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Middle East on Edge After Unprecedented Attack by Iran Against Israel; Biden Seeks Diplomatic Response to Limit Military Escalation; Interview with Representative Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) about Aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan; Trump's Hush Money Trial Starts Monday; Aboard B-52 Bomber as U.S. Sends Warnings to Foes. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 14, 2024 - 20:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

Breaking news in the Middle East we are learning new details about the unprecedented attack on is Israel overnight by Iran. U.S. Central Command now says U.S. forces destroyed more than 80 Iranian attack drones, at least six ballistic missiles launched from both Iran and Yemen. The Israeli military says Iran and its proxy forces across the region launched some 350 drones, missiles, and rockets in total into its territory or at its territory.

This Iran says was in response to a deadly attack on its consulate in Damascus earlier this month, which it blames on Israel, though Israel has not taken responsibility.

With me now CNN's Nic Robertson in Jerusalem and Priscilla Alvarez at the White House.

Nic, you heard earlier CNN analyst Barak Ravid reporting that the Israeli response was actually put on hold right in the midst of this Iranian attack, that there was a case made in the war cabinet to begin the response as the attack was happening from Iran.

Where does that leave the Israeli response now and was that a step towards de-escalation?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it gives a space for de-escalation, but I think the rhetoric that we're hearing that the pause is at the moment to decide when to strike and how to strike. It's not about deciding not to strike, but in the absence of a decision to go ahead, then that leaves the space.

But look, we heard that both -- from Barak Ravid that both Gadi Eisenkot and Benny Gantz, both former chiefs of staff within the IDF, wanted to strike back at Iran while Iran's missiles were in the air. Now President Biden had cautioned Prime Minister Netanyahu to notch this up, cautioned him about a quick response, about retaliating, and the decision has been taken clearly to pause, to think about it more, hand it off to the IDF in part to come up with a plan of action about what they could strike.

The part of the strategy going forward appears to be to build out a broader international coalition. So Israel doesn't have to go it alone, or at least has its allies standing closer to it, although President Biden has been very clear that if Israel responds, the United States is not going to be part of that response against Iran, but we know that right-wing members of Prime Minister Netanyahu's cabinet want a forceful response, a deterrence response.

And that's why I think that, although there's a pause at the moment, Israel's go-to position to deter its enemies in the region is to hit them back harder than they've already been hit. The deterrence, that's how it works. And Israel has stood by that and it's believed in it for decades. So that's the position they're at today, and they don't seem to be backing away from it. They seem to be considering how best to put it into effect and not isolate themselves from the allies that did so much to help them last night -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Trouble is, each step up, call it deterrence, it's also by some definition escalation.

Nic Robertson, thanks so much.

Priscilla, President Biden, perhaps with that in mind, he's been speaking with G7 allies today. What is the intent of those talks?


And is he looking to build an allied coalition in effect on next steps here including applying some pressure on Israel not to strike Iran in response?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Jim, the focus here at the White House for months but especially in this moment is to contain the risk of widening this regional conflict. And so in this phone call with G7 leaders that occurred earlier today, President Biden and the leaders talked about coordinating a unified diplomatic response, diplomatic response being the key words there. Really moving forward with non-military actions.

What they want to see is the region to stabilize. There have been heightened tensions and there was real fear and concern that this could escalate at any moment, which is part of the reason that President Biden in his phone call with the Israeli prime minister yesterday evening said that the U.S. will not participate in an offensive action against Iran. It said cautioning and telling the Israeli prime minister to think carefully and strategically about next steps.

Now part of this stems from the fact that the U.S. has assessed this should be largely a success for Israel. They were able to take down missiles and there wasn't any major damage to infrastructure. And that is exactly how National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby framed that this morning. Take a listen.


what they threw at Israel.


KIRBY: Several hundred drones and missiles over the course of a few hours. And what damage did they cause? Not very much. I mean, it was an incredible effort by Israel, but also it shows that Iran is not the military power weight that they claimed to be.


ALVAREZ: Now a senior administration official also says that Israel doesn't want to escalate, but that it still means that there is a big question here in terms of how Israel chooses to move forward. Of course, there have been public rifts between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the course of the war in Gaza. So the question is, what will Israel do next? And will it also try to contain the risk of broadening this into a regional conflict? All of that very much still a top concern at this hour here.

SCIUTTO: No question, though we should know that Israel is now allowing schools to open tomorrow morning, this morning, Israeli time, which you can imagine would not be happening if either Israel was expecting another Iranian attack or planning its own retaliation immediately.

Priscilla Alvarez at the White House, thanks so much.

Tonight, President Biden is holding a call with congressional leaders to discuss the ongoing situation in the Middle East. That happening just hours after House Speaker Mike Johnson said that he plans to discuss some aid package on the House floor this week, whether that's a supplemental that includes aid not just for Israel, but Ukraine and Taiwan, or something separate. We don't know yet.

Joining me now, Republican congressman from Florida, Carlos Gimenez.

Congressman, thanks so much for taking time on a Sunday evening.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ (R-FL): My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: As you know, there was already a supplemental passed by the Senate with bipartisan support, which includes aid not only for Israel, but also Ukraine and Taiwan, which if brought to the floor by all accounts would pass immediately. The quickest way to get aid to Israel, but also to Ukraine and Taiwan.

If that were to happen, would you vote for it? Would you vote for that supplemental?

GIMENEZ: I don't think so. I want aid for Ukraine. I want aid for Israel. I want aid for Taiwan and I also want border security. I'd rather have those put to me separately. I want to see where everybody stands. There are things in that aid package that I don't think are -- I think we could do the same, have the same impact without spending so much money. I wanted to do military aid. And there's billions of dollars for other stuff in there that I really have no appetite for.

So at this time I'd rather see that. I look forward this week to our speaker putting an aid package together for Israel, but I also will be encouraging him to put an aid package, a military aid package for Ukraine, Taiwan, and then also add another attempt to try to control our border.

SCIUTTO: Given, though that, as you know, if that were to happen, if it were to be separated out and parceled out, it would have to then go back to the Senate. If these are urgent needs, not just for Israel but for Ukraine, why not take the most urgent path to getting that aid across the finish line?

GIMENEZ: I mean, we can pass this next week and give it to the Senate. They can take it up next week also. So, I mean, you know, this goes both ways. This urgency, and so again, I've been asking the speaker for some time to put the Ukraine, Taiwan, Israel on, you know, as separate votes and let's go. It's time that we need to help our allies.


And these attacks yesterday just show how much we do actually need to help our allies, especially Israel and Ukraine. And so that's what I would like to see. Now, some of my colleagues would like to see a bigger package, a different package, then the Senate side, so I think the Senate bill has issues that will have difficulty in passing I think Congress at this time.

SCIUTTO: As you know, you have Republican colleagues in the House who are threatening the speaker, if he attempts to bring any aid for Ukraine to the floor, Marjorie Taylor Greene, I'll name her, might make a motion to vacate, a risk for the speaker. What would you do in that case?

GIMENEZ: I do -- look, I would do exactly what I did when I was mayor of Miami-Dade County, just do the right thing. OK. And you let the chips fall where they may, but you got to do the right thing.

SCIUTTO: What is the right thing?

GIMENEZ: And so you can't --

SCIUTTO: Would you vote to remove the speaker or vote to support him?

GIMENEZ: The right thing is -- no. Heck, no. No. I support Mike Johnson.


GIMENEZ: I think, you know, he's a good speaker. He's an honest man. He's a good person. No, I think that in my estimation the right thing is put forward these aid packages to Ukraine, Taiwan, Israel, OK. And let the chips fall where they may after that, see who else votes for it. So you votes against it, and then send that off to the Senate.

Israel needs a package right now. So does Ukraine. They're running out of bullets. And the last thing I want to see is Russian tanks rolling into Kyiv. OK. And so we need that also. So yes, my advice to the speaker, do the right thing, and I think in the end, you know, things will work out for you.

SCIUTTO: Speaking about next steps in the Middle East right now, Israel is of course considering options now for how it responds and in what way. Your Republican colleague in the Senate, Marsha Blackburn, she's advocating for a U.S. strike on Iran in response. And I wonder if you would agree with that.

GIMENEZ: At this time no, but I do think that Israel has the right and the duty to protect itself. Look, what do you think would happen if somehow we woke up yesterday and Iran had fired like 300 drones and ballistic missiles at us? Do you think we're going to respond even if we shot them all down? Yes, I think we would respond because you want to deter that kind of activity, that kind of threat in the future.

So I think that it's right for Israel just to take their time, figure out what they're going to do. But in the end, just because you took a swing and the punch didn't do too much damage, doesn't mean that you're not going to strike back because if not, then Iran is going to think, hey, we can just launch missile after missile after missile and Israel is not going to do anything.

You know, the prime minister has a duty to protect the people of Israel. And so he needs to do that. And I'll support his actions.

SCIUTTO: One thing we saw work in effect here and I'm not -- certainly not minimizing the size, scale, and brazenness of this Iranian strike. It's new, it's unprecedented. But the defense systems in coordination between Israel, the U.S., the U.K., France, apparently, but also Arab allies taking part in shooting these missiles down, showed cooperation against the Iranian threat.

And I wonder if you see a model there to some degree, not all those folks taking part advertise their participation in it. Some of those Arab allies. But they did. And I wonder if you see a model there for standing up to Iran going forward.

GIMENEZ: I should hope so, and I would hope so. Look, Iran is the, you know, the state that's causing most of the problems in the Middle East. They fund Hezbollah, they fund Hamas, you know, unfortunately because we're not enforcing some of the sanctions against Iran, they're actually, you know, selling 500 percent more of their oil and using that money against Israel, against our interests.

And so, yes, I think that that was a very good sign that Arab states in particular took part in shooting down these drones. And it was also a signal to Iran that, hey, you know, we're not with you on this fight and don't use our airspace and don't try to get us involved. And we're going to shoot down your stuff. So that this doesn't escalate, you know, beyond what we have right now, because then it can spill over its into our area, into our territory and involve our country. So yes, I thought that was very good -- very good thing.

SCIUTTO: We had, before I go, we had Ambassador John Bolton on the air last night, and he was advocating for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities this time around, in effect, saying that now is the time to neutralize that potential threat.

Now, as you know, that's something that general understanding is, Israel cannot do without U.S. help.


Do you think the U.S. should help Israel carry out such a strike?

GIMENEZ: I'm not privy to the intelligence on this right now. What the -- where is the nuclear capability of Iran? How close they are? But I'll tell you this. All right. Iran has said and the ayatollah has stated time and time again that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. I take that seriously. And if I was an Israeli, I think I'd take that seriously, too. And so yes, they're going to have a weapon that's going to wipe my -- you know, wipe me off the face of the earth, I think I'm going to take some action.

So right now, I don't have that intelligence. I'm not going to say go ahead and pull the trigger. But when the time comes and the threat Israel, Israel is going to have to protect itself.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Carlos Gimenez, we do appreciate you taking the time this evening.

GIMENEZ: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: And still ahead this hour, Iran is promising further action if Israel response. Will Israel and Iran keep climbing this ladder of escalation? There's genuine concern in the region and back here in the U.S. We're going to break down those risks coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM.


SCIUTTO: With Iran's attack now come and gone, for now, it is Israel's turn to weigh a response. That raises age-old questions of proportionality escalation and deterrence. They are all being asked within a new and shifting set of circumstances in the region.

I want to discuss that with CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, who is host of the podcast "In the Room with Peter Bergen." Peter Bergen is in the room with me.

You wrote a piece for today asking an essential question, which is, what does Iran want? And your description of what Iran wants is quite ambitious.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I mean, they want to evict the United States from the Middle East. They want to turn Israel into the Palestine. They want to end the U.S. based world order. These are not modest goals, but, you know, Ayatollah Khomeini is 84, who runs Iran. You know, he believes he's God's representative on earth. He is an absolute theocracy.

And if you look it from the Iranian perspective, they'd been doing pretty well with this project. They basically, you know, control Lebanon through Hezbollah. They largely dominate Syria. They kept considerable control in Iraq, and they largely dominate Yemen through the Houthis. So think about that, Jim, is 1500 miles from Beirut to the Red Sea in Yemen. They control much of that region, and, you know, so will they achieve these goals?

You know, different question but they certainly got the U.S. out of Lebanon in the '80s. They certainly have put huge cost on the Americans in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and from that perspective that project is going I think somewhat well.

SCIUTTO: Now when you describe the intention to go further from the progress it's already made from its perspective.


But to evict the U.S. from the beliefs to in effect wipe Israel off the map. I mean, that obviously is an existential question for Israel. The U.S. is not going to be evicted from the Middle East or will not allow itself to be.

BERGEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Those are positions where there's no negotiation over. I mean that presumes a broader military conflict over time.

BERGEN: Well, I mean tomorrow we have a very significant meeting at the White House, which is the Iraqi Prime Minister Al Sudani meeting with Biden. Now that's a long plan meeting. But what's the subject of discussion, is the 2500 U.S. troops that are in Iraq right now There's a lot of pressure in Iraq by Iranian-backed political parties to remove those U.S. troops. So obviously this meeting is going to be a little more intense than it would have been perhaps, you know, a week ago.

But the Iraqi prime minister is under a lot of pressure to remove those troops, except the last time the U.S. pulled out of Iraq three years later you got ISIS marching on Baghdad. So, you know, a lot of Iraqis don't want to see that again. But -- so it doesn't necessarily mean an all-out conflict. I mean, Iran can operate in different ways. So, for instance, in Iraq through pressure on, you know, Iraqi politicians to basically expel American troops.

SCIUTTO: OK, so that is the conflict between Israel and Iran, and the U.S. and Iran as well. But you have -- it's not a conflict, but you have divisions between the U.S. and Israel. Certainly over the progress of the war in Gaza. But now over an Israeli response to this you hear this frequently. When Israel is attacked, we strike back harder. You and I have covered Israel carrying out, you know, following through on that threat for many years and decades in the Middle East.

In this case, you have the U.S. president saying Israel, you got to win here. Let's move on in effect. Does Israel listen to that?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, I think Netanyahu has not achieved his strategic goals in Gaza. He hasn't wiped Hamas militarily. He hasn't got the hostages, the ones that remained, alive back. He is not popular at home, and so, you know, an assertive wartime president is a popular one. There's a rally around the flag effect. Plus, and we don't have the polling data yet, you can imagine a lot of the Israeli public saying we have to respond.


BERGEN: And we have to restore deterrence against Iran. We can't do nothing. So, you know, if -- unfortunately I think the likelihood of escalation is high. And in fact, by the way, the Netanyahu government has a particularly good record of listening to the Biden administration.

SCIUTTO: Nope, not at all. I mean deliberately defying. Sure.

BERGEN: Right? So, you know, I mean, he's got to deal with his own political -- you know, most right-wing government in Israeli history. I think there'll be considerable pressure for him to respond. How that happens, you know, is --

SCIUTTO: The thing is that when you look at it big picture, this -- we've heard this for years, again in decades, that we have to strike back harder. The trouble is that that's how you escalate, right, because each side strikes back harder and harder.

BERGEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Has Israel over decades of following that effective policy achieved its security aims?

BERGEN: Well --

SCIUTTO: Is it safer today than it was 20 years ago?

BERGEN: There's an amazing documentary called "The Gatekeepers," where they interviewed all the head -- former heads or Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence service. And they also have versions of the same thing, which is we win every battle, but we are not winning the war.

SCIUTTO: Right. Which is what folks said about U.S. military, long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

BERGEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: That's an indictment of the effective security policy, is it not?

BERGEN: Yes. On the other hand, you know, Israel, I mean, October 7th was, you know, there haven't been a serious attack on Israel since the 1973 war. So something was going right.

SCIUTTO: Right. Yes, I understand. Listen, longer conversation, but a major question now, as to how this particular attack is responded to.

Peter Bergen, thanks so much.

And still ahead, a personal connection to the conflict in Israel. We're speaking to an Israeli-Palestinian foreign policy analyst with a great deal of personal experience through the years in the region.

You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.



SCIUTTO: Tensions remain high in the Middle East tonight as Iran is warning Israel that any new aggression or retaliation will be met with, quote, "a heavier and regrettable response." In fact, both sides are speaking of bigger and bigger responses in both directions.

I want to bring in Rula Jebreal. She's a visiting professor at the University of Miami, a journalist, foreign policy analyst, as well as a Palestinian Israeli.

Thanks so much for joining tonight.


SCIUTTO: You have family in Haifa, Israel. There are two million Arab Israelis or Israeli Palestinians in Israel. I wonder in the midst of this attack last night, what was their view of this and what were their fears of escalation?

JEBREAL: So thank you for asking me about my family. I have family in Haifa, I have family in East Jerusalem and I have family in the West Bank. And we have three different reactions. So my family and Haifa basically their assessment that it is a clear that this was a message and they were fearing major retaliation. Basically they were fearing that there will be a coordinated attack by, not only by Iran, that other countries will join in.

They feared the militias in Syria. They feared attacks from Iraq and above all Hezbollah in Lebanon. And they were thinking, you know, 300 missiles that were shot or drones and others.


They're not thousands. They were fearing that the Iron Dome would be overwhelmed. And this is when they realized that it was a message. It was not actually meant truly to trigger escalation. And they all were ready because when two weeks ago the government bombed the embassy in Syria, they were waiting for this attack and they're getting ready. They didn't know if it -- if it's going to be only, you know, Iran alone or other proxies will join in, and they're bigger fear is that when other countries will join in and there will be a real serious orchestrated attack. They think that the government is reckless. They think Netanyahu wants

a regional war. And they fear that the regional war, Israel cannot win and nobody can win that regional war. Not Iran, not Israel. And they fear that the United States would be dragged in.

SCIUTTO: Yes, there's great fear in this country of that. Exactly.

To that point, because there's been concern about Hezbollah's participation for years, given many thousands of missiles and that very fear you described that it could overwhelm Israel's air defenses. I was speaking with a military analyst earlier in this broadcast that the drones and the missiles could have been fired in such a way that they all would have arrived at the same time and therefore had a greater chance of overwhelming those defenses.

And I wonder, do you believe that was deliberate? In other words, and I'm not downplaying the size of the attack, but that it was limited in some respects so, as you say, to deliver a message more than to cause massive damage or casualties.

JEBREAL: Absolutely. No doubt. However, understand that Iranians and saw the Iranians operating in Syria, in Iraq, and elsewhere know that they wanted to damage, they would have damaged Israeli badly. They know that. But they didn't want to divert the attention from what's happening in Gaza. They couldn't not answer to the killing of their officials in Syria. There is a direct attack on their consulate. There are people died.

So they wanted to send a message not only to Israel, to the region that there are always going to be consequences when you attack Iran directly.

And Jim, look, the Iranians and their proxies in the regions obviously they want to fight Israel, but they want to fight Israel in their own time and their own term. They're not going to fall into Netanyahu's trap. They understand that Israel in this moment is isolated and because of what they're doing in Gaza and in the West Bank, by the way.

And if you look at the Israeli -- especially the Iranian media, the Israeli media, but also the Arab media, everybody is talking about the terrorist attacks of the settlers in the West Bank, the Bagram, the torching of villages, the hundreds of people are dying. And also about their starvation. Why would the Iranians want to deflect from that?

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. What is the view of the U.S. role at this point? Do you -- when you look at this, do you believe that Israel or Iran or other players in the region respect American power? Or do they see the U.S. as retreating?

JEBREAL: That's a great question, Jim. And I think probably it requires more time. But look, they -- the Iranians, especially, I mean, there's -- we have what we saw last time two different regions, right? You have the Sunni Arabs, Jordanians, and others who they don't want escalations, they are very critical of what Israel is doing in Gaza, especially the starvation and the indiscriminate bombing. They understand this is not good for regional stability.

They are very worried that Israel doesn't want a greater peace but wanted greater Israel, and that's why there are hitting Lebanon, they're hitting Syria, they're hitting (INAUDIBLE). And so they are worried. But when Iran attacked, you saw that the Jordanians themselves actually stepped up their game. They helped Israel and even know the Jordanian themselves they are very critical, but you saw the other axis of, you know, what they called the axis of resistance. Iran, Hezbollah, there's a -- you know, basically, even the Iraqis. The Iraqi prime minister informed the Americans.

So the fact that even the Iraqi prime ministers and other in the Shia world informed the Americans, that means the ultimate goal of the Iranians in this moment not to enter in a direct confrontation with Americans. They want to avoid that.


JEBREAL: That doesn't mean they are not going to enter in confrontation directly and indirectly. I mean, you might see more cyberattacks and hidden attacks between Israel and Iran, but there would never be direct confrontation because they want to avoid a collapse of the region and a wider war. And they all agree, everybody, the Sunni and the Shia in the region that this is Netanyahu's goal. This is his game.

They fear that he wants to stay in power and he's using this momentum to basically deflect from what he's doing and to, you know, continue with this endless war and expand the war for his personal benefits.


That's what they all agree on. And you can see that even the Saudi crown prince doesn't want to talk with Netanyahu himself. The Emirates are very uncomfortable and these are, you know, the people who normalize relationship with Israel.

What they expect from the Americans? I think they expected a stronger reaction from President Biden, not now, not today. They expected that two months ago when they were calling him, relentlessly saying, we don't want the region to blow up. We don't want an explosion. Please put some kind of pressure, red lines, and the fact that President Biden didn't do that until now, and still reluctant to do that, I think that is, you know, a reason and that's a major concern to all of them.

SCIUTTO: Rula Jebreal, so good to hear your analysis. Thanks so much for joining tonight.

JEBREAL: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, a historic trial begins tomorrow. We're going to discuss what to expect as Donald Trump's first criminal trial is set to begin.


SCIUTTO: The judge overseeing Donald Trump's hush money case has rejected Trump's latest attempt to delay the trial, which is set to begin tomorrow.

Brian Todd has a closer look now at how this historic case came together.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It wasn't until almost 12 years after the affair allegedly occurred that the world first learned of the allegations of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. In January 2018, the "Wall Street Journal" reported that in the weeks before the 2016 election Donald Trump had arranged a $130,000 payment to the adult film star to keep her from publicly discussing their alleged 2006 encounter.

Later, former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen testified that Trump directed him to make payments to Daniels, quote, "for the principal purpose of influencing the election," and that Trump later reimbursed him. Cohen served jail time for campaign finance violations related to the hush money payments and gave jarring testimony to Congress.

MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.

TODD: Donald Trump has always denied having an affair with Stormy Daniels. In April 2018, Trump was asked by reporters about hush money.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


TODD: But later in 2018, in an ethics filing, Trump acknowledged reimbursing Michael Cohen for more than $100,000, but didn't say what it was for.

Daniels spoke to Anderson Cooper in a CBS interview about the alleged payment.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was it hush money to stay silent?

STORMY DANIELS, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: Yes. I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, in my heart, and some people argue that I don't have one of those, but whatever, that I was doing the right thing.

TODD: That same year, the "New Yorker" magazine detailed reports that Trump had had an affair with former "Playboy" model Karen McDougal. She spoke to Anderson Cooper about it.

KAREN MCDOUGAL, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: The only regret I have about the relationship that I had with Donald was the fact that he was married.

TODD: The "Wall Street Journal" reported four days before the 2016 election that the publisher of the "National Enquirer" tabloid had paid McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story shortly after Trump became the Republican nominee for president, but that the "Enquirer" never published the story.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP: Catch and kill. That is pay someone and then kill a story that would be damaging to Donald.

MCDOUGAL: I knew the story wasn't going to be printed. They didn't want to hurt him.

TODD: Trump has denied having an affair with McDougal. He was indicted a year ago on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to the Daniels hush money payments. He's pleaded not guilty. Cohen, Daniels and McDougal are among those expected to be on the witness list for this trial. How credible a witness would Daniels be?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: She seemed like she would make a very good witness. If I were trying the case, I'd be happy to put her on the stand. What really helps the prosecution here is what she is talking about is all corroborated in the documents.


TODD (on-camera): The trial is scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection. Potential jurors will be asked 42 questions, including their feelings about Donald Trump, whether they ever participated in a rally for or against Trump, and whether they can be fair and impartial. But they won't be asked what party they belong to or who they voted for.

Brian Todd. CNN, Washington.

SCIUTTO: Now for some insight into the trial, CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen. He's the editor of "Trying Trump: The Complete Guide to the Manhattan D.A.'s Prosecution." He also investigated Trump as counsel to House Democrats in the first impeachment.

Norm, thanks so much for joining. You wrote an op-ed on this week talking about jury selection, the judge's questions. Tell us what the judge wants to know about potential jurors in this case?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Jim, the judge wants to know if each of the jurors who is chosen can decide the case based upon the facts, the evidence that they hear, and the law. He wants to rule out anybody who will decide the case with disregard for the proofs that they hear because they favor Donald Trump or they're opposed to Donald Trump, or they have any other reason other than what happens in that courtroom.


And if they might even shade a little bit to one side or the other he doesn't want them. I've been criminal lawyer for over 30 years and I believe juries can and will do this. However, as I wrote for CNN Opinion, Donald Trump would like to get just one juror, one angry juror that will hang this jury.

SCIUTTO: Right. Let me ask you because, yes, this is unique. First time a former president has gone on trial. Of course, Donald Trump is a polarizing figure, and he's a political figure. But the fact is this country has tried politicians before, where there are questions about political partisanship. It's tried some very famous people before that are very well-known and people have strong opinions for and against.

So I wonder if you find this to be a truly unique situation or one that, as you say, they're just going to have to do the work and get through. It might take a lot of jurors, but they'll get to that 12 eventually.

EISEN: Jim, it's one of the most historic trials in our two-and-a-half centuries as a nation. But at the same time, it's perfectly ordinary. I'll be in court every day for the trial and I was there when the parties appeared, including the former president, on March 25th to try to get a delay in the case. And I was struck by the simultaneously fact that in that not the most glamorous of courtrooms we were doing something that was completely unprecedented in American history, but also that Donald Trump was being treated like any other criminal defendant.

And I thought that was extraordinary because it speaks to a foundational American principle that no one is above the law, but no one's below it either, Jim. He's innocent until proven guilty.


EISEN: He's entitled to an airing of the evidence, contestation of the legal issues. That begins tomorrow with the selection of the jury. I'm with the words that this judge will speak to the jury when he summarizes the case that these are allegations of criminal election influence.


EISEN: The judge will say that. If Bragg proves it, you've gotten election interference case here. Kind of a precursor to what happened in 2020. The election interference cases in D.C., Jack Smith and in Georgia, Fani Willis.

SCIUTTO: Explain in detail how that is because I know that people, it's hard to keep track of all these cases. And this case has been talked about hush money, talks about an adult film star, but the fundamental legal issue here is whether there was fraud to interfere in the election, to basically kill a story, right, that, well, voters might have wanted to know about.

EISEN: That's right, Jim. Hush money is not a crime. What happened here is according to Alvin Bragg. And now we'll see if he can prove it. Remember, these are allegations. He says that there was a pattern here where this payment of $130,000, which by the way is $127,000 more than the law allows for campaign contribution. SCIUTTO: Right.

EISEN: This payment was made to deprive voters of essential information which in turn was covered up and with the intent to affect an election.


EISEN: And that identical pattern of deceiving voters to affect the outcome of an election. That's what Jack Smith is alleging Donald Trump did, deceiving that he claimed he won the election when he didn't, to grasp power, Jim. That's the allegation, deceiving voters to grasp power.


EISEN: Now, Alvin Bragg may not prove it, but that is why this is an alleged election interference case.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, each side will have its day in court.

Norm Eisen, thanks so much.

EISEN: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: CNN will have special coverage of this historic trial beginning 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow morning. We will be back in just a moment.



SCIUTTO: A CNN exclusive tonight, the U.S. Air Force giving CNN an up- close look at one of the most powerful bombers in its fleet. The B-52 is currently flying along the borders of Russia, North Korea, and China.

CNN's Oren Liebermann got to see the flagship B-52 up close and found out why it remains so important.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under the shroud of pre-dawn darkness, Flight Mile R-11 roars out of Louisiana's Barksdale Air Force Base. It's the start of one of the longest military missions in the world, a non-stop 33-hour flight by this B-52 strategic bomber group to the other side of the world, flying near Russia, China, North Korea and back.

As you can see, it's dark outside. The cockpit has red light once again for the night vision here.

(Voice-over): CNN is the first news crew ever allowed on one of these extensive B-52 missions. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only are we one of the most visible and

flexible legs of the nuclear triad, we can have a B-52 where you need it when you need it within 48 hours.

LIEBERMANN: These flights are intentionally high profile. Two years into the war in Ukraine, as Russia challenges the U.S. and NATO, the Kremlin is meant to know about our bomber flight. So is China with Beijing pressuring Taiwan, Chinese coast guard vessels harassing ships of the Philippines, a U.S. ally.


MAJ. GEN. JASON ARMAGOST, COMMANDER, EIGHT AIR FORCE: Both the national leadership of Russia and the national leadership of China, what do they react to? We see that they publicly comment about our bomber task force missions, particularly when it involves others in very joint and public ways.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tanker 1, contact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bomber 1, contact.

LIEBERMANN: Five hours into the flight, we hit our first of four aerial refuelings off Alaska's coast, taking on as much gas as we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep track of your own fuel state. I'd like for you guys to be with us all the way to the Yankee Zulu Papa.

LIEBERMANN: After an hour of formation flying during this refuel, we arc out over the Pacific and towards Japan.

LT. REBECCA "VULCAN" MOORE, ELECTRONIC WARFARE OFFICER: It's important that we communicate to our partners that we mean what we say when we say that we're committed to our alliances. That's an example of what the B-52 does. We show up when we're asked.

LIEBERMANN: This 63-year-old Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, decades older than its crew, shows its age, but it remains the Air Force's primary bomber, taking part in every U.S. war since Vietnam. With planned upgrades to its antiquated systems, it'll see nearly a century of service. This year, the U.S. began producing its next-generation B-21 bomber. China is close by behind, promising there H-20 strategic stealth bomber will be unveiled soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty seconds to the turn. Zero five zero.


LIEBERMANN: On board Mile R-11, we passed by Russia's east coast, closer meeting up with U.S. and allied fighter jets. Our flight is unarmed. The mission is not to attack but to prevent attack, to deter. But this is a bomber, of course. If we were carrying nuclear weapons, the Air Force would monitor the flight from the Joint Nuclear Operation Center back in Louisiana, seen here on news camera for the first time. It's a 24/7 operation tracking all ballistic missile silos and

airborne nuclear weapons. On the ground, crews trained to turn the aircraft into an offensive platform. Munitions teams or muns as they're known on base assemble weapons. Outside, loading teams married bombs to bomber. The B-52 can carry up to 70,000 pounds of bombs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ready to fly?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, your jet.

LIEBERMANN: It is a marathon of marathons, to put the B-52 and its crew virtually anywhere in the world.

At this point we've passed the halfway point of the flight. We've been in the air more than 16 hours. It's the middle of the day here in Japan where we're overflying at the moment en route to the mission area where we'll meet up with fighters from several other countries here, and carry out an exercise.

(Voice-over): Here on the edge of the East China Sea, fighter jets from Japan and South Korea take up formation off our wings. Hours earlier during our flight, North Korea test-fired a mid-range ballistic missile, a reminder of the threats in the Pacific.

You want to be seen by both allies and adversaries.

COL. MICHAEL MAGINNESS, COMMANDER, 2ND BOMB WING: We want to be seen by allies and adversaries.

LIEBERMANN: It is still a head turner when it's taken around the world.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): But it's China that the U.S. is watching most closely. In October, a Chinese fighter jet intercepted a B-52 flying over the South Chinas Sea at night, coming within 10 feet of the bomber.

By number of ships, China has the world's largest navy, and soon have the world's largest air force according to the commander of U.S. Indo- Pacific Command. Beijing is rapidly modernizing its military, including its strategic forces. And they're not part of any non- proliferation treaty, obscuring their nuclear assets.

After 19 hours of flying and 14 more to go, a warning light signals trouble with one of the plane's main engines. The crew runs through the checklists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Throttles, number five.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Confirmed, five.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Confirmed. LIEBERMANN: They make the decision to shut down the engine. There is

no panic, just a management of risks. Nearing the 30-hour mark of the flight, we see our second sunrise over Washington state's Mt. Rainier.

And although the crew is tired, they all know there's still a critical task ahead and that is getting the B-52 back on the ground. And that is one of those difficult parts of the mission.

(Voice-over): On final approach, the B-52, which has been in the air nearly 15 hours longer than the longest commercial flight in the world, has one final surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One gear not down?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Affirm. Right main gear is not down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go head, and emergency extend it.

LIEBERMANN: Flight Mile R-11 touches down at 3:00 in the afternoon after 33 hours in the air, a mission that showed the abilities and the age of a jet that remains critical to the Air Force.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Despite how many years the B-52 has been running, she is a tough girl.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): Officers we spoke with in Air Force Global Strike Command say countries like Japan are requesting more B-52 flights. They want to see the bomber in their skies. It is not just a measure of assurance between the U.S. and its allies. It's also a message to adversaries like China, who are very much aware of those B- 52 missions, especially the long-range ones.

Meanwhile President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida held a meeting on Wednesday in which they said there would be increased defense security cooperation, more integration on things like command and control between the militaries and making sure these militaries can continue to move together. Biden said it is the most significant upgrade to the alliance since it began.

Oren Liebermann, CNN.

SCIUTTO: Thanks so much to you for joining me this evening. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

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