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Santos Slams Expulsion Vote; Santos Faces Expulsion Vote; Rep. Scott Perry's Texts Revealed; Blinken Meets with Israeli Leaders; U.S. Presses Israel to Protect Civilians. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Santos speaks. Facing expulsion vote tomorrow, the New York Congressman defended himself outside the Capitol just minutes ago.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: A truce extended for now. Moments before it was set to expire, Israel and Hamas agree to continue the pause in hostilities with more hostages now set to be released today.

BERMAN: And Elon Musk with some choice words, four letter words, for companies who pulled their ads from Twitter. Will telling Disney to go blank itself win hearts and minds?

Kate is on assignment. I'm John Berman, with Sara Sidner. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL

SIDNER: This morning Republican Congressman George Santos speaking defiantly from outside the Capitol where he could make history as the sixth member of Congress to be expelled from the people's house.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): If I leave, they win. If I leave, the bullies take place. This is bullying. The chair of the committee putting out a motion to expel, just introducing it and not calling its privilege, was designed to force me to resign.

The reality of it is, it's all theater. It's theater for the cameras. It's theater for the microphones. It's theater for the American people, at the expense of the American people, because no real work's getting done.


SIDNER: One could say that was also theater. The expulsion vote expected to happen tomorrow is the latest attempt to oust Santos after a scathing House ethics report, that he mentioned there, found he defrauded donors and used their money for himself. The report says the New York Republican spent thousands of donor dollars on Botox, luxury goods and even personal vacations. Santos is also facing 23 federal charges, including wire fraud, lying to the FEC and House of Representatives, identity theft, device fraud, money laundering and stealing public funds. If Santos is expelled tomorrow, he would be the first lawmaker to face that punishment in over two decades.

CNN's Lauren Fox is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Lauren, we heard a little bit of what Santos said. This went on for 10, 15 minutes. What else did you hear from him?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, he did address reporter questions directly. And I would just say, Sara, it was really interesting because he was asked really quickly, why not just resign, right? Given the fact that he is facing so many headwinds, including this expulsion vote tomorrow, why not just step aside? And he said that he did not plan to resign because then they would win. He also made clear that this was not how he saw his year going. Here's how he started out his press conference.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): This is not how at least I thought this year would go. I don't think this is how most people in the media would think this year would go. And it's just an unfortunate circumstance that I had to sit here and watch the American people waste -- Congress waste the American people's time over and over again on something that is the power of the people, not the power of Congress.


FOX: Now, he has called this scathing ethics report against him a hoax. He has argued that it is unfair. But when I pressed him on why he didn't sit down for an interview with the Ethics Committee and clear up the record, he said he did have involvement, that he did try and participate. But I would just note that the Ethics Committee was very clear in its report that when they asked for an interview with Santos he denied and did not want to participate in that. So, obviously, that is one area where he could have corrected the record.

The other thing that was so interesting about this is he pulled out repeatedly example of other members he said who had rap sheets without actually naming who those members were. He also said today at noon he's going to go to the floor and introduce a privilege resolution to expel Jamaal Bowman for pulling a fire alarm.

Now, obviously, those - what - the allegations against him and what happened with Bowman and the fire alarm, two very different circumstances. Very clear right now he is trying to deflect. He repeatedly made the case that he was not going to resign, and he repeatedly made the case that if his colleagues try and expel him, that that would set a dangerous precedent.



SIDNER: It is an old playbook, deflect and deny. That is what he has done over and over and over again in this case, but did admit to some of the lies that he told earlier on before this ethics investigation.

Thank you so much, Lauren Fox, for all of your reporting. We saw you running out there to get the details for us. We appreciate it.


BERMAN: Yes, Lauren Fox with a cameo behind George Santos there.


BERMAN: The bar to push Santos out of Congress is pretty high. Two- thirds of his colleagues would need to vote against him tomorrow. What happens if he is kicked out? CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has the details.

Sunlen, so what's the procedure here?


Yes, things could potentially move very quickly if Santos is expelled. By the House rules, the clerk of the House of Representatives would immediately notify the state and then it's really up to New York Governor Kathy Hochul. It's up to her to declare formally a special election. And per New York law, she has to do this within ten days of that seat becoming vacant. And she's already said earlier this month that she would be very happy to call for a special election here.

Now, per New York law, that special election would then have to happen 70 to 80 days after she calls for it. So, we're looking here potentially at a special election, within just a few months of him potentially being expelled from Congress. And the New York county party leaders, they would put forth their nominees for each party, unlike a traditional primary election, and then that election would be held potentially in a few months.

And certainly Democrats here are really eyeing this seat if he becomes expelled to flip that seat back to Democrats' hands. You know, as Congress moves past Santos, though, of course, his troubles are still there for him. He is, as Sara said in the introduction, facing a slew of charges, from conspiracy, wire fraud, false statements, falsification of records, aggravated ID theft, credit card fraud, among many. Trial going in September 2024. Of course, his legal troubles if he were to leave Congress only starting for him.


BERMAN: Yes, he's got legal troubles and Republicans have some political troubles because Democrats think it is a winnable district.

Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much for that.


SIDNER: All right, give you a little context here. Expulsions from the House of Representatives are incredibly rare. And it's the harshest form of punishment in the chamber. Only five House members have been expelled and kicked out in more than two centuries. And three of those happened during the Civil War. John Clark, John Reid, and Henry Burnett were kicked out for siding against the union and fighting for the confederacy.

Only two House members have been expelled since then in modern times. Both were convicted of crimes. Pennsylvania Democrat Michael Myers in 1980 after FBI agents caught him taking a $50,000 bribe, and Jim Traficant, a Democrat from Ohio who was expelled in 2002 after being convicted of ten felonies, including bribery, fraud and tax evasion.

If Santos is expelled this week, he would be the first House member in modern times to be kicked out without being convicted of a crime. Something that he himself mentioned. Santos is facing, though, 23 federal charges, including fraud and identity theft. He has pleaded not guilty and is set to go to trial next year.

BERMAN: All right, we've got more information. New reporting this morning on text messages that shed new light on Republican Congressman Scott Perry's role in former President Trump's effort to stay in power, even after he lost the 2020 election. It appears the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals publicly released the texts briefly last night before unreleasing them.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has the details.

Katelyn, what have you learned here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we've never before seen these text messages from Scott Perry, the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania. And what -- the reason that they are important right now is because there had been a whole aspect of the special counsel's investigation looking into Perry's cellphone, trying to get access to it, and to see exactly what he was saying to other people. And some of these text messages are really - they are really startling to see exactly what he is saying to people that were even in the Trump administration. So, a totally different branch of government than Congress.

Some of those text messages are directly between Scott Perry and Jeffrey Clark, the official at the Justice Department that Donald Trump wanted to install as attorney general because Clark really wanted to question the election results. Those text messages include this exchange, at the very end of the year of 2020, just before Clark makes the bid to be the attorney general of the United States, Scott Perry writes, "POTUS seems very happen with your response. I read it just as you dictated." And then Jeffrey Clark responds, "I'm praying.


This makes me quite nervous. And wonder if I'm worthy or ready." And then Perry says, "you are the man. I have confirmed it. God does what he does for a reason."

Now, Clark wasn't ultimately placed in charge of the Justice Department and law enforcement across the country, but there was this effort by Scott Perry to essentially coach Jeffrey Clark into that position. There's also some later text messages that we're now learning from this briefly public court filing that Scott Perry was also talking to Jeffrey Clark about his access to intelligence, trying to get Donald Trump, the president, to give Scott Perry - or, I'm sorry, to give Jeffrey Clark some access to classified information and in intelligence briefings. So, really, a member of Congress was quite involved in conversations to an extent we really didn't realize how significant until we saw this court filing yesterday.


BERMAN: It really highlights a pretty central role in all of it.

Katelyn Polantz, thank you very much for that.


SIDNER: All right, coming up, Secretary of State Blinken is in the Middle East where Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says he plans to discuss the next phase of the war in Gaza with him. We'll bring you inside the talks as we await a new release of hostages after that overnight pause agreement.

Plus, Elon Musk had some choice words, if that's what you want to call them, for advertisers. What he said in his first interview -- it's a four-letter word -- and since his anti-Semitic post.

Also, moments from now, the racketeering trial against Grammy-winning wrapper Young Thug gets underway in Atlanta. Fulton County DA Fani Willis charging him with the same law she used to indict former President Trump. All of that is ahead.



BERMAN: All right, happening now, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel this morning pushing for an extended pause in fighting. Overnight, Israel and Hamas extended the pause for a seventh day. Israel says it will maintain the pause as long as Hamas keeps releasing ten living hostages each day.

CNN's Katie Bo Lillis is at the Pentagon for us this morning.

So, Katie, where do things stand?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: John, Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with a number of senior Israeli officials today, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We know from a State Department spokesperson that Netanyahu and Blinken discussed three big things. They talked about, of course the need to secure the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas, the need to accelerate the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, and I think perhaps most delicately the need to try to limit civilian casualties once hostilities do resume in Gaza as they are expected to do.

The Biden administration has really had to walk this very fine line in between validating Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas while simultaneously trying to limit the number of civilian casualties as divisions have emerged, even within Biden's own White House over the civilian death toll as the result -- that has come as a result of the punishing air campaign launched by Israel in the first phase of the war.

Our colleagues and I were able to report last night that senior Biden administration officials up and down the line have been discussing with Israel how exactly to do that, how to try to do more to protect civilian life once fighting resumes in the south as it is expected do. Again, the south being where so many civilians fled from the northern part of the strip during the first phase of the war. I think there's a very keen understanding here that this truce that has taken place over the past six days, now been extended twice, is not likely to last forever.

So, our colleagues and I have reported now at this point that administration officials have been - have been urging Israel to avoid a resumption of the kind of air campaign, the kind of intensive airstrike campaign that characterized the first phase of the war. Also discussing the need to have areas in the south that are very clearly understood to be safe places for civilians. And so I think that you can expect, John, that this kind of thing would have been a key part of the discussions that Blinken was having today in the region.

BERMAN: Yes, discussions it seems geared towards when fighting resumes less than if fighting resumes at this point, even as the pause is now in its seventh day.

Katie Bo Lillis at the Pentagon. Katie, thank you very much.


SIDNER: And Secretary Blinken's visit comes as the U.S. is discussing with Israel how to protect Gazans in the south when the fighting does ultimately resume. Multiple sources tell CNN one option is moving citizens from the south back to the north, which is pretty much destroyed, once the military operations there end. But that problem with that, of course, is it's crumbled. There's up to 50 percent of all structures in northern Gaza have been damaged. You can see the pictures there. Not a place that you want to go back to.

I'm joined now by CNN national security analyst and former deputy director of national intelligence, Beth Sanner.

Thank you so much for joining us. So many things to get to here.

First of all, we are hearing Netanyahu double down on the fact that he says we are going to continue to go after Hamas and try to eliminate Hamas. The U.S., obviously, pressing, saying, look, the civilian casualties are too high, we need you do not do what you did in northern Gaza. I mean is this even possible at this point with all of the people that have fled, a million people fleeing from one side to the other, in such a densely populated place?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. I mean Palestinians really do believe that they have no place that they can go that they are safe according to some recent kind of fragmentary polling there. So, I do think that the ability of the United States to restrain the IDF taker polling there. So, I do think that the ability of the United States to restrain the IDF is, you know, kind of limited because the IDF is facing, in the south, a very similar situation that they do -- did in the north.


It is where Hamas leadership is concentrated and the tunnel systems in the south are extensive as well. And Khan Younis is, you know, where Sinwar, the head of Hamas, is from. And so, you know, that place in the south, one of the bigger cities, is rife with these tunnels. And so I think that the Israelis are going to be, you know, maybe limiting a little bit on the air campaign, but I think it's going to be hard for them to destroy tunnels without doing some -- this kind of bombing.

SIDNER: It sounds like your thoughts are here that the U.S. doesn't have as much sway as people might think they to. Is that kind of how you feel about this when you're looking at the scenario?

SANNER: Right. Absolutely. A poll that was just done in Israel last week said only 39 percent of Israelis think that Israel should be, you know, working with, negotiating with the United States in how this goes forward. So, a majority says not. And I think that the pressure that is going on inside Israel for the government to proceed with this is only ratcheting up because look at the attack in Jerusalem today that Hamas claimed that took three Israeli lives. And so that pressure is really on eliminating Hamas and going back at this, even though people want hostages to be released at the same time. And that is going to be much more important, as well as the right wing in the Netanyahu government that's threatening to withdraw if they don't resume and resume hard.

SIDNER: OK. Just yesterday I had a conversation with CIA operative Bob Baer and we talked through the fact that Hamas may be considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and many others, but it is also the government of Gaza. It is intertwined with everything that - and how Gaza runs and how the government works there.

Is it possible to actually eliminate Hamas? I mean what does that mean exactly?

SANNER: Well, I think that the - you know, the Israelis have - have defined it in ways, which is eliminate as a military threat, but also to eliminate it as a government. And how you do that, I don't understand really how that can be done. Plus, Hamas that was very unpopular, by all accounts, before October 7th, has only actually increased in popularity, which is, you know, kind of mind-blowing, but that is how a lot of Palestinians are thinking about it, both in the Gaza Strip and also the West Bank. And so the idea of eliminating Hamas as an idea is very difficult. Plus, there is no alternative really that is popular because the Palestinian Authority that runs the West Bank is very, very unpopular.

SIDNER: And has been quite weakened, you know, one might say, when you look at what has been going on.


SIDNER: I do want to lastly ask you, we are looking at these pictures and I have also talked to Palestinians who have basically reiterated what you say. It is the bombing of Gaza, the way in which it happened, the number of civilians killed, that made them have more sympathy for Hamas than they had in the past, those I spoke with.

But I do want to talk to you about these negotiations right now because this is all beginning because of the October 7th terrorist attack that killed, you know, hundreds of Israelis, most of them civilians themselves. There is this truce going on. What is it going to look like if there is a possibility in your mind, if men and soldiers might be released, or do you think that the end of this will be the last few women and then that's it?

SANNER: I think if it extends to men, that it may have to be renegotiated as a completely new agreement that has to go through the Israeli cabinet again. And if that's the case, it makes it extremely hard because I'm not sure it can - it can pass the cabinet given the views of the right wing. The first truce did pass overwhelmingly. And so, you know, I think it becomes much, much harder as we go on.

SIDNER: Yes, there is definitely -- nothing is going to get easier from this point forward.

Beth Sanner, thank you so much for your great analysis there. Appreciate it.


BERMAN: All right, like experiencing a nightmare.


That is how one Vermont shooting victim described the terrifying attack.

And Elon Musk says, go blank yourself. So, what are Bob Iger and Disney supposed to do now?


BERMAN: All right, this morning we're hearing from one of the Palestinian college students who was shot in Vermont. Kinnan Abdalhamid said it was like experiencing a nightmare. The 20-year-old believes his training as an EMT helped him survive the shooting. And police are still considering whether to charge the suspect with a hate crime.

With us now, CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller.

John, great to see you.

Abdalhamid is talking about his view of whether this crime was hate motivated, a hate crime.


What's he saying?