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New York Times Reports, Donors, GOP Strategists Ask Christie to Drop Out to Help Haley; Washington Post Reports, Liz Cheney Says She is Considering Third-Party Run; IDF Says, Our Troops are Now in the Heart of Khan Younis in Southern Gaza. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 05, 2023 - 10:00   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: There are lots of questions this morning ahead of the fourth GOP debate as we inch closer and closer to the Iowa caucuses. Will Chris Christie heed the calls to drop out? Will Liz Cheney run as an independent? And will Donald Trump's legal issues finally catch up to him?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Israel says its troops are in the center of a key city in Southern Gaza, where Hamas leaders are said to be operating. This as Israeli officials suggest hostage negotiations broke down because what Hamas feared what released women might say about what happened to them in captivity.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And right now, the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT are in the hot seat on Capitol Hill about to face lawmakers and some tough questions over their school's responses to the Israel-Hamas war and allegations of anti-Semitism that has led to big name donors calling it quits on these institutions.

I'm Kate Bolduan with Sara Sidner and John Berman, and this is CNN News Central.

SIDNER: We asked it first, and, again, this morning, will Chris Christie drop out, will Liz Cheney jump in? Will the fourth Trump-free Republican presidential primary debate sway any voters' minds? Those are the key party-rattling questions this morning with key dates fast approaching.

The New York Times is reporting now Chris Christie is right now feeling the public pressure to drop out of the race. This is from his donors, GOP strategists and pundits who instead want him to support Nikki Haley.

As for Liz Cheney, the fiery Trump critic and longtime conservative, tells The Washington Post this morning that she has not ruled out a third-party run.

Tomorrow night's Republican debate stage will have the fewest podiums so far, just four candidates qualify as Trump prepares to ditch the formality again. And here are those key dates, tomorrow night's debate, and then just 42 days from now, the first major 2024 test, as Iowa holds its Republican presidential caucuses on January 15th. And January 23rd, New Hampshire holds its primary election.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining now with more on all of the rumblings that are happening right now surrounding this debate. Trump, of course, going to skip it again. What do you know?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is right, Sara. I mean, Donald Trump is running a campaign unlike anything we have ever seen. Not only is he under four indictments but he isn't playing by any of the rules. And what I mean by that is that we are just six week out by from those Iowa caucuses.

Other candidates and what normally candidates do, they are barnstorming the state of Iowa. They are meeting with the voters. They are prepping for that debate this week so they can make a lasting impression on those voters in those early states.

Donald Trump is doing none of that. He is attending a town hall in Iowa tonight with Sean Hannity. It is a Fox town hall. Senior advisers expect it to be a friendly crowd. Tomorrow, he's back in Florida. He's attending a fundraiser there. And the he is going to New York to sit through testimony in his civil fraud trial. He is actually expected to testify himself next Monday when he's called to the stand by his own attorneys.

But he is still leading in the polls not just in Iowa but across the country, and this is really leading to critics, Republicans and Democrats, calling out what a second term would look like with a particular focus on what it would mean for democracy.

And as you noted, one of the loudest critics is Liz Cheney. She has been on television promoting her book and saying that she will do anything, whatever it takes, to stop Donald Trump from getting back into the White House even if that means a potential third party run.


Here is what she said today on how to beat Donald Trump.


FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): What we have to do to beat Trump is be unified.

We cannot get into a situation where people think that there are other issues that matter more than this one. And we have plenty of time to debate and to argue about all of those issues we care deeply about, but that is not where we are now. Where we are now, we've got to be focused on defeating him.


HOLMES: And part of her reasoning there, again, is those headlines that you saw when she was talking. She has warned that if Donald Trump wins the presidency, he will never leave. He will stay in office. And it will be the last election ever held.

But I will note that there are Republicans, anti-Trump Republicans, who do not want her to enter as a third party candidate. It's likely the same group that we are seeing talking to Chris Christie right now. They believe that he is actually taking votes away, that Liz Cheney would take votes away from Trump.

Now, all of this is coming at a time where we are seeing amplified fringe rhetoric from the former president on the campaign trail bleed over into his legal problems. We know his lawyers have been asking the Justice Department for more information on fringe conspiracy theories regarding January 6. Sara?

SIDNER: It's a lot going on there. Kristen Holmes, thank you so much for all of that. John?

BERMAN: So, Liz Cheney's newest warning is against a possible second Trump term or a new Trump term adds to a growing chorus. The Atlantic magazine released its latest issue. You can see the cover, if Trump wins, in which writers imagine what a new Trump term would entail.

David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, put it this way in the magazine, quote, the existing constitutional system has no room for the subversive legal maneuvers of a criminal in chief. If a president can pardon himself for federal crimes, as Trump would likely try to do, then he could write his pardon in advance and shoot visitors for the White House. For that matter, the vice president could murder the president in the Oval Office, then immediately pardon herself.

And David Frum joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us, David.

This whole magazine, this whole issue, if Trump wins, why now?

DAVID FRUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: The human imagination is not structured to be big enough for really big and bad events. We all look at the future and think it's going to look like the past. Although when we look back at the past, we know there have been all kinds of catastrophic events in it. And yet when we look forward, we can't imagine those things happening to ourselves. So, this is a work of imagination.

When Donald Trump runs for the second time, as he does, should he win, if he is sworn in, he will be under four sets of criminal indictments, two federal, two state. He will have his companies be on the verge of dissolution in civil proceedings in New York. He may be on criminal trial already. He may be convicted already. He's the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. He may be a proven criminal or on his way to being one.

His first priority is going to be to rip apart the legal system of the United States. He'll have to do that for self-preservation. Because if he doesn't, that legal system may send him to prison for the rest of his life.

BERMAN: Is this reality more likely than it was yesterday, which was more likely than it was last week, which was more likely than it was one month ago?

FRUM: No. This reality has always been there. It's been there throughout, and we've been writing about it and talking about it. But this is a moment as we enter the 2024 year when people's minds concentrate on politics to take the things that those of us who worry about democracy for a major part of our lives say to those who have other things to do. This is the time to start thinking about this.

One of the things I say in the article is that Donald Trump's defeat does not solve any important problem for the United States. There are a lot of issues that we have to argue about. This is what Liz Cheney was saying in that pack. She and I probably have very different answers for the questions of domestic politics than would Joe Biden or the people around him. But on preserving the possibility of future choice, making the Constitution work, there we all have to be united.

BERMAN: Let's talk about some of the specifics in your piece. You say most of the people who would staff a second Trump term would be servile tools who have absorbed the brutal realities of a contemporary Republicanism, defend democracy, forfeit your career. Who are you talking about specifically?

FRUM: Donald Trump has been amassing this group of like internet trolls and general weirdos. You know, when he took office for the first time, there are very reputable people who said, you know, I'm going to take a gamble that I can put this administration on a better track and preserve my own reputation but do some good for the country.

And those people were one by one spat out and often with terrible damage. And they've gone on the record about how reckless Donald Trump was, his former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, his former chief of staff, John Kelly, many, many others. And they admit they largely failed.

And so this second time, should there be a second time, it's going to be the kind of creeps and weirdos he's been amassing through his campaign who are quite clear that they want to help them wreck the Democratic structure of the United States.


BERMAN: You also write, I'm going to put two things up here, first term, Trump told aids that he wanted to withdraw from NATO. Second term, Trump would choose aides who would not talk him out of it. And then some reportedly want to prepare in advance to use the Insurrection Act to convert the military into a tool of Trump's authoritarian project. It's an astonishing possibility.

FRUM: Yes. The Insurrection Act was passed in the 1790s in the George Washington administration. It has been long since overtaken by many other modern pieces of legislation governing the use of the military, which basically says the military is not a police force. The United States in the 1790s didn't have police forces, the military was all there was, the military and the militia. Today, there are police forces and they keep order in the cities. But Donald Trump, as he contemplated, how would he seize power in 2021, had this fantasy that he could use the military. And that means, in a second Trump term, the military is going to be flooded with illegal orders from the president and every general is going to have to think every time they get a piece of paper from the Oval Office, is this legal or is this not?

They don't take an order to the president but he doesn't believe that. They take an order from -- to the -- they take an oath to the Constitution and the president's orders are checked against the Constitution. So, it's going to be crisis upon crisis upon crisis, dissolution of military civilian relations. That's what we face, chaos with a second Trump term.

BERMAN: How, if you feel this way, do you make sure that you're not like Cassandra from Greek mythology, you know, predicting the future correctly but being doomed to having no one believe you? How do you get people to believe you this time?

FRUM: Well, thank you for citing the Cassandra story correctly. People forget the part that she was right. They think it's just being pessimistic, but she was doomed always to be right. So, I think people do recognize the truth.

Look, Donald Trump has never gotten much above 46 percent of the vote in the United States. You look at the six elections from 2000 to 2020, 12 major party candidates, stacked the candidates in order of their share of the vote, Donald Trump ranked 10th and 11th. Mitt Romney did better. Al Gore did better. John Kerry did better. Trump fluked into office and then he was decisively beaten out of office.

There is an anti-Trump majority in this country. And that has to be activated. It has to be inspired. But when it is, in 2018, it came out to stop him in the House. In 2020, it came out to boot him from the presidency, 2021 to deny him a majority in the Senate, 2022, Trump election deniers were punished in the states. It's there. It just needs to be woken.

BERMAN: David Frum, we appreciate you being with us. Thank you so much.

FRUM: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Right now, FBI Director Chris Wray is on Capitol Hill about to testify before lawmakers and CNN has just learned some of what he's going to report, including that there has been a, quote/unquote, steady drumbeat of calls for attacks by terrorist organizations since October 7th, and that the agency is working, quote, around the clock to identify and disrupt potential attacks inspired by Hamas.

CNN's Evan Perez has more on this. He's joining us now.

Evan, what more are you learning about what the FBI director is going to report, essentially, when when he begins to testify? EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, obviously, the problem with international terrorism has -- it gotten a lot more complex and a lot more worrisome for the FBI after the Hamas attack in Israel on October 7th.

One of the things the FBI director is going to talk about is about 4,000 investigations of international terrorism. There's also another 2,700 investigations related to domestic terrorism. And some of those people are people who might be inspired by Hamas and other groups who have been calling for attacks in the United States in the wake of those attacks in Southern Israel on October 7th.

The FBI director, of course, is concerned not only about the terrorism threat but also the threats from Iran, which has carried out or tried to carry out assassination plots in the United States, as well as at the economic and other harm from or threat from China.

And one of the things that he's very, very concerned about is the potential expiration in the next few weeks of a global electronic surveillance law now known as 702. That's one of the things that he really wants to focus on with this Senate committee because he wants them to renew this FBI authority.

I'll read you just a part of what he says. He says, given that the generational threat that posed by China and, of course, Iran, he says, stripping the FBI of its 702 authorities would be a form of unilateral disarmament.

Again, 702 refers to that electronic surveillance law that is set to expire in the coming weeks. A lot of people are concerned about that because of privacy concerns, American privacy concerns, and that's one of the issues that has caused this legislation to potentially expire.


Of course, Kate, you know that this is a Senate hearing, this is a Congressional hearing. So, you're going to hear questions from Republicans about the Hunter Biden investigation and, of course, things related to Donald Trump. A lot of fireworks we expect to hear from some members later this hour.

BOLDUAN: Yes. But we have found in the recent -- I would say since October 7th, the testimony from Chris Wray has been quite important in terms of what they're picking up. So, we're going to listen in closely to that.

Evan, thank you. Sara?

SIDNER: Coming up, Israel Defense Forces are ramping up the fighting in Southern Gaza. We have brand new satellite images that you're looking at there. Those little clusters of gray vehicles there, those are tanks. We will explain what is happening there, coming up.

Plus, moments from now, university presidents from across the country will testify on Capitol Hill about growing anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses. And many parents have had high hopes for the new vaccine to prevent RSV, but they're going to have a hard time finding it. We'll explain, next.



BOLDUAN: This morning, the IDF says its troops are now in the heart of Khan Younis, the largest city in Southern Gaza. One Israeli commander describing it as, quote, the most intense day since the beginning of the ground operation.

New satellite imagery obtained by CNN shows dozens of Israeli tanks gathered near the city.

Let's get to CNN's Ben Wedeman, who's in Jerusalem for us. Ben, what more are you hearing? What more are you learning about Israel's operations now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The Israeli military says that they're now in, quote, the heart of Khan Younis. That is the biggest city in Southern Gaza, a city to which many people who had fled from the north have taken shelter.

So, it's not surprising that they're saying that the action is some of the most -- the fighting is some of the most intense they've seen in this war. Many believe that Hamas commanders, leaders, command and control centers, if you can call them that, may be in Khan Younis.

And we also know, however, that, as a result of the fighting, the U.N. says they can't get any aid to the city. Residents apparently have seen leaflets dropped from the sky by the Israelis, telling them to stay where they are, or if they're in a dangerous place, to move to hospitals and other areas where they might be safer. But this certainly does represent a major escalation in terms of the operation south of what's known as Wadi Gaza, which was sort of the initially the line south of which Gazans were told they were safe.

Now, of course, there are massive parts of Southern Gaza that aren't safe. We know that tens of thousands of people are trying to move away from the fighting. But what we understand is that they are moving to areas where there's nothing in the way of infrastructure in terms of sanitation, shelter, food, clean water. And as a result, things are only getting worse.

A variety of international aid organizations, U.N. agencies, have been ringing the alarm bells that the humanitarian situation in Southern Gaza, which was bad already, is now going to get dramatically worse. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Ben, thank you, as always, for your reporting. Sara?

SIDNER: All right. Let's get more on the latest developments. We are joined by David Sanger. He is a CNN political and national security analyst. He's also a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. Thank you, David, so much for being here.

First, I want to get to what you make of Israel saying it is going to investigate the potential failings in the October 7th attack while simultaneously fighting this war. How does that happen?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sara, it's a really great question because the assumption until now has been that the investigation would wait until the war was over.

This is going to be a really complicated investigation on the facts and on the politics of it. When you think about it, there really got to be three different parts to it. One is an investigation into the intelligence failure. How is it that the most vaunted intelligence system that we've known in the past two decades, one that presumably had the Gaza completely wired up, managed to miss an attack like this that was in the planning for so long?

The second big question is, if they did get parts of it, and we know from my colleagues at the New York Times' reporting that, in fact, there was a full plan from Hamas that the Israelis had that looked very much like what ultimately happened on October 7th, why was that not communicated up the chain or taken seriously if it was?

And then the third part is, why did they not respond more quickly? And all of these are going to require a really independent investigation.

BOLDUAN: All right. I want you to listen to this. Israel is obviously telling us, and you can see the evidence of them expanding their military operations in Gaza, and there is some serious pressure coming from many fronts, including the United States, to do more to protect the civilian population, the Palestinians who live in Gaza.


The civilians there are in dire straits. The Israeli military has now said that they have killed two civilians for every one Hamas militant.

Let's listen to what spokesman Jonathan Cornricus responded to a question about those civilian casualties versus Hamas militants on Erin Burnett Outfront last night.


LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, SPOKESPERSON, IDF: If you compare that ratio to any other conflict in urban terrain between a military and a terrorist organization, using civilians as their human shield and embedded in the civilian population, you will find that that ratio is tremendously positive and perhaps unique in the world.


SIDNER: What do you think about that, talking about human lives in such a stark mathematical term? And, obviously, do statistics play out in war? We talk about numbers all the times, but does that ring true to you? SANGER: Well, first of all, we don't have a real sense of the statistics yet, or at least I don't, because while we've got a rough estimate of the number of civilians who've died, and we haven't been able to confirm those, but roughly in the range of 15,000, that would suggest, if you believe his numbers, that they've killed 7,500 of the Hamas leaders and soldiers. We don't know that for a fact yet.

The second is that the standard here is not what, is the ratio. The standard here is, have you done everything you can to protect civilian life. And that's going to be the really hard question. It was a hard question in the north. It's a much harder question now in the south, because Israel's first message to people in the north was move to the south.

So, they moved there. They're without homes. Most of the population has been displaced. And now they're in areas that are out in the open, and the question is, can Israel, with more surgical attacks, manage to lower the civilian count dramatically?

There's some early evidence that perhaps they are, but it's way too early to know.

SIDNER: Right. And Israel arguing obviously that Hamas has also moved in to the areas where all of the civilians have gone --

SANGER: And they're right about that, yes.

SIDNER: -- particularly in Khan Younis, yes. So, you've got people on top of people that Israel is trying to get to.

Let me ask you about this statement from a State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller. He offered why he thinks, and apparently why the U.S. government thinks, that Hamas is refusing to release the remaining female hostages that are still being held captive there in Gaza.


MATT MILLER, SPOKESMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: The fact that it seems one of the reasons they don't want to turn women over that they've been holding hostage and the reason this pause fell apart is they don't want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody.


SIDNER: He is alluding to the reports that we have seen, horrific ones we have seen of accusations that Hamas raped women and then killed them. What do you make of hearing that from a U.S. official?

SANGER: You know, I think these reports have to be taken quite seriously. Both the forensic evidence that the Israelis have gathered from the bodies that they've recovered and the evidence they've heard from witnesses suggests that there were pretty horrific crimes committed here and that many of them were rapes and so forth. And that's going to have to be part of the overall investigation. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Miller is exactly right, that Hamas is holding back those who could testify on this issue. Because Hamas' position has been, of course, that, for religious reasons, these kinds of attacks wouldn't have happened and that runs contrary to almost all of the evidence we have seen so far.

SIDNER: David Sanger, thank you so much for all of that analysis. I appreciate you coming on. John?

SANGER: Thank you, Sara.

BERMAN: A spike in a threatening virus among children, as parents and doctors scrambling for a new solution, a solution that right now is in short supply.