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GOP Field Grows This Week With Mike Pence, Chris Christie; U.S. Official: F-16s Scrambled In Response To Plane That Ultimately Crashed In Southwest Virginia; Interview With Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC); More Attacks On Russian Soil As War Takes New Turn. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired June 04, 2023 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Yes, and you can't do it at the expense of our democracy. I mean, we've seen that demonstrated time and again. Roger Mactomy (ph), thank you very much for your time. We appreciate. Very important topic, we'll have you back on it. In the meantime, though, thank you very much for joining me this evening, reporting from Washington. I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see you again next week in a special edition of CNN NEWSROOM with Dana Bash and Kaitlan Collins starts right now. Have a good night.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CNN's special coverage of tonight's townhall with Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley. I'm Dana Bash alongside Kaitlan Collins.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yes. And you are looking at center stage of the main event at Grandview University in Des Moines, Iowa. That is where less than an hour from now, Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will take the stage to make her case for why Americans should send her to the White House in 2024. She'll be answering questions from a live audience that is filled with voters who will participate in the Republican caucuses and also from tonight's moderator, Jake Tapper.
BASH: It is still very early in this race. But as of now, Haley stands at 6 percent in the polls, trailing her former boss Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. by double-digits.
COLLINS: And the 2024 Republican field is only growing with Mike Pence and Chris Christie both expected to jump in the race this week. It has been a very busy few days in Iowa where most of the Republican field spent the weekend. Haley during those few days repeated her call for a new generational leader. The question is, can she convince Republican voters that she is that leader?
BASH: Well, joining us now from that auditorium is our own Jeff Zeleny with a list of what to watch for this evening. So Jeff, we are just under an hour out. What do you believe talking to your sources, we should expect from Nikki Haley.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, the first and foremost, a challenge for of course, the former governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley is to distinguish herself from the rest of the field. And she, of course, was the second candidate to join this field right after Donald Trump earlier this year with a call for generational change. And since then, she perhaps has fallen out of the headlines nationally a bit. But one thing she has been doing is putting the miles on, traveling across the state of Iowa, holding more events than any other of her rival candidates have, as well as doing so in the other early voting states.
So, she is kind of doing it the old-fashioned way, if you will, through small group settings and the Republican voters we are talking to, her name comes up again and again in conversations, but they want to know more from her. So that of course is her challenge and opportunity here tonight at the town hall. Republican voters are taking their seats here in the auditorium in Grandview University in Des Moines and the Republican voters we've been talking to throughout the weekend and a busy weekend of campaigning here.
They want to know what her stance are on abortion specifically, she has called for a consensus in national abortion policy, of course trying to balance that is a complicated balancing act in a Republican primary.
She talks about the economy, her economic challenges and successes in the state of South Carolina. She also of course has a bit of foreign policy experience after serving as the ambassador to the United Nations for some time during the Trump Administration. Her biggest balancing act of although, is trying to win over the Trump voters who are exhausted and want to turn the page from him and those who still like him of course.
She's trying to thread that needle. She has not really gone after or distinguished herself from the former president at all. She has been doing so -- much more so with the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who of course, is someone she must compete with to get the chance to go one-on-one with Donald Trump.
But for all the talk of the polls and things. As you know, Dana, our conversations with voters here, people have remarkably open minds, these Republican activists who are just beginning to size up this field, they are really truly measuring these candidates. So, their open minds, I think are instructive to all of us as we watch this race here. And they certainly want to hear specifics from her. And tonight, she'll hear and take questions from voters themselves right here in Des Moines.
BASH: It is the Iowa way, Jeff, as you know, better than anybody to size up the candidates and they have an expectation to do it the old- fashioned way, as you described at the beginning of your report. Thanks, Jeff. We'll talk to you soon. Kaitlan?
COLLINS: Well, we have a very busy week as those voters in Iowa are going to have a lot more candidates to be evaluating. The GOP nomination is taking shape. CNN's Political Director David Chalian is here to break down what lies ahead.
And David one of the things as these voters are making their decisions about who it is they're going to support, hearing from these candidates, we now know former Vice President Mike Pence, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and Doug Burgum of North Dakota all plan to announce their campaigns this week. As this field is starting to take shape as it's growing. You know, how do you believe that them entering the race changes things?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, Kaitlan, it is going to be a very busy week. We do expect those three new entrants to the race that you mentioned Chris Christie, Mike Pence, and Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota, the least known of the three of these guys nationally we've also been told the New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said he's going to make his decision about whether or not he's going to get in this race and announce that publicly this week.
So, a lot to watch for in this race. To your point, though, what impact will these new entrants have? Well, they're very present in the race, can create impact, because what we're looking at here is starting to be a crowded field, and how that may benefit the front runner Donald Trump, because if you're a person in this race, not named Trump, you're starting to slice up the lane here, the non-Trump lane more thinly with each new entrant into the race.
So, the goal here, if you're a candidate, not named Trump, is to figure out how to carve out your own space here that is substantial enough in size and support that the overall size of the field doesn't thwart anybody from trying to take on the front runner directly.
COLLINS: Yes, he is the front runner. I mean, we've seen his polling and what it looks like, he's got an incredibly substantial lead right now. But the calendar is getting busier, we're seeing all of these candidates enter the race. And they are now having to meet this polling requirement to get on the debate stage in August, the first Republican primary debate, what does that have to look like for these candidates between now and August?
CHALIAN: Yes, as you noted in the poll, Trump was in a tier by himself. DeSantis seems to occupy this second tier by himself. And then everyone else is down in single-digits, though, Nikki Haley and Mike Pence, who we're going to hear from tonight, and then the town hall with Dana, with Mike Pence on Wednesday. They sort of been to that next -- that next tier that are well-known among Republicans, but still have not garnered this early support. And I just want to stress how early this is paying attention to these polls too closely can be a bit distracting.
You noted what do they need to do between now and as the nomination race continues to grow here? Well, they have to do a couple of things. They got to get out to the early states. And if you look at the calendar, you can see opportunity to do that. They need these in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, this Basque fry here on the 17th. That's a Nevada Republican event there. They have to hit key constituencies, the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, you're going to see a slew of these 2024 contenders trying to woo social conservatives, all in advance of that critical first debate on August 23rd, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Republicans will be holding their nominating convention a year later.
The opportunity that debates provide for especially some of these lesser-known candidates to get known among Republican primary voters. It's just essential for their candidacies as is money, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes, that's the other number that matters, not just polling, but fundraising, as well. David Chalian, thank you.
BASH: Now, I want to turn to CNN's Abby Phillip, anchor of Inside Politics Sunday and Audie Cornish, host of the Assignment with Audie Cornish Podcast. Hi, nice to see you all on a Sunday night. So, Abby, let me start with you. What are you expecting to see tonight?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Balancing act, I think is probably the best word to describe, or the best phrase to describe what Nikki Haley is trying to do tonight. Remember, she is someone who served in the Donald Trump Administration and really does want to argue that she belongs in the other lane that the non-Trump lane, all of these candidates who are not Trump are trying to vie for at least that second place, that second place position in this race.
And they have to make a case that they're strong enough on the issues, that there is enough of a difference between them and Trump's position that it matters that they're even in the race, but not so much of a difference that they alienate those voters. And that's really difficult for Nikki Haley to do, but she has some advantages. And I think principal among them is just who she is.
She is a woman, a person of color, a former governor. And I think all of those things really give her a little bit of a different spin on some of these issues. It might allow her to have a little bit more nuance than perhaps some of the other candidates do. But we'll see how she, how much of that she's willing to showcase tonight, given how early we are in the process.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's going to be a lot of pressure right to if you're not going to outflank Trump on the Right, those people who are going after not the Never-Trumpers, but that maybe not today Trumpers, the Trump fatigue type people. That lane is going to get really crowded in the next couple of days. And then there'll be pressure months down the road to say, hey, look, you all can't be in here.
So, I think this town hall and other events like it, they are a reintroduction of each one of these candidates to the general population, right, because I've been listening to a lot of her doing interviews with like, kind of Right-wing podcasts and cites, her pitches. I'm a two-term governor, but I actually know something about foreign policy.
Her pitches, race and identity exist in my biography, but they do not dictate who I am. And you don't have to worry about me being woke or demanding an apology from you in some way as a white voter. So, I think that that combined with I asked Trump for permission to run more or less is her saying look, it's OK, I'm one of you, but I can talk to them, that's what I hear her saying in these interviews that she can talk to liberals and progressives and people in the sort of middle lane.
BASH: And it is true that if you are somebody looking for a competent based on your resume person, somebody who has a lot of experience, and a variety of experience, why wouldn't a voter look at someone like Nikki Haley? Never mind, and this is not a reason to look at her. But reality is never mind that she is a person of color. She's the only woman running for the Republican nomination.
CORNISH: I mean, look, she -- remember when DeSantis spoke out about Ukraine, and then had to go back and then forth. And it was like, what is he saying? What is his stance here? She's going to come out and be like, I'm not going to be that person.
CORNISH: You know what I mean, like I can be on the world stage. And I know what I'm talking about when I open my mouth.
PHILLIP: I mean, I think the answer to your question about why not look at someone who has a long resume and a good resume is that there is an element of this Republican primary electorate that wants a little bit of the performative aspect of it. And I do think that's going to be a big element tonight. She talks a lot about her toughness about being willing to kind of take on bullies and things like that.
And the reason she does that is because I think Republican voters want to know that she can do that, both in the context of the primary but also against their perceived foes, the mainstream media, the establishment, the woke, if you're Ron DeSantis, the woke institutions. How does she perform that tonight, I think will be a big part of what we see on that stage.
BASH: Well, on that note, I spoke earlier today on State of the Union with Ken Buck, who is a Republican, of course, a member of the House and a member of the Freedom Caucus. And I want you to listen to what he said about the multiple investigations into the front runner in the race and also about his advice for Ron DeSantis. He is not endorsed yet. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): I think that the multiple investigations and civil lawsuits that had been brought almost give this presidential candidate and former president credibility. He keeps saying that the world is against him, because he's trying to make these changes.
BASH: I know what you're saying he gives him credibility with maybe with some of the electorate, but for you Ken Buck does he give him credibility to you? BUCK: I have seen him for four years, I was in the House when he was president, I don't look at the actions that he has taken that are being investigated as much as his role as a former president and what his policies were.
My advice is not to try to out Trump, Donald Trump. There is nobody that is really that operates in the same area as Donald Trump. And I think Ron DeSantis has a strong record of accomplishment in Florida when he was dealing with COVID, and some other areas, and I think those are the things that he should be running on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So Kaitlan, really critical of the former president, clearly not saying point blank that he believes that the former president actually broke any laws, but as a former prosecutor -- as a former prosecutor Buck was saying that he believes that the things that are alleged are not good. And also separately, I thought it was very interesting that he's not endorsed as I said, he served with Ron DeSantis in the House, he sat next to him in the House Judiciary Committee. And his advice was, don't try to out Trump, Trump, relevant not just to DeSantis. But perhaps, to what we might see in here tonight from Nikki Haley.
COLLINS: Yes, and we saw that, of course, the last time Trump was running against other Republicans when they tried to maybe mimic his style with nicknames and whatnot, didn't work out for obviously, those candidates at the time. But as we've seen this field continued to grow, it will be interesting to see how some of them navigate this, including Nikki Haley herself, given she used to work for the former president, obviously, in his administration.
But Dana, I was watching this morning, as I always do on State of the Union. And when he was saying what he said about the investigations that are facing Trump, and the idea that he believes that it gives him credibility with voters and what that means. I've heard such a different tone over the weekend, as I've been speaking to Republicans and to Trump allies, following that reporting last week about his -- about the documents investigation into him and learning about this audio.
And the way you solve these allies talk about the state of this investigation, they didn't really think it was going to amount to much before that, and now how they're viewing it, now that they know there is audio of the former president making clear, he didn't think he had that leeway. I do wonder if that changes and that just -- it certainly what he said publicly did not reflect of what we had heard from a lot of people behind the scenes who were actually very concerned about where that investigation stands now.
BASH: No question and this is of course, your reporting with our colleagues about the fact that the DOJ has an audio recording of the president talking about a classified document that he admitted, according to your reporting was classified and that sort of suggests that his argument that he can do classify anything isn't really there.
[19:15:00] And Jamie Raskin was on State of the Union saying, well, that could prove intent. But I think what Ken Buck was trying to say is what we heard all these Republicans saying after the New York indictment, which is that it definitely galvanizes the base. But you're saying what you're hearing from sources is, this might be a game-changer, the idea that he might be an actual real trouble when it comes to the classified document investigation, federal investigation by DOJ, by the special counsel.
COLLINS: Yes, it certainly seems like they're taking the documents investigation, seeing it in a much different lens than they did the one here in New York. Of course, we have much more to come tonight as we wait for this town hall with Nikki Haley to begin, there was one presidential hopeful who was not in Iowa over the weekend. He was there earlier this week. But it did sound like a lot of former President Trump's rivals did not forget their number one target.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I believe we have to resist the politics of personality, dispense with the culture of losing that has beset the Republican Party in recent years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: No mention of Trump by name. We'll discuss with my panel, next.
COLLINS: All the GOP hopefuls, well, all but one were in Iowa over the weekend for a veterans fundraiser. Former President Trump was not there, but that did not stop his Republican rivals from taking some pretty thinly veiled shots at him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DESANTIS: Leadership is not about entertainment. Leadership is not about virtue signaling or building a brand leadership is ultimately about results. There is no substitute for victory. And we need to dispense with the culture of losing that has beset the Republican Party in recent years.
MIKE PENCE (R) LAUNCHING PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN THIS WEEK: We have to resist the politics of personality. And the siren song of populism unmoored to timeless conservative principles.
NIKKI HALEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't complain about what you get in a general if you don't play in this caucus, because it matters. I think we've done over 25 events. I'm going to keep coming. I'm not doing shortcuts. I'm not going to do a rally and leave you.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: Here with me now Scott Jennings who worked for President George W. Bush, former Trump White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin, Rob Godfrey, who served in Governor Haley's administration, is Deputy Chief of Staff and chief spokesman , Republican Strategist Alice Stewart, former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, and former South Carolina State Representative Bakari Sellers. We've got the whole group here.
Obviously, this roast and ride in Iowa is -- it kicks off the entire campaigning for all of these Republicans. They're all there. Trump was the only one who was not there. We did see former Vice President Pence. He was the only one who actually got on a motorcycle. It was how to vest with his name on it. But Alyssa, I wonder what you thought of it as on stage, no mention of Trump even though he was the candidate who didn't feel like he needed to come this weekend?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, listen, I think candidates are showing up and they're making their case and Dana made a very important point, which is the Iowa caucuses are eight months away. We are still so far out in the primary season and showing up is so important. I remind folks, of course, Iowa has not gone on to elect Republicans since 2000 with George W. Bush, but it's still incredibly important to sell who you are.
The Nikki Haley folks tonight, they're telling us that what they want to see is her reintroducing herself to voters who may not be that familiar with her. They know she was in the Trump administration. She was a governor in a handful of years ago, but who is she? And how does she distinguish herself from the others in the field. And her strategy of the case, as I hear it is, there's going to be Donald Trump, he is not going away in this race. And then there's going to be the alternative. So that's why you're seeing her take shots at Ron DeSantis or at other candidates in the field, because she's waiting to be that alternative to Trump, if she can do it as an open question.
SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: April 12, 2021, Nikki Haley said she would not run for president if Donald Trump ran. And this weekend in Iowa, she said, I want to leave the baggage and the negativity behind and so when you say she wants to reintroduce people to who she is, I like to know who she is too, because I think this is one of the principal things about her over this period of time, her back and forth with Trump, does she like him, does she not. She wasn't going to run, now she's running. This has plagued her over the last few years.
So, maybe tonight is a good chance to reset that. But I do think it's one of the things that's holding her back.
ROB GODFREY, FORMER HALEY DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF AND SPOKESMAN: And town halls are a perfect venue for her to do just that. She has experience doing them as governor, she authentically connects with people. And people are just starting to engage, people are just starting to focus. And I think that's when we'll start to see these polls start to move. While the former president wasn't at the Joni Ernst roast and ride last night. He certainly was a looming presence. And the fact of the matter is, is that if these candidates who are trying to make generational change arguments, whether it's Nikki Haley, or it's Tim Scott, or it's Ron DeSantis, if they're going to do that, this is the time to start doing it because we have a small window for people to begin to focus on that and the Republican Party has a choice to make. When we're looking at those three candidates. Is this going to continue to be the party of Archie Bunker in a red tie? Or is this going to be the -- or is this going to be the party of the Nikki Haley's of the world, but Tim Scott's of the world. And Ron DeSantis's of the world.
COLLINS: DeSantis was obviously there this weekend. I think most notably his wife Casey DeSantis, was there wearing a leather jacket that said at a Florida Gator and blazoned on it, it said where woke goes to die, something he has been saying, it was 86 degrees. I'll note that a lot of the reporters on the ground took note of.
But while she was there, obviously DeSantis is the main rival to Trump right now. And he was asked to defend the term woke something that he has been using repeatedly on the campaign trail, something that Trump criticized him for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: And I don't like the term work because I hear woke, woke, woke you know it's like it's a term they use half the people can't even define it, they don't know what it is.
DESANTIS: What we know what woke is, it's a form of cultural Marxism, it's about putting merit and achievement behind identity politics and it's basically a war on the truth. And is that as an infected institutions, it has corrupted a lot of institutions. So, you've got to be willing to fight the woke. We've done it in Florida, and we proudly consider ourselves the state where woke goes to die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Bakari, is that what woke?
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, absolutely not. I don't know. I don't know really what Ron DeSantis thinks he was saying and that word salad. Honestly, it's the type of anti-intellectualism and ignorance that's kind of dominated our political discussions these days, and when you hear him say woke every other word, within a 10 second period or 22nd period. It's meant to gin up this type of furor and these culture wars, which Ron DeSantis wants to wage. It's a page out of Donald Trump's playbook, which I assume he will not do as well as Donald Trump.
The fact is, when you look at this past weekend in Iowa, what's pretty clear is that there's really no Republican that has the talent level, to compete with Donald Trump. There are people who want to be Donald Trump light. They're people who really don't have any idea what their policy is. Tonight, I want to hear Nikki Haley say something more than talking about transgenderism and transgenders in sports. I want to --
COLLINS: But she has talked about quite a bit.
SELLERS: That's her policy. I mean, she hasn't asserted another policy other than that. And you ask what Ron DeSantis's policy is about a foreign policy? Well, I want to take the woke out of the military. Well, what's your economic policy? Well, I want to take the woke out of our large corporations and businesses. And so when you think about that, Donald Trump's policies are completely backwards. But ironically enough, he's the only one articulating any policy whatsoever.
And that --
COLLINS: David, you look --
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was just saying --
SELLERS: That tells you the problem and the level of debate that we're having. Now go, David.
AXELROD: Look, first of all, when I heard DeSantis speak, I'm thinking, I wonder how many people in the highways and byways of Iowa are talking about cultural Marxism.
AXELROD: And so, you know, this is his problem. He's a very clinical guy who actually does want to talk about policy. That's all he talks about. And Mario Cuomo said years ago, the late Mario Cuomo, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. He's a very prosaic guy. And I think this is going to be a problem for him. Now, in terms of the field generally, there's no baseball manager long gone and Eddie Stanky managed the Chicago White Sox in the 1960s. And Eddie Stanky said he may have been from Alabama, I'm not sure. But anyway, he said --
COLLINS: Check our registry --
AXELROD: He said no risk baseball is second division baseball. That's true in presidential politics too. Donald Trump is in a very strong position in this race. It's not like these other races that were, Iowa didn't matter. I think someone has to win in Iowa. And that person who wins may become his principal opponent. But if he wins Iowa, I think he's in a really good position to run the table. And so all of these candidates who are sort of kind of tiptoeing around because they're worried about offending his supporters, like you don't have anything to lose, folks, the only thing you have -- the big risk is not to take risks.
And Nikki Haley's great problem is, as Scott mentioned, is that she's a very talented politician. Her profile is a great profile for a general election. But she's a straddler. She's always been someone trying to find the perfect line to walk on these difficult issues. We see it on abortion. Now we saw it on Trump. And I think if that's her posture, she's not going to be around very long.
ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: To your point, Donald Trump is in a very strong position right now he is far ahead in the polls nationally, as well as in Iowa. And he's not going to go to these events where he has to share the stage and share the spotlight with the other candidates. Because in his mind and his campaign's mind they're above this, Heck he might not even participate in the debates.
AXELROD: He shouldn't.
STEWART: Exactly --
AXELROD: He should not, no.
STEWART: Given the lead that he has. But here's the thing. People in Iowa right now are looking at this as a level playing field. They are open to -- alternatives are open to listening to Donald Trump. These candidates it would be helpful if Donald Trump did as well go to these roasts and rides, go -- having been there, you have to go to the Pizza Ranch. You have to go to the machine shed, you have to go the Iowa State Fair, you have to talk to these people.
And let's keep in mind, Nikki Haley might not be getting all of this national attention like Trump and DeSantis is.
But what she's doing and what these other candidates are doing is the smart thing. They are burning the shoe leather. They're going out talking to people meeting and greeting, getting local media coverage, which is extremely important, getting the cover of "Des Moines Register," getting that local coverage and winning people over one by one and that -- she is working it hard.
DeSantis is going to be doing that, certainly, as well; Tim Scott, but it's too early to count any people out right now because they're out there working and the evangelicals I talk to in Iowa say they're ready for someone that has the policies of Trump, but does not have the toxic nature of him.
And the key is, is you count out can't out-Trump, Trump. You can't be more insulting than he is. You have to go after him head-on on policy.
COLLINS: And I should note he was there two days last week. Let's see when he returns. He was not there this weekend.
All of you standby, Dana, of course, we are watching to see what all of this shapes up to look like for this race and to hear more from Nikki Haley on her views on these key issues.
BASH: We sure are, and in the break, you've got to ask Alice about covering her and Governor Huckabee back in the mid-2000s in Iowa. She knows what she's talking about. She really did all of that. Thanks. And as we wait for our CNN townhall, more on tonight's breaking news:
US fighter jets scrambled in response to an aircraft that ultimately crashed in southwest Virginia. The military aircraft caused a sonic boom heard across the Washington region alarming many.
[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]
BASH: We've got a new update as investigators are trying to learn exactly what happened. That's next.
COLLINS: We have breaking news that we are following tonight after F- 16 fighter jets were scrambled to respond to a plane that ultimately crashed in southwest Virginia. That's according to officials, and right now, it is still not clear if the plane had violated restricted airspace near Washington, DC, or if there was an emergency on board.
CNN's Pete Muntean is here tracking all of this.
Pete, I mean, obviously this was the boom -- I was getting a lot of texts from friends in Washington earlier trying to figure out what was going on asking me if I knew what was going on. What have you learned about what happened here?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: The sonic boom heard far and wide, Kaitlan, from Annapolis, Maryland to Leesburg, Virginia. We have heard from folks all over the eastern seaboard who heard this, which is apparently from the F-16s that were sent to scramble.
This Cessna Citation private jet, according to a source familiar with his incident and NORAD, they both tell us that this plane was unresponsive, four onboard, the pilot not responsive as this flight was going in Tennessee and then to MacArthur Airport on Long Island, but the plane then turned and overshot its original destination by about 300 miles.
That is when NORAD scrambled F-16s in pursuit of this plane and NORAD tells us that these airplanes -- these fighter jets in pursuit were cleared to go supersonic briefly through the speed of sound, the sound barrier, which ultimately leads to a sonic boom and that is what doorbell cameras far and wide captured. Listen.
[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]
MUNTEAN: You see the dog scared there on the deck of the home there in Northern Virginia. This apparently was because of the flight crew being completely unresponsive and that track after the plane turned away from Long Island went right over DC, right over the District of Columbia and that is an issue because there is layer of layer of restricted airspace there.
Planes that are unresponsive typically are not allowed through. They must be talking to air traffic control and squawking a discreet transponder code. If they do not have those things, that is what raises alarm bells at the FAA Command Center in Warrenton, Virginia. That is why these fighter jets were sent in pursuit.
NORAD also says that these fighter jets came up to this plane, this Cessna Citation jet, seats between about seven and 11 people and fired up flares to try to get the attention of the crew, but the pilot was apparently unconscious at the controls and the plane crashed into a rural area not too far from Stanton, Virginia near Charlottesville, and that is what led to ultimately this crash, four on board.
Virginia State Police tell us they are still searching for the wreckage right now at this hour -- Kaitlan.
COLLINS: All right, Pete Muntean, as you learn more, please keep us updated. Thank you for that -- Dana.
BASH: We are about 20 minutes away from CNN's townhall with Republican presidential candidate, Nikki Haley, hosted by Jake Tapper.
Hayley declared her candidacy back in February, her first endorsement, the day of her announcement came from a fellow South Carolinian, Congressman Ralph Norman.
He tweeted at the time that the party needed a new chapter and that "There is no better person to help write that new chapter than our former governor and my good friend, Nikki Haley."
Congressman Norman joins me now. He is a surrogate for the Haley campaign. Congressman, thank you for joining me.
First question is why did you choose Nikki Haley? What made you choose her?
REP. RALPH NORMAN (R-SC): Thanks for having me, Dana. Well, first of all, Nikki Haley is a longtime friend. She was a very successful governor, very successful ambassador to the United Nations appointed by President Trump.
She is tough. She is just what this country needs. She will be able to serve eight years with this disastrous administration and what the Biden administration has done to this country. It's going to take eight years.
It's going to take somebody with energy, and I will tell you what you will see tonight, Nikki Haley is definitely not past her prime. She will answer questions and any question that's asked of her, you will see the real Nikki Haley, and I'm excited about her candidacy.
BASH: When you endorsed the ambassador, you said that the Republican Party has entered a "season of change" and is looking for new leadership, but as you know, the former President Donald Trump is the very clear frontrunner at this time.
Do you think that she has to make a very sharp contrast between her and what she would do as president and her former boss?
NORMAN: Absolutely not. Nikki Haley will be Nikki Haley. She'll be real. She will be authentic.
Look, the policies of President Trump were phenomenal. Look at what we're facing now. And Haley and all the others would will put into effect the sound policies that Donald Trump did, and so no, I don't think she'll differentiate herself. I think she will lay out a vision of priorities that the country will like, and it'll be just what America needs now.
It is going to take a lot to turn this ship around, and I think she's the person to do it. I saw her do it in South Carolina and I think she will do it for America.
BASH: There is another South Carolinian in the race, the junior senator representing South Carolina in the US Senate, Tim Scott. What made you decide to go with Nikki Haley when you have another person who you serve with in the Congress running for president?
NORMAN: Well, I mean, I served with Tim Scott a short time when he came in the House and Tim is a great friend of mine, great guy. I just think Nikki Haley has what it takes. Her personal skills, her retail politics, but I think what she's underestimated on is her strength.
She will be an iron fist with a velvet glove, like Margaret Thatcher will be. I would send her out negotiating with any country anywhere, at any time and I think that's what's needed and her judgment is second to none.
And having these other candidates, that's a plus for Nikki, because you will see her on stage, you'll see her perform, and she'll perform very well.
And it is real early, people complain about the poll numbers. I don't care about the poll numbers. I think back in '15, Donald Trump had three percent, but you know, watch her perform, watch her show the American people what she can do for them and I think it'll be -- they will like what they see.
I know it because I've worked with her. She and I came in in the legislature in South Carolina the same year, and I just saw what she did.
BASH: Congressman Norman, thank you so much for your time tonight.
NORMAN: My pleasure.
COLLINS: We have more news that we are tracking tonight ahead of the townhall.
The war in Ukraine also now a war in Russia. Fighting intensifying in a Russian region that is near the border. As a conflict takes a new turn, we will go live next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COLLINS: Tonight, Nikki Haley could face questions about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, especially given her background at the United Nations and how she has spoken out on it previously.
Right now, the effort to take the war to Russian territory appears to be gaining momentum. The governor of the Belgorod region on the Ukrainian border is now reporting that at least seven people have been killed there by shelling since Friday.
It comes after two groups of these anti-Putin Russian fighters began these cross border incursions two weeks ago. The groups are not officially, I should note, part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but they do fall under the command of Ukraine's Security Forces.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Obviously, Fred, we're going to be watching to see what Nikki Haley says about this. This is a very important issue in the Republican field. But what are you seeing on the ground there?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, you're absolutely right, is that the war certainly seems to be coming to the Russian territories. But right now in general, Kaitlan, what we're seeing on the ground is the Russians really seem to be on the backfoot and the Ukrainians seem to be advancing.
There really isn't any part of a very long frontline right now, where the Russians would be moving forward at this point in time. At the same time, you do have the fact that for the last couple of days, there has been that cross border shelling from Ukrainian territory into Russian territory. It is that region near the town of Belgorod, the Belgorod region, where a lot of that shelling has been taking place.
And also, there have been some cross border incursions by those anti- Putin Russian fighters who of course, here in Ukraine, fight on the site of the Ukrainians, but the Ukrainians say when they go into Russian territory, they are doing that on their own.
Now, of course, the Russians don't buy that. They say that this is the Ukrainians who are behind it, but in any case, the Russians are having serious trouble coming to terms with that, and that in itself is hugely significant because the area around Belgorod, and I was there when the Russians first invaded Ukraine a little over a year ago, it is a highly militarized area.
It seems like an invincible area back then. Right now, the Russians having serious trouble trying to oust those Russian fighters who have crossed the border and gone into their territory.
All of this comes, Kaitlan, as the president of this country, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he says that the Ukrainians are now ready for a large scale counteroffensive. He hasn't said when exactly it's going to start, he says he thinks it's going to take a long time, but he also said that he thinks that it is going to be very successful.
That is certainly what people here on the ground are going to be looking out for. The Ukrainian military has already said they are not going to make an announcement when it happens. They also say the Russians are going to feel it.
COLLINS: Yes, and it was kind of like the invasion where you knew it was underway once it was actually underway.
Fred, thank you for that.
Dana, obviously, a big question for Nikki Haley tonight, for all the Republican candidates here.
BASH: And the Republican presidential field is split when it comes to what to do about Ukraine. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not think it is a top foreign policy priority for us. I don't think it is preferable for Russia to be able to invade a sovereign country that its neighbor, but I think the job of the US president is to look after American interest.
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we should be in Ukraine. I believe that the truth is simple, that degrading the Russian military is in America's best interest.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I'm president, I will have that war settled in one day, 24 hours.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In terms of what's going on over in Eastern Europe, you know, I'd like to see a settlement of this. I do not want to see a wider war. I think it's completely unknowable what it will look like in January of 2025, but I would not want to see the United States with our troops get enmeshed in a war in Russia or in Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: And then there's Nikki Haley. We will of course hear from her moments from now at our townhall.
At an event last month, she said the people of Ukraine "love their country and their freedom so much that they were willing to die for it. That used to be us. We used to be like that. So they deserve to have their country back and we deserve to always fight for freedom." -- Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes. We'll see what she says tonight. She is going to make her case to voters just minutes from now on that and much more as we are drawing closer to the CNN presidential townhall.
Some final thoughts on what we wait for including from someone who used to work for her next.
COLLINS: We are just minutes away from CNN's townhall with Republican presidential candidate, Nikki Haley.
The table back here with me now.
Rob, you used to work for her. Of course, you spent a lot of time with her. What are you -- but you're neutral in this race, I should note so far -- what are you looking for from her tonight?
GODFREY: Well, I expect all of these candidates have to say woke a number of times in all of these --
COLLINS: It's like a minimum.
GODFREY: Yes, there's a minimum. What I hope to hear talk about her record as governor. She was a record-setting job creator, she was a record setting recruiter of investment into the state. She was very successful.
She was successful with the UN. She stood up to our foes and stood with our allies. So, I hope to hear her talk about that stuff. And I hope to hear he talk more about that generational argument that is so important if the Republican Party is going to be one that continues to grow and thrive in a two-party system.
COLLINS: Yes. The argument that she's been making, saying they need a new generational leader. Of course, DeSantis, who is one of her biggest challenges right now, the one she might be the most critical of is even younger than she is.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, tactically, I want to see how she goes at DeSantis tonight, because in order to get to Trump, you've got to get past DeSantis and that is true for her and the rest of these people.
And I also want to hear one more thing. We were just talking about Russia. I want to hear Nikki Haley assail fellow Five Percenter, Vivek Ramaswamy, about what he said today that the United States needs to broker a deal in which we give major concessions to the Russians and reward this behavior.
She has been strong on Russia her entire career, and I think it would pretty awesome if she knocks the crap out of him --
DAVID AXELROD, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Why would she go after DeSantis on that? Who -- you walked it back, but he was the one who said we didn't have a vital national --
JENNINGS: He wasn't on TV this morning calling for major concessions to the Russians.
AXELROD: And even in that clip there, you know, he said, I want a settlement. Well, that's like code for making concessions to Russia at this point. I think that -- look, I think this is one area where she can differentiate herself and stand up on Ukraine, and the fact that her husband just got deployed and is in the military, not to Ukraine, but to Africa, gives her another element.
They are in a state where there are a lot of veterans. So I mean, I think that's a place where I would work.
SELLERS: One of the unique things about Nikki Haley is anybody who knows her or worked with her or served with her, I sat beside Nikki Haley for four years before she ran for governor, we know that she's extremely talented.
I've always said Nikki Haley is one of the most talented politicians in the entire country. The problem comes as David and Scott have both said that people don't know what she stands for.
So tonight, I think she has an opportunity to excel on issues like foreign policy, I think she can separate herself from Ron DeSantis and even Donald Trump and many others, but people have to leave tonight -- she gets one shot. I know, it's early, but Nikki Haley gets one shot.
While the Nuggets are playing and everybody else is playing, people are going to be watching this as well. She gets one opportunity to show the world what she stands for. And I think people still have those questions.
STEWART: Well, and I think the challenge is, is differentiating herself from Donald Trump and DeSantis, but doing so in a way that does not alienate Trump's base. You have to be able to go after him on policy, and not personally and she is committed to making that effort, to go on policy and not personality, because you have to have that base support moving forward.
And another on the generational change. She mentioned this at the beginning, hasn't really touched on it, but calling for competency evaluations for candidates over 75 years old. That is a direct thing at Donald Trump.
But the idea of a generational change, an optimistic leader is what I think many Republicans want to see.
FARAH GRIFFIN: I think Alice hit the nail on the head. Her sole mission tonight is to differentiate herself, but I would argue that the strongest way to do that at this juncture in the race is to go after the person that's polling in double digits ahead of everyone else.
If she actually worked to stick it to Donald Trump directly, criticize him and not just dance around it, you know, Trump policies without Trump, a lot of voters don't agree with all of Trump's policies. So start kind of finessing the areas where you do have disagreement, and show your next generation candidate who can deliver on the things you support, but also has policy difference.
GODFREY: I agree with you.
COLLINS: And we'll be seeing, especially now this is what she says on that, but also on abortion. I want to hand it over to Dana really quickly before we do get to the townhall.
BASH: Thanks, Kaitlan, and we're just under 90 seconds left until we get to the townhall. Audie, we go into this, this event, what's the most critical thing that you think has to happen for Nikki Haley?
CORNISH: I think we just heard on the other panel, this idea that people don't quite understand where she stands, who she is as a candidate and who she is differentiated from Trump, and I think that that is going to be very significant what she says about abortion, what she says about Russia and Ukraine, that sort of thing is what we'll be listening for.
BASH: And the key is what Jeff Zeleny said the top of the hour, Iowa voters traditionally historically, really do keep a very open mind.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR OF "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY": And they would like to be the kingmaker in the field although they haven't been for Republicans for probably close to some 20-plus years.
BASH: They haven't been, that's true.
PHILLIP: But I would just want to note, Ralph Norman told you that Nikki Haley would implement Donald Trump's policy effectively, that she doesn't really have that many differences policy-wise from Trump.
Meanwhile, our great colleagues in New York are discussing how she really needs to differentiate with him on policy versus on personality. So my question is, what's Nikki Haley going to do? Is she going to just say I'm going to be an implementer of all the things you loved about Trump?
I don't know how that flies in the Republican field in which Trump is in the field, but that is going to be a critical question of what she does there. Because I think that there's, you know, there's clearly some differences here between what Ralph Norman was saying and what our friends in New York think that she should be doing.
BASH: Okay, well, we are there. The CNN Republican presidential townhall with Nikki Haley starts right now.