it the conventions?

HERNDON: Yes. I mean, I don't think we should make it a distinction between the campaign trail and the court for Donald Trump. They will be the same thing. And he will, in a lot of ways, try to run from the courthouse if he's tied up there over the next several months.

But I do think that your point is a good one when we think about the reasons why the public has been disengaged in this race. I think partially it's because it hasn't felt like it started. It's been tied up in a primary that didn't feel real, the legal proceedings that seem kind of confusing. Your kind of traditional campaign trail hasn't really developed yet.

Now, Joe Biden is on the road more than we have seen him do previously, but I think you're right that when we're going to see the most interest in this race, probably post-convention when they are both out there.

But don't act like Donald Trump is not on the campaign trail when he's sitting in that courthouse. He's going to try to bring the campaign trail to that courthouse.

PINION: I think President Trump has certainly been on the trail quite often. The issue is, will the media actually cover it, and when they do cover it, what will they say about it?

I think also, yes, it doesn't feel real because the Democratic Party went out of their way to quite literally shut down the primary process. They basically told the people of New Hampshire, thanks but no thanks, your wine tasting of the electorate days are over. They told the people in Florida that their input was no longer welcome. They basically ran RFK out of the party, even though his last name is stitched into the actual DNA of the Democratic Party.

So, yes, I believe that the American people are tuned out in large part because they have been locked out of the process by decisions that have been made by people that want to make this about whether Trump is snoozing in court and not about whether the economy is working for the people on Main Street, the border issue that is a great deal of concern, and the tinderbox in the Middle East that is threatening to be the staging ground for the World War III we hope this never comes to.

PHILLIPS: I want to raise one bizarre thing, I guess, that happened today on social media. The right wing host, Clay Travis, he posted on X today, well, this is what he said. If you're a Trump supporter in New York City who is a part of the jury pool, do everything you can to get seated on the jury and then refuse to convict as a matter of principle, dooming the case via hung jury.


It's the most patriotic thing you could do. HERNDON: I mean, it speaks to the perversion of patriotism that's come from some of those in that wing. The most patriotic you can do is to do your duty as a jurist.

And I think actually we're going to see this trial be a kind of manipulated by right and left in the way that you see there. I can't speak to the legal questions of tampering, but it does show kind of how this is going to be a litmus test for a lot of people's relationship to politics, to Trump himself, and you're going to have that conservative wing really try to push people to see it as a time to rally around the president and defend him.

That happened to the primaries, part of the reason he became the nominee. It will happen again as these trials develop.

PHILLIPS: Meanwhile, I mean, Trump has been arguing that the jury is -- you know, that it's going to be unfair to him. But here's his supporter actually trying to encourage people to, I guess, essentially lie and get on the jury.

PINION: Well, look, first and foremost, he's not the first person to ever argue for jury nullification. That being said, I think that if we're going to be upholding the institutions, namely our courts and the system of justice, we shouldn't be telling people to go in there with their mind made up. Everybody going through those doors should be going there with an open mind to hear the facts and arrive at a just conclusion.

But I think, ultimately, this is an issue that deals with the division in our politics where so many people view President Trump with their mind already made up across the board. 50 people today basically saying they had the inability to be fair.

So, I think in the broader sense --

HERDON: That's not a bad thing.

PINION: No, I didn't say it was a bad thing, but I'm saying it is illustrating a real reality that we have to acknowledge.

And I think, ultimately, we should be encouraging people to engage in the political process, whether you're outnumbered Republican in New York City or they're outnumbered Democrat in Philadelphia, Mississippi. If you are unhappy with the outcomes that the institutions that are designed to protect the will of the American people are arriving, then you can't run from that letter in the mail. You have to show up. I think was a poor choice of words. But I think, again, it is illustrating in some ways the frustration that is in many ways across the political spectrum.

PHILLIPS: Well, look, it's more than a poor choice of words. It also would be a felony to encourage people to lie to get on a jury. So --

PINION: Well, I would agree that, again, you cannot be telling people to willfully go into a courtroom and break the law, even if it benefits you politically, and I stand by that, irrespective of (INAUDIBLE).

PHILLIPS: And I don't even think that helps Trump, frankly. I think it's kind of a silly thing.

But, Joe Pinion, Astead Herndon, thank you both very much.

And breaking news tonight, out of Israel, which is now vowing to punish Iran for those retaliatory strikes over the weekend, we'll talk about their options.

Plus, was Iran's military inept with its attacks or was Israel and its allies defenses that strong? We'll examine.



PHILLIP: Tonight, Israel is on the clock, 52 hours after Iran lit up Israeli skies. The IDF has, so far, held back Israel's war cabinet, is meeting today, again, not reaching a decision about what they're going to do, at least not one that they are disclosing publicly. Now, what is going to happen next? We will find out.

Colonel Cedric Leighton is joining us now at the magic wall about all of this -- the options available to Israel at this point. What do you think that they are considering and weighing? And is one of them to not do anything at all, do you think?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, actually, Abby, yes, that is definitely a possibility. But let's take a look at, basically, we've characterized these as basically three types of response.

One is small, the other is medium, and the other one, the last one, is a large type of response. So, a small response could mean a discreet use of cyberattacks or commando raids or something like that. Medium response cyberattacks may be with weapons like an attack on a city or on an installation.

More likely, they would go after -- the Israelis would go after military installations. And then if you have a large response, it would include basically everything plus more conventional things, bombing runs against certain military installations, bases.

For example, you could attack some of the naval installations that are on the coast here. You could attack some of the airfields that are in these parts of Iran. So, there are several things, several options that the Israelis have. But each one of these levels has different consequences associated with it. And that's what the Israelis have to consider.

PHILLIP: So, one of the interesting things about the attacks from Iran this weekend is just how ineffective a lot of what they were lobbying at Israel was. Not just that they were shot down, but some of them were complete misses.

LEIGHTON: Well, that's actually quite interesting, because one of the things that you have is really a high failure rate. According to some reports, that failure rate is somewhere around 50 percent. If that's the case, then really there's a significant --

PHILLIP: That sounds bad, but is that from a military perspective as abysmal as it seems, 50 percent failure rate?

LEIGHTON: Yeah, that' a huge failure rate because what that means is if you're sending about 350 weapons of various types into the air against Israel, and you only have, you know, about 170 or so reach their targets, that means that a lot of the things that are going on are not really in concert with your planning.

And your planning is done in a way that really doesn't normally allow for such a high failure rate. They didn't reach intended targets, and there were probably also command and control failures, as well. You know, the Iranians like to show themselves as being really tough guys. The problem is if you have a failure rate that is very high, and you don't reach all the targets, then you have a real problem.

And one of the things that, on the other hand, though, that they did do was they were able to reach this air base right here.


And they were able to actually damage a runway there. The Neva Team Air Base has three squadrons of F-35 fighters, which is the most modern fighter that is in the Israeli inventory. So, that is significant. So the question then is, is this going to be a deliberate -- was this a deliberate attack, a targeted attack, or did they just get lucky?

PHILLIP: They just got lucky. I mean, did Iran basically show its hand a bit in terms of what their military force could really do?

LEIGHTON: Yes. In some ways, I think it did. Now, the one thing we have to keep in mind, Abby, is that the Iranians have a lot more missiles and drones where those came from. So, they have a lot in terms of volume and in the capability to manufacture some of these weapon systems.

But they don't have a limitless supply, and they will definitely be taxed if they ever get into a significant conflict with Israel and other nations in the region and even countries like the U.S., which are outside of the region.

PHILLIP: Yeah, I mean, I think it's almost a bit of a paper tiger type of situation here that we all, the world, saw this weekend. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you, as always.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Abby.

PHILLIP: And more on this breaking news front tonight. This time out of Washington, we are getting word that the Republican Speaker will split up bills to Israel and Ukraine as he faces backlash from within his own caucus. I'll speak with one of the hardliners who's been speaking out against some of that aid. Stand by for that.



PHILLIP: A surprising move tonight on Capitol Hill as pressure intensifies in the wake of Iran's attacks on Israel. House Speaker Mike Johnson revealing a new plan to vote on separate aid packages for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan and other foreign policy proposals. He's now facing steep opposition from within his own party, including its far right wing, over how and whether to fund these key allies abroad, including a number of Republicans who are against more money to Ukraine.

Among them is my next guest. Joining me now is Republican Congressman Warren Davidson of Ohio. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the House Freedom Caucus Congressman. We appreciate you staying up late for us tonight. Are you and the rest of the Freedom Caucus on board with the Speaker's current plan?

WARREN DAVIDSON (R) FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, I certainly can't speak for anyone else. Freedom Caucus or anyone else in the conference. But I really am a big fan of the idea of regular order, single subject bills subject to amendment. And I think that's where the Speaker's landed.

I mean, the situation in Ukraine is different than the situation in Israel. And frankly, it's different than the situation in the Pacific. And, you know, lastly, what I hear from my constituents is what about American security? And they want something at the border.

So, the way this falls short, frankly, is the Speaker has a plan to do something about America. But it really isn't what our constituents around the country are talking about. They're talking about securing the border.

But I am glad that he has a plan to give us four separate votes. And it might take a fifth so we can deal with, you know, the real national security threat that's top of mind for American citizens. We're supportive for Ukraine.

We feel like they were wrongly attacked by Vladimir Putin in Russia. But we're incredibly supportive of Israel, one of America's closest friends. And we see the danger in the Pacific. So, we should have each of those debates. And frankly, they should be subject to amendment.

PHILLIP: A question for you. Just a couple of details here. If those bills were to be combined before it went over to the Senate, would you be fine with that?

DAVIDSON: No, that's a fake process. I mean, you should vote on them separately.

PHILLIP: So, that would be a red line for you personally?

DAVIDSON: Well, I think it's going to be a problem. I mean, and look, that's the thing the Speaker is trying to navigate. There are people that want, you know, everything to come over all together. And frankly, the great thing about this plan is, is at least it lets you be recorded on the individual components.

But at the end of the day, combining them together, is that going to require an extra vote? And how does that pass? And, you know, look, Israel's tough. I know Democrats don't want to vote on that as a standalone issue. The reality is Israel divides Democrats right now. It used to be probably the most bipartisan thing is America stands with Israel. But that's a touchy subject for a lot of my Democratic colleagues.

PHILLIP: It is similar to how on the question of Ukraine, that has divided your conference. I heard you say earlier something about being supportive of Ukraine because they were unfairly attacked. Would you support at this point that that vote to send aid to Ukraine in that fight against Russia?

DAVIDSON: No, I've had the same question since the very first vote when I think I'm one of 10 people that never voted for anything to give to Ukraine. And it's because not something that Ukraine can't do. Look, you know, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was inspiring when he said, I don't need a ride out. I need ammunition.

I mean, he's rallied his country and the world to his cause. But the U.S. State Department is conflicted. I mean, they've got Victoria Nuland saying that the mission is regime change in Russia with war crimes tribunals for Vladimir Putin. That's World War Three.

And look, when they say something vacuous, like as much as it takes, as long as it takes, that passes for a lot of people. But it doesn't answer in order to do what. And if that's to extract all the Russians from Ukraine, Ukraine doesn't have the combat power to do that, no matter how much money we send them. They need allies to come in on the ground, in the sea and in the air to be able to extract Russia from Ukraine. That's a bigger war.

PHILLIP: So, are you saying --

DAVIDSON: And so, we have to have a limiting factor that the administration is not willing to concede.

PHILLIP: So, are you suggesting that the conflict in Ukraine is a lost cause and that is why you oppose sending more money for ammunition and the like to Ukraine?


DAVIDSON: No, no, I wouldn't call it a lost cause. I think Volodymyr Zelenskyy wasn't given a chance. I mean, they told you a lot of the intelligence said that they would have their whole country collapse within days. I mean, people were offering him a ride out and he turned and fought. I mean, look, they've been heroic and inspirational, but I think they've been deceived.

And look, I understand if my country was under attack, my mission would be to extract everyone that shouldn't be here out of my country. In lot of ways, my country is being invaded today, more passively, more peacefully, but it's still being invaded. And we want to secure our borders.

PHILLIP: Congressman, I'm sorry to interrupt you. I just want to understand your position, because I'm hearing you suggest that Ukraine's fight is valid, that they should push back against Russia. But you're also at the same time unwilling to provide them with what they need to be able to do that.

You know, right now, the warning that is out there from members of this administration, from people in the military, is that if this doesn't come right now, the momentum will be lost. Are you concerned that this is that kind of pivotal moment and you and your colleagues are not willing to do what is necessary to allow Ukraine to maintain an upper hand?

DAVIDSON: Look, you can be sympathetic to Ukraine without saying that it's our war to fight or our war to fund. Ukraine's not a member of NATO, and that is a big part of what this conflict is.

PHILLIP: So, you want them to be on their own at this point?

DAVIDSON: I think they should be independent. And I think what we've done for them is give them a path to negotiate a peace. But the administration has worked at odds with that. I mean, frankly, Gerhard Schroeder in Germany has pointed out that the Biden administration scuttled the efforts to try to negotiate a peace. They could have saved the hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. Frankly, this war was entirely avoidable. But the Biden administration, frankly, failed in every way possible. And so did Putin.

PHILLIP: At this moment, the force standing in the way of helping Ukraine is you and your colleagues. It sounds like you're just not interested in doing that. And you're fine with Russia steamrolling over Ukraine. Is that correct?

DAVIDSON: No, I mean, that's a dishonest characterization. I understand why you're making it, and that's fine. I've had this position the entire two years that the war has gone on, and I'm not going to change it. The administration still won't define the mission.

And just because Ukraine wants a mission doesn't mean that that's in America's national interest. The reality is the only way to extract the Russian troops out of Ukraine is to expand the war. And I do not think that that's in the United States' best interest.

It is in the interest of Russia to have a long war. And frankly, you know who's benefiting from this is China. China would love for us to be bogged down for another 20 years in an ill-defined war. The administration who got us into Afghanistan in 2004 said as much as it takes, as long as it takes. And we didn't get out of there until Biden's botched failure on August 31st of 2021.

And on September 1st of 2021, the Biden administration entered into a strategic partnership agreement to support Ukraine's admission, not just to NATO, but into the European Union. So, everything from then was an escalation that I -- frankly, was designed to result in conflict. And they continue to escalate today and to do everything possible to scuttle any effort towards peace.

PHILLIP: All right. Congressman.

DAVIDSON: This is an escalation of the war, not a path to peaceful resolution.

PHILLIP: Congressman Warren Davidson, thank you very much for joining us.

DAVISON: Thank you. And just in. Some arrests tonight after a pro- Palestinian crowd shut down some of America's biggest landmarks from the Golden Gate Bridge to Wall Street and Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Details of that next.



PHILLIP: The Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, all crammed with protesters. Some of America's famous landmarks have been essentially shut down by pro-Palestinian protesters. And tonight, authorities are arresting demonstrators after they deployed to block major roadways in those American cities, including chaining themselves to 55-gallon drums.

This is all coming as Israel is weighing retaliation against Iran. Joining me now is Reena Ninan, veteran foreign affairs correspondent. And also with us, Masih Alinejad. She is a journalist and an activist, and as we were discussing just now, bravely survived an assassination attempt.

Reena, I do want to start with you, though. What are you hearing tonight about what is being weighed inside of Israel, the scope, the probability that this will be a response now we're in this zone of a tit-for-tat that is that broader war we could potentially have been warning about for months?

REENA NINAN, VETERAN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: The White House is publicly and very privately trying to warn Israel, take the W on the scoreboard. There were no fatalities, very minimal damage after the attacks on Saturday. Take that win and use strategic patience and wait it out.

The Israelis are now weighing under Netanyahu that it's not strategic patience, it's deterrence. You want to use disproportional force to show and send a message to Iran that our people and the millions can't be cowering overnight and waiting for these rockets and missiles to hit us.

And I think it's the White House just a few minutes ago, this evening, we saw Defense Secretary Austin come out saying, you know, we're working together on this, that we want to make sure there's stability in the region. [22:55:00]

And that is the word that you keep hearing out of Washington, is stability.

PHILLIP: Yeah. And Masih, inside of Iran, first of all, what was the purpose of this counterattack on Israel, especially since they probably knew that it was not going to be that successful? You've got the United States, the U.K., even Jordan shooting down some of these missiles.

MASIH ALINEJAD, IRANIAN JOURNALIST AND ACTIVIST: I strongly believe that the Islamic Republic had four goals. First, they wanted actually to make a show, like a face-saving show to actually show their own supporters, their own proxies -- Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihadi, that we have your back.

Second goal was sending a message to the Israeli that no longer the proxy is going to fight against you. This is the end of proxy war. Islamic Republic is going to get more involved.

PHILLIP: Is that true?

ALINEJAD: Yes, because --

PHILLIP: Do they really want to get in a direct conflict with Israel?

ALINEJAD: The Islamic Republic nature is all about war and creating chaos and mayhem, instability in the region. And let me tell you, another signal was just sending to the U.S. government that President Biden said, don't. But they say, we did and we will.

So, at the end, I have to say that the Islamic Republic, the evil regime, actually trying to send a message to the rest of the world that we want to actually attack Israel. We want to destroy Israel. And next is America. This is their goal. This is their fundamental belief.

PHILLIP: Given all of that, I mean, would Israel be walking into something of a trap if it allowed Iran to escalate this into something bigger?

NINAN: I think that's the biggest concern that the U.S. has. You know, I think to understand this situation right now, you almost have to head to the women's basketball court, the O.G. of basketball, Dawn Staley, who once said, when you succeed, people notice, but they don't see what it takes to get there. And what it took to get there on Saturday night, the deterrence, the fact that nobody died was a testament of decades of partnership with the Pentagon, developing with Israeli military, developing the capabilities for this exact moment that many people feared would never come, but that they need to be prepared for.

PHILLIP: And Jordan's foreign minister acknowledged that, as I mentioned, Jordan participated to a degree. They described it as shooting down things in their airspace. They said it's a long-held policy. But they also said that Netanyahu is trying to use this confrontation with Iran to distract from Gaza.

ALINEJAD: I mean, I have to say that the Islamic Republic made a tactical mistake here, because before that, the whole world was talking about Gaza. And now Gaza has been forgotten. That actually shows you that the Islamic Republic really don't care about the life of Palestinians at all, the same way that they don't care about the life of their own people.

So, I believe that this is the Islamic Republic using Palestinians as a human shield. Actually, they want to create instability in the region. And for them, it doesn't matter. They want to use Palestinians, as well.

PHILLIP: That's such an interesting point. I mean, if this was really about stopping Israel's actions in Gaza, they certainly failed.

NINAN: Oh, it was not in that case. And I think one of the biggest calculuses that Netanyahu has to make right now is if he goes too many steps further, the negative -- the bad, I guess, goodwill that he had, the bad energy that had been focused on him on the Gaza war turned around overnight.

There was a coalition of goodwill. Arab partners that we haven't seen publicly say, yes, we helped out. And even in Iraq, people who didn't help out, you know, they could have shot down U.S., you know, weapons and all sorts of things over Israel, excuse me, over Iraq. They didn't do that. They allowed the U.S. to pass through. That also says something.


NINAN: So, you're seeing these allies, and Netanyahu has to make a calculus at this point as to whether or not he potentially loses that goodwill.

PHILLIP: Do you think it's true that if Israel does decide to move forward, regardless of what happens, despite all the public rifts over Gaza, the United States has to be there?

NINAN: You know, of course, the United States does not in any way want this to escalate. But you better believe tonight they're preparing for an escalation. If that were to happen, plans will be in place.

PHILLIP: And Masih, I did ask our General earlier about the paper tiger that seems to be the Iranian regime. They're not very good at this. So, why show the world the failure rate of 50 percent?

ALINEJAD: You know, I don't know how you define being strong, but I have to say that the Islamic Republic is a real threat. And October 7th, they showed that, how they can violently, using rape as a weapon of war. So in my opinion --


PHILLIP: Through their proxies. ALINEJAD: Exactly. Through their proxies. They're using different

proxies everywhere to create chaos. So, I have to say that this should be a tipping point for democratic countries to do something, because the ultimate solution for ending war is to end Islamic Republic. This is what the Iranian people want, regime change. Whether the, you know, the rest of the world want to use this, you know, or not. But this is the ultimate solution.

PHILLIP: Well, we'll see so much that can unfold in the coming days. Thank you both very much. Reena Ninan and Masih Alinejad, thank you very much. And thank you for watching "NewsNight" tonight. "Laura Coates Live" starts right now.