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Tucker Carlson Breaks Silence after Being Fired by FOX; DeSantis Calls Disney Lawsuit 'Political'; Columnist Testifies Trump Raped Her in NYC Store Dressing Room; McCarthy's Debt Limit Bill Passes House with Narrow Margin. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2023 - 06:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She not only knows you're coming for her, but she wants you to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then I better get going.


ROMANS: That's "Mrs. Davis," streaming on Peacock.

And No. 3.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would love to let this go. But actions have consequences.


ROMANS: That's "Beef," from Netflix.

All right. Thanks for joining me this Thursday morning. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're so glad you're with us this Thursday. Let's get started with "Five Things to Know" for this Thursday, April the 27th, 2023.

Tucker Carlson is talking. His message to viewers released minutes after a "New York Times" report that shed new light on the text messages that may have led to his firing from FOX News.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, inside the home of the Air National Guardsman who is now accused of leaking sensitive secrets online. Prosecutors releasing new pictures and details overnight as they make their case that he poses, quote, "a serious flight risk." Also, House Republicans in Washington passing a plan to raise the debt

ceiling by the slimmest of margins. President Biden says he's ready to meet with Speaker Kevin McCarthy and talk about cuts in the House plan but says raising the debt ceiling still not up for debate.

HARLOW: Moments ago, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis blasting Disney's lawsuit against him and his oversight board, saying the suit has no merit. He claims it's political. Disney says DeSantis is punishing free speech.

Also, feeling the heat. Eight-seed Miami pulled off a massive upset over top-seed Milwaukee Bucks after this circle (ph) shot by Jimmy Butler sent the game into overtime.

COLLINS: He's on a roll this week.

HARLOW: CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

And there was some singing last night.

COLLINS: Yes. Some real singing. Not by President Biden but by the South Korean president at the White House.


YOON SUK YEOL, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (singing): A long, long time ago --


HARLOW: I love it.

YOON (singing): I can still remember how the music used to make me smile.


COLLINS: Total surprise.

HARLOW: Look at Biden's face.


YOON (singing): And now I know if I had my chance, that I could make those people dance.


HARLOW: He's good. He's pretty good, right?


YOON (singing): And maybe they'd be happy for a while.


HARLOW: That's the president of South Korea. He's heading to Capitol Hill today. But what a state dinner, huh?

COLLINS: I know. The state dinners at the White House is one of the best parts of covering the White House.

HARLOW: Have you been to one?

COLLINS: You don't go to them, but you can watch.

HARLOW: What, you're right outside?

COLLINS: You do this thing called booksellers. You stand right there, and you watch everyone come in.

HARLOW: I love that.

COLLINS: So you see everyone who's invited. A lot of celebrities. Mitt Romney was there last night.


COLLINS: Kevin McCarthy --

HARLOW: Was not.

COLLINS: I did not see him at this one.

HARLOW: Right. He wasn't. We'll get into that.


HARLOW: He's got a lot on his plate.

Also this. We're going to start here, because it's remarkable.

We're hearing from Tucker Carlson for first time since his firing. New and ugly details emerge about why FOX News got rid of its highest rated prime time star.

"The New York Times" reports the breaking point came after FOX executives discovered startling, highly offensive and crude private text messages from Carlson on the eve of the Dominion trial.

Not long after that report dropped, Tucker Carlson posted this video on Twitter. He did not mention FOX News by name.


TUCKER CARLSON, FORMER FOX NEWS HOST: When honest people say what's true calmly and without embarrassment, they become powerful. At the same time, the liars who have been trying to silence them shrink, and they become weaker. That's the iron law of the universe. True things prevail.


COLLINS: No mention there of that new reporting from "The New York Times." That report says that the text messages that were discovered by FOX executives were even worse, apparently, than those that were revealed leading up to the trial, the ones we saw in public.

Apparently, there is one message that was so particularly offensive it added to the concern at the top of the company, caused a crisis in the days before they thought they were going trial.

We don't yet know what that message was. But "The Wall Street Journal" did report yesterday that Carlson had called a senior FOX News executive the "C" word. Of course, the same "C" word he used to describe Sidney Powell. That's the Trump-connected attorney and election conspiracy theorist, who was a regular guest on other shows on FOX News.

Here's how one of Carlson's former producers, who we should note is now suing the network, describes the culture of that show behind the scenes.


ABBY GROSSBERG, FORMER FOX NEWS PRODUCER: Women were objectified. It was a game. It was a sport. Female politicians who came on the show were mocked. There were debates about who they'd rather sleep with. "C" word all the time.


COLLINS: For more on all of this, let's bring in CNN's media analyst and Axios media reporter, Sara Fischer; CNN's anchor, senior political analyst John Avlon; and CNN political analyst Natasha Alford. Thank you all for being here this morning.


I mean, this is the front page of "The New York Times" today, saying Carlson's texts ignited a crisis for FOX chiefs right before they thought they were going to trial.

What struck me was, though, the attorneys have these messages for months. Why did the executives not see them until the eve of the trial?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: In part because they were redacted. Well, the executives should be seeing them, regardless. But the fact that they're redacted means that they're not going to come into public view.

I think another crisis is you don't know when things are going to become unredacted, either in the future. And so if you're leading into this trial, you see this stuff that's coming out. You're surprised by it by management.

But then, you're also worried that, from a reputational perspective, if and when this ever does become public, you then have to deal with that crisis at a certain point. And that's where it becomes a huge risk. HARLOW: And it might become public, because John, "The New York

Times," Associated Press, NPR have all challenged these redactions. So --

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR/SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And maybe this was a move to kind of get ahead of that.

But it kind of boggles your mind that it was these text messages that were the sort of straw that broke the camel's back. After all the things that Tucker Carlson had done and said: rewriting history around January 6, promoting the great replacement theory.

These must be really awful. And they must also go to the heart of something.

HARLOW: But don't you think -- I mean, FOX didn't bear a cost for all of that. In fact, it gained them viewership on Tucker's show.

The cost they bore was $787.5 million in the settlement. You know? So they finally had to pay.

AVLON: They finally had to pay. And there's outstanding suits, as well. And maybe they thought that firing Tucker would be a sign, send a signal, culturally, inside the organization.

But there are other on-air personalities who were promoting election lies a lot more loudly and consistently than Tucker Carlson. And they still have jobs right there. Over there right now. Maria Bartiromo in particular and Judge Jeanine Pirro.

So, we'll see. They're outstanding cases. But the fact that -- whatever was in these text messages was apparently what made the Murdochs finally decide to flip the switch. That's stunning.

FISCHER: Just to quickly jump in on that, though, if what's in these text messages is alleging sort of misogynistic language, behavior; and you're facing a lawsuit from a former producer about creating an environment, a retaliatory environment of misogynistic behavior, that's when it becomes ultimately very problematic.

Because it's not just a culture and reputational issue. It could be a legally implicating issue.

COLLINS: But what's your sense of this? Because I mean, we have seen FOX fire really prominent hosts before who had really good ratings. I mean, Bill O'Reilly. We saw what happened with Glenn Beck, as well.

With Tucker now leaving, I mean, it's too soon to really know and make an honest assessment. But the ratings have been down in that hour quite an amount. And Newsmax, which is a rival to them, saw a five times jump in their ratings.

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You can't really serve two masters, right? You have to make a decision about what the culture of an organization is going to be. And it really starts at leadership.

We've seen leadership over at FOX News sort of abuse, you know, abuse their power. Roger Ailes, that situation.

But also, it's the small things. It's the little things. And I think Abby Grossberg, when you look at some of the details of what she is accusing, it's just -- it's a culture that's rife with misogyny from top to bottom.

HARLOW: She's --

ALFORD: I think it's going to be bigger than one person's firing.

HARLOW: She's the producer we just heard from at the top of the show.

Let's switch gears here. Disney, in its next legal move, has filed a First Amendment lawsuit, Sara, against Ron DeSantis.

And Ron DeSantis spoke out about this, dismissing it in Israel. He gave a speech there, highlighting his own state's stance on fighting anti-Semitism.

And also, he defended himself against this legal battle with Disney. On Wednesday, the company filed the lawsuit accusing DeSantis and allies of weaponizing government power to punish the company for exercising its free speech.

Here is what the governor just said and then we'll get into Disney.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They had no accountability, no transparency, none of that. And that arrangement was not good for the state of Florida. We did not think that should continue.

So we now brought accountability. Every other Floridian has to have this -- this type of oversight, all Florida businesses. So it's -- it's a little bit much to be complaining about that. I don't think the suit has merit. I think it's political.

People of Florida, they understood that this waws an issue. Do you want one company to have their own fiefdom, or do you want everyone to live under the same laws?


HARLOW: OK. So all the leading First Amendment lawyers, though, here, including a really prominent one, Floyd Abrams, Sara, say this -- this Disney case has a lot of merit.

FISCHER: I think so. And part of the reason is because Rono DeSantis hasn't been shy about the fact that there is some sort of a retaliatory motive behind going after Disney.

It's not as though he thinks that Disney has violated Florida rules or is taking advantage of its position. It's because he wants to go after Disney for the position that Disney took against his "Don't Say Gay" bill. HARLOW: Can we just play -- This is Ron DeSantis on March 29, 2022,

after Disney spoke out against this bill. Here's what DeSantis said then.



DESANTIS: For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think one was fundamentally dishonest. But two, I think that crossed the line.

This state is governed by the interests of the people of the state of Florida. It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives. We're going to make sure we're fighting back when people are threatening our parents and threatening our kids.


AVLON: I mean, that's the smoking gun, right? In this suit, what Disney is saying is this was targeted government retaliation. And there you have one example of money (ph), where the governor of Florida seems to be saying this is going to be a targeted retaliation in response to Disney speaking out against a bill he backed.

COLLINS: Let's also talk about the political aspect of this, though. Because this is something -- Nikki Haley was weighing in on this yesterday, saying Disney is welcome to come to her home state of South Carolina.

She was saying we don't want "woke culture," but she said -- I think essentially, she said the word, something about sanctimonious and acting in that way when it comes to these companies and having this retribution.

Chris Christie has also spoken out against it, saying basically, it undermines the values of conservatism to be going after corporations in the way that DeSantis is. Does it hurt him politically?

ALFORD: I think it does. I mean, 75,000 employees were thinking about -- these are people with families, people who pour into the economy. There's all the related businesses. It's not just about Disney. It's about all the other business that Disney drives.

And, so, you're picking this fight with this company, but it's also affecting communities, real people on the ground in Florida.

So, I think that this might backfire. And I think Nikki Haley's "sanctimonious," you know, little dig there was kind of a shoutout to Trump, right, to say that this -- the way that Trump is branding Ron DeSantis, I think is sticking. And this Disney case proves a point.

AVLON: Let me pick up one point you made, though. This action is so anti-conservative.

COLLINS: You've covered conservative for so so long. What do you make of this?

AVLON: Look, right when it happened, I said, this is the least conservative thing you can imagine. A state government punishing a private corporation for expressing an opinion. And one of the state's largest employers in a tourism-backed economy. It is one of the least conservative things you can imagine.

And if a Democratic governor did it, Republicans would be screaming from the rafters.

HARLOW: All over them.

AVLON: Rightly so.

HARLOW: Go ahead, Sara.

FISCHER: The Republican Party has shifted. That's what you have to understand. It used to be so pro-business, so pro-corporate America.

And now it's shifted to be so pro-what they call family values, anti- wokism, that the Republican Party that he's trying to cater to is not thinking about the fact that they're going after corporations. They're thinking about the fact that they're protecting family values. That's the new Republican Party.

ALFORD: Again, that's a smaller and smaller group you're appealing to. Right? Because you're trying to tell people how to think about family, how to think about identity. It doesn't work. You can't legislate that.

HARLOW: OK, Sara. Just button this up for us. The thing is, though, Nikki Haley's, like, come to -- come to South Carolina. There's a reason that all these businesses are in Florida.

FISCHER: Well, there's a lot of tax incentives.

HARLOW: A ton of businesses have been pouring there way beyond Disney.

FISCHER: And the important thing for Disney is that it's a vacation destination. So having a reliably strong weather situation in Florida is really key.

It's a place that people have come to know. People bought houses. Literally, if you're a Disney fan --

HARLOW: You're not leaving.

FISCHER: -- you're not leaving.

And by the way, if you're a Disney fan, this bridge is political. I mean, people who are Republicans, they might say they agree with Ron DeSantis. Their family values, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day, they're still bringing their 4-year-olds to see Mickey Mouse.

AVLON: Yes, 100 percent.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys, very much. Sara, John, Natasha, stick around.

This morning, prosecutors say the accused Pentagon leaker had more information than previously reported. What we're learning from a late- night court filing.

Also, E. Jean Carroll, the former magazine columnist, suing former Donald Trump for battery and defamation. Will be back on the stand today to be cross-examined. We'll talk about that, ahead.

COLLINS: The judge in this thing --

HARLOW: Because he's very pro-First Amendment.


COLLINS: This morning, the suspected leaker of highly-classified military documents is set to appear for a detention hearing. This 22- year-old airman, Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, who was arrested at his family home, as well, in that dramatic scene in Massachusetts earlier this month, he is facing charges under the Espionage Act, after he allegedly posted more than 100 top-secret documents to the social media platform known as Discord.

In new court documents, prosecutors say, "The information to which the defendant had access and did access far exceeds what has publicly been disclosed on the Internet to date."

HARLOW: Prosecutors go on to say he appears to "have taken a series of obstructive steps intended to thwart the government's ability to ascertain the full scope of what he has obtained and the universe of unauthorized users with whom he shared these materials."

This is some of what they're talking about. Prosecutors say they found a tablet, laptop, Xbox gaming console that was smashed and in the Dumpster at his home. Remember, that's where they went to apprehend him.

They also show a military-themed room, an arsenal of weapons, and a target practice poster riddled with bullet holes.

Authorities also found that he allegedly searched the terms "Ruby Ridge," "Las Vegas shooting," "Mandalay Bay shooting," "Buffalo Top

shooting" and "Uvalde," some of worst mass shootings in this country.

COLLINS: Yes. We'll continue to track that detention hearing happening today.

Also new overnight, a federal appeals court has cleared the way for former vice president, Mike Pence, to testify to a grand jury that's investigating what happened on January 6th.

The court says that the former President Trump cannot stop his vice president from speaking under oath about the pressure he felt to declare the results of the 2020 election invalid.

Trump can still appeal to the Supreme Court. HARLOW: This comes ahead of new developments in another legal fight

for the ex-president. In just a few hours, we expect the woman accusing former Donald Trump of rape to take the stand today here in New York.

That is columnist E. Jean Carroll. She testified yesterday that, in the mid-'90s, Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room. He's previously denied that accusation. He's called it a hoax.

On the stand though, E. Jean Carroll said under oath, "I'm here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn't happen. He lied and shattered my reputation. And I'm here to try to get my life back."

She also choked up and said the alleged incident changed her life saying it, quote, "left me unable to ever have a romantic life again."

Our senior legal affairs correspondent, Paula Reid, joins us now. Incredibly powerful, disturbing testimony. She'll be cross-examined today?


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: She will be. She has waited decades for this moment, to tell her story in a court of law under oath. And while we know many of the details because she's spoken about them here on CNN and with other outlets.

It's a different thing to hear her in a silent courtroom speaking through tears, discussing how she encountered Donald Trump in this department store and what happened, what she says happened when they went in that dressing room.

But today, she will have a few more questions from her attorneys on direct examination. But then she will be cross-examined by Trump's attorneys.

And even the most experienced defense attorneys will tell you that is a delicate task. And we know they are going to try to paint her as someone who made this up for political purposes.

And her attorneys did ask her, they did try to get ahead of this, you know, talking about whether she had any political motivation. And while she admitted to not liking Donald Trump politically, she said, "I am not settling a political score. I am settling a personal score, because he called me a liar repeatedly. And it has really decimated my reputation. I'm a journalist. The one thing I have is the trust of my readers."

COLLINS: Yes. I mean, Trump is going off against this case. I mean, right before, you know, not only was this dramatic scene of her getting on the stand, you know, her voice shaking, testifying about what she says happened.

But right before Trump was railing against this whole case on social media, and the judge got involved here. I mean, this isn't a surprise. But the judge was very stern with Trump's attorneys about him weighing in on this.

ALFORD: Yes. He threw out a conspiracy theory that somehow she was politically motivated; she was being funded by someone else in order to -- to go through with this case.

And he has to really be careful, because not only has he insulted her on a personal level, saying that she wasn't attractive enough for him to even consider, it's this -- you know, the discrediting of an accuser is something that a lot of accusers face. Right? It's something that's really relatable.

So if her story is powerful, and if she goes through this cross- examination and comes out really believable, again, I think that's a problem for Donald Trump.

AVLON: No question about it. And look, this is someone who's a very distinguished journalist; wrote a great book on Hunter Thompson. And her testimony yesterday was just heart-wrenching. Right?

I mean, this idea that she had been unable to have a romantic life. This is a case that is almost three decades old.

But in that cross-examination today, you know, Joe Tacopina, Trump's lawyer, is a lot of things. Delicate is not generally one of them. And so watch out.

COLLINS: I think he would agree with that.

AVLON: I think he would. I think -- yes. So -- so that's going to be a very difficult needle to thread. And as you said, the judge smacking down Trump for the public comments he's making, this is a case where you can't appeal to the court of public opinion. This is happening real time in a real courtroom.

REID: And if you want to say that, you have the opportunity to take the stand and answer some questions about this. There are some legitimate questions in this case, as there are in all cases.

But the place to talk about it is the courtroom, not social media.

HARLOW: While we have you here, let's thank you about the Hunter Biden meeting you were on (ph). Basically, reporting that this was going to happen, that he was going to meet his legal team and was going to meet with the Justice Department legal team that has been investigating this for years?

REID: For a very long time. For at least five years, yes.

HARLOW: What do we know about what happened in this meeting? What the point was?

REID: So we knew last week, we were the first to report that Hunter Biden's attorneys have reached out to the Justice Department, asking for a status update in this case, which has been going on since around 2018.

And the Justice Department said, Sure, come on in. We'll have a chat.

Now, of course, that took on new significance after this whistleblower came forward in recent days, alleging that this whole investigation has been mishandled.

And yesterday we spotted one of Hunter Biden's lawyers going into the Justice Department. We learned that the legal team met with at least one official from the tax division and one or two officials from the U.S. attorney's office.

Now, of course, there's a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware who stayed on after the former president left to oversee this investigation.

Now, our last report on the status of the charges was last summer. Our colleague, Evan Perez, reported that they had whittled down potential charges to a few tax crimes, one charge off possible false statements connected to the purchase of a gun.

But nothing has happened for nearly a year. This is the first public event in this case.

But at this point, it's unclear exactly what happened in this meeting. I was told not to expect a final disposition of the case. Hunter's lawyers really want to know what exactly is going on here. Are you going to charge him or not?

COLLINS: Yes, of course, they're dealing with that, as they're also dealing with House Republicans investigating him, as well.

Paula Reid, thank you so much for sharing that reporting.

John and Natasha, you're going to stay with us. We'll be back in just a moment.

But first, we want to talk about something else that happened in Washington yesterday. A win for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, probably the biggest one since he became House speaker, actually, after he did get enough members, just barely, of his own party to pass the debt ceiling bill.

The question right now, though, is where does this go next? We'll talk about that ahead.




REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president can no longer ignore and not negotiate. Senator Schumer, if he thinks he's got a plan, put it on the floor. See if you can pass it. And then we can go to conference.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: That's House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, taking a small victory lap after the House passed his debt limit plan that includes sweeping spending cuts over the next decade. But that celebration may be short- lived. The measure is dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate, as we heard from Schumer, who was just calling on there.

Part of the deal that McCarthy made to be speaker does mean it only takes one dissatisfied member of his caucus to file a discharge petition against him, forcing a vote that could remove him from power.

So far, that is not an indication that that is going to happen. But there are major questions about what is ahead for Kevin McCarthy and his caucus.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill with more.

Lauren, of course, there were big questions of whether or not Republicans would get here when we were checking in with you about 24 hours ago. They did get there with a narrow majority. The question is what happens next?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This vote was a squeaker. It was about as close as you could get, Kaitlan, and still get this across the finish line. In fact, the House speaker heading to the floor yesterday, according to a source familiar with his thinking.

Went to the floor pretty confident he was going to have the votes. But there was still a question whether or not they were going to be able to pull this.