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Soon, Defense Secretary Speaks After U.S. Destroys Houthi Drones in Yemen; New Poll Shows Biden Leads Trump By Six Points in Hypothetical Rematch; Biden to Issue Executive Order Targeting Violent Settlers in West Bank. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 01, 2024 - 10:00   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: In just a few minutes here, we are going to hear from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as U.S. officials say Iran is worried about the escalating attacks by its proxy groups on American forces in the region, and President Biden prepares to retaliate for the deaths of three American soldiers.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The first poll in a while that might have President Biden smiling. Plus, what will Nikki Haley do with her campaign cash? A new financial report shows she has some money to burn.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And weeping in the courtroom while an investigator details what happened to her son's victims. Will the mother of the Michigan school shooter now take the stand in her own defense today?

I'm Kate Bolduan with Sarah Sidner and John Berman. This is CNN News Central.

SIDNER: In just a few minutes, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will stand before cameras at the Pentagon and speak to reporters, take questions. It will be his first news conference since his hospitalization and his first since three U.S. soldiers were killed in Jordan in a drone attack by what the United States says was a group linked to Iran.

Now, we're wondering whether he's going to reveal anything new about how President Biden plans to respond as he has promised to do. Biden yesterday saying he knows what the response will be.

The latest message from U.S. officials, Iran is actually getting nervous as tensions escalate in the region.

Let's get right to Pentagon, where there is Natasha Bertrand standing by waiting to hear what Secretary Austin has to say.

Natasha, what are you hearing about what we're expecting from him today? NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, look, Sara, I can tell you that the Pentagon Press Corps had really been pushing the Pentagon to make Secretary Austin available for questions following all of the drama surrounding his hospitalization and the fact that he did not disclose it to some of his senior advisers as well as to the president himself until many days after he was hospitalized on January 1st.

And so questions about his health are likely to be top of mind, especially because he has not briefed the media since he returned to the Pentagon earlier this week from working from home after recovering from surgery and he has not actually spoken to the media since December 20th.

So, it's going to be an opportunity to ask him a wide range of questions, but his health, of course, and the procedures surrounding notifications and transfer of power, that will also be top of mind here.

Of course, there are expected to be many questions about how the U.S. is going to respond to the January 3rd drone attack -- I should say the Sunday drone attack on the U.S. outpost in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members.

It is very unlikely that Secretary Austin is going to preview any kind of U.S. response. He is known to be quite reticent in his remarks to the media, but he is expected to reiterate that the U.S. does see Iran's hand behind those attacks, something that the U.S. announced publicly in recent days saying that they believe that this group Islamic resistance in Iraq was responsible for planning and carrying out this attack that killed these service members and wounded over 40 others.

And so those are the two main points we expect him to kind of hit at the top. He will probably offer his condolences to the families of those service members and also discuss a little bit the broadening tensions that the U.S. military is encountering right now in the Red Sea where the Houthis, that Iran-backed group in Yemen, have continued to launch missiles at U.S. warships, including a very close call just the other day with a warship in the Red Sea.



SIDNER: And you can understand why Secretary Lloyd Austin and President Biden are being very careful with what they say. You do not want the other side to know exactly how you're going to respond. Natasha Bertrand, I know you'll be watching this and we will check in with you after it happens. I appreciate it. All right, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Joining us now and more in that reporting is the former director of communications for U.S. National Intelligence, Shawn Turner. It's good to see you, Shawn.

So, these signs that U.S. intel has picked up of Iranian leadership being nervous about some of the actions of its proxy groups in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen. From a national security perspective, should that be comforting or more worrisome?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, thanks for having me, Kate. I think from a national security perspective, you know, this is something that I'm concerned about. Look, we have to remember that while clearly Iran is funding, backing and supporting many of these militant groups throughout the region, including the Houthis and Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and, of course, Hamas and Gaza, Iran does not always have full control over what these groups do.

Now, Kate, that's not to suggest that Tehran and the IRGC aren't orchestrating some of the more than 160 attacks that have happened since October, but it is to say that, for the most part, it is the ideological alignment between these groups and Iran that sort of underpins many of these attacks.

So, you know, I think that it's concerning because it really sort of sheds light and lays bare the lack of command and control that Iran has on groups that are all over the region, which obviously threatens our national security and continues to be a concern for any U.S. forces in the region.

BOLDUAN: Yes. At the same time, of course, they continue funding and training many of these groups.

What is your reaction then, Shawn, to the White House now laying responsibility on the Islamic resistance in Iraq, saying this is the group that was behind this deadly drone attack in Jordan? Because the Islamic resistance on Sunday put out a statement claiming the responsibility, and now we're hearing this from the White House.

TURNER: Yes. Kate, when I saw this, and I talked to colleagues in the intelligence community, it helped me understand a little more about why the White House is taking the time that it is to be really deliberate and cautious about when and where and how the United States responds.

When we're talking about the Islamic resistance in Iraq, what we're really talking about is a network of disparate groups in Iraq that sort of came into existence back in 2003-2004 in response to the war in Iraq, the U.S. war in Iraq.

And what's challenging about this group is that they're mostly anti- U.S. And while they are ideologically aligned with Iran, the funding that supports these groups and the command and control, again, is something that varies widely.

And so when the United States says that this group or this network of groups is responsible, what that tells me is that the response that the United States has is imminently more challenging because, again, varying loyalties and you've got to be really cautious about making sure that you hit those pain points that cause this attack without, as we've talked about, escalating in the area. So, this does make it more complicated, but I think the administration is doing the right thing and taking their time and figuring out where to attack here.

BOLDUAN: And I was going to -- the little we have learned about what the contours of what the response could include, you've heard from John Kirby that it will involve -- likely involve multiple targets over the course of several days.

And I wonder what the ongoing deterrence efforts look like after this plays out. Because just on Tuesday, as Natasha Bertrand was pointing to, the Houthis launched a cruise missile into the Red Sea and it's now the closest to Houthi attack has come to a U.S. warship. It's not slowing down.

TURNER: Yes. You know, Kate, and this is where it really gets challenging because we have to remember that the stakes are different for these militant groups in relation to the stakes for nation states that support and host these groups.

And so when we think about what that response might look like, we absolutely want to deter and prevent these groups from attacking the U.S., the United States again, but that also means that we've got to deal with nation states.

And so for Iran, for Syria, for Lebanon, for all of these nation states, they've got economies, they've got infrastructure, they've got people that they've got to deal with, and I think that underlies some of the nervousness that we're seeing from those from those nation states.

But I think this has to be a response that focuses on deterring support of these groups while at the same time attacking these groups directly.


And I think that for the response, whereas John Kirby and others have said, we're looking at economic response. We're looking at perhaps a military response, a cyber response, and it must be sustained over time to deter the nation states, but I think that for these various groups, we have to act militarily to prevent them from launching those attacks, because even if the nation states are suffering, these groups will continue to act independently, and we have to take away their ability to do that.

BOLDUAN: Shawn Turner, it's good to see you, thank you. John?

BERMAN: All right. This morning, one poll is just one poll, but it is a poll that seems to say something different than a lot of the polls we have seen recently. New national numbers from Quinnipiac show President Biden with a lead over Donald Trump.

CNN Senior Data Reporter Harry Enten is here with that and so much more. Harry, let's talk about those new national numbers.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes, let's talk about those new national numbers, John.

What do we see here? All right, this is Biden versus his potential GOP challengers. As you mentioned, Biden ahead of Trump by six points, that is the best poll for Biden against any GOP challenger since in over a year. In over a year, you know, you were talking about how different it was.

But, of course, Haley is actually ahead of Joe Biden by five points, and that's despite the fact that a lot of Republican voters in exit poll and entrance poll data have been saying, in fact, Trump is the more electable one. But in fact, in this particular poll, like a lot of other polls, Haley is actually the one who's more electable than Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Yes. This was a sizable drop here, particularly among women voters. Something was going on here. It would be interesting to see if it is a trend.

Meanwhile, yes, Haley ahead in this national poll against Biden, but when it comes to the contest that probably matters most to her right now.

ENTEN: Yes, I think she's got to get to the general election, right? And here's the choice for GOP nominee in South Carolina among likely GOP primary voters. Look at this, 58 percent for Trump, 32 percent for Hailey. That is a 26-point lead, according to the mathematical skills in my mind.

And I will note that Hailey was, in fact, down by 29 points to Donald Trump in South Carolina at the end of last year, according to Monmouth University who conducted this poll. But this ain't going to cut it. This ain't going to cut it. Donald Trump, again, ahead in South Carolina, he won Iowa by nearly 30 points. He won a New Hampshire by a little bit more than 10 points. In South Carolina, Nikki Hailey's home state, he's again ahead once again.

BERMAN: So, you know, how does it go for candidates in a nominating contest when they lose their home state?

ENTEN: Yes. You know, I look this up. It's not particularly good, John. Lost home state in the primary and became their party's nominee, it's zero, zero, zero, zero candidates since 1972. Remember, of course, Donald Trump knocked Marco Rubio out of the race back in 2016 by defeating him in Florida. And I think there's a real question about whether Donald Trump can knock Nikki Haley out of the race by defeating her in her home state of South Carolina.

BERMAN: Zero, as in none?

ENTEN: As in none, yes. It's none, nada, yes.

BERMAN: All right. Harry Enten, thank you for making it so clear. I appreciate it. Sara?

SIDNER: Again, none, right? Is that what you guys were saying? I think that's -- ENTEN: Zero, zero.

SIDNER: Got it, okay.

Joining us now is CNN Senior Political Analyst and Senior Editor with The Atlantic Ron Brownstein. Thank you so much. It's good to see you.

Ron, look, this is a snapshot in time, as we always have to remind ourselves and those who are watching. But it is also a national poll, not a poll of the swing states, for example. It looks at sentiment. What do you think is driving these numbers?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, at the moment, it's still an outlier. It is, as you've been saying, the best poll for Biden in quite some time, but I kind of look at it as aspirational. It really does give you a sense of what the coalition is likely to look like if Biden, in fact, is able to win this election.

Because if you compare this poll to 2020, he's weaker with young people, he's weaker with men, he's weaker with non-white voters, especially those without degree, but he's stronger with women, he's stronger with college graduates and he's stronger with seniors. And if he does win, I think there's a lot of evidence that's how the coalition will have to evolve for him.

And the other thing that I think is important for Biden here is -- and important for Republicans who are kind of skating past this evidence, Biden is running his vote against Trump is nine points higher than his approval rating, okay? That is pretty much unprecedented in presidential elections.

But it's a lot like what we saw in 2022, when there were a lot of voters who were dissatisfied with Democrats, dissatisfied with Biden and the economy, still voted for Democrats anyway, because they viewed the Trump-inspired Republican alternatives as too extreme. There's a warning sign about that in this poll as well.

SIDNER: I wonder from your vantage point what you think about the fact that Nikki Haley is still in this race. She is going to go through at least South Carolina, her home state.


Is that impacting numbers like this?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it's a really big question going forward, because Haley has kind of made flesh something we have seen in polling for several years now, which is that there's somewhere around a quarter of self-identified Republican voters who are deeply disaffected from Donald Trump, who will say that what he did after the election was wrong, who will say that the prosecutions of him are justified, and who, now in the exit polls, roughly 30 percent, will say that he is not fit to be president if he is convicted of a crime, and also that Joe Biden won the election fair and square.

The real -- I have felt all along those voters are a critical variable in kind of the next couple years of American politics, because the evidence of Iowa and New Hampshire and the South Carolina poll is they're not enough to control the Republican Party. The Republican Party is now a MAGA-dominated party, heavily blue collar responsive to Trump's populist message. But they are more than enough to make that path unviable, to make it implausible for Trump to win if, in fact, those voters who say that they believe Trump is unfit, if he is convicted, do not vote for him.

And with Haley, you're getting both a sense of how big that coalition is, maybe a third of the party, and they are being shown very clearly they are now the subordinate minority part of the party. What do they do if and when Trump, in all likelihood, wins the nomination?

SIDNER: Yes, they do one of two things, right? They vote for another candidate or they don't show up to the polls. Either way, it will be interesting to watch how this all plays out.

Ron Brownstein, it's always lovely to talk to you and get your great insight. I appreciate it. Kate?

BOLDUAN: We have some breaking news coming in, President Biden planning to take action, targeting violent settlers in the West Bank. We're bringing in some more details on this. We're going to have that for you shortly.

Plus, this is still ahead, weeping in the courtroom while an investigator details what happened to her son's victims. Will the mother of the Michigan school shooter take the stand today in her own defense?

And overwhelmed and being pushed to the brink, CNN gets a close up look at how the migrant crisis is hitting the city of Denver, Colorado, so hard right now.

We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: This just into CNN, President Biden planning now to take action targeting violent settlers in the West Bank, an executive order in the works.

Let's get over to the White House. CNN's Kevin Liptak is standing by with details. As they're still coming in, Kevin, what are you learning?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. This is an executive order. It's expected to be announced later today, and it would apply sanctions on individuals who are accused of being involved in some of the settler violence in the West Bank.

And this has been an issue that has been deeply concerning to President Biden, to administration officials over the last several months. You have seen an uptick in these incidents involving Israeli settlers in the West Bank, as many as 500 incidents, 8 Palestinians have died as part of them. And it has been sort of a constant back and forth between the White House and the Israeli government to try and get a handle on this violence.

And the real concern had been that this could undermine stability in the region at a moment, of course, deep instability as the war in Gaza rages. It is something that President Biden has raised directly with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And as early as recently as yesterday, a top aide to Netanyahu, Ron Dermer, was here at the White House discussing all of these issues.

Now, President Biden back in November had tasked administration officials with coming up with options to do something about this uptick and violence in the West Bank in December. He announced some visa bans on some of these individuals who would have been responsible for this violence. And what we'll see today is further action, further punishment in the form of sanctions against some of these Israeli settlers.

But I don't think you can separate it from some of the pressures that President Biden has been facing from members of his own party to do and say more about the plight of Palestinians, not only in the West Bank, but more particularly in Gaza.

President Biden will be in Michigan later today. That is home to one of the largest concentrations of Arab-Americans in the United States. Certainly the anger in those communities has been palpable at President Biden's handling of the conflict in the Middle East.

He doesn't have anything in particular on his schedule to speak with some of the members of those communities today, but certainly this is something that the White House has been confronting and dealing with for the last several months, Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Great reporting and putting all the context around it for us. Kevin, thank you so much.

We'll have much more on this as more details come out about what these sanctions could include. John?

BERMAN: All right. We are hearing that the mother of the Michigan school shooter could take the stand in her own defense as soon as today.

Moments ago, Jennifer Crumbley broke down in court as the lead investigator in that case walked through her son's disturbing journal entries. She's charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of the four students that her son killed in 2021.

With us now is Jean Casarez, who is watching every twist and turn in this case. I said Jennifer Crumbley broke down in that courtroom. What's been happening this morning?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The whole tenor of this case has changed. Now, this is, if not the last, one of the last witness for the prosecution. So, the emotion has just filled that courtroom because this is a homicide case, just as you said. It's in voluntary manslaughter.


So, an element is the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jennifer Crumbley, the mother, caused the deaths of the four students beyond a reasonable doubt because of her gross negligence. And so Lieutenant Timothy Willis was on the stand describing some of the autopsy results and the emotion began and he got emotional. Listen to that testimony.


DET. LT. TIMOTHY WILLIS, OAKLAND COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE: The official cause of manner of death from the autopsy (INAUDIBLE) is multiple gunshot wounds, homicide. She was shot in her upper torso, her abdomen, her thighs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you refer to exhibit two?


CASAREZ: And that was Hana St. Juliana that he was talking about right there.

Also the backpack, we now know the contents of the backpack besides the gun. There was the journal of Ethan Crumbley, which he had 22 pages of writing about the mass shooting and what he wanted to do.

I think we have some shots, though, of some of the writings that he gave that he wrote down in his backpack, that backpack that he would take to school every day. Here's some examples. He said, I have zero help from my mental problems causing me to shoot up the school. My parents won't listen to me about help or a therapist. I want help, but my parents don't listen to me or help me get a therapist.

There were 90 sheets of loose paper in that backpack, school assignments, mainly. But on those pieces of paper, 50 of them had drawings of firearms.

BERMAN: Jean, every detail that comes out in this case is just so wrenching and you can hear it in the emotion of the testimony, you can see it in the faces of everyone in the courtroom and I imagine this will only continue later today when we do expect Jennifer Crumbley on the stand, yes?

CASAREZ: Yes, and very likely the prosecution will end today. And will she be the first witness? We don't know.

But, John, here's the thing. With this backpack, his parents would drop him off at school every day. He had the backpack. So, do they have a duty to look in that backpack? Is there a legal duty to look in that backpack for his welfare, for the welfare of the community? It's another theory of the prosecution here, because if they only looked in that backpack, they would have found it all.

BERMAN: It's a great point. There is the emotion in this, which is so visible that there are also some key legal points here, some precedent that will be tested.

Jean Casarez, thank you for explaining it all so well. Sara?

SIDNER: Wow, this case is chilling.

All right, still to come, strained resources and near freezing temperatures add up to a potentially life threatening combination for thousands of migrants arriving now in Denver.

CNN got an up close look at the city is saying it is near breaking point now with a number of people coming in to that city.

Also, very soon now, we're going to hear from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. He is going to be taking questions for the first time since his hospitalization and since those three service members were killed in Jordan in an attack. We will take you there live when it begins.