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Pro-Haley PAC Drained of Cash Reserves; Haley Vows to Stay in Race; Trump Lawyers Preparing Challenges in Classified Docs Case; Man Tries to Open Exit Door on Plane. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 09:30   ET



ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Isn't just focused on fundraising, he's also focused on trying to go after former President Donald Trump. He spoke very bluntly in a closed door fundraiser in Los Angeles last night about the threat that Trump poses and specifically took aim at his predecessor for not calling out Vladimir Putin and condemning Vladimir Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny. He told those donors, quote, "it's outrageous. The bottom line is Republicans have to decide, who do they serve, Donald Trump or the American people, because that's where it is right now. Are they here to solve problems or just weaponized them for political attacks?"

It comes as Biden has increasingly shown this willingness to go after Trump since the start of the year. And behind the scenes he's directed his top aides to turn up the heat on the campaign side as well. Sources say the president told his senior advisers that they need to start calling out the crazy stuff that Trump is saying. The sources used more colorful language than "stuff." But it really speaks to the Biden campaign's belief that they need to drive home this contrast between Biden and Trump, and ultimately they believe reminding voters what four years of a Trump presidency would look like will work to their advantage in November.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the gloves are officially off.

Arlette Saenz, at the white house, thank you so much.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, this morning, Nikki Haley is pushing ahead with her campaign blitz through her home state of South Carolina, where the primary election is just three days away. Haley is vowing to stay in the race, but cash is becoming a concern for the presidential hopeful. Her cash on hand is dwindling and her main super PAC is nearly out of money after spending more in January than it brought in.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now from North Augusta, South Carolina.

We are expecting to hear from Haley in the next few hours. Kylie, what is the latest? There was this big hall after New Hampshire because her numbers were quite high, even though she did not be Donald Trump. What's happening now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Nikki Haley's campaign had a really successful fundraising month in January. But what we're finding out just this week is that SFA fund, which is the super PAC that is backing Nikki Haley, the main super PAC, they spent a lot in the month of January, spending more than $13 million, ending the month with $1.9 million cash on hand. So, that is quite a diminished war chest. There are questions, of course, about how they could continue to propel her forward with less money on hand.

And when it comes to Nikki Haley, for her part, making the case yesterday, very clearly that she is going to stick in this race no matter what happens here in this South Carolina primary on Saturday. It's going to take a lot of money to continue doing that. So, of course, we'll watch to see what the reports look like in terms of her campaign, how much money they have been able to bring in, in the month of February. But there's going to be 16 territories and states that vote just on Super Tuesday alone. And she is saying -- Nikki Haley saying very firmly right now that she's staying in until Super Tuesday.

Now, last night, during a Fox News town hall, former President Trump was asked about her commitment to stay in the race. Listen to how he responded.


LAURA INGRAHAM, MODERATOR: Why do you think she's staying in the race?

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think she knows how to get out, actually.

They're trying to hurt me because of the general election. So, the Democrats are giving her money and she's playing into the game. And I think she just can't get -- she just can't get herself to get out.


ATWOOD: Now, Nikki Haley's justification for saying in the race, even though, of course, it is a very steep, uphill climb, if she's able to change the trajectory of where this Republican primary is headed right now with just that really stronghold on the party that Trump has, her justification is that American voters should have a choice when they go to the poll, that they deserve a real choice, that they shouldn't be presented with an option like a Soviet-style election where 99 percent of the vote goes to one candidate.


SIDNER: Kylie Atwood, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

John, I know you have some guests that have some opinions on these things.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thankfully. With us now, Republican strategist Alice Stewart and Maura Gillespie, founder of Bluestack Strategies and former press adviser to House Speaker John Boehner.

Alice, Nikki Haley told us all yesterday she's staying in. Can you do that, or how long can you do that, if the money is drying up?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, if you have the money, you can stay on the campaign trail and keep pushing your message. And she is committed to doing that. Some people burned through a lot more cash and some people are able to do a campaign on more -- a tight budget.

Look, she is clearly in this for the long haul. She's made that clear from the very beginning. She is running to be president of the United States. She has never said she's willing and able to run for vice president. And she made it clear in her speech yesterday that she wants to give voters a choice and she's not looking at this, what is the - the next job that she wants. Does she want to be vice president? Does she want to be a member of the cabinet? She says, and this has gotten lost in a lot of the coverage of her speech, she's in this for the right reasons, not for the next reason.


And she is looking at her future at being president of the United States.

It is a long haul. It is a difficult battle ahead. She's down by nearly 25 points in South Carolina, almost 50 in the Real Clear Politics national average polls. But she is clearly doing what she is committed to doing, and that's running for president and giving voters the option. It's an uphill battle, but I commend the fact that she is giving voters a choice and making sure that she is putting the effort up against Donald Trump. And "The Wall Street Journal" had a good editorial out saying they commend her for her grit and tenacity in the face of insults and innuendo by Trump.

BERMAN: Maura, I want to play a little more of this interview that Trump did last night because he talked about mail-in voting. And every time he talks about mail-in voting, Republican strategists from around the country, including Trump supporters, including people who want Trump to win, you can since them cringe when he says stuff like this. Listen


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud. If you have -

LAURA INGRAHAM, MODERATOR: OK, we'll, there's mail-in voting in Florida, and you won huge.

TRUMP: That's right. That's right.

If you have it, you're going to have fraud.


BERMAN: Scathing questions there from Laura Ingraham, who did point out there's mail-in voting in Florida, a state that he won.

But, Maura, you know, on Long Island, the Republicans got killed in early voting and mail-in voting, largely because Republicans had been reluctant to push it. So, when Trump says that, what's the impact?

MAURA GILLESPIE, FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL, BLUESTACK STRATEGIES: It hurts them. I mean it hurts the Republican Party. And I think what Nikki Haley has pointed out time and time again is the Donald Trump has hurt the Republican Party. He is the cause of our recent losses. And by having him at the top of the ticket, him being a mouthpiece for, unfortunately, for a Republican Party is not beneficial to us. We've seen that. And last night showed it again where he wasn't even listening to the soft balls being thrown at him. He was just talking over Laura Ingraham, which, again, if you're watching that, as a woman, you're once again reminded about how much of a problem he has with women. It's very frustrating and it's not helping the Republican Party.

Donald Trump talking about budget, talking about finances. Donald Trump's super PAC spent $3 million in one month on legal fees. The money that he is raising for himself is for himself. It's not to grow the majority of our Congress of Republicans in the House or the Senate. And so his repeated comments about things that he doesn't really even understand, and Laura Ingraham had to point out that he won the mail-in ballot votes in Florida, that's concerning to us.

BERMAN: Alice, you brought up the fact that Nikki Haley doesn't want to be the vice presidential pick if Trump gets the nomination. You know, spoiler alert, she probably won't be. Trump was asked about this again last night. Listen to some of the candidates who were thrown out there in his response.


LAURA INGRAHAM, MODERATOR: One of them was, of course, Vivek Ramaswamy.


INGRAHAM: He's made a big splash.

Ron DeSantis, who's making an appearance today in South Carolina, we just found out. Obviously, Tim Scott. Byron Donalds. And a big presence here for Tulsi Gabbard. Very interesting. Are - and Kristi Noem as well I should say.

TRUMP: Right.

INGRAHAM: Are -- are - are they all on your short list?

TRUMP: They are.


BERMAN: So, Alice, what do you -- what do you read into that? Is this just Trump agreeing because he heard cheers in the stands and it's something that he might as well milk?

STEWART: No, look, I mean, those are all tremendous choices. And, look, he's looking at this from a standpoint of, who can help not only support him, but also bring in some of these voters that have been really disaffected by his -- his tone and tenor as he was president and since that time. And all of those people would be good. And there's one common thread with all of them as we've -- quite clear is, they will stand up with Trump and they won't stand up against Trump. And they are -- some of them a certainly much more loyal and jumped on the Trump train as soon as they got out of the presidential race. My guess is that someone more like Tim Scott would be a good choice.

But at the end of the day, from a Republican standpoint, I would take Donald Trump and any one of those candidates over Joe Biden and Kamala Harris any day based on the policies the Democrats have put forth. And I think the GOP is in good shape come November.

BERMAN: Maura, Trump/Ramaswamy?

GILLESPIE: I would not vote for that if you paid me to. I mean there is no way in any scenario I would want Ramaswamy for the White House. And I do just think that Nikki Haley reiterated it in her speech yesterday where she said, I'm not looking for anything from him. And I think Republicans need to think about that. What are they getting out of their loyalty to him? Because think about the inner circle he had with him in his White House. Where are they now? Are they speaking up and saying what it was like to work for him? They're not even in his corner. I mean he -- Trump went after Kayleigh McEnany, who stood day after day defending him, and even he went after her. So, I mean, what do you get for your loyalty to Trump? It should really be a question for all Republicans to really grapple with here.


BERMAN: Maura Gillespie, Alice Stewart, great to see both of you. Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right, John, still ahead, how Donald Trump's legal team is preparing to challenge the classified documents indictment.

And the scene on an American Airlines flight overnight, forcing itself to land unexpectedly. Why five people sprang into action to restrain a fellow passenger mid-flight.


SIDNER: There is new reporting that Donald Trump's lawyers are right now preparing a significant amount of legal motions they say are grounds to have his classified document's case thrown out.


That has been the argument for a while, though.

CNN's Puala Reid is joining us now.

Paula, you look at this. What is the strategy here?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, they're asking the court - they want to submit this 200-page filing that will include many different motions, including a laundry list of challenges that they want to pose to this case. I'm going to go through some of these here, Sara.

They want to challenge, quote, "the appointment" of Jack Smith, presidential immunity, the Presidential Records Act, select and vindictive prosecution, as well as due process violations, prosecutorial misconduct, impermissible pre-indictment delay, the, quote, "illegal raid" at Mar-a-Lago, which, Sara, was, of course, a duly executed search warrant, and improper violations of President Trump's attorney/client privilege.

So, you can see here, they're just trying to throw everything at the wall to see what might stick. While the former president, his lawyers, they absolutely have the right to file these kinds of challenges, this also plays into their larger strategy, which is to delay. Try to push both of the special counsel's trials until after the November 2020 election.

Right now, the Mar-a-Lago documents case is on the calendar for May 20th, but next week there's a hearing where, Sara, we may get some insight into whether that is going to be pushed back. We always sort of expected that it would be pushed back. Now, of course, the former president has what appears to be his first criminal trial in New York. That starts on March 25th. And it seems likely it would be done by May 20th, but that is likely to come up as well.

SIDNER: Delay, delay, delay, that has been no secret that they have been doing that with every case.

Let's go ahead and talk about special counsel Jack Smith's case against Trump. There are a couple. This is the federal election subversion case.

We are still waiting on the Supreme Court's decision on that case and another case that could affect Donald Trump. In the meantime, Georgia's governor, Brian Kemp, just told CNN that he has spoken with Jack Smith.

Let's take a listen to this.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): And it's been months ago, but really didn't last that long. I mean I basically told him the same thing I told the special grand juries, that I followed the law and the Constitution and answered all their questions truthfully.


SIDNER: He said this happened months ago, but it is significant that he has been talked to by the special counsel. How significant is this?

REID: So, he's really significant because he's one of the few people who were able to resist this intense pressure he was facing from former President Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Now, he broke this news in a conversation with our colleague Kaitlan Collins. And we have known that there had been outreach from the special counsel to Kemp, but we didn't know he actually sat for an interview. And he did acknowledge, he said, look, it was pretty brief, but that is definitely news. It's a reminder of how extensive the investigation was before the charges in the federal election subversion case were filed against former President Trump.

But as you mentioned, right now we are watching and waiting the Supreme Court to give us a sign about if and when the election subversion trial will go forward. And Kaitlan also asked him about what he thinks about Trump's claim of immunity, something we're waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in on, and he said that, quote, "nobody is above the law."


SIDNER: All right, Paula Reid, I know you'll be watching and we will be coming back to you often. Thank you so much.


BERMAN: All right, the White House is announcing more than $1 billion in student loan forgiveness today. Who will get that relief?

And Beyonce proves everything she touches is gold. Even a pair of cowboy boots.




BEYONCE (singing): This ain't Texas. Ain't no hold em. So lay your cards down, down, down, down.


WHITFIELD: I should have wore my boots today.

"Texas Hold 'em" in the top spot. Beyonce's foray into country music is already a huge hit. Her new song, "Texas Hold 'em" debuted at number one on Billboard's Hot Country Song's Chart. Her other new country song, "16 Carriages," is at number nine. The only other solo female artist to launch on top of the chart is, surprise, surprise, Taylor Swift. All right, the White House just announced a new round of student debt relief. Today, 150,000 borrowers enrolled in the save repayment plan should get an email saying their remaining federal student loan debt is canceled. That totals about $1.2 billion. Nearly $138 billion in federal student loan debt has been canceled since President Biden took into office.

All right. Alexei Navalny's mother is suing over inaction in releasing his body after the opposition leader and Putin critic died in a Russian prison last week. Russian state media says a court received a complaint but is not specifying who she is accusing of illegal actions and decisions. Navalny's team says his mother and lawyers have repeatedly been denied access to the morgue where his remains were believed to be held. A court hearing is set for March 4th.


BERMAN: All right, terrifying moments on an American Airlines flight. Passengers rushed to stop a man who tried to open the plane's emergency exit door. Some of those sitting nearby report feeling a change in the air pressure and the plane had to return to Albuquerque shortly after takeoff.

Our aviation correspondent Pete Muntean is with us.

Pete, what happened here?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, these unruly passenger incidents were really a 2021 issue that we can't seem to leave it 2021. Passengers tell CNN, this man sitting in the emergency exit row tried to open the emergency exit. In fact, got the restraining piece of plastic there that keeps you from getting to the handle off of the door. Passengers then started to yell and tackle him according to passengers who were on board this flight. And then flight attendants had to swoop in and restrain this man with duct tape and flex cuffs. That was on American Airlines Flight 1219 from Albuquerque to Chicago O'Hare, diverted back to Albuquerque because this happened only about 20 minutes into the flight.


What is significant here is that this man was led away from the plane by police down the fire escape of the jetway there in Albuquerque. Not really clear right now if he was arrested, but we know that the FBI is investigating, the FAA also investigating. It says there have been 254 cases of unruly passengers onboard commercial flights so far this year. Compare that to the 5,900 cases back in 2021, largely due to the federal mask mandate on board commercial planes. The rate of incidence now way down, but they did go up a little bit over last summer. Blame it on the heat, John, and just so many people packed into a small airplane at the same time.

BERMAN: Yes, and bad decisions and bad choices. You can blame it on that too.

MUNTEAN: No doubt. BERMAN: Pete, you're hearing new information about an incident of a

different kind, correct?

MUNTEAN: Yes, you know, this actually came about on Reddit. And really this is because I think passengers are watching a bit more closely what's going on in their planes since Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, that door plug blowout back on January 5th. That -- in that case was a new 737 Max 9. In this case, a 30-year-old Boeing 757, United Airlines Flight 354 from San Francisco to Boston, diverted to Denver. And you can see the damage there. That is a wing slat. It is on the front -- the leading edge of a wing, a movable piece that changes essentially the shape of the wing to create more lift when the airplane is at slow speed. And 165 people on board this plane. All turned out OK. This plane was able to get to Denver. And no incident there with the landing.

This has happened before, though, July 2010, on an American flight. Same scenario, passenger noticed the situation, alerted the crew. The lamination is what it's called officially. A known issue on the 757.

Planes are getting older, John. The average age of a plane in the commercial fleet in the U.S., about 13 years old now according to the latest data.

BERMAN: Yes, that is not what you want to see when you look out your window there. Maybe on an old Schwin (ph) bicycle, not on an airplane at 20,000 feet in the sky.

All right, Pete Muntean, thank you very much.


SIDNER: Really, John, Michwin (ph) bicycle? Really?

All right. OK, deep breath.

Here is the center of their -- he's at the center of their impeachment allegation into President Biden. But this morning, Republicans trying to flip the script on the FBI informant who got his dirt from Russia intel. He is now charged. We're live on The Hill as they try to defend their case. Thats ahead.