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Trump Attends Court Hearing in Florida; Trump Blasts NATO; Israel Targets Rafah. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired February 12, 2024 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Israel unleashes fierce strikes in a dramatic raid in Gaza, IDF forces rescuing two hostages, but reportedly killing dozens of Palestinians in the process. In meantime, President Biden's frustration is building with Netanyahu's campaign in Gaza. We're following the latest.
And, today, a critical hearing that could impact whether former President Trump is tried before the November election. What happened behind closed doors in the Trump Mar-a-Lago documents case?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: And Super Bowl Sunday might be the only time you want to watch the commercials. So which ads scored big with the audience?
We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.
KEILAR: A daring rescue, a devastating air assault, and a growing disconnect between two critical allies, a result of the latest Israeli operation inside of Gaza.
Overnight, the Israel Defense Forces rescued two hostages kidnapped by Hamas in a complicated mission that involved a building raid and coordinated airstrikes in Rafah, but with those two saved lives, dozens of Palestinian deaths, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
CNN has not verified the numbers, but we do have some disturbing video from the aftermath in Rafah, medics in a hospital trying to resuscitate a child, a woman sobbing holding a child's body. And this could be a glimpse of what a broader Rafah offensive could look like. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are essentially trapped there, which is why the U.S. and other allies have been urging Israel not to advance.
And now President Biden is said to be increasingly frustrated with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who Biden sees as ignoring his advice, according to sources.
We have CNN's Jeremy Diamond, who is in Tel Aviv, Israel, following this.
Jeremy, what have we learned about this hostage rescue?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a daring overnight raid carried out by Israel's special forces.
And we're told that it had been about a month in the planning. This raid was carried out at about 1:49 a.m., according to the Israeli military. That's when Israeli special forces breached a residential building in the heart of Rafah using explosives.
They were going off of intelligence gathered not only by Israeli military intelligence, but also by its internal security service, that these two hostages, 70-year-old Louis Har and 60-year-old Fernando Marman, were on the second floor of this building.
They were able to go in there, grab the hostages and escaped under fire from Hamas fighters, we're told. About one minute later is when the Israeli Air Force began to bombard the area, striking, they say, Hamas targets in the area in order to prevent them from intercepting that rescue operation.
But what we are seeing today is the aftermath of those strikes, killing not only Hamas fighters, but also very clearly civilians, women and children killed and injured in these bombardments. At least 94 people were killed, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
And we are seeing the scenes there of children, some of them shaking from the bombardments, others streaked with blood, women mourning their lost loved ones at the hospital. Now, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says that this is evidence that military pressure is the way to go to rescue these hostages.
But, of course, it's important to note that this is only the second time that the Israeli military has successfully rescued hostages from Gaza.
KEILAR: And, Jeremy, the U.S. wants Israel to ensure the safety of these million-plus civilians in Rafah before any offensive.
But is that even feasible, when we are talking about the kind of tactics that we have seen carried out here?
DIAMOND: Well, it's important first to -- just to get a scale of the -- sense of the scale of the problem, 1.4 million people crammed into an area where there are normally about 300,000 residents in what has really become the last refuge for so many displaced Palestinians in Gaza, in part because that is where so much of the humanitarian aid is coming in.
It was designated as a semi-safe zone by the Israeli military. And the Israeli military says they're developing a plan to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from that city. But, so far, we haven't heard any details of what that plan would look like.
[13:05:00] And then the question is, where would they go? Further north, there is just rampant devastation and destruction. Humanitarian aid is far more scarce there than it is in Rafah, so enormous questions there, but the Israeli prime minister, amid international concern, amid concern from the United States very much doubling down on the importance of going into Rafah, calling it Hamas' last bastion, and saying that Hamas is embedding, effectively, with civilians in that city.
KEILAR: Yes, as American officials are warning that it could be a disaster.
Jeremy Diamond live for us from Tel Aviv, thank you so much for that report -- Alex.
MARQUARDT: And now to the White House with CNN senior White House correspondent M.J. Lee.
M.J., you have got new reporting that Biden has become increasingly frustrated with the Israeli prime minister and the brutality of Israel's operations in Gaza. Now, that was before -- this call that he had yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that was before this deadly hostage rescue operation. So what are you hearing now about President Biden's thinking?
M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex, what we are getting a sense of is this mounting frustration that President Biden is feeling and making clear to the advisers who are around him about this idea that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not heeding his advice, including when it comes to de-escalating the military operation in Gaza and alleviating the humanitarian crisis more, and doing more to make sure that people there are getting the help that they need.
Tensions have definitely intensified even further, as Israel has made clear that it is preparing a ground incursion into Rafah. White House officials have been putting it pretty bluntly. They feel like the estimated 1.3 million people that are currently in Rafah simply have nowhere to go.
And there's a lot of skepticism right now among U.S. officials as to this idea of evacuating all of those people out of that area before this ground incursion can occur, just as to whether that is even possible to do and whether all of those people, many of whom actually fled there in the beginning of the war, can be safely moved out of that area.
And we know that the president told the prime minister directly that a military operation simply should not proceed before those people could be safely moved out of the way. And as for that hostage rescue operation that you were talking about, we are now learning that the Biden administration does have some deep concerns about this idea that two people were successfully rescued, but, as a part of that operation, some dozens of Palestinians were potentially killed.
That rate of civilian death is something that is very worrisome to the Biden administration and is a point of tension that we could see erupt into the public even more. Of course, U.S. officials see it as incredibly important to continue working on the hostage rescue operations, but, again, seeing a lot of concerns and worry about the civilian death toll that is continuing to mount in Gaza.
MARQUARDT: And we will likely hear some of that worry expressed by the president later today. He is hosting King Abdullah of Jordan.
M.J. Lee at the White House, thank you very much -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right, let's bring in CNN military analyst retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.
General, great to have you to talk a little bit about this.
First off, can you explain, as you understand it, why the IDF would have used these airstrikes in conjunction with this special operation here?
BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I can tell you what the intent is, and then compared to what we're seeing the execution looks like and the consequences, the result of that, the effects of that.
The intent is to isolate where the hostage rescue, which is a very precise operation, yet there will be intense gunfire, as described, to try to rescue those hostages, and then, as there's an exfiltration of both the IDF special operators and the hostages as they're moving out, they're going to be thrown into vehicles or dumped into a helicopter.
So they're going to try to have a speedy retreat from the area, so they can get out of there. And then what you want to do is isolate that. So anybody who gets anxious, wants to return fire, wants to pursue, they will be blocked by the airstrikes.
The consequence of that is, obviously, as described so very well, is you have got Hamas fighters that are completely embedded in Palestinians. And so, despite the best efforts, there will be collateral damage, as described.
KEILAR: So, when you look at this, and then the possibility or the expectation, as you see Netanyahu pushing for a full offensive in Rafah, is that something that Israel can carry out without devastating effect on Palestinian civilians?
MARKS: Well, it's hard for us to say yes or no.
But you can see the images and the type of operations that have taken place. And so, over the course of time, since 7 October, the IDF has acquired skills, has acquired some after-action reviews. They understand how to do this well. They have also got some significant scar tissue. They want to try to avoid certain things.
So, going forward, you would hope that there would be a different type of an outcome. I'm not optimistic that that's the case, based on what we see right now, which is a mass of humanity jammed into a very small area. And then there's very little exit, if you will.
There's little opportunity for them to exit into the Sinai and further on to Egypt. Egypt just is not letting that happen. So, the short answer is, you would -- I would anticipate that there will be similar type of destruction.
KEILAR: In Israel, looking at this rescue, and this is something they have said all along for months now during this offensive, that this reinforces why it's so important to have this continued military pressure to get these hostages.
Do you agree with that assessment?
MARKS: Well, you have got two souls that are now back with their families and that are free. So that is nothing but good news. Clearly, there's a downside to that, in that there is collateral damage and others have been killed as a result of this operation.
Clearly, there needs to be pressure. And Israel has demonstrated an ability with great intelligence and then some very precise operations to go extract hostages. They haven't done many -- many -- haven't had many of those, but they can do it. It's based on intelligence and clarity of the picture that you can put together.
So these kinds of operations can continue to take place and should continue to take place. If there is a risk/reward, can we take the risks, not to lose any more folks, not to do too much damage, but to get these hostages back? And those are the decisions that are being made.
So, I -- the short answer is, yes, do this as best you can. You might want to alter some of the additional tactics that you have been using to try to secure the area and to make it -- to decrease the risks associated to the IDF.
KEILAR: There seems to be right now Israel obviously taking this military solution approach, as they see it, and when it comes to a political solution, maybe being more reticent to take that approach yet as they are trying to zero in on Hamas leadership.
Is that appropriate as they're using these sort of two methods in -- together -- or not using them together, I should say?
MARKS: Yes, these two are completely intertwined. I mean, you apply military force to achieve political objectives, just like you would apply any other element of power, whether it's diplomatic or economic or informational.
So these two are completely connected, and the military operation is a derivative of what you're trying to achieve politically. What you're trying to achieve politically, obviously, is a Gaza that is not hostile to Israel and doesn't have as its core principle the destruction and sovereignty of the state of Israel.
And so Israel -- this doesn't have a short-term horizon. I think, increasingly, as we look at it, there are -- there is so much hair over all the potential solutions, to include a two-state solution. There will be time. And so political objectives need to be put in place.
That's why some type of an agreed-to secession of hostilities, so you can have a fulsome talk about hostages to see what the possible outcome looks there -- looks like there, and then, at the same time, it -- the -- there is going -- support will be able to come in, discussions about some type governance to follow can take place, those are the things that have to be put in place.
Then you can make a determination as to what you want to do militarily. Right now, what we see, what the world sees is the inverse of that. There's a military objective, and the political objectives will cascade from it. No, it needs to be the reverse of that. Political drives what the military should look like.
KEILAR: General Marks, thank you so much for your insights. We certainly appreciate it.
MARKS: Thank you, Brianna.
MARQUARDT: In the meantime, former President Donald Trump's NATO- bashing remarks on the campaign trail are now triggering international backlash.
A steady stream of world leaders are now sounding off after the Republican presidential front-runner had this to say:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the presidents of a big country stood up 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."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: CNN anchor and chief national security analyst Jim Sciutto joins me now. He is also the author of the new book "Return of Great Powers: Russia, China, and the Next World War."
Jim, thanks so much for being with us.
We have heard Trump for a long time complain that NATO allies are not devoting enough of their GDP to their defense budgets. But what we just heard, encouraging Russia to attack NATO allies, that's on a different level.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is different.
And let's remember that a commander in chief's words matter. A potential -- former and potential commander in chief in Trump, they matter, because treaties are not just the words on paper, right? They're about credibility. Do allies and adversaries believe that the U.S. will follow through on that mutual defense agreement?
And I emphasize that word mutual, right, because it goes in both directions, the U.S. defending NATO and NATO defending the U.S. as they invoked after 9/11, you will remember. So those words matter. And it's how Vladimir Putin perceives whether Trump would indeed follow through on that commitment.
And we should note, it's not the first time he's raised that question. In 2018, his own advisers tell me, and I recount this in the book, that he tried to pull the U.S. out of NATO at the 2018 NATO summit. He has publicly raised questions about whether the U.S. would defend Eastern NATO allies.
So this has been a consistent undermining of the alliance. And that matters. It certainly matters to our allies. And they're saying so publicly.
MARQUARDT: And these allies, of course, watch American elections very closely. Given the uncertainty over who will be the next president, given how tight a race it is, to what extent do you think NATO allies, and particularly the Europeans, now are going to circle the wagons?
SCIUTTO: They take it extremely seriously.
I have spoken to multiple officials in NATO countries. And I know you have as well, ambassadors, heads of states. They take a change that Trump would represent returning to the presidency as very real for their own national security, because they view the -- Russia's threat, they don't view it as a fantasy. They view it as existential.
And they believe they need the U.S. to help defend them. Now, the reason you have officials like the European Council president saying, we have to find our own way to defend ourselves is because they no longer trust that defense would be true and real under a second Trump term.
They're saying, in effect, we have got to find a new way, because we're not so sure the U.S. would follow through on this. That's how seriously they're taking it.
MARQUARDT: And we may have to offend for ourselves.
MARQUARDT: Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.
SCIUTTO: Thanks. MARQUARDT: Next: a critical hearing in a Florida federal court today, former President Trump attending a closed hearing in the criminal case where he's charged with taking hundreds of classified documents when he left the White House. What's at stake?
And a source telling CNN a message was scrawled on the rifle that was used in a weekend shooting at Joel Osteen's megachurch that could hint at a motive.
Plus, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is forced to transfer his duties after being suddenly hospitalized. We will be speaking with a doctor about his condition -- these stories and more coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.
Stay with us.
KEILAR: Right now, former President Donald Trump and his legal team are in a federal courtroom for a high-stakes hearing.
Judge Aileen Cannon is listening to arguments over the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. Trump's lawyers want more access to the evidence, something that prosecutors are trying to prevent. Due to the sensitive nature of the case, the hearings are separate and they are behind closed doors.
We have CNN's Evan Perez for us on this story. He is outside of the courthouse there in Fort Pierce, Florida.
Evan, any possibility here that we're going to get a ruling on this issue today?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We don't anticipate a ruling. We expect that the former president is going to be in there for about another hour. He's been in there for about four hours already, Brianna.
And what is that issue here is obviously the classified documents. This is a case about mishandling, alleged mishandling of classified documents, documents that were retrieved by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago back in August of 2022.
And in some cases, the government is arguing, the special counsel is arguing that the documents are so sensitive that the former president and his co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, should not be able to even see the documents. They have summaries that have been prepared of some of those documents.
Of course, that's something that the Trump team says shouldn't be, that if the documents are either being used to trial or are relevant to his defense, that he should have full access to it. So the courthouse behind me has a special room that is made to view and to hold classified documents. That's where they have been for the last few hours. We expect that
this hearing is going to wrap up shortly, after which then the special counsel, the government, will have their turn to make their argument to the judge to make sure that these restrictions that they have in place remain in place during this upcoming trial -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right, Evan, we will be waiting to see the outcome of that. Thank you for that report from Florida -- Alex.
MARQUARDT: Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti is here to walk us through all of this.
So, Renato, the defense is expected to make the case to Judge Aileen Cannon for access to that classified evidence. Prosecutors and the intelligence agencies do not want them to access those materials. So what factors are the judge going to be looking at and weighing when deciding here?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Great question, Alex.
The judge is essentially going to be balancing President Trump's need for certain documents to advance his defense arguments, defense theories with the national security interests and safety interests and potential downsides that could come with disclosure and additional dissemination of classified information on behalf of the United States.
And often I will just say that these -- the balance strikes in favor of the government and against the defense. Really, the purpose of these hearings are to suss -- for a judge to be able to get into the weeds and suss out, what really does the defense need? What are they really concerned about? What documents will actually go to their arguments?
So, it's essentially a way to balance the due process interests of the defendant with the interests of all of us.
MARQUARDT: And, Renato, there's so many questions about the timelines of these different cases. How is this going to affect the timeline of this case, do you think?
MARIOTTI: I have always been on the view that this case is unlikely to proceed before the election.
It's the most serious case that Trump is facing, the case in which there's the most evidence arrayed against him. But, nonetheless, Judge Aileen Cannon has really, I think, taken a very slow and deliberate approach. And she's really appeared to be in no hurry to move it forward quickly. And I think the presence of classified documents as part of the case being central to the case really gives the defense a lot of opportunities to introduce delay.
And so, as a practical matter, I just don't see this one going to trial any time soon. MARQUARDT: There is supposed to be a hearing on March 1, at which
point Judge Cannon will decide whether the case can move forward. If the Trump team's first priority, their main goal here is to delay, how do you think they can achieve that goal between now, mid-February, and that beginning of March date?
MARIOTTI: Another good question.
What they will do is, they're going to try to make increasing demands to see, view, obtain classified materials that they will claim are absolutely necessary for their defense. And, really, what they're going to want to do is make increasingly unreasonable demands in order to essentially create a situation where the United States government feels compelled to litigate the issue, even potentially have what's called an interlocutory appeal, in other words, an immediate appeal that would delay the case.
And that's the sort of thing that would essentially put the entire case on pause.
MARQUARDT: What about on the other side? Of course, Jack Smith is trying to fight those efforts to delay this any further. What can he do?
MARIOTTI: Challenging, because what he's already tried to do is, he's tried to make it clear to the judge that he believes the defendant is trying to delay here, that Trump -- the defendant, being Trump, is trying to delay.
He's been trying to go out of his way to get things over to the defense quickly and to try to make some accommodations to the defense. Ultimately, however, the ball is really and the advantage is really in the defense side of things when it comes to introducing delay in a national security case involving classified documents.
MARQUARDT: Lots to shake out in the coming weeks. Renato Mariotti, thanks very much for your thoughts today.
MARIOTTI: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: And coming up, new details about the shooting at Joel Osteen's megachurch, including the two words that were written on the shooter's weapon.
And Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is back in the hospital. What we're learning about his condition -- those stories and more right here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.