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Trump Expected at Hearing for Classified Docs Case; Deadline for Trump to Appeal Immunity Ruling; IDF Rescues Two Hostages; Alexander Vindman is Interviewed about Trump's NATO Comments; Megachurch Shooter Had Writing on Gun. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 12, 2024 - 09:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A dramatic rescue overnight. Two hostages now safely back in Israel with new questions this morning about a possible bigger military operation in the city where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump's legal troubles overlapping. This morning he's expected to be at a critical closed-door hearing for his classified documents case in Florida, while also facing a deadline today to appeal to the Supreme Court in another case.

BERMAN: And overtime thriller gives Kansas City its third Super Bowl in five years. Now, a victory parade is planned for Valentine's Day, which begs the question, will Taylor Swift be there?

Kate is out today looking for an answer to that question. I'm John Berman, with Sara Sidner. And this is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SIDNER: It's a critical week for Donald Trump. First, it is deadline day for his legal team to ask the Supreme Court to block a federal appeals court ruling that he is not immune from criminal prosecution in the January 6th case.

Also happening today, the former president expected to be with his lawyers in federal court in Florida for a closed-door hearing in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. His team is pushing for access to classified evidence they've not yet seen.

CNN's Evan Perez is outside court in Florida this morning.

Evan, what are we expecting to hear today that happens in court, or the details that he will be facing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, this is a closed-door hearing where the former president's -- the former president and his lawyers are going to be sitting with the judge. They're going to be looking at some of the summaries of some of these documents that the special counsel, Jack Smith, and his team, are essentially trying to limit how much access the president -- the former president and his lawyers can have before they go to trial.

Now, these are classified documents. According to the government these are among the most sensitive documents that were found in Mar-a-Lago when the FBI went to retrieve them back in August of 2022. The Trump team has been arguing that they should be able to get access -- full access to every single document that is going to be used at trial. That trial is still set for May. But what we are seeing is a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes. Part of the goal here, of course, by Donald Trump and his legal team is to delay that trial, to make sure that we don't have a trial in this case, in the classified documents case, before the election, Sara.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you about some of the other fighting that's been sort of going on behind the scenes. What can you tell us about some of the other arguments that are being made in this case?

PEREZ: Yes. Right. There's been a lot of closed-door, certainly sealed proceedings that have been going on. And a big part of that has been a fight over the witnesses, and the identities of those witnesses. The Trump team says that there's no reason why any of those witnesses need to be shielded from the public. The special counsel, in -- just in the last couple of days, from -- you know, has argued that some of those witnesses are getting threats. They mentioned that one prospective witness has already been receiving threats on social media. The U.S. attorney is now investigating that. And so what you're seeing - what you're seeing behind the scenes, a lot of legal activity, a lot of it fighting over, again, access not only to these classified documents, but also the identity of some of the most important witnesses that could figure in that trial should we have one in the next few months.

Sara. John.

SIDNER: Yes, there's a - there is big, big worry about intimidation and harassment of the witnesses. We will see what happens in court.


SIDNER: Thank you so much, Evan Perez, for your reporting there outside the court there in Fort Pierce, Florida.


BERMAN: So, as we await Donald Trump's arrival there, with me now is CNN's senior legal analyst and former assistant U.S. Attorney, Elie Honig.

Counselor, we know why Donald Trump generally goes to all of these court dates. It's not about legal issues, it's politics. It's part of his 2024 campaign. But what's about to happen now is even more unusual because at least part of today's goings on will be ex parte, which means, Elie?


ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, good use of Latin there, John. It means one-on-one with the judge, because ordinarily, in any criminal hearing, you're going to have any proceeding in front of the judge, both parties have to be there, so you can hear what arguments each side is saying. Because this case involves classified documents, there's a special law that applies, and that says that when classified documents and their contents are being discussed, in some circumstances, one, the judge can hold the hearings under seal, as Evan said, meaning, not for us in the public, in the media to see, and, two, ex parte, meaning the judge can sit with each set of lawyers and clients separately and apart.

So, what this means as a practical matter, John, is that Donald Trump and his lawyers will be in a room, probably the judge's chambers, meaning the judge's offices, alone with the judge and judge's staff, which happens very rarely in the criminal system.

BERMAN: What would Trump get out of that? Do you think maybe like more facetime with the judge? Can you speculate whether he might think that that's somehow advantageous to him?

HONIG: Well, in an ordinary case, and this is not an ordinary case, but a criminal defendant would be present for important pre-trial hearings like this. So, the client could hear what's going on, could understand the issues, could interact with and perhaps give information to his lawyers. But here, Donald Trump, we know, is always thinking about appearances and politics. And, yes, he will be -- the reality is, he will have literal face time, one-on-one, in a very limited scenario, with the judge.

Now, whether he thinks that will influence the judge, who knows? I'm not sure that it will. But that could well be the calculation.

BERMAN: All right, we are literally on standby. Elie Honig cannot leave his chair for the next several hours because Trump's legal team, in the federal elections case, needs to file its appeal to the Supreme Court today.

What will you be looking for, Elie, in that document, which we do anticipate will be filed today?

HONIG: Yes, John, and this is now moving to D.C., to the immunity argument in the federal election case, as you said.

Donald Trump's team really has three options today. Option a, do nothing. They're not going to do that. But option a is do nothing, in which case the case goes back down to the trial court, which will then presumably set a trial date within the next couple months.

Option b is Donald Trump's team can go up to the Supreme Court, say, we want you to grant cert (ph), to use a little more Latin here, meaning, we want you to take the case. If that happens, then the district court, the trial court remains frozen until the Supreme Court either reject the case or takes the case and rules on it.

And then there's option c. Trump's team can go up to the Supreme Court, say, we're not necessarily asking you to take the case right now, we just want you to extend the freeze on the trial court. We want you to give us more time to decide whether we want to ask you, Supreme Court, to take the case. And it's worth noting, John, ordinarily a litigate has 90 days to ask the Supreme Court to take a case after they lose in the district court. Here we are day six since Trump lost in the Court of Appeals, but the Court of Appeals has forced Trump's hand.

BERMAN: Any argument you might be looking for in their filing if they put it before the Supreme Court immediately?

HONIG: So, that's going to be interesting, John, because one of the things you like to say if you're trying to get the Supreme Court to take a case is there's disagreement. Individual judges have disagreed or circuits have disagreed. Here we've had unanimity between the district court judge and then the three court of appeals judges last week.

I think the way Trump would phrase this to the Supreme Court is to say, this is a hugely important issue. This has to do with the scope of presidential powers and the structure of our government. We don't have any Supreme Court precedent on this. So, you, as the Supreme Court, ought to jump in and take this case. I think that's how he's going to frame it.

BERMAN: We're looking at live pictures right now, Elie. We believe this is the motorcade bringing Donald Trump to Fort Pierce -- the courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, where his legal team and Donald Trump, evidently, because this motorcade would not be in place for just his lawyers. Clearly bringing Donald Trump to be part of this ex parte hearing in front of Judge Aileen Cannon today, a Trump appointed judge who is overseeing the federal documents case.

This is all we're going to see of Donald Trump as he enters because goings on inside a federal courthouse, no cameras allowed. But our best reporters on hand to tell us what will take place.

Elie Honig, as I said, don't go far because there's a lot of developments we're expecting over the next few hours. Thank you very much.


SIDNER: All right, new this morning, the Israeli military says it rescued two hostages who were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th in a coordinated ground and air operation in Rafah, that's in southern Gaza.

This new video shows the emotional reunion of 60-year-old Fernando Simon Marman and 70-year-old Louis Har with there families there at an Israeli hospital. The niece of one of the men spoke to CNN's Nic Robertson this morning and described the condition that they're in.


GEFFEN SIGAL IIAN, FERNANDO SIMON MARMAN'S NIECE: How they are now? They are a little thin.


A different -- little different color.


IIAN: They lost their -- a little weight. They were in an inhuman situation, condition. And now I'm thinking about the 134 hostages that are waiting and being - and at risk of the life. And I want them to be also released as soon as possible.


SIDNER: During the operation, Rafah was under heavy fire from Israeli forces. The ministry -- the health ministry that is run by Hamas told CNN that nearly 100 people were killed. And the toll is expected to increase.

Let's go now to CNN's Jeremy Diamond, who is in Tel Aviv live for us in Israel.

Can you give us some sense of how this rescue actually unfolded under heavy fire in the area where there is just so much of the war going on right now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, the Israeli military says that this was a complex operation that was the result of lengthy planning by the Israeli military in coordination with intelligence services of Israel, including the Internal Service of the Shabak (ph), who are also known as the Shin Bet. We're told that these two men were being held on the second floor of a residential building in a civilian neighborhood in Rafah. Israeli forces, at 1:49 a.m. local time, breached that building using an explosive charge, went in, and rescued the men and pulled them out under fire from Hamas fighters.

Now, what we're told is that a minute later, after they breached that building, the Israeli air force began conducting a round of air strikes on other areas of Rafah, targeting, they say, Hamas fighters in order to serve as a diversion effectively to try and get those two hostages and the special forces who rescued them out safely. Those two hostages were then put on a helicopter and taken to a hospital on the outskirts of Tel Aviv where they are being listed as in good medical condition, and they have been reunited with their families.

But it's also important to underscore the collateral damage and the impact of these strikes that were carried out by the Israeli military overnight in that southern most city of Rafah, where it's important to note that 1.4 million people are currently living in a city where you normally have about 300,000 residents. At least 94 people were killed in these strikes, including strikes on at least two mosques and 14 homes according to local reports.

Hospitals, we're told, were overwhelmed in Rafah overnight by the number of casualties that were coming in. The Israeli prime minister, meanwhile, is stressing that this military operation is evidence that he says military pressure, only the continuation of military pressure, will result in the release of all of the hostages. Although, it's important to note, that this is only the second time that the Israeli military has successfully rescued hostages in Gaza using a military operation rather than through negotiations.


SIDNER: Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much for your reporting and to your crew there in Tel Aviv.

This morning fallout over what Donald Trump said about NATO. Listen to what the former president, and Republican frontrunner, told a campaign rally in South Carolina over the weekend.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, well, sir, if we don't pay, and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us? I said, you didn't pay, you're delinquent? He said, yes. Let's say that happened. No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.


SIDNER: The NATO secretary general said Trump's claim that he would encourage Russia to attack U.S. allies if they did not spend enough on defense puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.

And the European Union's top diplomat said NATO security cannot depend on how a president of the U.S. feels on any particular day.


JOSEP BORRELL, HIGH REP. OF EUROPEAN UNION FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND SECURITY POLICY: He's not, yes, now, yes, tomorrow, no, it depends, who are you. Now, come on, let's be serious. Let's be serious. NATO cannot be an alliance a la carte. It exist or it not exist.


SIDNER: NATO cannot be an alliance a la carte.

Joining me now is retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. He is the former director for European affairs at the National Security Council.

I first just want to get your take on hearing a former president who is the frontrunner for the Republican Party and for the presidency if you look at the numbers. What is your take on what he just said publicly?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Thanks for having me on. Yes, thanks for having me on.

First of all, we have to recognize that story's basically made up. I mean those -- that kind of conversation doesn't occur. You don't have a major ally ask questions in that manner. You know, these what ifs are just kind of, you know, almost a cliche of Trump made up story to his -- as he's doing rallies in base.


But what it does tell you is his intent, which is for some time been speculated on, at least by some elements of the national security community, for those folks that have worked with Donald Trump, that have been in the White House, they know that, in fact, Trump had every intention of withdrawing from NATO. He thinks it's some sort of golf association and you have to pay fees. So, I think he clears that up for us now.

The problem is that it's also an invitation to somebody like Vladimir Putin. A clear invitation to Vladimir Putin, just like he did inviting Vladimir Putin to interfere in our elections in 2016, releasing emails, all these types of things. He's basically catering to our - he's catering to our enemies and attacking our allies. That's what -- who we're talking about here. The worst enemy to our friends and the best friends to our enemies.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, you have Joe Biden welcoming the chancellor of Germany, attempting to normalize relationships. He's been highly effective in trying to bring a bill to support our -- Ukraine aid to Congress for - for a vote. And, you know, the stark contrast between these two men is unbelievable. One invites attacks on our allies. I mean, I - I -- God forbid, you know, the Polish community sees this and believes that they're next because they're the next ones closest to Russia. I mean that's -- that's what we're talking about, an attack on our allies, that's being invited by the frontrunner for the Republican Party.

SIDNER: Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, I am curious what you think this does to the United States and its role in the world. Does what Donald Trump say -- does what Donald Trump said there really have an impact on how strong the United States is in the rest of the world? Is it making America weak on the world stage?

VINDMAN: Absolutely. It makes us look unstable, frankly neurotic, under a -- it really kind of depends. We - we definitely look weak in absolute terms. We have a frontrunner from one of the two major parties undermining our alliances and pandering to our enemies. So, on that, in absolute terms, yes.

But we really - really what it will come down to is, who wins the 2024 election in November. If Biden wins, then we have normalcy. We have stability. If Trump wins, we have utter chaos. So, the contrast is absolutely stark. One will continue to maintain the U.S. role, continue to maintain U.S. power and frankly primacy in the international system and the other one will just completely unwind all of U.S. power and influence and spell disaster, inviting our enemies to attack us.

SIDNER: When you hear from the European Union's top diplomat and say this just - this just can't happen, it can't be, depending on the president, what the United States' policy is when they've had a longstanding policy. I mean what is Europe doing right now? You talked about Poland, which is - which is right there, having people coming over from Ukraine right on the border. What do - what do you think that the allies are talking about right now as they listen to some of this language from Donald Trump?

VINDMAN: Sure. I mean, I don't have to speculate. My brother attended a dinner with - with that gentleman mid last week and relayed to me that, you know, they were still trying to measure what the future holds, whether it's going to be a Trump administration that, again, spells disaster for the Euro-Atlantic alliance, will destroy NATO, or do we have a -- four more years of President Biden, rebuilding relationships, making America stronger, driving the most powerful, fastest growing, large economy in the world? That's what they need to -- that's what they're trying to measure.

And I think the comment that he had, my twin had, was that they need to plan for the worst and hope for the best, which is, we do have a massive amount of chaos by a Republican Party. It's not just Trump, but it's the Republican Party as a whole that's catering to Trump's most excessive, most disruptive tendencies. I mean they themselves looked - they passed legislation to prevent Trump from unilaterally withdrawing from NATO, but that's not enough. The amount of damage that a Trump administration could do is really hard to fathom.

SIDNER: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman with a very direct warning there. Thank you so much for coming on the program. I appreciate your time.

VINDMAN: Thank you.


BERMAN: All right, Sara, we are watching Nikki Haley, who is speaking right now in South Carolina. We're waiting to see how she responds to Donald Trump's near invitation for Russia to invade NATO countries.


Also waiting to hear if she responds to Donald Trump's attacks or comments about her husband being overseas.

And we have a new update just in on the health of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after he was rushed back to Walter Reed Hospital, transferring his official duties.

And one woman is dead and a five-year-old is in critical condition after a shooting at Joel Osteen's church. We have new reporting just in on what was found written on the gun used in the shooting.


SIDNER: New this morning, sources are telling us the woman who shot up a megachurch in Houston Sunday used an AR-15 with the words "free Palestine" on it. Police say she walked into celebrity Pastor Joel Osteen's church with a young child and then opened fire.


CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Houston, outside of that church.

What can you tell us about the shooter's motive here, and for those who don't know, I mean, this is truly a megachurch. It is -- thousands of people go on Sunday.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is kind of the first indication of what the -- this reporting from our colleague John Miller about what this possible motivation might be. And again, very early.

Just yesterday afternoon investigators and police here in Houston were saying that they did not have much on -- on a motivation. But we know that the work continues to dig into all of that as investigators continue to piece how all of this unfolded. And what we are told is that - that the - the gunwoman entered the Lakewood church here on the west side of the building. And to give you a sense of just how large this complex is, this used to be a former basketball arena where the Houston Rockets used to play. It's been converted into this large megachurch. And the woman entered there and started firing.

So, inside you can imagine also the chaotic nature of this. The very cavernous building. The shots echoing throughout. But police say that the woman showed up wearing a trench coat carrying that assault-style rifle underneath the trench coat and also came in with a young child, about four or five years old.

As the gunshots fired, there were two off duty officers who were working here at the church on this Sunday afternoon, and they are the ones, according to police, who shot and killed the woman here at the scene, who was a woman in her 30s.

In that shooting, there was also -- the young child was also wounded. We are told that that child is in critical condition. But it's not clear if that child is the woman's child or someone else's. Still waiting to kind of get clarification on all of that.

But, you know, a very chaotic and desperate scene for many of the people who were in this immediate area on the west side of this church when scrambling for cover and running for safety, Sara.

SIDNER: Ed Lavandera, very disturbing details. We are looking at some of the pictures from that aftermath of people walking by, all of these emergency vehicles. Thank you so much for bringing us the details and we'll be checking back with you to find out more as the morning goes on.


BERMAN: All right, with us now is John Miller, CNN chief law enforcement analyst.

And, John, you were just hearing from Ed quoting your new reporting on this. What more are you learning about a possible motive here? JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well,

there's an indicator, which is on the rifle, the words "free Palestine" was written. We have seen writing on the rifle before in some of these other incidents. So, there is an indicator that this is someone who studied prior shootings. We saw it in the Buffalo shooting in the supermarket. We saw it in the New Zealand shooting in the mosque where the rifle kind of becomes the communique. But we don't really know if that is the full breadth of the motive. That's why federal authorities were executing search warrants last night at the home, looking for computers, any written documents, thumb drives, social media, online. They're really peeling back through the identity of this person.

Now, we know she's a 37-year-old woman. We know they have her name. But we also know that her identity may have crossed with other identities at different times. So, they're trying to sort through what is the back story here. And is there a political motive, which could make this categorized as a - as a case of terrorism.

BERMAN: Well, talk to us more about that, because that is where it goes to a different level. "Free Palestine" written on the gun. They're looking for a political motive, which would mean what?

MILLER: Which would mean, is this an act of political terrorism where a location was selected because it's symbolism and wide audience, as a way to gain attention to that, or is this another case of an unhinged person who has gone back and forth between what they call the salad bar of different grievances where that was one of the things in the mix. And right now they're backtracking through this person's life to try and figure out who is she, what was the relationship of the child, and why did this happen.

When they did the search of the backpack, no explosives were found. They did the scan of the car. Same thing, negative results. But at the - at the house, the search warrant, aside from looking for things that would go to motive, they also found several chemicals, which could be - could be explosive precursors. When she walked into the church, she poured some kind of liquid on the floor, which they said was deemed to be non-hazardous.

So, there's a lot going on in the background here trying to figure out what she -- who she was, what her story is, and what exactly she was trying to do, which was, was it to start a fire?


Was it to do something else? A lot of unanswered questions, but an interesting indicator.