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Trump Resumes Attacking Prosecutors, Calls U.S. A "Failing Nation"; Trump Shares Violent Video Of Biden Hog-Tied In Truck; Israeli Military Withdraws From Gaza Hospital After Two-Week Siege; Johnson To Tackle Ukraine Aid With Speakers On The Line. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 10:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. You are live in the "CNN Newsroom." I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

We begin with new questions about Donald Trump's extreme rhetoric. Perhaps the biggest question of them all, will Trump face any accountability? And will Republican leaders call him out after the former President shared a video on social media that could pose a security risk for President Biden? Here's that horrific video posted by Trump showing the President hog-tied in the back of a pickup truck.

Over the weekend, Biden and Trump offered distinctly different Easter messages. President calling for peace, security and dignity for people around the world. As for Trump, he wished a Happy Easter to those. He quote, totally despises, and he quote, failing nation, end quote, that he hopes to lead. He reshared articles suggesting he's a modern-day Jesus who was being crucified and he accused the President of a quote, years long assault on the Christian faith. The President of course is a devout Catholic.

This week he's pledging to address a quote, Biden's border bloodbath, putting a lot of these in quotes, just to make sure you understand this is Trump's rhetoric. This just 11 days after insisting that that rhetoric was exclusively about the economic consequences of a Biden victory.

Here with me to discuss Trump's increasingly inflammatory and violent rhetoric is Ruth Ben-Ghiat. She's a professor of history at NYU. She's also the author of multiple books, including Strong Men, Mussolini to the President.

And Ruth, great to have you on as always. You know, when we talk about Trump's sharing this violent video of the President, President Biden hog-tied in the bed of a pickup truck? You know, we saw the consequences of his words on January 6th. How concerned are you about this kind of stuff, sparking some kind of violence? What do you think?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, NYU: I'm very concerned. And it's, you know, when you work on coups and authoritarian takeovers, you look at this a bit differently. It's not just a joke. The fact it's a lifestyle image. It's really performing, you know, a work of imagination for Americans, because a sitting president of the United States who's hog-tied as though he's some kind of hostage, this implies, shall we say, not a Democratic transition of power. But something a bad end that is happening to the sitting President United States.

And when it's shared on social media by somebody who already tried to overthrow the government, then of course, that is -- that is extremely serious. And -- and -- and be speaks very, you know, an intent to continue to incite violence against anyone who's trying to hold him accountable. But now also, the President of the United States.

ACOSTA: Right. And typically, I mean, when if somebody out there just in the general public were to share an image like this, that they might expect a visit from the United States Secret Service. But now, it just seems that this kind of violent imagery, this kind of dangerous political rhetoric has become so commonplace, it makes you wonder what the authorities do with this kind of stuff.

BEN-GHIAT: I -- I -- I share those concerns. And --


BEN-GHIAT: -- you know, it's very important to strike back at and hold people accountable. And especially someone like Trump, who has a history of this, in 2023, he posted an image of himself a baseball bat, and the Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who was trying to hold him accountable. And, you know, he doesn't have to explicitly say, please go bash the head of this -- this, you know, Prosecutor, this member of the Judiciary trying to uphold the rule of law. He just posts the images together.

And so, he's a very skilled propagandist, and he knows what his followers will -- will do with this. But this is not isolated. It's not just him. The Kansas GOP recently held a fundraiser and invited donors as a reward for giving money to be able to bash an assault an effigy of Biden with sticks. And, you know the official party distance itself but it still happened and it had lots of takers.


So, there's been -- this attempt to delegitimize and discredit and incite violence against judges, their families. But now we're seeing it arrive up to the sitting President of the United States.

ACOSTA: And Ruth, you know, Trump's campaign claimed that those bloodbath comments that we were discussing a couple of weeks ago, were exclusive to the economy. Now he's using the term to talk about the southern border. What was your reaction to that when he brought up this quote, unquote, border bloodbath, there's that term, again, bloodbath?

BEN-GHIAT: Because with -- with propaganda, it's not just about getting somebody to believe a lie, a specific lie, like who won the 2020 election. It's really about creating associations and inciting emotions in people. So, Trump knows very well, he's very skilled at this, that when he talks about the bloodbath that will overcome the whole country, he wasn't only talking about the auto industry, it's not only about the border, it's about instilling a kind of existential fear in people. And that's how you have -- you get them to either commit violence on your behalf, which happened on January 6th, when he said, if you don't fight like hell, you won't have a country anymore. So, or they'll look away when violence is committed by others.

And so, Trump is slowly and relentlessly kind of shaping an emotional climate, a psychological climate that is needed for autocracy.

ACOSTA: And Ruth, you know, the other thing that's popped up in the last couple of days, you know, Trump going after Judge Merchan's daughter, by name on Truth Social, of course, he's the judge overseeing the -- the outer brackets you just mentioned a few moments ago. What does this mean for the judicial system? When this repeatedly happens, and there aren't any consequences for Trump? He's been admonished, you know, by judges not to cross the line rhetorically in certain ways. There have been limited gag orders put in place here and there. Nothing really does the trick.

BEN-GHIAT: Yes, and this is a huge mistake, because this is exactly what authoritarians do. They go after prosecutors, lawyers, judges, anybody who can try and hold them accountable, and they go after their families. This is one of the regular things been happening since Mussolini. Even if people go into exile if regime takes hold, they go after your family who might be left in the country.

So, what Trump did here was called the Judge's daughter, a Rabid Trump Hater, though that's a phrase which he knows is going to anger his opponents who are very loyal to him, and fess (ph) he's doing things deliberately to create a climate of hostility that could result in physical violence. He knows exactly what he's doing.

ACOSTA: All right, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Thanks, as always for coming on. Well, I'm sure we'll be having this conversation again and again. But as always, we appreciate the insights. Thanks a lot.

BEN-GHIAT: Always a pleasure.

ACOSTA: All right. In the meantime, in northern Gaza, at least 300 bodies have been founded the al-Shifa hospital after Israeli forces withdrew following an intense two weeks each. That's according to Gaza Civil Defense. CNN, we should know cannot independently verify those casualty numbers. But you can see parts of the hospital were reduced to rubble. Israel has maintained at targeted armed militants who were using the facility, and it has detained it says some 900 suspects.

CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now from outside the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, where anti-Netanyahu protests are taking place for a second day. And Melissa will talk about that in a moment. What can you tell us though, about the IDF withdrawal from al-Shifa and what -- what's being seen on the ground there?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A pretty horrific pictures that are beginning to come to us from what was Gaza's largest hospital complex, Jim. We've been hearing from the IDF, this was they say a precise and deadly attack, a two weeks of siege that they say led them to make those 900 arrests that you mentioned, of which they say 500 were identified as Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists, many of them senior commanders.

What we're hearing from civilians now trying to get back to the al- Shifa complex are really horrific allegations being made about what's happened to the civilians, not just the hundreds of bodies that have been found the talk and we can see this on some of the video evidence, it seems of crushed bodies. And that speaks to what we've been hearing from civilians on the ground over the last couple of weeks of bulldozers taking on parts of the hospital complex, and the mutilated bodies that find themselves underneath the rubble.

Now, the IDF has yet to answer to those claims. But I think what's interesting about the al-Shifa Hospital beyond the undoubted pressure that these fresh images are likely to bring on Benjamin Netanyahu and the way he's prosecuting this war Jim, is that this was a part of the country in the north of Gaza that the IDF had reduced its operations in announcing in January that the intense part of the battle was done because they routed out mass terrorists. Then they said the return that mass terrorists that oblige them to head back.


And I think that is interesting when we consider what's likely to come next in Rafah with -- where we understand that the IDF is planning its next operations, the idea that there are four remaining battalions there. But even as they look towards that they've been had of having to head back to the north, as we've seen in that devastating two weeks siege of that health build complex at al-Shifa, Jim.

ACOSTA: And Melissa, I mean, there are these high-level talks between the U.S. and Israeli officials over what might take place in Rafah. What do we know about those talks? What's the latest on that? And in these protests are going on? Do they amount to any kind of political weakness that might threaten the leadership of Bibi Netanyahu or not really? What do you think?

BELL: Well, first of all on those -- on those talks, we understand they're taking place virtually before America -- between American and Israeli officials today, perhaps later -- later in person. The United States, the American administration, clearly trying to convince Israel to find another way then that ground. And so that once again last night Benjamin Netanyahu for the fourth time this month, Jim announced had been cleared with the IDF.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translation) We will go into Rafah and eliminate Hamas battalions there for one simple reason, there is no victory without entering Rafah, and there is no victory without eliminating Hamas battalions there.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BELL: Now, he was speaking there at a press conference held just before these protests began. Now, last night many thousands of people here on the streets of Jerusalem. What's left of that Jim, are these tents. Now, what the protesters say is that they're going to stay here for till Wednesday, their plan to continue putting pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu. They want him to resign, they want elections called, I think what's interesting is that this is the first substantial process to return to the streets of Jerusalem since the war began. That unity that we saw after October 7th, appears to be disintegrating, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Fascinating. Melissa Bell in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

In the meantime, with the speakership in jeopardy. What Speaker Mike Johnson is saying about a vote on aid to Ukraine, what that might mean, for his hold on the leadership in the House?

That's next.



ACOSTA: New on Capitol Hill, one Republican lawmaker says, a vote on Ukraine funding could land on the House floor after members returned from Easter recess next week. But that poses a big problem for House Speaker Mike Johnson. Many far-right Republicans oppose any new money to Ukraine with Johnson speakership on the line how he handles a funding vote could determine if he remains in power.

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is with me now.

Lauren, I mean we saw the drama that unfolded before they went on a break just over keeping the government running. This is about funding for Ukraine. What does this mean for speakership?

LAURA FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Speaker Johnson is sort of finding himself between a rock and a hard place right now. This is a position he's been in before. This is a position that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy found himself in. The concern right now for Johnson is just keeping the right flank at bay and he's consulting with some of those members. Our colleagues, Melanie Zanona, Manu, Raju and Annie Grayer have the terrific story out this morning, that lays out he's actually consulting with Representative Matt Gaetz, who was the key architect of ousting Kevin McCarthy back in October and the guidance and unsolicited advice Gaetz is giving him is you have to get Republican and conservative wins.

This is where that issue over Ukraine aid becomes so hard for Speaker Johnson. Because that is an issue that is going to alienate his right flank and he has signaled he's open to it. It will look different than what the Senate $85 billion package looked like. But he is interested in doing something. The question is, what can --

ACOSTA: Yes. FOX: -- he do? Now speaker Johnson did respond to Marjorie Taylor Greene's threats against him, her warning shots. So, she's calling it. Here's what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does this motion to vacate help win back the majority or win a bigger majority?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't think it does. And I think all of my other Republican colleagues recognize this as a distraction from our mission. Again, the mission is to save the Republic. And the only way we can do that is if we grow the House Majority win the Senate and win the White House. So, we don't need any dissension right now.


FOX: The problem for Johnson, of course, is that it's such a narrow majority right now.


FOX: It's a two-vote majority. He's going to have a one vote majority, his best chances of keeping his speakership is that message, convincing members that this would not be good for the party going into the November election.

ACOSTA: And Laura, what about this Republican congressman from Michigan, he's walking back these comments that were made about Gaza. Can you tell us about that?

FOX: Yes. Tim Walberg on March 25th, was asked at a town hall about humanitarian aid in Gaza, and this is how he responded.



REP. TIM WALBERG (R-MI): We shouldn't be spending a dime on humanitarian aid (INAUDIBLE). It should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Get over quick.


FOX: Now Walberg put out a statement yesterday walking this back and I want to read it to you, it said in a short clip, I used a metaphor to convey the need for both Israel and Ukraine to win their wars as swiftly as possible without putting American troops in harm's way. My reasoning was the exact opposite of what is being reported. The quicker these wars end, the fewer innocent lives will be caught in a crossfire.


But again, this is a very candid moment at a town hall. ACOSTA: Yes.

FOX: You can't see him on video but you can hear him there.

ACOSTA: Yes, and anytime you talking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I mean, I think --

FOX: Yes.

ACOSTA: -- people understand the implication. All right, Lauren Fox, thank you very much.

Let's discuss that. And more now CNN senior political commentator, Ana Navarro and CNN political commentator, Maria Cardona.

I do want to talk about Mike Johnson, I do want to talk about Donald Trump in a moment. But Ana, can I go to you first, and let me just ask you, do you buy with this congressman from Michigan is saying when he says, oh, I wasn't really talking about, you know, Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he -- when he drops those names in that comment from real.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not, it's not something that's to be left to the interpretation, right. We all know --


NAVARRO: -- what it was. And -- and, you know, I -- I often see this dissension going on in the Democratic Party about this. And the question, I asked Democrats who are expressing discontent with the Biden administration on the issue of Gaza, and I think they have a right to express that discontent. But the question is, do you think helping people like that Congressman, or helping Donald Trump get in office is going to do anything to help the people you care about more? And I think the question is, again, no.

But you know what that Congressman said, it's a larger problem. And it's a larger problem that I think is, in part, a result of Donald Trump, where people think that words don't matter, that dog whistles, you can say, are not dog whistle, that you can just say things that are horrible, offensive, divisive, triggering, and that, then you can pretend you didn't and that people are not hearing what they heard. And it's -- it's terrible. It's a terrible example for our elected officials to be setting. And it's happening from the top to the bottom on the Republican side.

ACOSTA: Yes, and Maria, I mean, Ana is absolutely right. I mean, words, words matter. And I mean, it's just reckless for this congressman to be talking about in that -- in that kind of way, especially given the tremendous amount of human suffering that is going on in Gaza right now.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is no question about that, Jim. And look, when you use that kind of rhetoric, you know, what you're saying, regardless of the kind of walking back that this Congressman tried to do, he knows exactly what he's saying. The same way that Donald Trump knows exactly what he's saying when he uses his kind of violent rhetoric. And what I think should really concern us all is that we have already proven the writ large political society, our country, that Donald Trump's words, don't just cause violence, they have caused death. And he is now ratcheting up those words, as is his leaders within the MAGA Republican base.

And those words Nagasaki and Hiroshima are very triggering. And again, they are directed at their base, and they know exactly what they're doing. And what really concerns me is, you know, Donald Trump's rhetoric was an inspiration to the El Paso shooter. It was an inspiration to the shooter in Charleston. It was an inspiration to so many who have already caused violence, especially on January 6th.

So, what are we to -- to wait for when Donald Trump loses this coming election in terms of what's going to happen?

ACOSTA: And that leads me to this, Ana, I mean, you -- I wanted to get your reaction to this thing on this pickup truck that he shared, you know, the last few days of Joe Biden hog-tied on the back of a pickup truck. I mean, I was talking about this with Ruth Ben-Ghiat earlier on in this program, in any other administration, there would be a secret service visit to whoever did that. If there is just out there would happen no matter who's in office, Republican in office, Democrat in office, if you had that on the back of your pickup truck, and you shared it on social media, and the Secret Service could track you down, you would get a visit from the Secret Service.

Now -- nowadays, Trump has Secret Service protection. So, I guess it's a little bit different.

NAVARRO: You know, frankly, he could not be above the law. He could not be different just because he's a former president. And you're absolutely right, just asked my friend Kathy Griffin, whose entire career was jettisoned because of a very inappropriate image that she shared with that head of Trumps. And so, you know, and it goes back to this, you know, what, we can't take these things that Trump is doing and saying now, when he talks about bloodbaths, when he calls migrants, invaders who are poisoning the blood of America, when he shares images like these, we can't take it in a vacuum, because this is not the first time, he does this. You and I Jim, know what it's like to be attacked (INAUDIBLE) by this President. You and I know the threats that come from it.

And so, I keep asking myself, are we really going to go into four more years of this chaos of this recklessness of waking up with the stress in the morning of not knowing what scandal, what international incident, what domestic incident this man is going to foster? Does America really have that level of amnesia that they don't remember just the -- the horrible aspects of Donald Trump that we lived with for -- for four years?


And these things are real. I am sure that you and I can attest to receiving threats because of things that Donald Trump shared. And we can't take it in a vacuum because we just had January 6. Because like Maria said, we just -- we had the El Paso shooter, we had the Buffalo shooter, we have the shooters of people. OK, so normal people may not be triggered by watching that scene, that image, but there are people who will be, who will be -- who will trigger, will promote, it will foster all sorts of feelings. And that's where the problem is. And if Kathy Griffin had to have consequences, so should Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: Well, she got canceled, they canceled her and tried to cancel. I mean, she's made a comeback in her career.

Maria, the other question I have is --

NAVARRO: (INAUDIBLE) all up in her in her head. In her house.

ACOSTA: You're right. You're right. Yes. And Maria, you know, the other question is, and I can hear that some of the folks at home saying, gosh, why do you guys talk about this? Well, I'm sure you hear this. I'm sure Ana has.


ACOSTA: Why do you guys talk about this? You know, he's just playing you guys. He does this thing in the back of the pickup truck today. He does the bloodbath comment tomorrow, and he's just catnip with the media. He's just playing you guys.

CARDONA: And I think that is exactly the danger of ignoring it. So, I'm actually so glad that we are not ignoring it, regardless of those complaints. And what I would say to the people who are complaining about that, look back at what has happened as a result of Donald Trump's rhetoric, and it -- Ana's right, and this frustrates me to no end about the kind of amnesia that we're kind of seeing that the American people are going through. And look, it's not unheard of, because if you talk to a psychologist, right, the American human psyche, and human minds are trained to forget trauma. And this country went through four years of trauma. We did wake up every morning, nervous, hypertension, you know, blood pressure spiking. I can't tell you how many people I have heard of, during those four years of saying, I'm just -- I'm not even going to look at the news anymore --


CARDONA: -- because I can't take it. That's what the country went through. So, it is not surprising that people want to forget that. We cannot let them forget that. Because as I said before, and what we are hearing from Donald Trump is not that he's walking it back. He doesn't understand that he's in the general election, or maybe he does, and he just doesn't care. And he thinks that by inciting more of this hateful, violent rhetoric, he's going to create more MAGA extremists.

My hope and my faith in the American people in the common-sense Republicans, Independents, suburban voters, Latinos, African- Americans, women, LGBTQ everyone who understands that we live, we want to live in a sane, civil, decent, society will ultimately go to the polls in November and vote for that. ACOSTA: Yes. Well, and I mean, it's been consumed in conservative media, MAGA media and so on, whether we cover it or not. So, I mean, if we -- if we think it's important to cover this stuff, we ought to cover it.

CARDONA: That's right.

ACOSTA: Maria, Ana, great to talk to you guys as always. Ladies, thank you so much.

CARDONA: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Happy Monday. Really appreciate it.

All right. In the meantime, right now in Baltimore, officials are racing to open an alternate channel for central ships. We have the latest on those efforts. That straight (ph) ahead.