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Russian Media: Military Plane With 74 Aboard Crashes In Russia; Trump, Scott Vow To Defeat Haley In Her Home State Of South Carolina; South Carolina Voters React To Trump's New Hampshire Victory. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 24, 2024 - 07:30   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: We are following breaking news out of Russia this morning. You can see here on the screen a plane in Russia's Belgorod region crashing and exploding into flames.

Russian media is reporting that the plane was carrying 65 Ukrainian servicemen ahead of a prisoner exchange, citing the Russian Defense Ministry. That is at odds with what Ukrainian sources are saying -- that the plane was not carrying POWs but, instead, was carrying missiles.

We're joined now by CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance and CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton.

Matthew, I want to start with you. A sharp divergence in the stories here. Do we have any sense of why and what the actual story is?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, we don't have a sense of what the actual story is but this is an area that's very close to the Ukrainian border, of course, inside Russian airspace. And Ukrainian air defenses have been very active, particularly over the last couple of weeks, in pushing forward and taking out key aircraft inside Russia's airspace. They did it earlier this month over the Sea of Azov where they took down an A-50, which is a big, sort of, Russian AWACS-type radar intelligence gathering plane.

If this was the Ukrainians that shot this Ilyushin 76 out of the skies and it was carrying, well, something like 65, according to the Russians, prisoners of war that were being transferred back to Ukrainian territory -- obviously, the Ukrainians say they're investigating that.

It's their understanding, according to officials inside Ukraine at the moment, that this aircraft, which is a military transport plane, was actually carrying missiles for Russia's S-300 air defense missile system. And so, if that's what they believed then it would have been a target that would have certainly been very high up on their list of -- list of priorities. But at the moment, what the Russians are saying is that this was a barbaric act. That coming from an official at the Russian Foreign Minister -- Foreign Ministry. And also saying that there were 65 people -- Ukrainian prisoners of war -- on board and all of them, along with the crew, are now dead.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Colonel Leighton, would a military transport plane usually carry 65 people? These were, according to Russia, POWs and they were on their way to a prisoner exchange. Or would it be more likely to be carrying missiles, or either?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, AIR FORCE COLONEL (RET.) (via Webex by Cisco): It can do either, actually, Poppy. And this is interesting because the IL-76 is capable of carrying up to 90 passengers. And, of course, that depends on the configuration and what cargo is on that plane. So it's not inconceivable.

However, if it has components for a missile system like the S-300, that would diminish the capacity to carry extra passengers onboard that plane, depending, of course, on the nature of the components, their weight, and things like that.

But it is possible for them to carry either.

MATTINGLY: We'll definitely be keeping an eye on this.

Matthew Chance, Col. Cedric Leighton, thank you.


HARLOW: So, to the Oscars. Ryan Gosling revving up his Ken-ergy -- get it -- speaking out after Margo Robbie and Greta Gerwig were snubbed by the Academy. We'll read you part of his powerful statement ahead.

MATTINGLY: And from rivals to teammates? South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott promising to take down Nikki Haley while he stands by Donald Trump's side. The potential for a Trump-Scott ticket. That's next.


HARLOW: Coming off his win against Nikki Haley in New Hampshire last night, former President Trump gave his victory speech surrounded by one-time rivals who are now clearly fully behind him.


HARLOW: All in.

MATTINGLY: All in. That included South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott who despite being appointed to his seat by then-Gov. Nikki Haley promised the crowd that Trump will end her race in her very own backyard.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to invite you to my home state starting tomorrow where this election is over.


MATTINGLY: Well, earlier in the day, Trump boosted speculation that Scott could be his running mate, saying this during a radio interview.


HOWIE CARR, TALK RADIO HOST, THE HOWIE CARR SHOW: Is Tim Scott now the frontrunner for the vice presidential nomination?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, he's a guy that I look at. He's such a wonderful man. He is a wonderful guy, and he's been a friend of mine for a long time. And, you know, that's a big thing for a senator from her state.


HARLOW: Let's bring in our friend, "EARLY START" anchor and CNN national affairs analyst Kasie Hunt.

I mean, I'm not sure that him saying nice things about people necessarily means that Tim Scott is going to be his running mate, but that exchange was telling -- odd on the stage last night -- all of it at once. What's your takeaway?


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START", CNN NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah, Poppy. I mean, look, let's show everybody that moment because --


HUNT: -- honestly, it's really the one that's getting -- that people are talking about more than any other --


HUNT: -- moment from what we saw at Trump's speech. Take a look at the position that he put Tim Scott in here and how Scott responded -- watch.


TRUMP: Did you ever think that she actually appointed you, Tim?

SCOTT: That's it.

TRUMP: And think of it -- appointed and you're the senator of his state. And she endorsed me. You must really hate her.


No, it's a shame. It's a shame.

SCOTT: I -- TRUMP: Uh-oh.

SCOTT: I just love you.

TRUMP: No, that's why he's a great politician.


HUNT: Right? I mean, I don't -- I honestly don't -- it's easier to describe with a facial expression than with words.

But Tim Scott there -- look, he was showing himself, right? Phil, you've covered Tim Scott in the Halls of Congress. I've covered him since he was appointed to the Senate -- again, by Nikki Haley. And he's really -- he ran his campaign in this optimistic way. He's a genial guy. If anything, he comes across as soft-spoken, I think, in the way he tried to push back against Donald Trump there. You saw some of that.

But you also saw him be put in the position that Donald Trump puts everyone that comes around -- comes to heel, really, and stands behind him in this position. I mean, how many politicians have we seen basically humble themselves in that position in a camera frame behind Donald Trump?

I mean, we saw Chris Christie in that position. It's an image that came back to haunt him. Mike Pence spent four years doing it only to be met with chants of "Hang Mike Pence" during the insurrection on January 6. So, I mean, this is a pretty classic situation for one of these people.

Whether Trump picks him as vice president -- I mean, clearly, this is something Trump is going to hold out over the heads of so many people who are going to be competing to potentially get that nod. Again, potentially, it's a difficult place to be considering what happened to Mike Pence.

I think there's a couple of things to consider. He has talked about wanting a woman to do it. There was some chatter that it would be Nikki Haley. I think that was put pretty firmly to rest last night if it wasn't already put to bed.

I do think one person to kind of pay attention to that's under the radar a little bit is Katie Britt. She's a senator from Alabama who has very solid working relationships across Washington and would kind of -- you know, potentially, help with some of the weaknesses Trump has in working with Republicans on the Hill. She's very -- she's trusted among other people who make those decisions.

MATTINGLY: That's an interesting name because as well-respected on both sides of the aisle and a longtime former staffer for Sen. Richard Shelby, why on earth would you want that job if you're Katie Britt? Because as we saw last night, like, Trump's greatest talent is his ability to just totally defenestrate the people who end up having to bend the knee and kiss the ring right in front of them on live television. It is epically impressive how he can do that. Kasie, I do want to talk about policy issues that we saw in the race

last night. When we were looking at the CNN exit poll where New Hampshire Republicans were -- where voters were on the economy, immigration, foreign policy, abortion. Immigration, yet again, scoring very high in a Republican primary. The economy, though -- I think we heard this from voters that our colleague spoke to throughout the day -- number one without question.

HUNT: Right. Well, and I think the important thing about these numbers too, Phil, is that they include Independents that polled Republican ballots, right? So this is --


HUNT: -- probably closer to a general election electorate, certainly than what we saw in Iowa.

I think that the critical thing here is if you compare this to the polling that we do on these issues. Voters say that they trust Donald Trump on those top two issues more than they trust President Biden. That's why the president has the -- the current sitting president has his work cut out for him.

MATTINGLY: Yeah. That's a really, really good point.

Kasie Hunt, always appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, Nikki Haley refusing to bow out despite a second consecutive loss to Trump, making her case to stay in the race by shifting her focus to November.

HARLOW: The race for the White House now heading south. Ahead, hear how South Carolina voters feel about Trump's win over their former governor.



MATTINGLY: South Carolina voters are reacting to the New Hampshire primary results as they'll be the ones up next at the ballot box. While most of the folks we spoke to hail Nikki Haley as a strong governor, some say it's just not her time to be president.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has more.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We watched CNN's New Hampshire primary coverage with loyal Republicans from South Carolina -- what could be a crucial primary state.

Most of the people we watched with are planning to vote for Donald Trump. Nine of these 13 said they will vote for the former president.

TUCHMAN (on camera): And Donald Trump made it clear in his speech he thinks this is over. Nikki Haley says she is continuing. Who thinks it's over? You do? Tell me why?

RENATA DASILVA, SOUTH CAROLINA TRUMP SUPPORTER: Because the results that we got tonight, that was the answer for her. It's over.

TUCHMAN (on camera): What do you think?

MACKENZIE DAVIS, SOUTH CAROLINA TRUMP SUPPORTER: I agree. I do think that it's over. We'll see when South Carolina -- but I think that it's over.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Do you think Nikki Haley should stay in the race?

LARRY KOBROVSKY, REPUBLICAN CHARLESTON COUNTY COUNCIL MEMBER: I think it would be a very tough road for her. I think you look at our state, our governor, and both our senators and five of our six congressmen all came out for Trump.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Two people on our panel are planning to vote for Nikki Haley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said she's going to stay in the race and we'll see what she does. I think at the proper time she'll make that decision. But right now, she's not at that position -- at that decision yet.

DICKIE SCHWEERS, SOUTH CAROLINA HALEY SUPPORTER: I think she should stay in the race. I think she has come from behind in other races and I think she has four weeks, I believe it is, to make some changes in her campaign. And I think she needs to really drive her message home to South Carolina voters.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Notably, 12 of the 13 people in our group tell us they thought Nikki Haley was a good governor.

GRAHAM HORSMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, I think it's undeniable that Nikki Haley had a good track record as governor. But President Trump had a good track record as president.

MAMIE RAND, SOUTH CAROLINA TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't know if it's so much that she wouldn't do a good job at that, I just think she's the wrong person for the job at this time.


TUCHMAN (on camera): Why is that? Why is that?

RAND: I just think Donald Trump has made a presence in our world. He has made hard decisions with other leaders all across the world.

TUCHMAN (on camera): It's a survey we've done in Iowa and a survey we did in New Hampshire. Is Donald Trump fit for the presidency if he's convicted of one of these felonies against him? Raise your hand if you think he is fit for the presidency even if he's a convicted felon. High -- raise it high so we can see you.

Raise your hand if you don't he's fit for the presidency. All right.

SCHWEERS: I'll qualify that. I think he -- it would need to go through all the appeals right on up the ladder. And if he's still guilty, then I don't think I would find him fit.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Phil and Poppy, the South Carolina primary is still more than four weeks away -- a lot of time for additional political developments -- Phil, Poppy.


HARLOW: Always so illuminating --


HARLOW: -- to see who Gary talks to. Gary, thank you.

Joining us now, South Carolina Republican Party chairman and co-chair of the Republican National Committee, Drew McKissick. Former President Trump endorsed McKissick, I should note, in his reelection bid for South Carolina Republican Party chairman in 2021. But he and the South Carolina GOP remain neutral in the state's primary coming up in about a month.

Good to have you. Thanks so much for being with us.

This was so interesting that Gary, there at the end -- our colleague -- talked about time. Do you think time -- four weeks -- is helpful for Nikki Haley heading into your state or harmful?

DREW MCKISSICK, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY, CO-CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Listen, we, specifically, picked this time for our primary. When we looked at when Iowa and New Hampshire were going to be having their contest, we simply moved to the end of February.

Traditionally, we've been 10 days after New Hampshire since the early 80s, but with the way the rules work and the timetable -- in fact, no other states can go before Super Tuesday and we didn't want to leave all that real estate on the calendar in February when we could have it to ourselves down in South Carolina. So, that's essentially a month of activity in South Carolina, potentially.

And South Carolina is ready. We're used to the spotlight. We're used to this. Since 1980, no Republican has ever become President of the United States without winning the South Carolina Republican primary. In fact, we've only missed who the nominee would be one time. So no other state in the country has that track record.

We have representative sample, essentially, of the Republican electorate at-large around the country. Social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, national security conservatives. A bigger percentage of retired veterans here in South Carolina. And also, populist conservatives.

So we're a good microcosm of the country and I think that's why we get it right. And as a result, we have gone on to become the graveyard of presidential campaigns and a booster rocket to at least (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: OK, but to my question about time. Given all that you just laid out -- you guys are important -- we know -- time help Haley or hurt Haley?

MCKISSICK: I think -- you know, that's -- I don't know the answer to that question --


MCKISSICK: -- to be honest with you. I mean, it's four weeks. Some good things can happen, some bad things can happen. I don't know. Every candidate has to make their own decision about how long they want to and what their resources are.

And given the road ahead -- and we know what we know about Nevada. Yeah, Nevada is having a caucus, at least when it comes to their delegates. I don't think Gov. Haley signed up for the caucus so President Trump is going to automatically (audio gap).

So this is about delegates, remember, at one point -- at some point, eventually. And 70 percent of all of our delegates are elected by the end of March -- 70 percent. So mathematically this becomes a challenge at some point.

MATTINGLY: You make the point about kind of the diversity of your electorate within the Republican Party. That's why Jeb Bush thought he had a chance in 2016 and that's why Marco Rubio thought he had a chance in 2016. Donald Trump won.

I'm curious. Our resident South Carolina expert -- he's a Democrat -- but Bakari Sellers underscored something that people often think about the South Carolina primary, which is it's brutal. People get cut up. It's nasty. It's not always the best of politics but it is politics.

Are people wrong about that? Because people are warning that Nikki Haley, this next month, is going to have a really, really tough go.

MCKISSICK: Well, you know, someone once said politics ain't beanbag and that's true, especially here in South Carolina. We've got sharp elbows and we (audio gap). I expect that's what you'll see.

I mean, the McCain-Bush primary in 2000 was legendary. I know some people who are still mad at one another about that primary, to be honest with you. You know, we could potentially see the same type of thing here, possibly, or somebody might make a decision about a change of course between now and then. You know, a month is a long time.

HARLOW: Talk about the landscape and the makeup of voters there for folks that drew some hope from what Nikki Haley did in New Hampshire last night. I mean, there's multiple differences -- more moderate. But also, you've got sort of a more open primary there than you guys have. Just explain to folks because it's very different what she's heading into.

MCKISSICK: Well, again, as I pointed out, we've got a broad representation essentially of the party in terms of the various -- what's called types of conservatives. Not that they all disagree with one another but different focuses and emphasis. I would say it's an electorate that's different than in New Hampshire.


I think from an issue standpoint if you were to look at what issues do people in South Carolina care about as far as national issues. When you can look at your average poll of national Republicans and then probably add seven to 10 points to the conservative side of the scale. I mean, that's probably where we are. It's a more conservative electorate.

The voters in our primary expect to see the candidates, talk to the candidates. They expect candidates who will talk about the issues that resonate with them -- that matter to them.

And I think, quite frankly, that's a big reason why President Trump did so well here back in '16. You know, we had 17 candidates running back then if you remember and he cut through all of the clutter. And I think the issues that he talked about then -- immigration being at the top, which is still a huge concern for our base right now -- and then things related to trade and so forth -- that resonated with people.

And quite frankly, there are a lot of conservative Democrats and conservative Independents around the state. I've seen the biggest growth in the history of our state party since I've been chairman back in -- I got elected chairman in early '17.


MCKISSICK: And areas of the state that used to be tobacco road -- Democrat territory. And we've seen tremendous growth.

MATTINGLY: Issues that matter. The former president also showing up at the Clemson, South Carolina game earlier this year. Football matters in South Carolina.

Drew McKissick, a big month ahead for your guys. Thanks so much for your time.

MCKISSICK: Absolutely. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: And our coverage of the race for the White House continues. President Biden not the only one looking ahead. New details on Nikki Haley's new ad buy and her message. That's next.