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U.S. and U.K. Strike Iran-Backed Houthi Fighters in Yemen; South Africa Accuses Israel of Genocide in Gaza at U.N. Court; Closing Arguments Conclude in New York Civil Fraud Case. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired January 12, 2024 - 00:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes in Atlanta. Appreciate your company.

We begin with breaking news and concerns about a possible widening of conflict in the Middle East. The U.S. and U.K. have been striking Houthi targets in Yemen following a surge of attacks by the Iran- backed rebels against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Have a look at these images that came in a short time ago, showing American fighter jets taking off from the U.S.S Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier.

A senior U.S. military official says it's unclear what percentage of Houthi assets were destroyed inside Yemen. But he said the amount was significant.

The Houthis say they're retaliating. We're told U.S. and coalition forces hit more than 60 targets at 16 Houthi locations. And those targets included the militants' radar systems, along with storage and launch sites for ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones.

And I can show you where they're located. You can see there on the map.

The U.S. has carried out strikes against Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria in recent months, but this is the first known strike against the Houthis inside Yemen.

A clear sign of the growing alarm over the threat to international shipping in one of the world's most critical waterways.

The U.S. president issuing a statement: quote, "These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world's most critical commercial routes. I will not hesitate to further direct measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary." U.S. officials say the strikes targeted weapons used in Houthi attacks

on commercial shipping, attacks that have been going on for weeks now.

Oren Liebermann with the details from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: After repeated warnings to the Houthis in Yemen to stop attacking international shipping lanes in the Red Sea,, one of the world's most critical waterways, the U.S. and the U.K. got to the point where they felt compelled to act.

Early Friday morning, Yemen time, at about 02:30, according to U.S. Central Command, the U.S. and the U.K., backed by several partners, carried out a series of more than a dozen strikes against sites in Yemen used by the Houthis. Radar systems, storage and launch sites for UAVs, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles.

These are significant. The U.S. not trying to start a war or escalate with the Houthis. But these are the systems they have used repeatedly to attack international shipping lanes. According to U.S. Central Command, they have launched at least 27 attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Again, an absolutely critical waterway. And those attacks have forced some of the world's largest shipping companies to avoid the Red Sea, forcing them to add thousands of miles.

The U.S. set up Operation Prosperity Guardian with more than 20 other countries to defend those shipping lanes. But that was purely a defensive operation.

When those attacks continued,, and certainly after Tuesday, when we saw the largest such barrage launched from the Houthis, the U.S. stepped in, prepared its plans and finalized those plans, and then acted, carrying out those series of strikes, intended to degrade the ability of the Houthis, an Iranian-backed proxy in Yemen, to target international shipping here.

The U.S. trying to contain this, so it doesn't escalate too much, but fully aware of the risk of escalation here, knowing the Houthis have promised to respond to any American action.


It's worth noting that, even with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the hospital following complications from his surgery for prostate cancer, he tracked this very closely and was intimately involved in the planning over the course of the past 72 hours, holding two calls with President Joe Biden and multiple daily calls with the NSC, the chairman of the joint chiefs, and the commander of U.S. Central Command, General Kurilla.

Earlier on Thursday, he gave the order to execute those strikes, and we saw those play out late in the evening. The U.S. essentially carrying out the warning that we have seen them threaten repeatedly that, if the Houthi attacks on international shipping continue, the U.S. and the U.K. will be forced to act. And that is what we have seen.

Of course, the question, where does this go from here as the Houthis promised a response? And do the Iranians, essentially, get into this and respond in their own fashion?

Those are questions the U.S. has asked. And to find out the answer, they will watch the region very closely.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, in the Pentagon.


HOLMES: Houthi militants lashing out against the U.S. and U.K. strikes. One senior leader issuing a statement -- quoting here -- "We will confront America, make it kneel down and burn its battleships and all its bases and everyone who cooperates with it, no matter the cost."

The Houthi leader also calls on the world to prepare for America's defeat and vowed not to abandon the people of Gaza.

All right. Turning now to Washington, I want to bring in CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Good to see you, sir. So do you expect this to be short, sharp, and focused, or if the message isn't received, could it broaden?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Michael, I think it could broaden. And I know the Pentagon is optimistic that they will have a short and sweet, so to speak, effect on the Houthis and make them really, in essence, stop the type of activities that they've been doing in the Red Sea.

But I don't think that's going to be the way the Houthis are going to handle this. What they will probably do is they will try to redouble their efforts. There will have to be some restrikes of some of the targets that were hit. And there'll probably be some new targets that the U.S. and the U.K. and other countries will probably have to engage before this is over.

HOLMES: Unintended consequences are always possible, always feared. What are the risks? Could, you know, just for example, the civil war be reignited, the Saudi peace efforts derailed?

LEIGHTON: Yes, I think those are very valid concerns, Michael, because one of the key aspects of this environment was the fact that the Saudis were trying to, in essence, withdraw from their engagement in the Yemeni civil war. So that process has probably grind to a halt -- ground to a halt at this particular point.

And you also have a situation where this kind of activity on the part of the U.S., the U.K., and other countries, has the risk of igniting this conflict in a different way, perhaps, than it was originally. And that will, I think -- creates some other dynamics within the region, and some of those can't quite yet be foreseen. HOLMES: It's not a strike on Iran, not directly, but it's a strike on

a longtime Iranian proxy. How might Iran respond at all? And would a direct response be, you be, be direct or through proxies? I suppose it could -- it also could happen anywhere in the region, right? It could happen in Syria, Iraq.

LEIGHTON: Yes, absolutely. It could certainly happen in any part of the Middle East, most likely. It could also happen in other parts of the world. But it's most likely to occur in the Middle East but probably through proxies, because the Iranians don't want to, at least not yet, they don't seem to want to directly confront the U.S. and its allies.

The other aspect of this is that the proxies that Iran has aren't necessarily as directly controlled as we sometimes think they are by the Iranians. So the Houthis might have one idea, whereas the Iranians and Tehran might have a different idea of how to proceed with this.

So I think the Iranians are going to be cautious, but I think there is a risk that this could further inflame tensions, and there might be some sympathetic strikes in places like Iraq or Syria that will be tied to this action in the Red Sea.

HOLMES: And for the U.S., what about the optics of this? I mean, could it -- could it be seen by some in the region as the U.S. getting involved in the Gaza war? Importantly, on the side of Israel, given that the Houthis say they've been doing all of this for the people of Gaza?

LEIGHTON: Yes. I think that's a definite possible interpretation by many in Yemen, especially on the Houthi side. And it -- I think it would be a misinterpretation of -- of what the U.S. effort has.

The U.S. effort is designed to protect international commerce. It is not related to what the Israelis are doing in Gaza.


But the Houthis have conflated the issues and have made it very clear to their population that they believe these issues are connected to each other. And that, of course, is going to present a major difficulty in terms of managing perceptions and managing what happens next.


HOLMES: And -- and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had told President Biden that, if the United States did not move against the Houthis, Israel would.

Do you think that was part of the U.S. calculus? Heading off the possibility of Israel striking Yemen with all the regional fallout that could produce?

LEIGHTON: Well, it's -- I think it's a, perhaps, at best a tangential reason to do this at this particular point in time. I don't think the U.S. would have looked too kindly on the Israelis

doing something like this. We, I think, look at this as being something that should be handled on a more international level. And it's certainly better for the U.S. and its partners in this operation that the Israeli is not be involved in it.

So I think this was something that happened because of what the Houthis were doing primarily. But the Israeli comments, especially by the prime minister, were ones that do they had to, I think, respond to, to some degree, so that they wouldn't actually set this -- this whole region on fire even further.

HOLMES: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, always a pleasure, sir. Good to see you.

LEIGHTON: Good to see you, too, Michael. Thank you.

HOLMES: Still to come here on the program, the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are threatening to disrupt international shipping and the global economy. I'll speak with an expert about the potential impact of that.



HOLMES: All right, let's get you up to date on the breaking news. The U.S. and the U.K. have launched a series of air- and sea-based strikes on Houthi militants in Yemen.

The Pentagon says targets included drone, missile, radar and surveillance sites. A senior U.S. military official describing the damage as, quote, "significant."

The strikes come after weeks of attacks on commercial shipping by the Iran-backed group. The U.S. says more than 2,000 ships have been forced to reroute to avoid the Red Sea.

A senior Biden administration official says these U.K. and U.S. strikes might not be the final action against Houthi targets.

More on the military campaign from CNN's Alex Marquardt.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The United States and the United Kingdom have announced that they have carried out what they call precision strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, more than a dozen of them, because of the attacks by Houthi forces since late November against commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

This is the Red Sea, right here. It is a critical waterway that sees some 15 percent of the global shipping trade pass through it.

So there were more than a dozen strikes, mostly in the Western part of Houthi-controlled Yemen, in and around the capital, Sana'a, over here on the coast.

And then up here in Saada, we saw this video of the night sky glowing after these strikes. In just a moment, you'll see another strike right there.

In terms of the targets that were hit -- this is both according to the Pentagon, as well as the Houthis -- air bases and airports, camps, radar systems, drone storage, and launch sites. Drones have been central to those Houthi attacks.

You have ballistic and cruise missile storage and launch sites that were hit, as well as coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities.

Now, in terms of what was used in these strikes, you have fighter jets from both the U.S. and the United Kingdom. This is one of the British fighter jets that was taking off in order to carry out an airstrike.

You also have ships and submarine platforms that were used, according to the Pentagon. One of the submarines that was named was the U.S.S Florida. It's a guided missile submarine.

The ships and submarines are able to fire Tomahawk missiles against those -- those targets on Yemeni soil.

Now, to what extent the U.S.S Eisenhower carrier strike group was used, we don't know. But it has been in the region to try to deter any regional actors, including the Houthis and Iran, from expanding the conflict that we are seeing currently between Israel and Hamas.

The Houthis warning that they would retaliate against any international strikes. And the U.S. saying that they and their partners are prepared for that in the wake of their strike, saying this may not be the last word in terms of military action against the Houthis.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: Now the U.S. says more than 50 countries have been affected by dozens of Houthi attacks in recent months. A number of companies, including the Danish shipping giant Maersk, have been diverting their vessels away from the Red Sea and taking the long way around the Southern tip of Africa.

That adds thousands of nautical miles to the journey and causes weeks of delays in shipping times. All of that adding up to a major potential threat to the world economy.


LAEL BRAINARD, U.S. NATIONAL ECONOMIC ADVISER: We are very focused on the economic side, on monitoring potential effects on the U.S. economy.

Some shippers are taking alternate routes. That is leading to longer shipping times. But so far, that really hasn't had an effect on the U.S. economy.


HOLMES: Joining me now from Oslo, Norway, Jorgen Lian is the head of shipping equity research at DNB Markets.

Thanks for being with us. Before we get to the business of shipping, let's begin with the strikes on the Houthis. This has been talked about as a possibility for weeks now after the attacks on shipping. What's your reaction to it? How do you expect it to unfold?

JORGEN LIAN, HEAD OF SHIPPING EQUITY RESEARCH, DNB MARKETS: I think it's encouraging to see that the strikes that have just been announced and made in order to deter further Houthi attacks. Hopefully, that can put an end to what's been going on and get things back to normal again.

HOLMES: For those who don't know, just how important is the Red Sea for shipping? A lot of people watching probably just go buy their stuff at the store -- store. But how important is it for all our lives when it comes to getting things from A to B?


LIAN: It's hugely important as a waterway, essentially connecting the East with the West. So seaborne trade, just firstly, accounts for 85 percent of global trade, which is more than 1.5 tons per capita each year.

Of this roughly ten to 15 percent transits the Red Sea. Differences between segments. So 20 plus percent of container trade, ten to 15 percent of tanker trade, and so on.

So this essentially means the food on our tables, clothes on our back, the energy and fuels that we consume. The list goes on.

HOLMES: Yes, and rerouting isn't just about inconvenient delays, is it? I mean, inflation can be impacted; global trade volume and so on. What real-world impacts come from the rerouting of goods this way?

LIAN: There's essentially two things that happens. So the first is time, and the second is cost, and they're slightly connected.

So the former initially leads to short-term disruptions by adding ten to 15 days to the time spent in transit and potentially an immediate shortage of goods until the trade routes are re-established.

Then secondly, that ties up transport capacity and equipment for longer, which leads to tight supply in freight markets.

And that leads us on to the second point, which means increased costs, which is also twofold.

So firstly, there's longer sailing distances. That means more fuel costs to operate the ships. And then, in addition, the tightening of the shipping market itself increases the freight rates when customers need to compete for the available slots.

Now that's where the costs really start to skyrocket and benefit the companies facing near these types of markets, especially as the supply of number of ships is very inelastic in the short term.

HOLMES: It's a great explainer of the effects. A lot of people might be surprised that a group of rebels can, and with a good measure of success, hold elements of the global economy hostage.

I mean, how fragile does this make the system look? How fragile is it?

LIAN: Yes, who will hear that's -- that's the big question. How long this will last and go on.

So far, I'd say the ramification of these disruptions and locked into impact full on the global economy. Yet, it would have been much more extreme had the Suez Canal closed off completely and also affected other types of shipping, like energy shipping into Europe, for instance, that it seems less routine so far.

But again, the U.S. led the coalition operation prosperity audience proven it effectively can intercept widescale attacks and should provide some comfort for the merchant fleet. Up until now, we've seen thee effects -- these attacks being nouns.

But it truly does show how fragile supply chains are. It's not the first time there have been closures before. So from 1967, the Suez Canal was closed for eight years, causing high energy prices for into the '70s.

And there was also short, a short hiccup for the Ever Given in 2021.

HOLMES: You know, again, it's a good point, because there's already some problems, right, with traffic through the Panama Canal has been affected by a severe drought, hasn't it? Is there a compounding effect of multiple issues?

LIAN: Well, in the shipping markets get very sensitive when they first start to get tight, as that's when the marginal willingness for freight comes into -- into the equation. And that's much higher than the cost of shipping, essentially.

So, to answer the question shortly, yes. They both contribute to disruptions. And that tends to be huge positive for an industry that that is generally characterized by very fierce competition and high efficiency necessary among the operators to survive.

So these two events, they might not be hugely interconnected as such, but in tandem, they are definitely fueling the shipping markets upward across several sectors.

HOLMES: Great analysis. Jorgen Lain in Oslo. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

All right. We'll have much more on our breaking news after a quick break. Also ahead, Israel accused of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

The first day of arguments at the top U.N. court. That's coming up next.



HOLMES: Welcome back. We continue to follow the breaking news out of Yemen, where the U.S. and U.K. have been striking targets in Houthi- controlled areas.

This is a direct response to the barrage of attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea by Houthi militants supported and funded by Iran.

U.S. Central Command releasing these images of fighter jets taking off from the U.S.S Dwight Eisenhower aircraft carrier.

The Royal Air Force, which you'll see in this next video, also carrying out deliberate strikes on Houthi facilities in Yemen.

And here's where that's all playing out. A U.S. commander says more than 60 Houthi targets were hit at 16 militant locations. The rebel group has vowed to, quote, "tread on America with our feet" and called on the world to prepare for America's defeat.

The U.S., U.K., and eight other countries issued a joint statement on the strikes against Houthi targets, reading in part, quote, "Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea. But let our message be clear. We will not hesitate to defend lives and protect the free flow of commerce in one of the world's most critical waterways in the face of continued threats."

Now, Australia is one of the nations that provided support for those strikes. Here's the Australian defense minister.


RICHARD MARLES, AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: These are very important actions. The actions that have been taken today, supported by Australia, are about maintaining freedom of navigation on the high seas. They're about maintaining global trade. And that is completely central to Australia's national interest.



HOLMES: The Houthi deputy foreign minister is warning the U.S. and U.K. to prepare for severe repercussions. Another senior leader said the militant group has already launched retaliatory attacks.

CNN's Nic Robertson with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: So those targets in the town in the Southwest of Taiz and the Western port city of Hudaydah along the border or close to the border with Saudi Arabia, the town of Saada and also around Sana'a, the capital, those targets there at radar sites; at ballistic missile launch and storage sites; cruise missile launch and storage sites; drone -- drone launch and storage sites. Those are intended, as the coalition says, as the United States says, to send a message, but they're intended to degrade the Houthis' ability to target shipping in the Red Sea.

But already, the Houthis are saying that they are going to respond against U.S. and U.K. interests. It was U.K. Typhoon fighter jets that -- that targeted two different sites. It was United States missiles and fighter aircraft that targeted other sites.

So Houthis say that they're going to respond, that it's not quite clear how they'll respond to U.K./U.S. interests in the region. How will they respond?

The potential here for escalation is very real. And it could be that the Houthis continue to try to target shipping in the Red Sea to send a message.

Remembering, of course, that after October 7, they began by trying to target Israel, by selling cruise missiles to Israel, and that some of those were intercepted by the United States by the U.K., and also by Saudi Arabia.

So there are a number of different ways and places that the Houthis can target back. They've had a long-running war against Saudi Arabia that only just ended not so long ago, where they were sending long- range cruise missiles to the capital, Riyadh. They've sent drones into the United Arab Emirates.

So there's a number of ways that they can destabilize, in their own view, U.K. and U.S. interests in the region by doing it not just in the Red Sea, but more broadly across the region.

So the concerns of the Saudis about the potential for escalation are very real. They've been worrying about the October 7th attacks, Israel's response to that; escalating tensions; the Northern border in Israel with Lebanon and Hezbollah. All these Iranian-backed proxies trying to stoke tensions in the region.

And the Houthis are the one that seem to have precipitated this particular escalation.

The Saudis, of course, are saying that the -- the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea is of vital importance to the region. So that a lot -- while they are not part of that military coalition in the Red Sea, they are clearly giving it a green light to go ahead.

But this potential right now, depending on the Houthi response, this is a very, very volatile time right now.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Tel Aviv, Israel. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: South Africa accused Israel of genocide in Gaza in a historic case at the U.N.'s top court on Thursday in the first of two days of hearings at the International Court of Justice.

South Africa is calling on the court to order a halt to Israel's military campaign in Gaza, arguing that Israel's attacks are intended to, quote, "bring about the destruction" of the enclave's Palestinian population.

A lawyer for South Africa says the world has failed the people of Gaza.


BLINNE NI GHRALAIGH, LAWYER REPRESENTING SOUTH AFRICA: Despite the horror of the genocide against the Palestinian people being livestreamed from Gaza to our mobile phones, computers, and television screens, the first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time, in the desperate, so far vain hope that the world might do something.

Gaza represents nothing short of a moral failure.


HOLMES: Now, with emotions running high, both pro-Palestinian and pro- Israel demonstrators gathered outside the court in the Hague. Israel will defend -- will deliver its response in court in the coming hours. It strongly denies the allegations, calling the case "atrocious" and "preposterous."


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): South Africa's hypocrisy screams to the high heavens. Where was South African when millions of people were being murdered and uprooted from their homes in Syria and Yemen by whom? By Hamas's partners. The world is upside-down. Where were you? We know where we are.


HOLMES: The executive director of Human Rights Watch, she joins me now from New York with more.


Before we get onto the report, I wanted to begin with the International Court of Justice case. Israel says, of course, it's defending itself from a Hamas genocide. The prime minister said that Thursday.

The South African case, of course, says the opposite: Israel is perpetrating a genocide. How strong do you think the South African case is? TIRANA HASSAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Well, I mean,

South Africa is actually asking the International Court of Justice to determine if Israel's military operations in Gaza are in contravention of the convention against genocide. And also, if Israel has actually failed to prevent genocide.

And these allegations are before the world court, because it underlines the seriousness of the situation and the gravity of the allegations.

But it really is for the court to determine the strengths of South Africa's case. But we certainly do support it, Human Rights Watch, the court's jurisdiction and its ability to hear this very important matter.

HOLMES: All right. Let's turn now to the Human Rights Watch world report for 2023, which you authored. The report's headline says, quote, "The Human Rights System is Under Threat: A Call to Action." What action is most urgently required?

HASSAN: Well -- let's go back a second, because we have to look at the threats that were there. And the major threats that we saw in 2023 was an alarming rise in two particular types of actions by states in -- that make up the international community.

One is double standards, where we saw a kind of selective outrage being implemented by states. A prime example of this is states like the United States and member states of the European Union, who rightly and loudly condemned the attacks on October 7th in Israel but were much more muted when it came to Israel's response and the bombardments and the deaths of civilians in Gaza.

And the other big trend that we saw was that there was a -- there was this alarming move into what we refer to as transactional diplomacy. And that's where governments were prepared to sort of turn a blind eye to domestic human rights abuses in countries, so that they could advance their short-term political gains, whether they be security or to secure energy deals or trade.

And a prime example of this has been Australia and the U.S. rolling out the red carpet for Prime Minister Modi of India, completely ignoring the fact that there has been an increase in repression under the Modi government, particularly of ethnic minorities, free press and civil society.

So what we are calling for and what needs to change is that we need to see more consistency and commitment to the rules of international law, of human rights law, and principled decision-making by states.

Because if we don't see that, then there's a real risk that the system that we rely on for our own fundamental rights and freedoms will come -- will be questioned. It becomes fragile, and it can be attacked by nefarious actors who would like to see the end of it. Countries like China and Russia, for example.

HOLMES: Right. Do you feel the work of human rights groups is undermined by the world valuing some lives more than others?

HASSAN: Actually, it reinforces what is important about human rights groups. I mean, what we have seen this year is the threats that emerge if there is an inconsistency in the application of human rights.

What human rights law tells us is that all lives, no matter where they are, no matter what their ethnicity or their religion, have the same value. And if countries are to sort of choose selectively which situations they engage in to protect those lives, it will undermine the system.

So it is imperative that we protect civil society and human rights groups, whether they're international groups like Human Rights Watch or a local human rights organization in Uganda.

HOLMES: Right.

HASSAN: It is imperative that they play that role to keep governments to account.

HOLMES: It's an important annual report. Tirana Hassan with Human Rights Watch, thanks so much.

HASSAN: Thanks for having me.

HOLMES: Much more to come on our breaking news when we return.

Also to come, we'll tell you about closing arguments in Donald Trump's new civil fraud trial in New York. And the familiar but false claims he's still making.



HOLMES: President Joe Biden says the U.S. will not hesitate to take further action if Iran-backed Houthi rebels don't stop their attacks on shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

The U.S. and U.K. launched a series of air strikes and sea-based strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen early on Friday. A senior Houthi leader says the militant group has responded with retaliatory attacks.

The U.S. says the Houthis have launched at least 27 missile and drone attacks on commercial shipping in recent months.

Reaction coming in from U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He says, quote, "President Biden's decision to use military force against these Iranian proxies is overdue. The United States and our allies must leave no room to doubt that the days of unanswered terrorist aggression are over."

Turning to New York now, where both sides wrapped up closing arguments in Donald Trump's $370 million civil fraud trial. The judge expected to rule by the end of the month. Trump delivered what were effectively campaign speeches, both inside

and outside the courtroom, repeating a litany of false claims, saying he's won the case, when the judge has already determined he is liable for fraud, and claiming he was denied a jury trial, when his own lawyers failed to ask for one.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We didn't have a jury. We had no rights to a jury.

This is a statute that's a consumer fraud statute. Never been used for anything like this before. And it's a shame.

We won this case already in the court of appeals.


HOLMES: The former president launched into a five-minute monologue from the defense table after the judge allowed him to address the court directly.

CNN chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid with more on that, and the rest of the story.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, former President Trump getting the last word in at closing arguments. Usually, closing arguments are an opportunity for lawyers to summarize their theory of the case.

REID (voice-over): And the day kicked off with Trump's lawyer, Chris Kise, laying out their theory of the case, arguing that this is a political persecution; and that his client, Trump, had no intention of defrauding banks; and that the banks were never harmed.

But after Kise wrapped his remarks, he then asked if his client could have a few minutes to address the court.

And look, the judge granted it, saying, I'll give you five minutes. And the judge had previously set a restriction on Trump, saying you can participate in closing arguments, but you get give a campaign speech.

And that's exactly what Trump did: attacking the judge, attacking the attorney general's office, and insisting that he is a, quote, "innocent man."

REID: Now, Trump addressed the public on his way into court, on his way out of court, those remarks in court, and then had a press conference. So it appears that he got a real return on investment here in terms of amplifying his argument that he is being targeted because of a desire by his political opponents to try to, quote, "interfere in this election."

But I want to note something that the attorney general's office said in their closing arguments. They noticed that, even though Chris Kise talked for two hours, other attorneys got up and laid out their closing arguments, not one person addressed the false financial statements that Trump submitted that misrepresented his assets by billions. And those are really the key to this case.

Paula Reid, CNN, New York.


HOLMES: President Biden's son, Hunter, pleaded not guilty to tax- related charges in federal court in California on Thursday.

Prosecutors say for tax years 2016 through 2019, Hunter Biden spent his money on drugs escorts, and girlfriends, luxury hotels, exotic cars, and on basically everything but his taxes.

His attorney argues that the charges are part of a political hit job.

Republicans have accused President Biden of benefiting financially from his son's business dealings with Ukrainian and Chinese companies. These claims have not been proven.

The judge has set Hunter Biden's trial date for June 20.

The U.S. military has not properly tracked more than $1 billion worth of weapons for Ukraine. That's according to a new report by the Pentagon's inspector general.

The weapons belong to a category that requires enhanced monitoring after their exports, things like Javelin missiles, and night vision equipment.

The watchdog says it is outside the scope of its investigation to find out what happened to them. But the Pentagon suggests there's no reason to believe foul play was involved.


MAJ. GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: No credible evidence of illicit diversion of U.S.-provided advanced conventional weapons from Ukraine.

We do see some instances of Russia continuing to spread disinformation to the contrary. But the fact is, is we observe the Ukrainians employing these capabilities on the battlefield. We're seeing them use them effectively.


HOLMES: Now the report came as congressional Republicans are stalling more than 60 billion in U.S. military aid for Ukraine. The findings could bolster their argument against sending more money. The U.S. and U.K. have conducted military strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen. When we come back, we'll bring you the latest on those attacks and their aftermath.



HOLMES: All right. Here's a quick update on the strikes in Yemen by American and British forces.

They hit multiple radar, drone and missile sites, marking the first known U.S. strikes on the Iranian proxies in Yemen. The Houthis later claiming they launched counterstrikes on American and British warships, but no word of that coming through as of yet.

A senior U.S. official says Friday's strikes might not be their last word on the attacks on Houthi targets there. The strikes in Yemen following weeks of Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea, one of the world's key commercial sea lanes.

CNN's M.J. Lee, with the latest from the White House.


M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden saying Thursday night that the U.S. is sending a clear message to the Houthis that their ongoing attacks in the Red Sea will no longer be tolerated.

LEE (voice-over): He said in a statement that he will also not hesitate to direct further measures to protect U.S. personnel and the freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.

U.S. officials, of course, have been warning for weeks --

LEE: -- that the Houthis must stop its attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea. And last week we saw a U.S. official give what they said was a final warning.

And what we are learning tonight is that the attacks that we saw from the Houthis on Tuesday-- This was just two days ago -- had targeted some U.S. vessels.

And what we are told by sources is that, had it not been for this defensive coalition called Operation Prosperity Guardian that was already set up by the U.S. and a number of its allies in the Red Sea, that we may have seen situations where ships were sunk by these attacks.


And that there was even an instance within the last month where a commercial vessel, that carrying jet fuel, may have been hit. This senior official saying that some of these were basically close calls.

Now, it was after these Tuesday's attacks that President Biden, we're told, convened his national security team and asked them to draw up a number of possible plans for retaliation. And that is what ultimately culminated in these airstrikes conducted by the U.S. and the U.K., with the support of a number of other nations.

And what one senior military official said Thursday night was, while it's not possible to say exactly what the damage was, that the damage to the Houthi rebels and Houthi assets, for the time being, could be described as significant.

M.J. Lee, CNN, the White House.


HOLMES: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM, spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. I will be back with more news after the break.