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Israel Preparing to Expand Gaza Operation?; House Releases Ethics Report on George Santos. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired November 16, 2023 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: Breaking news for you this morning: The House Ethics Committee finds Congressman George Santos blatantly stole from his campaign, deceived donors, and exploited his candidacy for his own personal profit. And now we're expecting a new motion to expel him from Congress.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: New signs this morning Israel's operation in Gaza may soon move into Southern Gaza. The IDF's new call for civilians to move to known shelters.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Some newly released video showing how Alec Baldwin handled guns on the "Rust" film set, this is he faces a possibility of new criminal charges.
I'm John Berman with Kate Bolduan and Sara Sidner.
This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.
SIDNER: Happened just a bit ago. We begin with breaking news this hour, the House Ethics Committee releasing their long-awaited report on Republican Congressman George Santos.
In it, they say Santos -- quote -- "sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit." The committee also says they're referring -- quote -- "substantial during" their investigation to the DOJ.
CNN's Manu Raju is joining us from Capitol Hill.
You're getting this hot off the presses. You're also learning that the chairman plans to move forward with expulsion. What can you tell us?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.
In fact, we just have a response from Congressman Santos, who just posted on social media -- quote -- "If there was a single ounce of ethics in the Ethics Committee, they would have not released his biased report." He says: "The committee went to extraordinary lengths to smear myself and my legal team about me not being forthcoming. My legal bills suggest otherwise."
And he -- that is part of his first response we're seeing from George Santos in response to this report. The report also says that he did not cooperate fully with this investigation. In fact, he did not sit down for a voluntary interview. They declined to subpoena him as well.
And they made clear that the evidence that they found goes beyond the 23-count indictments that he is facing in federal court over his alleged unlawful activity that goes around campaign finance fraud, fraud dealing with jobless benefits and the like, and including making false statements with the House, all of which he's pleaded not guilty to.
But now he is facing a real threat to his political career. The House Ethics Committee chairman, Michael Guest, is moving to expel George Santos from the House. The Republican chairman, Michael Guest, plans to offer a resolution as soon as tomorrow to start the process, force a vote, which would require two-thirds of the House to make George Santos just the sixth member of American -- in American history to be kicked out of his House seat.
We will see if they will get the votes to do that. Now, Santos has for some time been defiant about all the lies that have been -- he has admitted to in his life, and as well as these charges that he has faced in federal court, denying them time and time again.
Just recently, in the last several days, I had a chance to sit down with Santos, talking to him about all these issues, and he indicated that some mistakes were made, even though -- even as he denied all the charges.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: You acknowledge, though, fabricating large portions of your life. So why do that? I'm just wondering. People want to know why. Why did he do it?
REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Manu, Manu, we've gone through this. I have gone through this on "Piers Morgan."
SANTOS: I have gone through this with Erin Burnett.
RAJU: But it's still a question.
SANTOS: Look, I get it.
RAJU: It's still a question.
SANTOS: How about we talk -- look, we are all -- we know all the things we did.
RAJU: Look, can you just answer me? But why? But why?
SANTOS: I have already told you this. It's insecurity, stupidity. I don't know.
Look, I'm human. We make mistakes. I have apologized, and I will continue to apologize profusely for this and with remorse. I -- look, I am the first one to jump and say, I messed up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, also very importantly, that George Santos just said in the social media post that he will not seek reelection for his House seat.
Now, that is significant. Remember for some time that he has been defined, saying that he would run all along. In fact, in that same interview, I asked him whether he would still run for his seat even if he were expelled from the House. He said, absolutely, he would run.
But George Santos, perhaps in the light of this damning evidence detailed by this bipartisan committee and facing the threat of expulsion, making clear right here that he is not going to run for reelection, which will be a sigh of relief for Republican leaders, who are eager to keep a seat that is now a Biden district, one that Democrats could most certainly pick up in the next election.
Not going to be a candidate. We will see if he changes his mind again, but important note there, saying he will not run for reelection, even as he criticizes this report, saying it's a smear job, despite the allegations that have been pulled up by this bipartisan committee -- John.
BERMAN: Manu, any sense while I have you, if that makes it more or less likely for members to vote to expel him? Because you could see the argument being made, oh, he's not going to be around here very long anyway. Why go through the trouble to boot him?
RAJU: Yes, look, that is a great point, John, and also the fact that the committee made an explicit determination not to have a recommendation about a course of action that the House should take, not to say whether he should be expelled or not, even though the chairman of the committee clearly believes he deserves to be expelled.
Why? Because the chairman said that it would take some time, it would take probably up to next year if they would have to come to an expulsion resolution, given the bar that they would have to meet, if they were to make an explicit expulsion recommendation.
Now, the fact that that is not in there could give some members some cover, saying that the committee has not made an official recommendation to expel, so perhaps we will not vote that way. Also, the sheer politics of this, John. If he were to step aside, this would narrow the House Republicans' already very, very tight majority if he were expelled from the House.
And they would have a special election to fill it. Democrats could almost -- could have a very good chance of picking up that seat, tightening that already very, very tight majority. You have seen so many difficulties passing bills in that House Republican majority. So that could be a calculation as well, as Republican members and Democrats weigh George Santos' fate.
BERMAN: All right, Manu, don't go far. With us now is CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon, who, I should
note, hails from Youngstown, Ohio, has heritage in Youngstown, Ohio, which was the hometown of the last member of Congress expelled, Jim Traficant.
So, John, the argument here from people who do not want to expel Santos is, there hasn't been a criminal conviction yet. How do you see the situation changing now?
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the people who are honestly making the argument about precedent have a point looking to conviction. Expulsion from Congress is a rare thing. It should be, as you mentioned, Jim Traficant, my grandparents would be proud/disgusted that his name is still in conversation.
But George Santos clearly is at that level of infamy because of his actions. So spare me all this victim talk he's still trotting out. This investigation released by the Ethics Committee is exhaustive. It is damning. It is brazen. He didn't just lie about everything to his district.
He allegedly stole money from his donors and spent it on personal expenses to an absurd extent. So it raises the question, if this doesn't rise to that level, what does? At least a censure, but I think Republicans have been pushing for his expulsion, because he's such a blot, such an embarrassment.
And it's a reminder that standards should be applied. Maybe they can't bring themselves to do it to Donald Trump, but George Santos seems like a pretty obvious case by comparison.
BERMAN: All right, let me just bring people up to speed, remind people everything that's just happened in the last hour and nine minutes, because we have had three huge developments.
One, the Ethics Committee released its report, and it was devastating. Number two, the chair of the Ethics Committee says he is going to introduce a motion on the House floor to expel Santos. And, number three. Santos himself just said he is not going to run for reelection. He's condemning the Ethics Committee report. He doesn't say anything about resigning now, but he's not going to run for reelection.
I asked Manu if that would weigh on members who just want to punt this a few months down the line, John. Do you think that will be tempting to them?
AVLON: It shouldn't be, because what's right is right, and principles should Trump partisan interests.
And let's be real. The real reason Republicans would want to punt this is because their margin is so narrow, they're worried that they'd be taking themselves from four to three seats. And that makes -- it makes things even more untenable in terms of governing. But that's exactly the kind of cynical partisan gesture that shouldn't
have an impact on this kind of a damning case. Very quickly, once the homework started to be done, people realized this guy has made up his life story about whole cloth.
They didn't know the degree of alleged criminality, and this report spells it out pretty clearly. So, don't do rationalization. The road to hell is paved with rationalizations, right?
BERMAN: And, meanwhile, George Santos is still a House member, walks the floor, walks the halls.
If you're one of the fellow members, how do you handle that?
AVLON: Well, you shouldn't do it by further ostracizing him, not giving them the dignity of respect, because it makes everybody look bad.
This is another case of what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in New York called defining deviancy down. And it is about a party that's been -- learned to tolerate things that people damn -- condemn in private life.
Mark Twain once said there's no native American criminal class, except members of Congress. That's a slur on most members of Congress. It's -- and politics shouldn't be an honorable profession. But when you allow George Santos to parade around with everything we know and everything that's been divulged in this report, you give credence to that kind of cynicism and those sorts of suspicions.
We should be holding folks to a higher standard inside Congress, not a lower one. And if you get fired for a sporting goods store, you probably -- for alleged infractions, you probably shouldn't be rolling around Congress with all the privilege and, frankly, symbol of democracy that connotes.
BERMAN: John Avlon, thank you so much for joining us in a hurry with all this news.
And our thanks to Manu Raju, who's going to hit the road and continue to report on this, because, at this point, we expect even more developments coming soon -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: For sure.
Coming up still for us: Is Israel preparing to expand its ground operation in Gaza now? New leaflets dropped over Southern Gaza with a new warning for civilians.
Plus, a new take on spoiler alert, kind of, sort of. Joe Manchin is retiring from the Senate. What he's saying and not saying now to CNN about his future and his party.
And new video has been released from the film set of the movie "Rust," Alec Baldwin firing a prop gun and talking to the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, days before she was killed. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SIDNER: The Israeli military may be preparing to expand its ground offensive. CNN has learned of reports the IDF has been dropping leaflets near the city of Khan Yunis in Southern Gaza, a city of about 250,000 people, making it the largest in Southern Gaza.
They're warning people to head towards known shelters. Similar leaflets were dropped in the north just weeks ago, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing to the south. This comes just a couple of days after Israeli leaders declared the north is now under Israeli control right now.
The IDF is still inside and around Gaza's largest hospital, Al Shifa, more than 36 hours after storming the complex they say was being used as a Hamas command base. IDF released this video showing the weapons they say they found inside of that hospital complex.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now from Tel Aviv.
What are you learning about the reports of these leaflets coming down? Because they had told people to evacuate to Southern Gaza. And now they're seeing these leaflets telling them to go to safety?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.
This really does suggest that there are future operations, military operations from Israeli soldiers, that will be taking place in this area. You mentioned the city there of Khan Yunis, which sits about halfway where -- from Gaza City and the Rafah Crossing.
And the leaflets, from what we understand, have been dropped just east of that city as it gets close to the border with Israel, so suggesting that there could be an incursion of Israeli soldiers through there at some point.
But this is already going to make a difficult situation in Gaza much more difficult. The United Nations estimates that there are already about 1.5 million people who have been displaced by military operations inside of Gaza. And the U.N. also says there are about 800,000 people who are using its shelters, which far exceeds capacity.
And the defense minister here in Israel says that ground operations will continue for months and they will fight Hamas in the north, in the south, wherever it takes. But, as you know, as you pointed out, Israel has been telling residents of Gaza to move south for weeks now.
And this also happens as we are now well into day two of the raid on the Al Shifa Hospital there in Gaza City. Israeli military officials have released some video images of weaponry and other military equipment, what they describe as military equipment, inside an MRI office there.
[11:20:08] Officials here in Israel say, as those operations continue, they will release more information and more details of what they describe as concrete evidence that Hamas has used this area as a command-and- control area for years. And that is why this is such a pivotal and important moment in this ground operation, as the -- as Israel has come under condemnation from many corners of the world for the way it's conducted military operations inside Gaza.
Sara, this is a very significant moment, depending on what they find and what they publish to the world from inside that hospital.
SIDNER: Ed Lavandera, this is new information that people need to know. There aren't, what people may not know, that many places to take cover there, because they don't have the kind of infrastructure that Israel does, that Israel has built when it comes to trying to avoid being hit by shrapnel, being bombed.
So it is a scary situation for the families who have crowded into Southern Gaza from Northern Gaza.
I know you will keep your eye on it with you and your crew. Thank you so much, Ed Lavandera, there live for us in Tel Aviv -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Joining us now, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks to talk more about this.
Spider, let's talk first about the leaflets, what Ed was talking about, that Israel has dropped leaflets east of Khan Yunis in Southern Gaza. What does that suggest to you about Israel's plans going forward and strategy in continuing this -- their operation to try to root Hamas out of the enclave?
BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Kate, what it really describes is that the IDF has taken Gaza and will go after Hamas leadership in segments.
They have got Gaza City now in a position where they feel, the IDF feels confident that they have protected themselves and can go after the infrastructure and the leadership in a very methodical and hopefully very precise way.
They are now going to continue operations there, but they will expand their operations as they move to clear the rest of Gaza. So, the IDF is really declaring their intentions. They're saying, this is where we're going next. It's best if everybody can move to a safe haven, get out of the way. We are about to move in this direction, and we are going to continue operations to go after the leadership of Hamas.
So it's very clear, they're saying, we're coming your way.
BOLDUAN: I want to ask also about the raid at -- ongoing at Al Shifa medical center -- at the medical complex in Al Shifa Hospital.
The IDF, they released this video of soldiers finding weapons, finding ammunition, but they are still facing pressure to show more, to show the -- that there is a command center and a tunnel structure below the hospital that they have pointed to and talked about.
The IDF says more evidence will be shared in the coming days, is how they have described it. I also want to play for you then what John Kirby said about this, this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We're confident, based on our own intelligence analysis, that the basement areas of that hospital, underneath that hospital, and the hospital itself has been used, is being used by Hamas as a command-and-control mode, a place to command and control their fighters throughout North Gaza, and as a storage facility for ammo, for weapons, for guns, for that kind of thing.
We even believe that they have used Al Shifa Hospital as housing for their fighters, temporary housing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So with thousands of people who are sheltering in the complex -- you have patients, you have doctors, you have patients, you have young newborn premature babies that we have been talking about, where -- what is the responsibility of Israel to show more evidence, as they have been called to by neighboring nations and others?
What do you see in this raid?
MARKS: Well, I think the Israelis will certainly reveal what they have come across and what they now are in possession of.
Also, bear in mind, to your question about the tunnels, the tunnels are connected -- this labyrinth of tunnels is connected. So Israeli soldiers may be in those tunnels already from other -- entered into those tunnels, from other locations, not directly vertically from the hospital, where they are right now.
But I think what the Israelis have an opportunity to do now, they own that hospital. They are clearing that hospital. They will have an obligation -- they do have an obligation, and they will reveal what they have found, but they also have an opportunity.
Open that hospital back up. The cry is for humanitarian support. We can do both. You can conduct military operations and humanitarian support simultaneously. Do it. You have got the hospital. Clean it up. Bring in mercy ships across the shore, get that hospital back operational, and continue to clear that operation -- I mean, to clear the hospital.
They're not going to go into the hospital, tear everything down and then leave. That hospital can -- can regenerate its functionality and can get back to the business of taking care of Palestinians. The Israelis have an opportunity to do that.
BOLDUAN: It is interesting. We got to go, but it is interesting you're saying that you can do both.
It seems that it's gotten to a place of suggesting that it's an either/or, either an operation -- this operation, this ground operation, happens, or you pause to get humanitarian assistance in. And what you're saying is, these two things, in your experience, can happen and should happen at the same time.
Spider, many more things to discuss. Please come back. It's good to see you. Thank you -- John.
BERMAN: All right, campaign donations spent on Botox, luxury Hermes merchandise. Did I say that right?
BERMAN: A scathing report from the House Ethics Committee on the conduct of Congressman George Santos. And, moments ago, Santos announced he will not run for reelection.
Senator Joe Manchin retiring from the Senate, but will he also retire from the Democratic Party? And how does he feel about possibly hurting President Biden's reelection campaign?