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Families Of Hostages Meet With Netanyahu, War Cabinet; Sources: Negotiators Nearing Deal For Gaza Hostages; Appeals Court Appears Inclined To Largely Restore Trump Gag Order; NBC Poll: Support For Biden Slipping Among Young Voters. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 20, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL. I'm Boris Sanchez, alongside Alex Marquardt.

Israel is under growing international pressure to provide evidence that Hamas uses Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital as a command center, as premature babies evacuated from that hospital now arrive in Egypt. We have special team coverage in the region.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Plus, an appeals court appears ready to limit the speech of a former American president, as Donald Trump's legal team fights the gag order in the federal case that has accused him of trying to undermine the 2020 election.

Plus, an appeals court has struck down a key tool used to enforce a landmark civil rights law. Why the ruling could set up another Supreme Court shut - showdown, excuse me.

We are following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

MARQUARDT: "We have concrete questions and we expect answers." That is what family members of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza said before they went in to meet with Israel's Prime Minister. That was in the last hour. The White House now saying the negotiations to release some of the hostages are "getting close to the end."

Also today, more than two dozen lives were potentially saved when 28 premature babies were evacuated from the bombarded Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. They are now being treated in Egypt.

SANCHEZ: But as that evacuation played out, another hospital in Gaza suffered a deadly attack. Palestinian health officials say that Israeli tank shells killed twelve people at Gaza's Indonesian Hospital. Israel says that they were responding to enemy fire inside that hospital.

Let's go now live to Sderot, Israel with CNN's Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, bring us up to speed about the situation at the Indonesian Hospital.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, local health officials say that 12 people were killed by Israeli tank fire directed at the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza. The Israeli authorities, for their part, say that they did indeed return fire, but they say that there were gunmen inside that Indonesian Hospital who were firing at Israeli troops, and so they fired back.

The World Health Organization chief, for his part, said that he was appalled by this attack and that civilians should not be subjected to these kinds of attacks when they are in places like hospitals. Among the dead, according to local health officials, are patients as well as at least one medical staffer.

Now, the Israeli military, for its part, maintains that it was returning fire, and indeed hospitals do lose their kind of protection under international law if they are used by combatants to conduct attacks on other forces. We have not, of course, confirmed that the Israeli accounts was true, but that is, of course, their position.

We know, of course, that this is just the latest incidents of civilians being caught in the crossfire over the weekend. The al- Fakhoora School, a United Nations school in Gaza was also struck. Unclear whether it was by Israeli fire, although Egypt and Qatar have blamed the Israeli military for the strike that killed dozens of people inside that school.

Of course, the Israeli military over the last several weeks have been trying to build the case to target some of these hospitals and civilian infrastructure, arguing that Hamas is using these areas for its military operations.

In fact, Al-Shifa Hospital has, of course, been at the center of these allegations, with the Israeli military claiming that they operate a large command and control center below that hospital. And while they have yet to actually prove out those claims, the Israeli military yesterday releasing the most concrete evidence yet that there are Hamas tunnels under Al-Shifa Hospital, showing this video of a drone going into the tunnel shaft.

You can see a spiral staircase. And then down a tunnel hallway, where at the end of it, you get to a door, which Israeli officials say they have yet to open because they fear that it may be booby-trapped.


And so while Israeli officials have yet to reveal the full extent of their claims, they are providing more evidence that they say points to Hamas using these hospitals for their operations.

MARQUARDT: And Jeremy, we do, on the hostage front, appear to be getting close to a deal. There is optimism. I would say that the strongest optimism that we have seen or heard in the past few weeks, including just moments ago from the White House. Explain what we're hearing. DIAMOND: Yes, no doubt about it. I mean, just yesterday, we heard the deputy national security advisor saying that this was the closest that we've ever been effectively to a deal. The Qatari prime minister, who has been negotiating, who has been mediating these negotiations, said that they have been making a lot of progress and that the main challenges now are logistical.

It appears that there is potential agreement in draft form that would see the release of as many as 50 hostages, perhaps more in days to come, in exchange for a four to five day pause in the fighting. But a lot of details still remain to be ironed out. And officials here who I've talked to have been very cautious to say that there is no deal until there is a deal. Alex? Boris?

MARQUARDT: That's right. Extremely fluid situation.

Jeremy Diamond in Sderot, Israel, thank you very much.

Now let's get straight to CNN's Eleni Giokos in Cairo. Eleni, these twenty-eight newborns that we have been watching travel from Al-Shifa Hospital to Egypt. How are they doing? What condition are the doctors saying they're in?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they describe a situation that is difficult and that could deteriorate for these babies. But the WHO says that 11 of them are currently in critical condition. They're all suffering various infections that were unable to be controlled and contained at Al-Shifa Hospital.

And, of course, to describe the conditions within the hospital, specifically in the past week, running out of fuel, food, water, one mother that was with one of the babies, a little girl, she says they ran out of milk. And she was describing the nightmare scenario at Al- Shifa before they were evacuated out on Sunday and then to the Emirati Hospital in Rafah.

It is important to note that the WHO, as well as the U.N. and other agencies, were involved in assessing whether they were able to open up a safe passage from Al-Shifa to move down south. It was one of those situations that just became so complex and very dangerous. We've just been talking about what Al-Shifa has been experiencing over the past week.

The Egyptians, on the other hand, were waiting for babies for over a week. And they were talking about expecting 36 neonatal babies. Now we know that 28 are currently in Egypt. Five of them have died over the past week. And we also know that here in Egypt, they're going to be receiving the care that they need, despite the very critical condition that most are in right now.

MARQUARDT: All right. Eleni Giokos in Cairo, thank you very much.

For more on all of this, let's go now to retired Army Colonel Peter Mansoor, who served as an executive officer to General David Petraeus during the Iraq war. He's now a professor of military history at Ohio State University. Also with us, Robert D'Amico. He is a retired FBI agent with 20 years of hostage negotiations experience, including negotiations with Qatar and the Taliban. Qatar, again, at the center of this as they negotiate between - mediate between Israel and Hamas.

Col. Mansoor, I want to start with you and the question about how Israel is prosecuting its war. Israel and their military have made a big push to prove that Hamas is using hospitals for cover. We just saw Israel strike the Indonesian Hospital. We understand that 12 people were killed. Among them were patients.

I just spoke with an advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told me that Israel is complying with international law in the way that they go about trying to dismantle Hamas in Gaza. They say that what they are doing is completely proportional to the horrific attack that we saw on October 7th, what are your thoughts?

COL. PETER MANSOOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Israel is winning the war on the ground, and they're losing the battle for information around the world. The fact is, is that Israel probably is complying with the law of war, but it can't prove it. And it needs to have reporters embedded it with its formations. It needs to do better in terms of gathering evidence on critical sites. These sites that are protected by the Geneva Conventions. And it needs to be hesitant to attack those sites, even when it takes fire, to make sure that it can prove that what it says is reality.


SANCHEZ: Robert, there seem to be some encouraging signs with ongoing hostage negotiations. We just heard from NSC spokesperson John Kirby at the White House not long ago saying that we were close to the end of negotiations. Given what you've seen, do you think a deal is close, perhaps, in the coming days?

ROBERT D'AMICO, FORMER MEMBER, FBI HOSTAGE RESCUE TEAM: I do. I think that (inaudible) the world's ever seen. Normally all this stuff is behind closed doors and things are going back and forth and each side is putting pressure on the other to make sure they're getting as much as they can out of the deal and they also mentioned logistics. We had one hostage recovery in - with the Taliban in Afghanistan and all logistics was a nightmare.

Now, times that by 50, every side has to be sure that their side is protected when they do the hostage exchange, and it gets very difficult. But what you're seeing right now is a pressure going back and forth, each side making sure that they're getting as much as they can, and each side publicly talking about it is doing that.

MARQUARDT: Col. Mansoor, there is an expectation that if there is a hostage exchange or release that there would be a pause in the fighting. It could be several days. At least our understanding is that if this first group of 50 hostages were to be released, that the fighting could pause for as much as four or five days. So what do you expect Hamas would be doing in that time? There have been allegations or there's been some suspicion that they would rest and rearm. And how would Israel pick up the fight once that pause is over? MANSOOR: Well, there's no doubt that Hamas would reposition their fighters, resupply them, prepare new battle positions if some have been destroyed. And it will use this as a method of reorganizing their forces. But the same can be said for Israel. It may need a battlefield pause at this point, an operational pause, in order to reorient its forces for the upcoming fight in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

So this may be advantageous, to both sides. And at the same time, you can get some hostages released, so maybe a win-win.

SANCHEZ: Over to you, Robert. It's interesting to me that as these negotiations are ongoing, the fundamental basis for any negotiation like this is trust, right? And Hamas, as we saw on October 7th, and we've seen on other occasions, they're a terrorist organization. Is it possible to really negotiate in good faith with a group that doesn't adhere to international law? And not just that, but also that is now working with other groups in Gaza to secure the hostages that are in the hands of Islamic Jihad, for example.

D'AMICO: Yes, as crazy as it sounds, there is trust. I've negotiated with pirates. I've negotiated with the Taliban and the Haqqanis. And at one point, you have to kind of put the history and emotional side by - behind you and just deal with it. In fact, we flew a helicopter in with no weapons on the outside to what was supposed to be an unarmed pickup truck, and it had a bunch of automatic machine guns on it.

And we had to trust them through talking that we weren't going to shoot them with a predator. So when it comes down to it, they do know that if they're going to go on with other Hamas negotiations, if they take this one and they turn it on the Israelis, then they're never going to trust them again. So that trust goes back and forth. It is delicate, but if they - either side breaks it, they're never going to be able to do this.

SANCHEZ: All right. That's a fascinating perspective from experience there. Robert D'Amico, Col. Peter Mansoor, thank you both so much.

Still to come, the legal fight over a gag order against former President Donald Trump, his lawyers asking the federal appeals court to lift the order put in place in the election subversion case. They say it violates his First Amendment rights, his ability to campaign for president. We'll get you the other side of that argument, too.

And later, a Federal Appeals Court just ruled against a key tool used to enforce the voting rights act. That and much more coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



MARQUARDT: And now to the unprecedented hearing today about whether to limit the speech of a former American president. A D.C. appeals court heard arguments on a gag order for Donald Trump as he faces federal criminal charges of election subversion. Special Counsel Jack Smith, he sought to restrict Trump from targeting him, his staff, court personnel and potential witnesses.

SANCHEZ: Now, Trump's attorneys obviously oppose that order. They say it limits his First Amendment rights. And one of the judges did point out that Trump can't be enforced to speak mismanners while everyone else is throwing targets at him.

Let's discuss with CNN's Zach Cohen. He followed a two-and-a-half-hour hearing. And also with us is former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Zach, in the end, it appears, given their statements, that the judges are going to keep this gag order in place, though they may modify it. There may even be a carve-out for Jack Smith.

ZACH COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. Yes, this panel of judges really signaling that they were open to a more narrow, modified version of the gag order that was in place. And, you know, like you mentioned, one that might allow Donald Trump to more directly criticize Jack Smith going forward as he's on the campaign trail.

And look, Trump's lawyers made a point from the very beginning of the hearing today that they can't - the judge cannot restrict Trump's ability to defend himself outside the courtroom, that as a presidential candidate, his political speech is protected by the First Amendment, and he needs to be able to say whatever he wants about the case.

Take a listen to what Trump's lawyers said before this panel of judges today.



D. JOHN SAUER, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The order is unprecedented and sets a terrible precedent for future restrictions on core political speech. This is a radical departure from the only cases that have considered this particular form of restriction, a restriction on a criminal defendant who is also campaigning for public office, and it does so in the context of a hotly contested campaign for the highest office in the United States of America.


COHEN: So you can hear by the tone there that this hearing got tense at times and the judges were really skeptical of this idea that Trump should be allowed to say whatever he wants under the premise of political speech. They were really clear that there is a difference between political speech and criminal speech and political speech that is intended to derail a criminal process. Take a listen to this exchange between the judges and Trump's lawyers about that very point.


SAUER: Criminal speech, obviously, is subject to the restrictions.

JUDGE PATRICIA MILLETT, D.C. CIRCUIT COURT: Than that's - okay, so ...

SAUER: But core political speech. That is, core political speech, that's part of campaign speech that (inaudible) ...

MILLETT: I don't think that - I don't - I think that kind of calling, labeling it 'core political speech,' begs the question of whether it is in fact political speech, or whether it is political speech aimed at derailing or corrupting the criminal justice process. You can't simply label it that, and conclude your balancing test that way. We have to balance.


COHEN: So Trump's lawyers and the prosecutors in this case were both scheduled to have about 20 minutes each to make their case. We spent the better part of two and a half hours listening to the judges go back and forth with them. So here's an idea of how they're trying to nail down on this idea of political speech and what may or may not qualify.


MARQUARDT: So, Renato Mariotti, do you think in the end this gag order will remain? And if so, to what extent would it be modified?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's going to be significantly modified, as we just heard a moment ago. It's certainly going to permit criticism of Jack Smith. I think there's also going to be more specificity about exactly what topics are permitted for Trump to speak on. And that's really something that I think the judges today were really grappling with.

They spent a lot of time trying to seek guidance from Trump's attorneys as to what might be an acceptable limitation on their client. And of course, they did not receive any concession or guidance from them whatsoever. But I do think judge - the judges will ultimately allow him to criticize the prosecution. They will allow perhaps limited comment regarding public figures that are witnesses in the case, but they'll be very careful to make sure that that's not aimed towards influencing their testimony or criticizing their testimony regarding the issues that are part of this criminal case.

SANCHEZ: And Zach, the judges also showed concern for the safety of witnesses and jurors. Tell us about that.

COHEN: It was really interesting. The idea of doxing jurors and that Trump's rhetoric could lead to people online trying to publish information about this that are just doing civic duty. It was something that was brought up multiple times during today's hearing, and it wasn't mentioned in the gag order that was really the topic of focus here today. So clearly, the judges are worried that Trump's rhetoric could lead to this information about these innocent people being published online and potential threats that could emanate from that.

There wasn't really a resolution to that question today. The judge asked the prosecutor straight up, he goes, is there any way to protect jurors from being doxed in this scenario. And the prosecutor said, no. So it remains to be seen if this will become part of a future potential Supreme Court decision on this topic.


MARQUARDT: And Renato, at the other end of the spectrum, in terms of who Trump could talk about, even if this gag order remains in place, he can still go after who - the person who's expected to be his main opponent in 2024, Joe Biden.

MARIOTTI: Absolutely. He can criticize Joe Biden. He can criticize the Justice Department. I think part of the challenge here is that Trump has really made these attacks on the criminal process part of his political speech in this election. I think that's what makes things very complicated here.

But there's no question that the judges are going to allow Trump to talk in a - on a wide variety of topics related to this regarding the election in terms of political speech. But what he's not going to be permitted to do is to say things that are going to try to rile up people against witness or to potentially influence the testimony of witnesses or jurors.

SANCHEZ: Renato Mariotti, Zach Cohen, thank you both so much.

MARQUARDT: We appreciate you, guys.

And still ahead as time runs short to close the gap between them and Donald Trump, GOP presidential candidates ramp up criticism of the former president less than two months before voting begins. We have the latest on the fight for the Republican nomination. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: This Thanksgiving, it may not be a good idea to bring up politics at the Thanksgiving table. When is it actually?


MARQUARDT: But this year in particular, because a new poll shows that 61 percent of people would rather not talk about politics while visiting with family and friends, and really probably just focus on the meal. But with just less than a year until Election Day, of course, it is a topic that is very hard to avoid.

And right now, on his 81st birthday, President Joe Biden is also facing an uphill battle in his campaign for reelection as concerns grow over his age.

SANCHEZ: Yes, a new NBC News poll shows that younger voters are turning on Biden, with Donald Trump holding a four-point lead in a hypothetical rematch between those asked between ages 18 and 34.


This has Republicans fighting to make a dent in the former president's lead, too. Listen.