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Russian Media: Military Plane With 74 Aboard Crashes In Russia; U.S. Carries Out Strikes On Iranian-Backed Militias In Iraq; Trump Wins New Hampshire, Haley Vows To Stay In Race. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 24, 2024 - 05:30   ET



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- say that there were 65 prisoners of war -- Ukrainian prisoners of war on that plane, including -- and then also, the crew and some people who were also accompanying those prisoners of war.

Obviously, the Russians are saying at this point in time it's not likely that anyone would have survived that crash. It's unclear whether or not that is really the case. The Ukrainians, so far, have not come out and commented on all this.

The big question is of though -- if, of course, though, whether or not the Ukrainians may have been involved in bringing that plane down. Whether or not there might have been some sort of surface-to-air missile that may have been involved. Certainly, there are some indications that maybe that could be the case from some social media accounts from Ukraine. But right now, in the early stages, it is still very much unclear whether or not that might be the case.

In any case, though, this is a huge incident for the Russian military -- this plane coming down. It's a very large transport aircraft and it's also, Poppy, in one of Russia's main military hubs that they use for their assault on Ukraine. This is a highly militarized region. Belgorod has always been a military hub but is also used for the assault on Ukraine. So around that area there are a lot of Russian military bases. Obviously, also, Russian military airfields as well.

It's a huge loss for the Russians and at this point in time, really unclear whether or not those POWs were really on the plane. Whether or not that plane was taken down by the Ukrainians. But it certainly --


PLEITGEN: -- seems as though this was an absolutely gigantic crash that happened with a massive explosion, Poppy.

HARLOW: So just to be clear, we don't know if those POWs were on the plane with certainty, right?

PLEITGEN: Well, that's -- it's -- well, we don't know that with certainty. The Russians are saying that at this --

HARLOW: OK. PLEITGEN: -- point in time. They claim that there were 65 POWs on board, but it's not clear whether or not --


PLEITGEN: -- that's the case. And we certainly are, right now, trying to get information from the Ukrainians as well.

HARLOW: Yeah, of course.

Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much for bringing us the breaking news. We'll keep everyone posted throughout the morning.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, long-running tensions in the Middle East continuing to build after a new round of U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. The attacks hit two sites in western Iraq targeting Hezbollah headquarters as well as training locations for rocket, missile, and drone capabilities.

Let's go straight to CNN's Ben Wedeman in Beirut. Ben, this back-and- forth we have seen now for several weeks, it's always in a reciprocal -- usually the frame that U.S. officials try and put it in.

How dangerous is this moment right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is dangerous but it was inevitable in a sense, Phil. Because on Saturday, there was a strike on U.S. forces in the Ain Al-Asad base in Iraq, which left four with traumatic brain injuries, and this is the American response.

Now, keep in mind that there have been 150 strikes on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the Hamas-Gaza-Israel war leaving 83 U.S. personnel injured. And this is sort of a cycle that's been going on since the beginning of that war.

Now, the Iraqi government is rather unhappy with this incident. A spokesman saying that the U.S. strikes are unacceptable. That they are undermining years of cooperation between the United States and Iraq. Keep in mind there are 2,500 U.S. troops still in Iraq as part of the war against ISIS, in addition to 900 U.S. troops in Syria.

Now, the Iraqis are also saying that this is not helpful at a time when tensions are so high -- or fears are high of a broadening regional war. Keep in mind also that overnight, the U.S. struck two targets in Yemen, the ninth of its kind in the last two weeks.

Now, the Iraqi government is saying that it would be helpful if these stopped. Many are calling for U.S. pressure on Israel to stop the war in Gaza. That perhaps might reduce the tensions between the U.S. and Yemen and the situation in Iraq and Syria as well -- Phil, Poppy.

MATTINGLY: All right. Ben Wedeman for us. Thank you.

HARLOW: Donald Trump scores a decisive win in New Hampshire. Why is he seething at Nikki Haley? We'll take you live to the Granite State next.



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Welcome back. I am Kasie Hunt here in Amherst, New Hampshire. We're at Maryann's Diner.

And I have been up for most of the night. I don't know about our next guest. Matt Mowers and I have been talking throughout the night. Matt is a former Republican congressional candidate and longtime campaign strategist as well. Matt, thank you so much for getting up so early --


HUNT: -- or stay up so late.

MOWERS: That's right. That's right. We just power through this.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure.

So -- I mean, you and I have been trading notes. I know you've been talking to all sorts of Republicans of different stripes throughout here. There was this sort of excitement around -- from Nikki Haley supporters early in the night last that it might be closer than they thought.


HUNT: It seems to have landed in a slightly different place. Why is that and how does that set Nikki Haley up heading into South Carolina?

MOWERS: Well, look, you had some polls close at 7:00 and some close at 8:00. Towns and cities that closed at 7:00 include places like Concord and places like Bedford. These are more heavier Independent voting towns. These are more moderate Republicans. They're higher income. They all reported early.

And so you saw that closer gap earlier in the night and it's part of the reason you saw Nikki Haley's team -- and for her to choose to go out and speak so early. That was a message of trying to get out there when the polls looked good and send a message to donors as well as then voters, of course, in the next primary state as they try to make the case to move forward.

HUNT: In terms of moving forward -- I mean, she is heading -- she talked about this is her home state. She talked about being excited to go home. But that creates sort of a unique set of pressures because a big loss there is that much more embarrassing --

MOWERS: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- if it is in your home state.

How are they thinking about that at this point? MOWERS: Well, part of the -- you've got to look at what she's been doing up to this point. She's been certainly campaigning in South Carolina but they haven't really spent any money. And so they announced a $4 million ad buy. They, I believe, spent a couple of -- put in place a couple million dollars of that ad buy already with ads beginning today in South Carolina.


And I think they recognize they're going to have to go out there and really make the case for her. And what they're going to do over the course of the next few weeks is monitor and track and see whether her poll numbers go up as a result.

I mean, look, she trusts her political instincts on South Carolina. She has won in tough primaries there before. She has won some slightly competitive general elections there before, but she's won it four times. Now, the last time she was on the ballot, though, was 10 years ago and there's over half a million new residents of South Carolina.

Donald Trump, since then, has won the state four times as well with two primaries and two general elections.

So I think they are going to spend money and see where they end up in a few weeks. I'm sure they're going to continue to assess whether there's a path forward.

HUNT: Right.

So the other sort of chatter around that's kind of emerging as a storyline this morning -- The Wall Street Journal touched on this and we talked about it a little bit on the show so far -- this idea that Haley should stick out and try to gather delegates at least through Super Tuesday in the event that there is something expected that happens with former President Trump's campaign, whether that's something legal or whether that's an unexpected curveball.

What is your sense of whether there's a willingness to entertain that, and how is that playing out in Republican circles right now?

MOWERS: Yeah. I mean, look, I think this is something that both -- not just Nikki Haley but Ron DeSantis, for a while, was also thinking about with his donors. The difference is Nikki Haley will have the money to keep running and Ron DeSantis didn't.

And I expect she's going to be able to raise the money necessary to continue to run into at least Super Tuesday. That's obviously around the time when the Supreme Court is going to be making its decision on whether Donald Trump can be on the ballot in states like Colorado and Maine.

Most folks -- most observers -- you know, analysts think that they're going to say that he can run but it doesn't mean there's not a few donors out there who are holding out for hope for something different. And I'm sure there -- they've got some deep pockets and they're willing to fund the campaign and make sure that it continues on until that point.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Matt, just for our viewers who are sort of just getting to know you, I mean, you ran as Kevin McCarthy's choice in a critical swing district here --

MOWERS: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- in New Hampshire and there was a Trumpian candidate that won in the primary. And there's certainly an argument to be made that that's part of why the -- in the general election, the seat stayed in Democratic hands. That Republicans didn't have more of a fighting chance to win. That is a dynamic that we have seen repeated over and over and over again in the Trump era.

And a lot of Republicans are saying Nikki Haley was making this argument kind of late here in her campaign that nominating Donald Trump means losing --

MOWERS: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- for Republicans.

At the same time, you're seeing -- I mean, John Cornyn endorsed Donald Trump --

MOWERS: Right.

HUNT: -- last night.

I mean, do you see a Trump loss in the general election as inevitable or -- I mean, how do you think about this right now --


HUNT: -- as the party grapples with what it wants to be?

MOWERS: Well, I wouldn't say it's inevitable because I worked on his campaign in 2016 when everyone thought it was inevitable for him to lose, and then we won. So I wouldn't say it's inevitable.

But I do think there's a lot of warning signs in the results of both Iowa and New Hampshire results for Donald Trump. You look at the Iowa caucus. It was a low-turnout affair. Only the most conservative activists showed up to vote. It's one of the reasons he got 50 percent of the vote and a 30-point lead.

New Hampshire -- a lot closer when there is higher turnout. Independent voters showed up in droves in order to oppose him. You go look at the exit polling when they're asked "Are you voting for Nikki Haley or against Donald Trump?" A significant number of voters said they showed up just to vote against Donald Trump. That could be very telling for Independent voters in the fall.

And it's going to be incumbent upon Donald Trump and his campaign, should he be the nominee as it probably likely looks like he will be -- HUNT: Yeah.

MOWERS: -- to go out and figure out how are we going to bridge that divide? What issues are we going to target these voters on? Stylistically, how are we going to change and how are we going to bring these voters who clearly are expressing a message right now back to the fold in time for November?

HUNT: Yeah. Well, certainly, President Biden is counting on people showing up because they don't want Trump --

MOWERS: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- but that fear is a factor for them.

Also, I think Donald Trump's campaign is counting on their candidate to give speeches more like the one he gave in Iowa than the one we heard in New Hampshire last night. I was like --

MOWERS: It was a slightly different tone.

HUNT: Yeah.

MOWERS: A slightly different tone between the two.

HUNT: Slightly, indeed.

All right, Matt Mowers. Thank you so much for being up --

MOWERS: Thanks so much, Kasie.

HUNT: -- early with us here at Maryann's Diner.

Up next here, CNN on the ground in New Hampshire with voters asking them why.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nikki Haley, for example -- did you ever give her any thought of potentially giving her your vote?




MATTINGLY: New Hampshire voters have spoken, delivering Donald Trump a double-digit win over Nikki Haley in the first-in-the-nation primary. What's really telling, though, is how those voters came to their decisions. Trump voters generally like who he is very much so, while some Haley voters seem to not actually like her all that much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's one candidate that's really standing up for America, so that's how I voted.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, for Donald Trump.



MATTHEW FILLEUL, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I like Trump. He's got some rough edges on his personality but I do like his policies.

DOUG BRENNER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I was a Trump supporter for many years and now I'm a Haley fan. I think it's time for a change.

REPORTER: What do you like about Nikki Haley?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Um, several things. One thing, she's not Donald Trump.

JIMENEZ: Nikki Haley, for example -- did you ever give her any thought of potentially giving her your vote?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Because I just very strongly feel that Trump should be our president.

DELPHINE, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I like her. I like her. But I'm going with the popular vote. I want to make sure we have a changing of the guard here.

JIMENEZ: So part of it is you believe that Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden?

DELPHINE: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Trump has some great policies but I think a lot of chaos follows him. And I think Biden just hasn't done what he needed to do to unite the country. So I think Nikki is our best chance.

REPORTER: Can I ask why? Why Nikki Haley?

JACK, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: You can. Because my conscience won't allow me to vote for a criminal. I'm sorry.

JIMENEZ: Did you feel particularly strong about a candidate who --


JIMENEZ: Who did you vote for this time?

RENNELL: Donald Trump.

JIMENEZ: And why did you feel this time that he was the one?

RENNELL: Because my life was a lot -- I think everybody's life was a lot easier, better economically, everything.


ALEX SAIDEL, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I feel that his policies are aligned with making the country more stable and economically successful for everybody. And he's the guy that I think can run the country. Now, I don't think I'd want to go out and have a beer with the guy or hang out with him but that's not why I'm voting for him.

STEVEN PERRY, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I think the main reason I'm voting for her is I do feel that she's going to start to unite us. She talks about working with others but is sincere when she talks about that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for Nikki Haley because I was voting against Donald Trump. I'm 74 years old. I've lived in a constitutional democracy all my life. I want to remain that way and I want my grandchildren to grow up in one --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- not a dictatorship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I think if it came to President Biden and President Trump, with no hesitation I'd vote for President Trump again. But today, I think Nikki Haley just to show my support.

REPORTER: If, in the end, it becomes, in a general election, a -- you know, Donald Trump versus Joe Biden, have you considered or struggled with who you would eventually vote for there?

SOPHIA SCRIBNER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I would definitely choose Joe Biden -- no hesitation.


HARLOW: Back with us, CNN senior political analyst and anchor, John Avlon. Also joined by CNN political commentators Geoff Duncan and Bakari Sellers.

John, you want to hone in on one of the women we heard last there --


HARLOW: -- speaking to our colleagues? Her reason for her vote yesterday was to maintain a constitutional democracy.

AVLON: That's right. She said I'm 74 years old. I've lived my whole life in a constitutional democracy and I want my grandchildren to live in one as well -- not a dictatorship.

We shouldn't let that just flash by because it's part of that crop. That's a stunning thing to hear casually dropped. We're getting a little numb to it. The people feel -- Republican primary voters in New Hampshire -- or primary voters in New Hampshire feel that constitutional democracy is at stake if Donald Trump is elected.

So you didn't just hear I think incredible deep divisions inside New Hampshire Republicans -- presumably, many of them -- about Donald Trump. He's divisive within that coalition. But this woman's warning about the state of our democracy -- and that's the undercurrent here. And I think we get numb to the fact that those are the stakes of this race.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (D) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I think we have to peel back the crosstabs a little bit, and I think it's going be important to watch. There is about 50 percent of the Republican electorate that's rejecting Donald Trump. We've seen that in Iowa. We've seen that in New Hampshire. I don't think we'll see that much in South Carolina. It's a two-person race.

But there is going to be a portion of the electorate that's rejecting Donald Trump. I'm interested to see how many of those individuals will never vote for Donald Trump or he has work to do to get those individuals to come out and vote for him.

It's similar to the issue that Joe Biden has with different constituencies -- young voters, Black men. Constituencies where the blinking lights are flashing. That there's an alarm set off that you must do something to get these individuals back in your cohort.

It's not just about the squishy middle for Donald Trump. It's -- that's not the race Donald Trump has to run. What this primary is showing -- and the longer Nikki Haley stays in -- is that it's not only about the middle, the suburbs, college-educated white women, but it's also about these disaffected Republicans -- the Geoff Duncans of the world.

MATTINGLY: I think it's such a good point -- not because you mentioned Geoff's name.


SELLERS: No. But, I mean, I make good points often --

MATTINGLY: No, it should.

SELLERS: -- so I didn't know what --



DUNCAN: You stumble into one every once in a while.

MATTINGLY: When you dig through the exit polls, to that point, we constantly talk about will Biden's coalition come home. Will his base come home? Will they come back to him?

When you look at the exit polls from last night, 88 percent of Haley voters would be dissatisfied if Donald Trump was the nominee. If you go through the Haley voters, 31 percent strongly favored Haley. Thirty percent had some reservations. Thirty-nine percent just disliked Donald Trump, and that's why they voted for Nikki Haley.

You look at Trump -- 80 percent of Republicans who voted for him strongly favored him. His base is rock-solid. The people who like him love him. But there's a significant portion of the Republican Party that doesn't really know what to do right now.

DUNCAN: That's the mirage, right? Everyone thinks because he's got this solid base that that's going to be the winning strategy for him. But he's got a highwater mark of around 50 percent and that's the math problem that's created when we walk into this general election, right?

Yes, you have the suburbs that are just done with Donald Trump. There's no way he's going to talk an overwhelming number -- a majority of the suburbs back into voting for him, right? He's just -- to your point, maybe the biggest understatement I've heard of the year -- what did you say, numb?

AVLON: Yeah.

DUNCAN: We're numb to 91 indictments? We're numb to sexual assault guilty verdicts? We're numb to bankruptcies? We're numb to chaos and lies in 2024? I mean, just all of that. Yes, the Republican Party is numb not just to Donald Trump but to reality.

When Joe Biden beats Donald Trump in November, the postgame speech or postgame analysis is going to be brutal -- absolutely brutal.

AVLON: I -- look -- I mean, it is a problem within the Republican Party. They have numbed themselves and the combination of cowardice and careerism that's let a lot of elected officials who know better to back him.

I think that the danger of the postgame analysis is I think we all know that if Donald Trump loses the election again he will, once again, lie and foment discord and division.


SELLERS: Certainly. We've got to get to there first. I think one of the obstacles that Donald Trump is now facing as well are all of those things that you named.

But he's also going to have the vitality question that Joe Biden is answering to because he's getting slower. Donald Trump is not the same person that he was when he ran when he was 73, I believe, or 72, or 68 when he started this process -- whatever it was. But he's 78 now and I -- there's going to be a question that he has to answer just as Joe Biden has to answer that question.

So of all of those things that you named, he also has to see whether or not he's fit for the job and has the vitality to do the job.

HARLOW: We'll leave it there for now. Come back soon, guys -- John, Bakari, Geoff.

MATTINGLY: Well, Donald Trump getting that big win in New Hampshire that he needed, but he may be vulnerable in the general elections we've all been discussing. We'll go inside the numbers next.

HARLOW: Also, the economy is gaining steam. The White House hopes that's going to generate votes for President Biden in November.