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Biden, Netanyahu Hold Call Amid Rising Tension; Poll: Nearly Two-Thirds Of Americans Say Trump Should Not Have Immunity From Criminal Prosecution; Kickoff In Las Vegas: Chiefs Versus 49ers. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 11, 2024 - 15:00   ET


GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Field during the Super Bowl, there will be green in your party bowl.

Gustavo Valdes, CNN, Atlanta.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

And we begin with this breaking news. Moments ago, the US Senate in a key vote moved one step closer to passing a bill that would provide tens of billions of dollars in assistance and military aid not just for Israel, but also Ukraine and Taiwan.

Also today, President Biden held a call with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and it comes as Israel says it is preparing to move into the Gazan city of Rafah where more than a million Palestinians fled for safety. There are fresh concerns of bloodshed and a deepening humanitarian crisis if Israeli forces move in.

And for the second day in a row, US forces strike Iran-backed Houthi targets as it tries to keep ships safe in the crucial Red Sea corridor.

We've got a team of reporters tracking all of these breaking news stories here at home and abroad. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live for us in Tel Aviv with the latest on Israel's looming ground offensive and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza; and also at the White House, let's begin with CNN White House reporter, Priscilla Alvarez.

Priscilla, President Biden held a call with Netanyahu today, and what did they talk about?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Fredricka. We are actually learning new details about that call over the last hour.

Senior administration official saying that call lasted about 45 minutes. Two-thirds of it was focused specifically on the release of hostages. They have been working around the clock to hammer out a framework that works for all of those involved to release hostages, but also includes a humanitarian pause.

Now, the senior administration official said that while there has been progress, there are still "significant gaps." They would not go into what those gaps are, but clearly, while they're trying to signal progress, there is still a long way to go and as the senior administration official said, they're trying to capitalize on where officials are.

Of course, senior US officials have been deploying to the region to work on this deal, but nothing is done until the very last minute. These of course are very sensitive and delicate.

But the other big part of this phone call between the two leaders was also what you were just describing there, that ground offensive, in Rafah. It was very clear in this call with senior administration official that there are real concerns here at the White House about any type of offensive that goes into that region where millions have been displaced and have been holding there with nowhere to really go as there has been destruction in Gaza.

So those were two key areas of concern and focus in this 45-minute call between President Biden and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This official was also asked whether the two discussed that over-the- top comment from President Biden last week when he was describing the ground operation in Gaza, they did not specifically address that according to this official, but they also stressed that the two are going to remain in close contact moving forward.

WHITFIELD: And Jeremy, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pledging safe passage for the more than one million civilians taking shelter in Rafah ahead of the military ground offensive, but he has offered little detail on how that's going to happen. So what more is the prime minister willing to share on his plan?


The Israeli prime minister says he has directed the Israeli military to draw detailed plans for how to evacuate the 1.4 million people living in Rafah, a city that normally has about 300,000 residents, and while he basically said they would be moving further north, he offered few details.

This is what he said though, listen.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Victory is within reach. We're going to do it. We're going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah which is the last bastion, but we are going to do it, and in this, I agree with the Americans, we're going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave.


DIAMOND: And the Israeli prime minister compared those efforts to evacuate civilians from Rafah to the way in which the Israeli military has sought to evacuate civilians from other areas that have become combat zones in Gaza, but we know many of those efforts in the past have fallen well short of their stated goals.

Sometimes, those safe passages have not proven as safe. Palestinians have been detained along those routes and also, we know that the destruction in the northern part of Gaza is so enormous, so widespread that humanitarian aid agencies are raising serious questions about exactly how that can be accomplished, how you can move so many people in such a short period of time, and what kinds of resources they will find further north where we know that humanitarian aid has been far scarcer than it is in Rafah where so many of those aid trucks have been coming in.


WHITFIELD: Also, Jeremy, multiple countries including the US are expressing concern over Israel's next military -- that next military phase. In fact, Qatar has weighed in, urging the UN Security Council to prevent Israel from committing what it described as genocide. Is there any real leverage there?

DIAMOND: There certainly is widespread international concern. I mean, you're hearing it not only from countries in the region that don't have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, like Saudi Arabia for example, which said there would be serious ramifications for Israel, serious repercussions for Israel conducting such a military operation, but also from its allies in the region.

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, as well expressing serious concerns, and of course, and the United States as well saying that it would be a disaster for Israel to carry out this military operation without serious consideration to the civilian population in Rafah.

And so that is why it is also so significant to see the Israeli prime minister, yes, on the one hand acknowledging there will need to be something done about the civilian population before that military operation can be carried out, but really doubling down on the need and importance in his view of carrying out this operation in Rafah, effectively saying that if that operation is not carried out, that that would mean handing Hamas a stalemate or a victory in this four- month war now in Gaza.

But we do know that in the background of all of this, of course, there are those ongoing negotiations over a potential ceasefire. Hamas delegation was in Cairo late last week meeting over this and we expect that on Tuesday, there will be another major meeting in Cairo.

So those talks progress and perhaps that could be the only thing that would forestall this imminent ground offensive in Rafah, which could be very, very disastrous for so many civilians there. WHITFIELD: And Priscilla, back here in the US, there has been a lot of backlash against the Biden administration's continued support of Israel. The vice president's team has been trying to reach out to members of the Arab-American community, but then they're facing major obstacles.

In fact, a meeting that was supposed to take place tomorrow was abruptly postponed, so what now?

ALVAREZ: Well, sources tell me the reason it was postponed was because members of the Arab-American community that had been invited to this listening session with the vice president decided not to move forward, that was from multiple reasons including potential backlash from allies as well as not wanting to speak for entire communities and conversations are still ongoing with the vice president's office to see if they could put this back on the books.

Therefore, they're not shutting the door entirely, but it certainly speaks to the obstacles that this White House is facing. This is a listening session that was planned to move forward. It was one in which there have been a prep session last week with staff members and participants to make this happen, and it fell apart at the last minute, all of which speaks again to what the White House is having to navigate here, which is pressure at home as they try to support Israel and also get that assistance into Gaza.

WHITFIELD: All right, Priscilla Alvarez, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

All right, a new poll indicates that nearly two-thirds of Americans say Donald Trump should not have immunity from criminal prosecutions for actions he took while in the Oval Office. A federal appeals court agrees and last week, it ruled Trump is not immune from prosecution for crimes he allegedly committed to overturn the 2020 election.

And now, the former president faces a deadline tomorrow to file a request with the US Supreme Court to put the case on hold. He would then have 90 days to ask the court to reconsider the appellate court's decision.

Joining me right now is former White House counsel for President Nixon, John Dean. John, always great to see you.

So, it seems pretty likely, right, that the former president and his team would ask for this emergency stay request, right?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think they will, yes, for delay purposes, not with the hope that they're going to reverse a decision, but rather that they can slow down the process.

WHITFIELD: Would they have to have a different argument? A different argument that they presented to the appellate court, which really struck just about everything they argued?

DEAN: They'll file a document -- they could file a document seeking a stay and it's likely that could be treated as a petition by the court and the court could address the entirety of the matter before them. You know, there are three real options for the Supreme Court at this point. They can either take the case and deal with it. They can slow walk the case if they just want to kill it.

It's just not likely, Fred, that they could reverse the Court of Appeals or they could not take this case.


They could just say, no. We think the Court of Appeals has said all that needs to be said and they've done that in many instances with this court. The DC Circuit Court is known as the second level or the first level below the Supreme Court and one of the highest level courts, so they don't need to take the case and it will be an interesting -- that's the real question of whether they want to delve into this.

WHITFIELD: Right. So whether they decide not to take it or what -- four justices, you know, all it would take would be four justices to say we want to take the case. Either way, there has to be a deadline, right? Or would they? I mean, would they feel compelled --

DEAN: Yes.

WHITFIELD: To do this quickly, especially given it's an election year?

DEAN: If they take the case and they feel any pressure to comply with public sentiment towards this issue, they would take it on an expedited basis. They would call for rapid briefing. They know that's what the government wants.

The government filed a case before them earlier before it went to the Court of Appeals. They turned it down. Then it went to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals, very strong opinion, 57-page opinion, knocked down every argument Trump had raised.

There is no immunity for a president against the criminal law.

WHITFIELD: Expedited processing here. You said, there would be a rapid briefing. Are we talking about something within days or weeks or months?

DEAN: Probably weeks if they do it on an expedited basis. They could do it quickly.

We know they have the capacity from Bush v. Gore, a case that haunted them for decades. They can do it really quickly. They can do it in a matter of hours if you will. But they're not likely to do that. They don't want to have a repeat of what happened during Bush v. Gore where a lot of poorly reasoned arguments were invoked and it was a very partisan appearing move because it was partisan.

WHITFIELD: All right. John Dean, we'll leave it there. Great to see you. Thanks so much.

DEAN: Thanks, Fred. WHITFIELD: All right, still to come, while on the trail in South Carolina, former President Trump taking a swipe at Nikki Haley's husband. How she is responding.

And the countdown to the Super Bowl is on. What Usher is sharing about his halftime show performance.



WHITFIELD: All right, with just two weeks until South Carolina voters head to the polls for the Republican presidential primary, Donald Trump is keeping up his strategy of personal attacks against his opponents, but going a step further this time and taking a swipe at Nikki Haley's husband who is deployed overseas.

Trump also saying he would encourage Russia to attack American allies if they hadn't met their financial commitments to NATO.

CNN's Alayna Treene has details.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Former President Donald Trump on Saturday said that he would encourage Russia to "do whatever the hell they want" to any NATO member country that does not meet its spending obligations.

Take a listen to how Donald Trump put it to his supporters in South Carolina.


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 they want.


TREENE: Now, just a stunning admission, Fred, from the former president who is essentially saying that he would not abide by the Collective Defense Clause in that agreement.

Now, Trump, for his part, has long argued that NATO is a drain on American resources by what he deems are free loaders. And it also comes as many European countries have questioned whether Trump's return could mean not just the abandonment of the war in Ukraine, but also a broader American retreat from Europe overall.

And I also just want to point out, Fred, the context of these remarks. It comes as many Republicans in Congress are pushing against more aid to Ukraine and also as many European leaders are warning about Russia's increased aggression on the continent. Now, a White House spokesperson, Andrew Bates said in a statement; "Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged, and it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home."

Now, Fred, Donald Trump also sharply attacked Nikki Haley, his final remaining rival in the primary, yesterday. He also questioned where her husband is on the trail. Take a listen to what he said.


TRUMP: Where's her husband? Oh, he's away. He is away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He's gone.


TREENE: Now, Fred, I do just want to be very clear here that Michael Haley, Nikki Haley's husband is currently deployed in Africa. that's why you haven't seen him on the campaign trail. And I also think it is worth noting that the former First Lady, Melania Trump also has not been appearing alongside Donald Trump on the campaign trial or at any of his court appearances.

The only time we've really seen her is when she appeared alongside him as his White House bid kickoff back in November of 2022 and Nikki Haley did respond to this comments. She said in a statement: "Michael is deployed serving our country, something you know nothing about. Someone who continually disrespects the sacrifices of military families has no business being commander-in-chief."

Back to you.

NEWTON: Alayna Treene, thank you so much.

All right, on Tuesday, special live coverage of the election to replace former Congressman George Santos. Will the slim Republican majority shrink even further? How will the results shape November's election? Special election night coverage starts at 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Tuesday here on CNN.

We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, in a call today with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Biden expressing concerns about a ground offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza with more than a million displaced people.

Residents in northern Gaza describe total destruction and even having to drink toilet water in order to survive, forcing them to flee further south.

But for some families, seeking safety in other parts of Gaza, well, it has turned very deadly.

CNN's Nada Bashir tells us the tragic story of a five-year-old Palestinian girl who was left trapped in a car with her dead relatives. The family came under fire while fleeing northern Gaza last month.

We do want to warn you, some of the images in this report are difficult to watch.



(HIND RAJAB speaking in foreign language.)

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice over): Five-year-old, Hind Rajab, her playful voice, cherished by all who knew her. but they will also be haunted by Hind's terrifying pleas heard in this audio recording.

(HIND RAJAB speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: Come take me. Will you come and take me?

(UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: DO you want me to come and take you?

(HIND RAJAB speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: I'm so scared, please come.

BASHIR (voice over): Little Hind trapped in a car beside the bodies of her uncle, his wife and their four children, all killed by Israeli fire, the Palestine Red Crescent says, while attempting to flee fighting in northern Gaza.

All contact with Hind and the ambulance crew dispatched to rescue her, lost just hours after her desperate call for help.

For 12 days, there was collective hope that Hind would be found alive. Her mother, desperate for her daughter's safe return, waited every day at the hospital gates. But now, that hope is lost.

(WISSAM HAMADA speaking in foreign language.)

BASHIR (voice over): "She was in the car for 12 days. May God punish all those who could have helped her and did not," Wissam says.

"And what did the red crescent crew that went to rescue her do to deserve this? To be burned and killed? Why did you execute them when their sole mission was to rescue Hind?"

The deep tracks of Israeli tanks are still visible, leading to the car where Hind and her family members were killed. The car is clearly riddled with bullet holes, evidence of the horror this family faced as documented in this harrowing call to the Red Crescent from Hind's teenage cousin, Layan moments before she and five of her family members were killed leaving Hind alone.

(LAYAN speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: They are shooting at us. The tank is next to mee.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: Are you hiding?

(LAYAN speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: Yes, in the car. The tank is next to us.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE speaking in foreign language.)

TRANSLATION: Are you in the car?

(LAYAN screaming.)


BASHIR (voice over): Satellite images taken hours before that fateful call show Israeli military vehicles just 200 meters away from where the family's car was found.

The Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, was at the time, under an Israeli military siege.

Just a short distance away, charred wreckage is all that is left of the Red Crescent ambulance dispatched to rescue Hind, struck before it could reach her.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE speaking in foreign language.)

BASHIR (voice over): "The ambulance came under bombardment and was left completely scorched," this emergency worker says. The remains of the two paramedics killed, Yusuf al-Zeino and Ahmed al-Madhoun are found inside, a deliberate attack, the Palestine Red Crescent says, targeting the ambulance despite prior coordination with the Israeli military.

The IDF has since told CNN it is still looking into the incident.

In the wake of the Israeli military's withdrawal from this neighborhood southwest of Gaza City, there is nothing left but destruction.

(MAHANNA NASSEIR speaking in foreign language.)

BASHIR (voice over): "Every day they set fire to apartments, throw sound grenades and shot at buildings," Mahanna says. "They bombed all the buildings around us. We were inside. They could hear our screams. We saw death every minute."

After endless days in hiding, residents have emerged to search for their loved ones, but there are countless bodies to recover here. This child was five years old, just like Hind.

Now, he is one of the thousands killed in this brutal war.

Those who survived, like so many in Gaza, are left with only the most painful of memories.

(WISSAM HAMADA speaking in foreign language.)

BASHIR (voice over): "Hind was martyred. My heart burns for her." Hind's mother says. "How many heartbroken mothers do you want? How many more children like Hind need to be martyred? You have annihilated Gaza and its people. What else do you want?"

Nada Bashir, CNN, Cairo.




WHITFIELD: Okay, kickoff for Super Bowl LVIII is just a few hours away. The San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs are going toe to toe to see who will lift the Lombardi trophy.

This year's big game is a rematch of Super Bowl LIV, but you can bet both teams are not looking at the past. No, no, no. They're looking forward. They've got their eyes on the prize as they prepare to take the field at Allegiant Stadium where we find CNN's Coy Wire.

Okay, Coy, so, all this talk, all the hype, now, it's down to business for these two historic franchises. About this hour, what are they doing? Are they suiting up? Are they getting on buses? What are they doing about now?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Look, Patrick Mahomes, you know, he has already been shown on the field sitting on the sidelines, meditating, visualizing, listening to his music. These teams are ready in that stadium behind me.

These are the best two teams. The last two standing. A match-up featuring some of the stars like 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey, Stanford's own baby. He won Offensive Player of the Year this week, won the NFL Rushing Title. Broke Jerry Rice's franchise record for touchdowns in a season, and he has a chance at an incredible and sweet shot at another piece of history.


Christian and his dad, Ed McCaffrey can become just the second father- son combo to win the Super Bowl with the same franchise. We asked Christian about it this week.


CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, SAN FRANCISCO 49ers: It would mean the world, man. I mean, to be able to win a Super Bowl is something that like I said, been dreaming about as a kid. You know, I got to watch my dad do it and so to be able to do that would be awesome.

I've wanted to play football ever, I mean, ever since I was seven years old when I first put a helmet on. It's been my dream to play in this league and to have success and to be sitting here, have an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl is a lot of fun.


WIRE: All right, another wild piece of potential history, Fredricka, 49ers coach, Kyle Shanahan and his dad, Mike, can become the first father-son duo in NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB history to each win a championship as head coach. Shanahan's never beaten Chiefs coach, Andy Reid, though, oh and three.

Finally, with Taylor Swift dating Chiefs star, Travis Kelce, the sports and entertainment worlds have collided. We caught up with celebrities at the awesome annual fanatic Super Bowl party red carpet to ask about this Taylor Swift phenomenon. Listen.


MOLLY QERIM, ESPN "FIRST TAKE" ANCHOR: I love, love, so I hope they work out. I want them to get married, the whole deal. But it's bringing so many women into the game.

THE CHAINSMOKERS, DJS and MUSIC PRODUCERS: We're good friends with Travis. I'm happy to see he's happy. Love is in the air. That's a great thing to see.

SEBASTIAN MANISCALCO, COMEDIAN: That's great that they're dating but I just want to see the game.

JELLY ROLL, RAPPER AND MUSICIAN: I'm just glad the football audience has found out how awesome she is, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope she's at the game.


COY: She is at the game. Super Bowl will certainly be the most watched program of the year and adding to the well over 100 million viewers will be Swifties, and it is kind of interesting. I'm looking at the sea of red behind me, Fred.

49ers and Chiefs fans and red just happens to be one of Taylor Swift's most popular album titles, so yes, maybe in a way, the Super Bowl has been Taylor-made.

WHITFIELD: Very good. Well, we will all be at the edge of our seats.

Coy Wire, thanks -- oh, and the band is getting warmed up, too.

All right, Coy Wire, thank you so much. All right, so while many are eager to see the Kansas City Chiefs facing the San Francisco 49ers this Super Bowl Sunday, some will be tuning in just for the halftime show.

Usher will be headlining in Las Vegas and he is promising some special guests will share the stage with him.


USHER, SINGER: I think I made it easy for myself when I decided to have like features on songs that became hit records, so that gave me the greatest point of reference.

I am definitely, you know, went through a lot of ideas of who I would have share this moment with me, and I do feel like the people who are going to share it deserve just as much recognition for what they do in their careers rather we've collaborated together or rather they've had moments of their own.


WHITFIELD: The anticipation is building.

joining me right now is Nadeska Alexis, she got to do that interview. She is the host of Apple Music's "The Nadeska Show."

Nadeska, great to see you.


WHITFIELD: So, great. It was so fun watching the interview and he is -- you know, he is about to embark on enjoying his biggest audience ever, watching and listening over a 13-minute whirlwind. He is trying to squeeze in what? Thirty years of music. Did he share with you what he's most excited about in this performance?

ALEXIS: Yes, absolutely. You know, usher is a once in a generation talent and someone like me who has grown up on his music, I'm excited for this to be a celebration of his legacy, and I think that's very much how he feels.

He has put in so much work to become one of our greatest living performers, right? So, now we get to celebrate that 30-year career and he gets to touch brand-new fans which I think is what's incredible about the Super Bowl halftime stage, that you can still at this point in your career, three decades in, touch new fans.

So I think he is excited about that, he is excited to represent for his hometown, for Atlanta, and also to give R&B the spotlight it deserves.

You know, Usher is a superstar. At this point, we can't box him into any one genre, but he is very much R&B, very influential. So, it's going to be a moment for R&B as well. WHITFIELD: Okay, and I know he is really over the moon excited, even though in that interview, he was pretty laid back and pretty chill, but you know, he also seemed very philosophical in that interview from his dreams as a young man, about being on Nickelodeon and the whole slime and all of that. And realizing, too, that his music has touched a lot of people.

Here he is talking about how Vegas -- his Vegas residency has really been transformative.


USHER: Las Vegas has been amazing for me, having 100 sold out shows in a residency and to have the next one be the crescendo, which is the Super Bowl with Apple has really, really given my time here in Las Vegas an incredible button at the end.



WHITFIELD: So, he says this whole opportunity has gotten him thinking about creating business, maybe hotels, festivals, what's ahead for Usher in all of that, and the business of Usher?

ALEXIS: There is so much ahead. You know, the Vegas residency was huge for him because he got to put all of these talents that he has been honing for 30 years on display.

So like he said, now we get to the crescendo and after the Super Bowl, you know, he just released an amazing new album called "Coming Home." He announced a new tour coming up, but he now feels very much at home in Vegas.

So I think it's special that even though he is going to go out on the road, he does want to come back to Vegas and figure out a way to build on this world that he really created. That's just a testament to how incredible and how successful that residency was.

So, I think once he steps off that Super Bowl stage today, you know, we're going to be seeing a lot more Usher coming in the next few months and it is something to be really, really excited about.

WHITFIELD: Yes, that's often the effect of a halftime show at the Super Bowl. You know, you can't get enough of that artist and then you see them everywhere and it's so great.

Okay, so you also had a chance to talk to some of the other performers during super bowl. Reba McEntire is going to be singing the national anthem. Post Malone will be singing "America, the Beautiful." Andra Day is going to be singing the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

So, what did they tell you about any butterflies they have or how excited they are to be a part of all of this? ALEXIS: I think for all three of them, they are just feeling very excited and honored to be delivering the songs. I talked to Andra Day about the fact that the Black national anthem is something that people who look like me have been singing since we were little kids, but there are still so many people who have never heard that song.

She pointed out that you know, it originated as a hymn, so it's a very powerful and important moment and she feels very lucky to be, I think, only the fourth person to ever get to perform it. So that's a really special moment.

WHITFIELD: And our shot just froze there, but Nadeska Alexis, thank you so much.

Oh, you're back.


WHITFIELD: Okay, there you are.

ALEXIS: Sorry.

WHITFIELD: Hey, it happens. Technology.

ALEXIS: Yes, technology. No, Post Malone has a lot of hits and he has a lot of anthems, but to be really singing a classic like this, he said we a little bit nervous. He is a little bit excited.

Reba told me her trick is rehearsing singing in the shower. Just really getting into that mode, so I just felt everyone was very, very excited about their performances coming up.

WHITFIELD: Wonderful. We can't wait for the big show. Nadeska Alexis, thank you so much.

ALEXIS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, still to come, a new CNN analysis on the dangers of deepfakes and the threat of AI on our elections, the details straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: All right, CNN has exclusive new reporting on attempts by the Biden administration to prepare for AI election threats.

Behind closed doors, senior national security officials are gaming out coordinated federal responses to things like AI generated disinformation, deepfakes, and even the harassment of election officials.

And as one official tells CNN, quoting now, "We're in unchartered territory right now." We've already seen some of this play out in the 2024 election cycle, a robocall using AI to sound like Joe Biden was deployed before the New Hampshire primary, but experts fear as the technology progresses, these fakes will just get tougher to decipher.

CNN' Donie O'Sullivan has more.


PAUL VALLAS, FORMER CHICAGO MAYORAL CANDIDATE: You know, some countries they do political assassinations. Here, we do character assassinations.

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Character assassination of a new kind like this.

AI GENERATED FAKE AUDIO: These days, people will accuse a cop of being bad if they kill one person that was running away. Back in my day, cops would kill, say, 17 or 18 civilians in their career, and nobody would bat an eye.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): When Democrat Paul Vallas ran in a contentious race last year for Chicago mayor, he faced an unprecedented attack, a deepfake created using artificial intelligence.

AI GENERATED FAKE AUDIO: We need to stop defunding the police and start refunding them.

O'SULLIVAN: So you've never actually heard the --

VALLAS: No, no. I never have.

O'SULLIVAN: Oh, wow. Well, I'm going play it for you.

VALLAS: No, no, no, no, no. You don't need to. It's only -- it will only aggravate me.

O'SULLIVAN: Okay. This deepfake audio of you played into this idea that, you know, you weren't Democrat enough for the Democratic Party --

VALLAS: Yes, yes.

O'SULLIVAN: That you're too pro-police, which was a line of attack.


O'SULLIVAN: Against you.

VALLAS: Yes. Well, clearly, you know, look, Chicago is a very, very, very, very blue city, and they were trying to portray me as some far hard right conservative Republican.

Being able to throw mud against the wall like that puts you in a position where you have to deny it or damage has still been done and there is some damage that's not repairable.

It's clear, based on the result tonight that the city is deeply divided.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): Vallas lost the election by four points. He says he doesn't know the full effect the deepfake had on the race.

O'SULLIVAN: The account that shared the deepfake of you was called Chicago Lakefront News.


O'SULLIVAN: It doesn't exist.

VALLAS: Yes, it doesn't exist. Yes.

O'SULLIVAN: So it was very clearly set up for the purpose to have character assassinate you.


O'SULLIVAN: And this was a close race.

VALLAS: And this was a really close race.


O'SULLIVAN (voice over): Digital forensics expert Hany Farid says AI deepfakes are no longer a hypothetical problem, but an actual threat to elections.

AI GENERATED FAKE AUDIO: Seventeen or 18 civilians in their career, and nobody would bat an eye.

HANY FARID, DIGITAL FORENSICS EXPERT, UC BERKELEY: So I make a lot of fakes because I'm in the business of detecting them, and I can do that whole thing in about five minutes. Yes, almost anybody. And here's why I think audio alone is in some ways a bigger threat.

The most compelling deepfakes that I've seen are these so-called hot mic deepfakes. You don't see their mouth moving. You don't see anything. But you hear the voice and it's visceral and it sounds like you're eavesdropping on them. And I think that those are really powerful.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): A CNN analysis shows the US isn't prepared to respond effectively. We asked election officials in all 50 states how they're preparing for deepfakes, 33 responded, but less than half of those cited specific actions to handle AI threats.

FARID: I don't think we're ready. I mean, we are still struggling with the last 10 years of the nonsense that has been social medias and the lies and the conspiracies that have propagated. It's hard to look at that and say, well, the injection of jet fuel into that is not going to have any impact. Of course, it will.

Francisco Aguilar, the head of elections for the battleground state of Nevada, says he's working out how to respond.

O'SULLIVAN: You mentioned on the panel there that federal official asked you about what are you doing about AI? And you kind of said, well, what are you guys doing about it?

FRANCISCO AGUILAR, NEVADA SECRETARY OF STATE: Exactly. Because again, you look at our budget, at the state of Nevada, and you see what constraints we have. They have access to significant resources that we don't have. Right now, we're having to say, this is what we need. This is what we want. This is where we feel vulnerable.

I don't think we've been through a full election cycle where it's truly existed. So we are kind of in pioneering times right now.

O'SULLIVAN: I talked to a lot of people on the left, liberals, and there is at times a bit of smugness there, which says, well, it's the Trump supporters who fall for online misinformation.

VALLAS: Right.



O'SULLIVAN: We're all susceptible to this, are we not?

VALLAS: Yes, we're all susceptible to it and we all do it. You know, when I say we all do it, I'm saying within every group, there are people who will do it. There are people will cross that line.

O'SULLIVAN: A lot of Americans might think, oh, the risk of AI and all this sort of stuff, it's in the future. It's being overblown.

VALLAS: Yes. I mean, the future is now. The future is here. I won't be the first and I won't be the last, you know.


WHITFIELD: All right, Donie O'Sullivan, thanks for that.

For more on the threats posed by AI, I'm joined by Phil Siegel, he is a co-founder of the Center for Advanced Preparedness and Threat Response Simulation. Great to see you, Phil.

So, we just saw there about some of the capabilities that artificial intelligence can have during an election cycle. what issues keep you up at night?

PHIL SIEGEL, CO-FOUNDER, CENTER FOR ADVANCED PREPAREDNESS AND THREAT RESPONSE SIMULATION: Yes. As the video showed, we are in uncharted territory. It is complicated even more not just by what you can do with this technology, but by the laws we have and the protections of the First Amendment.

Satire is protected. People can claim they are just illustrating points when they put different types of advertisements out there. And so, by the time any of these things can be tracked down and so forth, they have already traveled and had their impact.

And so, it is going to be a very difficult time. Everybody has to be on alert. They have to be listening, making sure they don't believe everything.

I think the point made about hot mics is probably going to be one of the biggest uses, because it is the easiest to do to fake somebody's voice very accurately at this point.

WHITFIELD: Wow. So, what do you think is the bigger threat? You know, a foreign state infiltrating the election, like Russia or China, or is it deepfakes that are generated domestically?

SIEGEL: Yes, I think the way to think about it is a hierarchy. I think the campaigns are going to be very careful, because if they are caught doing something way out of bounds, it probably will hurt them more than it will help them. I think their paths are going to be in the middle. They will be a little careful, but they will try to test some of the boundaries here.

And where I think there is a lot of danger is either foreign powers trying to meddle or individual supporters and citizens that are trying to tip opinion themselves on social media.

WHITFIELD: Right. Individual movements, right, for their candidate of choice.

So, this technology, it's moving fast. I mean, this year, several companies are using AI in their Super Bowl ads.


As AI technologies become more ubiquitous in our society, how will average people be able to tell what's real and what's not?

SIEGEL: Well, I think for a while, you have to just use your common sense, and especially when it comes to elections, we're going to see a lot of advertisements now that probably one of the biggest battlegrounds between the two campaigns is whether or not the two candidates have the mental capacity to execute the office, we're going to see a lot of deepfakes or just even tweaking real things to slow down their speech.

I don't know if you remember, but a couple years ago that was done with the Nancy Pelosi speech. I think we're going to see a lot of that and then, that will spread on social media and it is going to be the social media's responsibility to make sure those things are not spreading on their platforms.

And they talk about being ready, but I don't see how they could possibly be ready for that.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my. All right, very ominous.

All right, Phil Siegel, thank you so much.

SIEGEL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.