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FBI Warns of Potential Attacks Inspired By Hamas; Israeli Troops Operating in Southern Gaza; Trump Set For Iowa Town Hall Tonight; Interview With Fmr. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 05, 2023 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney says she doesn't know if her party can be saved. So, will she toss her hat into the ring as a third-party presidential candidate? We have new details.

SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: The war revving up. Brand-new satellite images show Israeli forces expanding into Southern Gaza, this as top U.N. officials are now warning of an apocalyptic situation for civilians there, who they say have nowhere safe to go.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: A massive explosion in a residential neighborhood demolishing one home, blowing out windows of other homes, all happening as police were trying to serve a warrant at the house. So what led to all of it?

I'm Kate Bolduan with Sara Sidner and John Berman. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

BERMAN: So, what will Chris Christie say on the debate stage tomorrow night now that he knows that a lot of people don't want him there?

According to "The New York Times," Republican donors, strategists and pundits are publicly pressuring Mr. Christie to end his campaign. Many want him to support Nikki Haley. In fact, Republican strategist Kevin Madden wanted him to quit -- quote -- "yesterday or a month or two months ago."

Also developing this morning, Liz Cheney is telling "The Washington Post" she has not ruled out a third-party run, this as Donald Trump prepares to hold a solo town hall tonight, ditch a debate tomorrow, and head back to court on Thursday.

CNN's Kristen Holmes and Alayna Treene are with us now this morning.

First to you, Kristen.

Donald Trump's plans this week, where does he see things?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, Donald Trump continues to run a campaign unlike anything we have ever seen.

Not only is he under four indictments, but he's not playing by any of the rules. We are just six weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, and his GOP rivals are doing what we usually see at this point in a campaign. They are barnstorming the state of Iowa. They are trying to woo last- minute voters. They are preparing for that debate, trying to make lasting impressions ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Trump himself is not. He's doing a town hall in Iowa, but then he is flying back to Florida for a fund-raiser, instead of going to the debate. And, as you noted, he will be back in court to listen to testimony in the New York civil fraud trial on Thursday. And he's actually expected to testify himself on Monday.

But despite all of this, he is still leading in the polls in the GOP primary, not only just in the state of Iowa, but nationwide, and it's likely because of that you have started to hear these amplified focus on what a Trump second term would look like when it comes to democracy.

And one of the loudest critics has been former Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney. As you mentioned, she has been -- essentially not ruled out a third-party run. She has pledged to do anything that it takes to make sure that Donald Trump doesn't make it back into the White House.

Here's what she said about the state of the Republican Party.


FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I don't know if our party can be saved. It may be that we need to build a new party. But I think those issues have to come after this 2024 cycle, because the focus has to be just completely right now on making sure we don't return Donald Trump to the White House.


HOLMES: Now, as we have started to see these amplified warnings, it's also coming at a time that Donald Trump's conspiracy and fringe theories are moving from just his political space into his legal space, his lawyers asking the Department of Justice for a litany of information regarding the January 6 trial, including information some of these fringe conspiracy theories that this was a government job or conducted by the deep state.

Unsure how that's going to play out long term in any sort of legal strategy, John.

BERMAN: All right, Kristen, stand by for a minute.

Let's bring in Alayna Treene to this discussion.

Alayna, let's talk about Chris Christie now, because the calls for him to drop out, these seem very specific and focused all of a sudden. What's going on here?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, well, I think there's a couple of things here. One is that, if you think about Chris Christie, he is the type of

Republican candidate who is the most directly going after Donald Trump. He is not afraid to attack the front-runner head on. But you also know that a lot of Republicans, and particularly those who don't want to see Donald Trump to win the nomination, want there to be a consolidation around one Trump alternative.

And I think you have heard that for months now. That's increasing as we get closer to the primaries. And that's where this pressure on Chris Christie is building. However, Christie argues that he plans to stay in the race until the Republican Convention.


He thinks he's doing very well in New Hampshire. That's really where his campaign has focused the majority of their campaign's efforts. But we will see what shakes out as these primaries come closer. Then, when you're looking to the debate tomorrow night, you have the smallest debate stage we have seen yet, just four candidates. You have Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy all going to be on this stage tomorrow night.

And this is that opportunity for them to continue to try and capitalize on any coverage they can get as we close in on the primaries. But, of course, the front-runner will not be there, Donald Trump. He is instead attending that fund-raiser that Kristen mentioned.

And that's really frustrated a lot of his opponents. Ron DeSantis specifically attacked Donald Trump on Monday, asking, why aren't you showing up? Take a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is not willing to debate. I mean, you have to ask yourself why? Why can't you just stand up on the stage for two hours and articulate what is going to be different this time than what happened in 2020? How is he better candidate?

What -- will he admit any mistakes? I don't think so.


TREENE: Now, John, I have talked to many of Donald Trump's advisers and those in his inner circle, and they argue that the reason he's not showing up, to answer Ron DeSantis' question, is because they think that the debates are beneath him.

They're trying to continue to make it look like Donald Trump is in a league of his own and that these other candidates cannot compete. But, again, that is really frustrating a lot of these candidates. They want that opportunity to try and attack Donald Trump on stage directly.

But they're also losing out to some of the pro-Trump viewers that they want to win over to their campaigns, because many of those people aren't tuning into the debate.

BERMAN: All right, Alayna Treene, our thanks to you. Kristen Holmes, thanks to you as well -- Sara.

SIDNER: All right, let's discuss this now with CNN senior political analyst John Avlon and Rodney Davis, former Republican congressman from Illinois.

Thank you, gentlemen, for being here.

Rodney, I'm going to start with you.

I hate to ask it this way, but do the debates really matter when the front-runner doesn't bother to show up? And you just heard Alayna Treene talking about people not watching.

FMR. REP. RODNEY DAVIS (R-IL): Well, clearly, we're going to find out once we see the results of the Iowa caucus. If Donald Trump runs away with it, as polling shows that he will, then clearly the debate structure in the Republican Party for our presidential nomination probably will go by the wayside.

But if a Ron DeSantis or a Nikki Haley or even if a Chris Christie can come along and catch fire, then I think the debates will be justified.

SIDNER: It'll be interesting, because there is a big push publicly to get Chris Christie to jump out of the race and support Nikki Haley at this point.

John, I want to turn to you on an extremely serious matter, democracy itself.


SIDNER: And we have been hearing from Liz Cheney, the former congresswoman who is a very vetted conservative Republican. She has her new book out, "Oath and Honor."

She has been warning about what is happening with the Republican Party and their allegiance to Donald Trump. As she says, it's marching towards a dictatorship. Let's listen to what she said.


CHENEY: A House with Republicans like Mike Johnson, a Senate with people like Josh Hawley and Mike Lee, they won't stand up to him.

The other thing that's really important in this regard is, he will not abide by the rulings of the courts. And I think people really need to pause and think about what that means.


SIDNER: What does that mean? I mean, that sounds like a full-blown constitutional crisis if the former president says, I'm not going to abide by the courts. AVLON: That's the definition of a constitutional crisis.


AVLON: And the point that Liz Cheney's made over and over is that you can't be for Trump and the Constitution. Those two things are in opposition to each other.

And for a party that's always prided itself on being constitutional conservatives, that should be more than enough reason to pause, not only his praise for dictators, not only his desire to build a much stronger executive to have revenge on his political enemies, but simply that prospect of a constitutional crisis and fundamental disrespect for the prospects of law and order of the Constitution.

But it's going to come to Republicans, good Republicans, to stand up as Liz Cheney has. And too many of them have been drummed out of the party in primaries. And too many of them are, frankly, cowed by cowardice and careerism to try to go along and rationalize the rise of Donald Trump because it's good for their careers, because it's good short-term politics.

But that's bad term -- bad not only for the Republican Party, but for the republic itself. And that's what I think we need. Liz Cheney's calling for broader coalitions to stand up and be counted. Now's the time. Now's the time, especially for Republicans in Iowa, in New Hampshire, to take a stand and to feel that courage that comes from your convictions, because simply going along with Donald Trump by the party loyalty, that's a path to disaster.

SIDNER: You're saying basically people are picking Trump over party and country at this point in time, and some of the Republicans in the Republican Party.

AVLON: Yes, that becomes the slippery slope to rationalization.



AVLON: And, structurally, the problem is, is that because the threat of primaries is used, as Congressman Davis so well knows, that those threats, structural incentives, end up empowering the worst instincts, as opposed to the best impulses.

SIDNER: Right.

All right, Rodney, now, you served with Liz Cheney, and she did not rule out a third-party run when she was asked by "The Washington Post." Do you think that Liz Cheney would be a spoiler for Donald Trump or actually have a shot at the office of the presidency?

DAVIS: Well, look, I haven't seen recent polling on what a third- party candidate would pull from either Trump or a President Biden.

But I would say that Liz, who is more polarizing as a Republican right now, I think she becomes an alternative choice for many Republicans who would hold their nose and vote for Joe Biden. I think she might become more of a spoiler for Joe Biden and give Donald Trump the nomination again -- or give Donald Trump the presidency.

SIDNER: Rodney, that's a really interesting point.

John wants to jump in here, so I'm going to let him jump in on that point.

AVLON: Well, look, we're dealing with so many factors with all the independent candidates running right now.

SIDNER: Yes. Yes.

AVLON: It's very hard to see how that ball bounces, but most of them to date have actually been to the left of Joe Biden.

Liz Cheney is decidedly to the right of Joe Biden.

SIDNER: Right. Yes.

AVLON: So that might bring -- but you're heading to a place where, if nobody gets to 270, it goes to the House. This is the way that someone with 30 percent approval rating gets elected president.

I will say one of the causes she's making -- and she's approaching this responsibly -- is to say, look, after this election, maybe there is time for a new party. I'd argue there's a case to be made that there are three parties in the country now. There's a center-right and center-left party that effectively have a lot in common.


AVLON: And then there are folks on the far, far left and far right, the Trumpists.

But those two things aren't working themselves out in rational ways right now.

SIDNER: They aren't.

Rodney, I am curious from you and you, John, there's some reporting out of "The Atlantic" from those who are in Trump's camp that are basically saying they're hearing from Trump that he's going to prioritize obedience over credentials.

What does America look like if that is the case? Because we know that in some cases during his past term that it was those with credentials who stood up and said, no, you didn't win 2020. We're not going to do this. We're not going to go after this person or that person to make your dream come true.

What does America look like if he serves another term?

DAVIS: Well, America is going to be the greatest country in the history of the world, and that will continue no matter who is our president.

But in the end, this should concern people. If Donald Trump and the people that he's putting in charge of personnel decisions are going to focus on loyalty alone, rather than competence, then you're not going to have a government that's going to be as effective.

But, again, divided government, which this may be under a Trump presidency, is designed to not move policies forward in a legislative manner because the American people chose a different party to lead different institutions. I wouldn't put too much credibility on this destroying our democracy, but it is a concern, and I would hope Republicans are going to stand up and say we need to govern because country should come first.

SIDNER: That is not how Liz Cheney sees it, and I don't think that's how you see it, John.

AVLON: Well, Liz Cheney is making the case of country over party.

SIDNER: Right.

AVLON: Trump has been putting Trump over party over country.

I think that the challenge is, it's not a question whether divided government will work, particularly if the executive branch decides to go on a retribution bender without respecting any of courts' decisions or the Constitution. That's a system that doesn't align with the founders' visions.

But I will say this. American exceptionalism is dependent upon America being a beacon of democracy and liberty. And Donald Trump, to the extent that he degrades our democracy in the world's eyes through disrespect for law and order and the Constitution and any impulse to unite people, that permanently damages American exceptionalism.

And that's a reason for people to unite across party lines.

SIDNER: Rodney and John, thank you so much, both of you, for being here with us this morning -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Also this morning, the Israel Defense Forces say that its troops are moving further into Southern Gaza and are now in the heart of Khan Yunis, the largest city in Southern Gaza, one Israeli commander describing it as the most intense day since the beginning of the ground operation.

There are also new satellite images obtained by CNN showing dozens of Israeli tanks gathering near the city.

CNN's chief national security correspondent, Alex Marquardt, is tracking this force from Tel Aviv.

And, Alex, what are you learning about the Israeli operations in Southern Gaza now?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this indicates that Israel truly is operating now in the southern part of the Northern Gaza Strip.

Khan Yunis is the biggest city in Southern Gaza. It is where many of the refugees fled to from Northern Gaza after Israel told them to leave Northern Gaza during that initial phase of the operation that was primarily focused on the north.


And now what we are seeing is this operation moving from the north into the south. It is not completed yet in the north, Israel says, but certainly these operations moving to the south. And much of this focus will be in and around Khan Yunis.

The general in charge of the south in terms of the Southern Command said that this was the most intense day yet since Israel's ground incursion that was launched in late October, the most intense in terms of the number of Hamas militants killed, he said, the number of firefights, the amount of firepower that was used.

Over the course of the past few days, Kate, we have seen an extraordinary number of airstrikes all over the Gaza Strip, but what Israel is going to be focusing on next is Khan Yunis, where they believe there is a lot of command-and-control when it comes to Hamas and Hamas leadership.

But in terms of the humanitarian implications, this is where so many Gazans fled to. And now -- and now Israel is telling Gazans, civilians, to leave Khan Yunis and go even farther south. There's a lot of confusion. There is a lot of disarray. You know, 1.9 million people have been displaced so far, according to the United Nations.

And the U.N. also says that so many of them have nowhere to go, nowhere to find shelter, and they say that nowhere is safe -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Alex Marquardt.

Great to have you there, Alex. Thank you -- John.

BERMAN: The FBI working to identify and disrupt possible attacks in the U.S. by those sympathetic to Hamas, FBI Director Christopher Wray on Capitol Hill right now.

And the FBI and ATF investigating after a huge house explosion, new information about who might have been inside.



BERMAN: All right, happening now, you're looking at live pictures of FBI Director Christopher Wray.

He is testifying on Capitol Hill, telling lawmakers that the agency is working around the clock to -- quote -- "identify and disrupt" potential attacks from people who may be inspired by Hamas.

Director Wray is also warning the Senate panel about the troubling trend of increasing antisemitic threats since October 7.

CNN's Evan Perez is with us this morning.

So what else are we hearing from the FBI director, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, a lot of the FBI's concern certainly is surrounding the events of October 7 and sort of aftereffects of it, right, which is -- includes, of course, the number of threats to Jewish people, of course, and institutions in the United States, as well as some of the threats that you're seeing in the Muslim and Arab communities here in the United States.

The big concern for the FBI, though, is the idea that after October 7 you have groups like Hamas and others that have sort of put out a global call for people to carry out attacks in the United States, in other countries, and, of course, that's what's keeping them busy. He's talking about more than 2,700 domestic terrorists -- terrorism cases that the FBI is investigating.

A lot of those people are, of course, people who are anti-government, but also there's now people who may be trying to heed the call by those terrorist groups to carry out possible attacks here in the United States.

But a big portion of his testimony today is trying to urge members of Congress to renew a surveillance law known as 702, which is due to expire in the next few weeks, and which he says it's very, very important to keeping an eye on those terrorist groups, again, that try to pose a threat to the United States, as well as Iran and China.

What he says is, if you don't renew this authority, it would be a form of unilateral disarmament. That's something he just talked about in his testimony. John, you know, of course, that it is a congressional hearing, so these members can go anywhere they want, and a few of them have brought up some of the investigations, including ones related to the Biden family, Hunter Biden, and, of course, investigations related to Donald Trump.

We're keeping an eye on the hearing for the next couple of hours -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Evan Perez, keep us posted. Thank you very much -- Sara.

PEREZ: Thanks.

SIDNER: Today, on Capitol Hill, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to make a direct appeal to senators as the clock ticks down on funding Ukraine's war.

Zelenskyy will dial in remotely to a Senate briefing to urge U.S. lawmakers to pass the $106 billion funding bill requested by President Biden. The White House has warned money is running out, and Ukraine will be kneecapped, as they put it, on the battlefield if that happens. But Senate Republicans are trying their support for Ukraine -- they're

tying it to aid on policy changes to the U.S.-Mexico border policy and insisting on voting against the aid package before them.

CNN's Manu Raju is joining us now from Capitol Hill this morning.

Manu, what are you learning about who is going to do what and how far apart these parties are right now from coming up with a deal?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are real fears that Congress is going to leave for the Christmas holidays without any action to aid Ukraine, to aid Israel amid this bitter partisan dispute over immigration and stricter border policies.


These are issues that have divided the two parties for decades. What they're trying to do is figure out if there's some sort of deal that can be reached on these immigration issues dealing with the migrant surge at the Southern border, something that could satisfy Republicans and Democrats.

And that is -- they're nowhere near an agreement on that. And the Republicans say that must be reached first in order to get a deal to allow for Ukraine aid to pass and Israel aid to pass, and the Democrats are saying they want to tie all these issues together. They don't want to just pass Israel and Ukraine. They want to move it all together.

House Republicans say just move Israel first and then deal with Ukraine later. So you can see it is a total mess right now. But in talking to a lot of these Republicans this morning, including some on the Senate side and on the House side, the -- I asked them directly about the administration's warning that without action to help Ukraine before the end of the year that Ukraine could be kneecapped in its war against Russia.

Some brushed off that warning.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): Look, it's 40, 50 people in the House. It's not a majority of House Republicans. But because House Republicans are divided, it means that the Senate can have a louder voice here. And I think that's what's going to happen here.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): I would say that listen, first of all, they have been the ones who have been managing this war, Joe Biden. He's turned this into a proxy war. And they have managed it catastrophically.


RAJU: So, Speaker Johnson this morning responding to the White House's warning from yesterday, the warning, of course, that if they don't act on Ukraine aid, then Ukraine could essentially collapse if there's no action from Congress before year's end.

Johnson responded that there needs to be significant immigration and policy measures, not unlike the bill that passed the House earlier this year some of the Senate Democrats call a nonstarter. So you can see the divide that continues at this urgent time for Ukraine, even as Zelenskyy is prepared to talk to the senators, not House members, but senators today in this classified briefing.

That still shows you the difficult road ahead for Ukraine, and tied up in the middle of this, Israel, along with all the rest, raising concerns about whether any of it can get done -- Sara.

SIDNER: Yes, and all Americans has seen, Manu, you included, of course, the immigration battle has been going on for decades and decades, the system broken, but they have never really figured out how to fix it. So, this is going to be a really tough fight.

Thank you so much for all your reporting there on Capitol Hill -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and another mess that they have on Capitol Hill on their hands, for sure.

Coming up for us: What caused a massive explosion in Virginia? That is the question police, state police, local police, and federal authorities are now trying to answer after officers watched a home essentially blow up as they were trying to serve a warrant at the residence, and federal authorities are now getting involved.

Plus, a former U.S. ambassador now charged with being a spy for Cuba and why it has the attorney general of the United States calling it one of the highest-reaching, longest-lasting infiltrations ever of the U.S. government by a foreign agent.

That's next.