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White House Attacks GOP Criticism Of Biden's Age In New Memo; Trump Again Calls Jailed Jan. 6 Rioters "Hostages"; New Book Warns How U.S. Elections Could (Legally) Be Stolen; Haley Responds To Trump Attack On Husband; Trump Says He Would Not Protect NATO Allies From Russia; Chiefs And 49ers Set To Face Off In Big Game Tomorrow. 7:00-8p ET

Aired February 10, 2024 - 19:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. Good evening tonight.

It is getting personal between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, two weeks before South Carolina's Republican primary. The former president is taking personal shots at Haley rather than focusing on policy differences. He mocked her husband for not being with her out on the campaign trail.

He is currently deployed overseas with the South Carolina National Guard. But here's what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where's her husband? Oh, he's away. He's away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He's gone. He knew. He knew.


ACOSTA: Again, he is deployed overseas right now. And moments ago, the former South Carolina governor hit back at Donald Trump demanding that the former president confront her directly.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump had a rally today. And in that rally, he mocked my husband's military service.

And I'll say this. Donald, if you have something to say, don't say it behind my back. Get on a debate stage and say it to my face.

If you mock the service of a combat veteran, you don't deserve a driver's license, let alone being president of the United States.


ACOSTA: And we'll talk about that more in just a moment. But here in Washington, the Attorney General Merrick Garland is facing fresh scrutiny from his own boss, President Biden, is reportedly telling advisors that Garland did not go far enough to rein in a searing special counsel report that referred to him as an elderly man with a poor memory.

Let's begin now with CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. She covers the White House for us and the White House not pulling any punches tonight in responding to Hur's report, responding to Republicans criticizing the president using that report.

But also you're picking up on some reporting that inside the White House, there are some not so good feelings about the Attorney General Merrick Garland.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the White House is going on the offensive here, but the posture from the White House has been that they're not going to interfere with any Justice Department investigations no matter how they feel about it.

But they did really lean in on some of what has been in this report, particularly going after the president's age and apparent memory lapses.

In a newly released memo today, Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson said the following, "This undeniable record referring to the president's legislative accomplishments speaks to why it's no surprise that Republican officials continue their desperate and inadvertently self-undermining age attacks after many years of failure. They're afraid of Joe Biden."

This memo also goes on to name General Mark Milley and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as saying that they -- that they've engaged with the president. He's alert. He's sharp. And that's the message that the White House really wants to send out here, especially as this report calls into question the president's age, which has been a defining theme of this election year.

We've seen in poll after poll that voters continue to express concern about the president's age and whether he's fit for office. And we saw it from the president himself at a news conference where he also took direct aim, especially the mention in the report that he couldn't remember when his son died.

So all of these themes are converging here and really showing this very tricky landscape that the White House and the campaign has had to navigate.

Now, in talking to senior campaign officials, what they'll tell you is the president has to be on the campaign trail. And when he's engaging with voters one-on-one, that is when voters can pass their own judgment and see the president the way that his aides say he is in private meetings, sharp and tireless. But, of course, he has to get out and do that.

Now, there has been an uptick in these traditional retail politics. We have seen that he's in much smaller intimate settings. That's what he does best in. And that is what we're going to continue to see as the White House pushes the image of Biden that they say happens in the Oval Office, someone who is sharp and that is ready to serve a second term and going against what is in the report as it relates to his age and any memory lapses.

ACOSTA: All right. Priscilla Alvarez, thank you very much.

And joining me now. Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.

I guess, you know, we're picking up on some reporting that the president is frustrated with the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, because of what was said in the special counsel's report. What's your sense of it? What -- are you also concerned about how the attorney general has handled this?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, if I were the president, I'd be very frustrated too, because most of that report was just a partisan hit job, completely editorializing about the president.


Remember, the special counsel's role is just to determine whether or not there's proper cause to go forward with a prosecution. And he said that no criminal charges were indicated, and there should be no prosecution. That should have been the end of it. The whole thing could have been three to five pages. Instead, you get a couple hundred of pages, which allow him to audition for whatever partisan assignment he wants in the GOP, but it's very unfair to the criminal suspect in this case.

And that's a, you know, a basic principle of our jurisprudence. I mean, if a jury finds somebody not guilty, they don't get up and start lecturing person. The person who was tried on their way of life, or they've got to stop drinking, or they should start hanging around with the new crowd or whatever, it just doesn't make any sense. And it's the same thing with a prosecutor.

ACOSTA: And what do you think about Robert Hur, the special counsel here? Do you think that he has come across as being overly partisan?

I know last year, if I'm not mistaken, you said that he was trustworthy, that he should be trusted in all of this.

What's changed? And I guess, what's your response to how he's handled this?

RASKIN: Well, he's proven himself to be going way beyond the specific call of professional duty here. Undoubtedly, it makes Republicans happy that they've got some talking points about their favorite critique of the president, which is his age and his memory.

And, you know, I just feel like at Valley Forge, President Biden really set the stage for what this year in this election is about. It is democracy and freedom versus the autocrats and the kleptocrats and the dictators and everybody on their side, whether it's, you know, Putin in Moscow or Trump in Mar-a-Lago or the MAGA people with Mike Johnson.

They're going to throw anything that they can at Joe Biden and the Democrats. And I don't blame Joe Biden for being mad, but I think people understand what's happened here with that special report. And you get up, you dust yourself off, and you keep going because the stakes of this campaign are just massive for the future of American democracy and democracy on the planet Earth.

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I know it's not your party that we're talking about here. It's on the Republican side of things. But as we were playing at the top of this program, Donald Trump went after Nikki Haley's husband, who was serving in the South Carolina National Guard overseas right now, and was essentially saying at this rally earlier today, where is he? Where is her husband?

The South Carolina governor, the former South Carolina governor has responded to that saying that Donald Trump should say these things to her face. But Trump does have a track record of sometimes denigrating people who have served in uniform. He has talked about men in uniform, men in women in uniform who have died in service and called them suckers and losers. That has been reported.

What was your response when you saw Trump going after Nikki Haley's husband earlier today?

RASKIN: Well, he mocked John McCain, saying that he likes the people who go to war who are not captured, in other words, blaming him for being a prisoner of war and enduring heroically his several years as a captive.

He has said of people in service. He doesn't understand what's in it for them. And that's really the heart of it. It's not just people in service in the military uniform. It's anybody who does anything on behalf of other people.

Ultimately, Donald Trump's sole and dominant and overriding cause is Donald Trump. And he took millions and millions of dollars from foreign governments in blatant defiance of the Constitution, which bans the collection of foreign government emoluments from kings and princes and states, but he pocketed all of that. He ran the White House like a for-profit money-making operation. And he brags about it.

So if he turns on other Republicans who don't get in line and act like members of a religious cult, it's not a matter of surprise anymore. He wants to be a dictator, and everyone has to follow his lead.

So I would urge Nikki Haley to come on over to the Democratic side or at least leave the Republican Party and do her own thing. Follow Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and the other honorable Republicans who don't want to have anything to do with this drive towards autocracy in dictatorship in the United States of America.

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I also have to ask you, Trump was essentially taking credit for taking the bipartisan, tanking the bipartisan border bill he was doing this earlier today at his rally in South Carolina. Let's listen to that.


TRUMP: This week, we also had another massive victory that every conservative should celebrate. We crushed crooked Joe Biden's disastrous open borders bill.

Mike Johnson did a very good job. And the whole group did a great job in Congress. We crushed it. We saved America from yet another horrific Biden betrayal.



ACOSTA: Congressman, is there any hope of this bill coming back from what looks like the dead at this point?

RASKIN: Well, Senator McConnell was completely behind the bill that Trump is denouncing now, as was Senator Lankford, who was assigned to go and negotiate it with the Democrats. They got the vast majority of what they wanted in terms of tougher border enforcement, more agents at the border, more asylum judges at the border, more drug detection machinery at the border.

But Donald Trump blew it up because he doesn't want a border solution. He wants a border problem to be running against.

And so now, he can take credit for any undocumented people who come into the country between now and the election. It's all on his hands because there was this historic bipartisan compromise that was forged.

Meantime, it wasn't just the destruction of the border and immigration provisions that he was after working for the guys back in the home office in Moscow, he also wanted to blow up the $60 billion in aid that the vast majority of people in Congress want to get to the people of Ukraine resisting Vladimir Putin's filthy, bloody, imperialist invasion of their country.

But that wouldn't do for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and Marjorie Taylor Greene and the others in the MAGA faction. So they wanted --


RASKIN: -- to derail the whole thing. We're talking about really the future of freedom and democracy in Europe. Because if Putin takes Ukraine, there's not going to be any stopping him. And the autocrats are on the march. And Donald Trump is their friend. It's very clear.

ACOSTA: And, Congressman, I have to ask you about some politics going on in the state of Maryland. Former Republican governor Larry Hogan has announced he's going to run for the Senate. I know there was some talk that there might be a Congressman Jamie Raskin campaign for the Senate in the state of Maryland.

I don't know if you detected this, but it seems like there has been some conversation about whether or not this Senate seat is now in jeopardy because Larry Hogan, who was a popular governor, is now going to make a run at this.

Have you given any further consideration to perhaps jumping in this race yourself? Perhaps the Democrats need more of a marquee name like a Jamie Raskin running for the Senate seat. What do you think?

RASKIN: Well, the filing deadline was yesterday. So, you know, I'm committed to absolute democratic victory in Maryland. Larry Hogan is just going to be another brick in the wall for Mitch McConnell and for Donald Trump. And that's the bottom line.

I mean, he can say whatever he will. He may try to walk back his anti- abortion politics. He might try to walk back his extreme positions against gun safety regulation. The bottom line is he's with the Republicans and the Donald Trump faction, the MAGA faction, as we've been saying, controls and dominates the party.

And if he really wants to oppose them, he should get the hell out of the Republican Party with Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and the other honorable Republicans who say there's nothing left there.

Otherwise, I don't think he's got any chance at all. And I am going to be completely committed to the election of our Democratic nominee for the Senate. But I have felt, given the gravity of this election, that as much as I might have wanted to run for Senate and try out a new institution, my place has got to be fighting for Democrats across the country.

I've been to 17 states. I'm going to at least a dozen more states to fight for Democrats across the country. It's an all-hands-on-deck moment. And I didn't want to be raising tens of millions of dollars to spend against Democrats in Maryland. I want to be raising tens of millions of dollars to support Democrats across the country.

We have to take the House back. We've got to hold the Senate. And, of course, we need to defend the White House. And this is, by far, the most important election of our lifetime. I mean, this is the fight of our lives we're in.

ACOSTA: All right, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Thank you very much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

RASKIN: Thanks for having me, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Good to see you.

All right. What would it take to steal the U.S. presidency through completely legal means? I know that is a kind of a crazy question. But up next, we're talking with the co-author of an upcoming book that details exactly how that could happen. Yes, it could happen. And how we could correct weaknesses in the system. We'll talk about that in a few moments. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Today, former president Donald Trump is once again taking up for jailed at January 6 rioters, referring to them as hostages.


TRUMP: But when people who love our country protest on January 6th in Washington, D.C., they become hostages for many years unfairly imprisoned for long periods of time. We're a third world nation that has weaponized its law enforcement against the opposing political party.


ACOSTA: Joining us now to discuss is constitutional scholar and Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig. He's one of the authors of the upcoming new book, "How To Steal A Presidential Election." It takes a look at how the American presidency could be stolen by entirely legal means.

And, Professor, thanks so much for being here. I sort of wonder whether January 6th and the lead up to January 6th is prominently featured in that book. I have to assume there's some mention of it or some mention of what was going on with the alternate slates of electors and so on.

But, you know, if Biden somehow beats Trump in November again, could we see another January 6-style effort to overturn that election basically the same way?


LAWRENCE LESSIG, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, January 6 was the dumbest possible way they could have tried to overturn the election. We -- my co-author and I, Matt Seligman, had taught a course about how to hack the presidential election in the fall of 2020. And there were a lot of techniques that they could have deployed.

But one we never thought of was the attempt to overthrow the Capitol on January 6. But if they try it again, we think that they're going to be much smarter. And that's why we wrote this book to highlight the obvious ways in which they could try to flip the result if the result goes for Joe Biden when Donald Trump wants to make sure he's the next president.

ACOSTA: And Lawrence to tell us, I mean, we want to buy the book and read it for ourselves, but give us an example.

LESSIG: Well, one of them was discussed by Justice Alito in the argument the other day in the Colorado case. The Constitution gives to Congress the power to say one electors are selected. But after the case that the court decided in 2020 about whether electors are free to vote however they want, it's now clear that states have the power to tell electors how they must vote.

So Justice Alito asked the question, what happens if after an election the state legislature doesn't believe the results are accurately reflected in the count of the electors' board? Could they stayed just -- could the legislature just tell the electors that they have to vote for Donald Trump, even though the state went for Joe Biden?

And the problem that we've identified in the book is that that seems to be the law as it is right now. No doubt Justice Kagan did not intend that when she wrote the opinion in the Chiafalo case. But it's where we are and it's one of the things we need to protect against to assure that that game is not played next election.

ACOSTA: And one of Trump's most ardent defenders, Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, who's been talked about as a potential running mate, she was asked whether she would have certified the votes on January 6. And here's what she told my colleague, Kaitlan Collins.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): I would not have done what Mike Pence did. I don't think that was the right approach. I specifically stand by what I said on the House floor. And I stand by my statement, which was there was unconstitutional --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: So you could have rejected the votes?

STEFANIK: -- overreach in states like Pennsylvania. And I think it's very important that we continue to stand up for the Constitution and have legal and secure elections, which we did not have in 2020. And the tens of millions of Americans agree with me.


ACOSTA: Yes. Lawrence, I mean, what was your response to that when you heard that? Because you could see sort of the gears turning in the minds of some of our politicians in this country, particularly on the right in the Trump camp, who seem to think that they can just come up with any excuse, any cockamamie reason to throw out the will of the voters.

LESSIG: Yes. That was the most ignorant statement that I've seen. And I've seen a lot of ignorant statements from Congress about what our Constitution means. Our Constitution is a federalist system. It says to the states, you select the electors.

And when you select the electors and they cast their vote, Congress' job, under the 12th Amendment, is to -- and the second -- and Article II is to, quote, count the votes. It's not to police the election process in the states. It's not to second guess the judges or the governor's certification in the state. Its only job is to count the votes.

So when Elise Stefanik or Josh Hawley in 2020 went around saying that Congress was the place where they would adjudicate whether the votes were properly counted or included or too many votes in Pennsylvania had been included, that was just completely ignorant or a defiance of our constitutional system. And so she can describe that theory. That's actually the first theory that we address in our book. And we conclude as John Eastman, who concocted the theory concluded in a podcast he did with us that there is no basis in law for the idea that the vice president has any authority except to simply count the votes that are presented.

Pennsylvania presented one slate of electors. That slate was certified six days before the electoral -- before the electors were to vote. Under the electoral count act and exist right -- existed then, there is no basis for them to second guess those votes.

ACOSTA: Right.

LESSIG: Because the only question for Congress is whether the votes of the electors were regularly given, which obviously in 2020, they were.

ACOSTA: And I guess, Lawrence, one of the questions that I have is, you know, has -- you know, the genie been let out of the bottle to some extent now. And you were saying at the beginning of this interview that, you know, people who want to try to overturn the next election or steal the next election to put it more bluntly, will just be smarter about it the next time around.

How do -- how does the public guard against that? How do voters? in this democracy guard against that?


LESSIG: Well, you know, I think it's a core problem we have here is a loss of good faith on both sides of the aisle. I don't mean that both sides have lost good faith, but we can't rely on a system of good faith, which is why all of these little loopholes inside of the law are extremely dangerous because they're playing constitutional hardball. They'll do whatever it takes.

Now, I think the Democrats could do the same thing. You know, I think that there's been talk about challenging Donald Trump's electoral votes on January 6, claiming he's an insurrectionist.

I also think that would be unconstitutional because the only question on January 6 is counting the votes that the electors have cast.

So both sides could play this game. And the dangerous thing is we need a public that demands they play fair. And that requires them the public understanding exactly what the threat is, which is exactly why Matt and I wrote this book.

ACOSTA: Well, Professor Lessig, we're going to check out this book. No question about it. And hopefully there will be a test after it. Maybe the test is coming this November.

But the new book, "How to Steal a Presidential Election," comes out next Tuesday. Lawrence Lessig, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

LESSIG: Thank you, Jim. ACOSTA: All right. In the meantime, Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are going back and forth against, and are getting personal after Trump took a shot at Haley's husband who is serving his country overseas.

We'll get a reaction from the former defense secretary, Mark Esper, on all of that in just a few moments. Stay with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.




NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump had a rally today, and in that rally, he mocked my husband's military service.


HALEY: And I'll say this, Donald, if you have something to say, don't say it behind my back. Get on a debate stage and say it to my face.


HALEY: If you mock the service of a combat veteran, you don't deserve a driver's license, let alone being president of the United States.


ACOSTA: With me now to discuss is former Defense secretary under President Trump, Mark Esper.

Mr. Secretary, I'm sure you saw some of this earlier today at a rally in South Carolina. Trump went after Nikki Haley's husband who is serving overseas right now. And during those comments, Trump said where's Nikki Haley's husband and so on. That was Nikki Haley's reaction to that.

What was your response when you heard what Trump had to say?


Look, it's hard to understand why he would do that. What does he gain from that, particularly in a very pro-military state like South Carolina?

And clearly, her husband has served the military honorably. He was a combat vet from an earlier deployment in 2013 or so in Afghanistan and has been on what will be a year's long deployment to Djibouti, right across, coincidentally from Yemen. So he is not in some cushy assignment somewhere.

So, look, her husband serving honorably, I don't know why he would attack him like that, it doesn't make any sense. Look, we also know that Melania hasn't been on the road at all with the former president so none of this adds up. And look, I give Nikki Haley credit for her response back. Very tough,

very firm, so good for her.

ACOSTA: Yes, Mr. Secretary, we know this is part of a pattern with Donald Trump. I mean, it has been written in "The Atlantic." It has been confirmed by us here at CNN that at one point, Trump referred to soldiers buried in a cemetery in France as losers and suckers.

Is there something more than just an offhand comment here or there?

ESPER: Like I said, I don't know, I can't explain it. I don't know what he would gain from it. Maybe he was just poorly briefed on where her husband is and the fact he is serving our country abroad.

I mean, look, with regard to the broader issue, I never felt that Donald Trump understood the importance and virtue of military service of you know, committing yourself to service in uniform to defend your country and your fellow Americans. It is just not something he understands or appreciated it.

So, maybe some of that is in there, but this doesn't make much sense.

ACOSTA: Is there an inferiority complex issue going on there or something like that? He feels inferior around people in the military because what they do is so admiral and it just makes him feel like a smaller human being?

I mean, I just can't understand it. I can't fathom why he would talk about members of the military in that fashion.

ESPER: Jim, I can't understand it. If I did, I'm sure it would be valuable information for a lot of people, but I can't explain it.


ESPER: It is something, particularly for me, I served 21 years in uniform, I went to West Point. It doesn't add up for me, importantly so. So I wish I could explain it to you and your audience.

ACOSTA: I want to ask you about something you might be able to explain. Trump also said tonight he would not defend NATO nations if they come under attack by Russia. Let's listen to this and talk about it on the other side.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us? I said, you didn't pay, you're delinquent. He said, yes. let's say that happened, no, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell you want. You've got to pay.


ACOSTA: I mean, it's pretty astonishing, isn't it, to hear a former president of the United States at a political rally essentially say to the Russians, you can do whatever the hell you want to other NATO countries.


You served under Donald Trump as Secretary of Defense. What is it with Donald Trump and NATO?

ESPER: Yes, look, I heard this multiple times, had many discussions with the president about this. I wrote about it extensively in my memoir, and tried to explain to him the importance of NATO and our alliances and other partnerships around the globe.

And look, he just sees it very transactionally, almost as if NATO is a country club and if you don't pay your dues, then you don't get to use the spa or you don't get to golf and that is kind of how he approaches things, and sees it very transactionally.

Look, on one hand though, I've got to say, I agree with him in many ways. Not enough of our allies are living up to their commitments that they made, and this is not a new tune from Donald Trump or myself. Previous presidents have said it from Obama, Clinton, Bush, you name it. Only ten or 11 are living up out of 31 right now are living up to the commitment.

So he is right on the fact our allies need to do more, but threatening to withdraw from NATO or not defend them is not the right answer. We need to incentivize them, encourage them.

And look, at the end of the day, our partnerships and alliances benefit American security in the end, not just European security or allied security, it benefits the United States.

ACOSTA: Right.

ESPER: That preserves the international order, the rules and norms that have really frankly kept America prosperous and the American people, you know, economically well off for many, many decades.

ACOSTA: And maybe, Mr. Secretary, the better question for me and forgive me, is what's with Donald Trump and Russia? What's with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin? Did he ever give you any indication behind- the-scenes why whenever it comes to a question of dealing with Vladimir Putin, he just kind of wants to give away the store?

ESPER: Again, another one I can't explain, but he does have a certain affinity to so-called strong people, strongmen. He likes people who appear to be strong, and despises those who he feels are weak and he divided those up into camps, right?

The strong would be Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping and Erdogan from Turkey, and the weak would be Merkel and Trudeau from Canada and others he would put in to that category.

So he just has an affinity for leaders he views as strong and having strength and authority and others he sees as weak, and again, I can't describe it, but it is what it is and it is something that as we look ahead to the 2024 presidential contest and the possibility that he may become president again, that Americans and importantly world leaders will have to take into account as they try to figure out how to deal with a new White House once again under Trump and the United States at that point in time.

ACOSTA: Just a quick follow up, I do want to turn to the Middle East, but just a quick follow up, do you fear that if Donald Trump gets back into the White House that he will essentially give Putin the greenlight to invade a NATO country? Is that a real prospect that Americans should be worried about?

ESPER: I wouldn't say it that way. I am concerned, I think it's likely that if he returns to the White House, he will completely cut off support for Ukraine and that will begin the slow collapse of the alliance behind Ukraine and lead to their increased vulnerability against Russia.

Further, I think at some point fairly soon, he would threaten that if our NATO allies don't live up to their financial commitments that he would be begin withdrawing troops out of their countries as he ordered me to do with Germany in the summer of 2020.

And so again, that will undermine the alliance itself and really signal weakness and vulnerability to Vladimir Putin, so whether that leads to a conflict or what, I don't know. I hate to hazard a guess.

But look, he will proceed along those lines and it won't just be in Europe, I think he has concerns and deep reservations about our alliance and other relationship with other allies like Japan and Korea.

ACOSTA: All right, Mr. Secretary, I am being told we are out of time. I do want to talk about Israel and Gaza. We'll have you back. We will do that next time.

But in the meantime, Mark Esper, thanks so much for your time. We'll be right back. Appreciate it.



ACOSTA: America, are you ready for the Super Bowl?

There is now less than 24 hours until Kansas Chiefs kick off against the San Francisco 49ers in Vegas. For a preview, let's bring in sports analyst and host of Showtime's "Headliners" with Rachel Nichols, that is Rachel Nichols right there.

Rachel, let's get right into this. Who is going to win this thing?

RACHEL NICHOLS, HOST, "HEADLINERS" WITH RACHEL NICHOLS ON SHOWTIME: Well, the San Francisco 49ers are favored, if you look at the Las Vegas odds.

Personally, I'm going to have to go with the Chiefs just under the premise that you've got to give the team that's done it before the edge over the team that hasn't, and the truth is, when these teams met four years ago, it was the Chiefs, not only who were victorious, but they were deep into the fourth quarter, Jim. They had six minutes left to go and they went ahead and scored 21 unanswered points against the 49ers.

So the 9ers will have to make up for that, have to keep tough, mental toughness, at the end of the fourth quarter. I expect it to come down just as much to the wire. We have two of the best teams of the last five years competing for this title. I wouldn't be surprised if either one of them won, but if you ask me to make a pick, I've got to go with Kansas City right now.

ACOSTA: Yes. Well, I mean, it's kind of a funny year because the Chiefs were having kind of a rocky season. I mean, this was not smooth sailing. I mean, it was the Miami Dolphins that we were all anticipating they were just going to run through the season and off to the Super Bowl and win a Super Bowl finally for the first time in a long time, and the Chiefs have just had this remarkable turnaround.

NICHOLS: Yes, I mean, they have the momentum and I do think some of the odds, a lot of the computer predictions that have picked the 49ers, they're going on the stats of the whole season whereas you really have to look at what has happened during the playoffs.


Travis Kelce, I don't know if you've heard of him. He really hasn't gotten a lot of media coverage, but over these playoffs, over the last couple of months, he has been able to set the record for playoff catches, passing Jerry Rice. That's how much of a hot streak he is on.

Patrick Mahomes when he was at practice the other day, you're seeing some of it right now, he had 10 reps to score a touchdown, he scored three.

ACOSTA: And Rachel, I mean, of course you're such a pro, you've led me to my next question which is about a certain somebody who has from time to time accompanied Travis Kelce, and that is -- what is -- I can't --

NICHOLS: Hard to come up her name.

ACOSTA: Hard to come up with her name, I think it's Taylor Swift, that's it. Yes. Thank you. There it is. Is this, I mean, I'm totally cool with this. I have no problem.

They can show Taylor Swift up in that skybox a hundred times. It does not bother me. But is there the potential that this is going to overshadow the Super Bowl or change the way we think about it? Is this the Taylor Bowl? Your thoughts.

NICHOLS: Look, it is crazy to me that Taylor Swift and her love of Travis Kelce and going to his football games has become a stake in the culture wars. I could not have predicted this, but there does seem to be a feeling among some football fans, not all of them, that she has brought all kinds of people into the space that is their space, that is their territory, and that these are not real football fans and therefore, they shouldn't be there.

And some of the coding frankly is women and teenage girls and things like that that aren't welcomed by some people in that space.

On the other hand, you have had a majority of football fans, if you look at it, most of the comments about her and Travis Kelce are positive, saying that it has brought all kind of fans under the tent.

The NFL is our most popular sport in America and everyone should get to enjoy it. That's certainly how I feel. I do want to tell you, Jim, that there has been intense tracking of the plane they think Taylor Swift is on.


NICHOLS: In fact, one of the tracking sites says this is the most tracked plane in the world today.


NICHOLS: They have nicknamed the plane in my football era and a little piece of detail, the speculation is she's actually going to land in Los Angeles, spend the night here in LA.

ACOSTA: Interesting, okay.

NICHOLS: To sort of sleep off her jet lag in her own home that she has here, and by the way, wives and girlfriends aren't allowed to see players the night before the Super Bowl.

ACOSTA: There you go.

NICHOLS: So, she wouldn't get to see Kelce anyway, and then, in this theory, she would take a 45-minute flight in the morning over to Las Vegas.

ACOSTA: There you go.

NICHOLS: So, we'll have to see if all of that unfolds. The Swifties will let you know.

ACOSTA: That's right. No distractions for Travis Kelce before the game.


ACOSTA: And before you go, I want to ask you about another sports headline. This week, the Lakers unveiled their first of three statues honoring the late Kobe Bryant. His widow, Vanessa Bryant was there. You covered Kobe Bryant. You knew him personally. Whenever we talk about Kobe Bryant, I mean, there's a part of me that

still just cannot believe that he is gone. What thoughts go through your mind.

NICHOLS: Yes, I mean, that was one of the sentiments at the statue unveiling is just nobody can believe that Kobe is not there. You see some photos of me and him.


NICHOLS: You know, Kobe was one of the first big athletes I covered as a young reporter for "The Washington Post." I was just starting out, he was just starting out with the Lakers, and I know, it is hard to remember now, but at the beginning, a lot of the Lakers players didn't like him.

He was too young. He -- I mean, they couldn't have beer in the locker room. They thought he was too entitled. So at that time, he was somewhat of a lonely player then and I was a girl covering the sport at a time when there weren't that many women around, so we just sort of bonded in the moment of being sort of the only ones.

We had a close relationship since and I'm thrilled to see him not just get this statue, but as you said, two more coming soon.

ACOSTA: That is so great.

All right, Rachel Nichols, thanks for leaving us on that note. Really appreciate it. Great the see you again.

And we'll check these predictions tomorrow night.

All right, we'll be right back.


ACOSTA: All right, before we bounce, let's hop into this next story. Police responding to a kangaroo on the loose, not in Australia, but in Tampa. The roo was found hopping around a pool in this apartment complex. Take a look.


911 DISPATCH: 911, do you need police, fire or medical?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess police. There is a kangaroo in my apartment complex.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Complaints advising there is a loose kangaroo in the complex.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bravo 26, I actually see a kangaroo.


ACOSTA: Yes, there is the little guy right there and police say the kangaroo was eventually caught and returned to its owner. Cute little guy right there.

And you know the old saying, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a confession from the groom's brother during the best man's speech.

CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was a wedding with all the usual high points, the kiss, the dance, the romance.

But it was a 21-year-old secret about paint ball that shot out of the mouth of the best man and hit his brother, the groom. The story began when then eight-year-old Dylan Hanam (ph) who wanted to go paint balling with his 12-year-old brother.

DYLAN HANAM, BEST MAN: I asked if I could join and they shot me down.

MOOS (voice over): So young Dylan got mad and did something his older brother got blamed for.

HANAM: I picked up a couple of Mark's paint balls, and I threw them against the house next door.

DAVE HANAM, GROOM: Wait. Wait. Wait.

MOOS (voice over): Dave Hanam pointed at his parents as if to say, I told you I didn't do it.

DAVE HANAM: I got in so much trouble for that.

MOOS (voice over): He got grounded for a month, had to clean the paint off, despite telling his dad --

DAVE HANAM: Dad, I swear to you, I did not do this. I will clean it. I will apologize. But you have to believe me, I never did this.

MOOS (voice over): It became a family mystery.

DYLAN HANAM: I knew I would have to tell eventually.

The plan was always to come clean about it and I was going to wait until he wasn't angry anymore and that took way longer than expected.

MOOS (voice over):Dylan also dressed as the bride to surprise the groom when it was time for the first look in their finery.

To accent his role as a little brother, he even delivered his speech with legs in boxes and shoes placed knee high. He called his confession a wedding gift.

DYLAN HANAM: For closure, that I am the one that threw those paintballs.

DAVE HANAM: Dude. Funny secret. Great way to reveal it. I'm not mad at him for it. It

was a fantastic speech.

MOOS (voice over): And, boy, can this bro keep a secret, he'd make a good wife.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

DAVE HANAM: Wait. Wait, Wait.

MOOS (voice over): New York.


ACOSTA: All right, time to bounce on out of here. Thanks very much for joining me this evening. I'm Jim Acosta.

Up next, the CNN flash doc, "Blind Sided." Examining the story of former NFL star, Michael Ohr, the movie his story inspired and why he says the feel-good story wasn't what it appeared.

Have a good night, everybody. Take care.