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Haley Fights on in SC as Trump Warns Her Donors; Audio Allegedly Captures Netanyahu Criticizing Qatar; Moms for Liberty Faces Growing Challenges Amid Sex Scandal. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 25, 2024 - 06:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York.

Will he, or won't he? We are about to find out whether Donald Trump will take the stand to testify in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial. The former president is expected in court in just a couple of hours.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: On the campaign trail, Nikki Haley in her own state -- home state, fighting for a path forward, questioning Trump's fitness for office and issuing him a challenge he is very not likely to accept.

And breaking overnight: leaders in Qatar blasting Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing the Israeli prime minister of disrupting peace talks. The leaked recording that triggered the latest fire storm.

HARLOW: Donald Trump going scorched earth on Nikki Haley as their rivalry really escalates. While President Biden looks ahead to a likely rematch with Trump this morning, Trump is accusing to campaign from the courtroom once again.

Just a couple of hours from now, he will be in the defamation trial here in New York City. He could potentially take the stand. Everyone's watching for that. A jury is weighing how much Trump will have to pay in damages for smearing his rape accuser, E. Jean Carroll.

MATTINGLY: And as he's wont to do, Trump raged on his social media platform. Around midnight, he called Carroll's accusations a hoax and the judge a, quote, "100 percent Trump hater."

Overnight, he also unleashed on Nikki Haley, threatening to blacklist her donors if they keep giving her any money at all. Haley now firing back at Trump and his victory speech in New Hampshire, the one you might remember, where he called her an imposter and made fun of her dress.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump got out there and just threw a temper tantrum. Now, out of everything that he said in his rant, he didn't talk about the American people once. He talked about revenge.

We're going to see the same thing we saw in 2018, in 2020, in 2022.

If you've lost three times, what makes you think the fourth time is going to be different?


HARLOW: While Haley and Trump train their fire on one another, President Biden is on the campaign trail in Wisconsin today -- a little bit of an important state -- to highlight the economy and the millions of jobs created under this administration.

Dianne Gallagher joins us live where we start, which is Charleston, South Carolina.

Nikki Haley is digging in. She is adamant, Dianne, she is in this for the long haul. You know, South Carolina thereafter, after losing in Iowa and New Hampshire. I wonder what you're hearing on the ground.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Poppy, this may be Nikki Haley's backyard, but after talking to voters, South Carolina is, in fact, Donald Trump's playground.

Now, the Haley campaign insists that it's not going anywhere. And they're up with ads here, a $4 million buy. And of course, there was the rally last night, not too far from where I am standing, where she had energy at her homecoming of sorts and took Donald Trump on, head- on.


HALEY: What a great crowd. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley returning to her home state of South Carolina, shifting her focus to the state's upcoming primary.

HALEY: This is a choice between more of the same or going forward.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): After another decisive loss to former President Donald Trump in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We'll head out to South Carolina, where I think we're going to win easily.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Haley firing back at her GOP rival, criticizing his New Hampshire victory speech.

HALEY: And then Donald Trump got out there and just threw a temper tantrum. He pitched a fit. He was -- he was insulting.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Highlighting his gaffe, confusing her with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

HALEY: I mean, somebody's got to tell him, I wasn't there on January 6th.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): And doubling down on calls for Trump to participate in GOP primary debates.

HALEY: Bring it, Donald. Show me what you got.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Haley is looking to energize voters in the state that elected her governor twice.

But Trump putting pressure on Haley's biggest supporters, posting a message saying anyone who contributes to Haley will be, quote, "permanently barred from the MAGA camp."

Here at Coastal Coffee Roasters in Summerville, a cup of coffee this time of year comes with a splash of politics.


J.R. KRAMER, SOUTH CAROLINA TRUMP SUPPORTER: It's been a rough few years.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): With the Palmetto State's Republican primary less than a month away, voters here over and over again told us they've already made their choice.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll be voting for Donald Trump.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Support for Trump remains strong with Republicans in South Carolina, despite his legal troubles and the fact it's now a one-on-one race with their former governor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Trump is a stronger presidential figure than she is.

MUNOZ: I think she should drop out, apologize to President Trump, and join forces so we can try to save this country.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Voters frequently citing Trump's long list of high-profile South Carolina endorsements.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): None more than Senator Tim Scott, who was appointed by Haley in 2012.

KRAMER: I think there's going to be a surprise, where I think Trump's going to landslide it. Yes, I do. With Tim Scott backing him, I do.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But not everyone is ready to forfeit the race. Stephanie Bennett says she's technically undecided but likes Haley.

STEPHANIE BENNETT, SOUTH CAROLINA HALEY SUPPORTER: I think it's her track record as the governor here, and then what she did in the United Nations.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): And yet, she's worried in a month, her vote won't matter.

BENNETT: I wonder if people aren't going to go into it with a preconceived notion of he's already won. You know, with -- just that is a fear. Like, get out and vote. Don't think he's already won, because I don't think he has.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): A similar concern about half an hour down the road from William Cogswell, the first Republican elected as mayor of Charleston in over a century.

MAYOR WILLIAM COGSWELL (R), CHARLESTON, S.C.: There seems to be the attitude that it is a fore gone conclusion. I think she brings a breath of fresh air, and I think our country needs that.


GALLAGHER (on camera): Now, the mayor of Charleston did endorse Nikki Haley back in November. He tells me that he still believes in her campaign.

And look, I spoke to some of the Haley supporters here in the low country over the past couple of days. They tell me that while they are still supporting her, there is a slight concern among some of them that if, in fact, she's beaten in a landslide in her home state by Donald Trump, that they worry it could potentially impact her future political aspirations -- Poppy, Phil.

HARLOW: Dianne, thank you. Always so good to hear from the voters on the ground.

MATTINGLY: Let's bring in senior political analyst and anchor, John Avlon; CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp; and the host of "Can We Please Talk," Michael Leon.

Guys, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

The threat, the kind of scorched earth we've seen --


MATTINGLY: -- from Trump, which was totally expected and completely telegraphed. But the idea, I think the truth -- truth, is that what we call it?


MATTINGLY: Truth bomb. Truth bomb, yes, that's the proper terminology. "Anybody that makes a 'Contribution' to Birdbrain from this moment forth will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp."

Hardball politics is not rare. Behind the scenes people say, you know, we don't -- if you donate to somebody, we're not going to help you. But this is just out in the open and full-blown war. CUPP: Yes. And getting kicked out of the club, right? The club has

currency. The club is important for the Republican Party. If you want a future in the Republican Party, and you don't want to be Adam Kinzinger or Liz Cheney looking in from the outside at some point, you want to stay in the club.

However, if you have principles, if you meant what you said, Tim Scott, when you said we could choose grievance or greatness, if you meant that, you could say, Listen, I'm not endorsing this. I think it's time to move on, and kind of take your chances.

No one wants to lose. No one wants to lose their job. And it's so craven and small, but that's where the Republican Party is at right now.

HARLOW: I wonder what you think, Mike, because you know, she hasn't spent the money in South Carolina that she spent in New Hampshire. But she's spending money there. She talked about raising a million bucks since New Hampshire, largely from donors under $200. And it's not like DeSantis where she has a job she needs to get back to, per se, running a state.

MICHAEL LEON, HOST, "CAN WE PLEASE TALK?": Right. My state, the state where I live in. It's so interesting that you say that, Poppy, because here's the big rub for Nikki Haley right now, it's -- and I talked to somebody familiar with her campaign's thinking.

It's that they haven't spent the money, like you said in South Carolina. They put all the chips into the New Hampshire basket. So all the spending, all of the e-mail blasts, the campaigns, the mail-in, all of the stuff that they did in New Hampshire, they haven't started to do in other states. So they feel that they can have some momentum going into South Carolina, like you said.

HARLOW: Like, if we spend --

CUPP: Well -- they just spent 4 million on an ad buy in South Carolina that started yesterday. They're spending money. They are serious about South Carolina.

They're serious about Michigan. I talked to the campaign yesterday. This is real for them.

And it's not just because they want to win. It's because every time you see that Trump has not coalesced the party, that 40 percent of people in New Hampshire voted for someone else --

LEON: That's true.

CUPP: -- that 49 percent of people in Iowa picked someone other than Trump, that means she lives another day and gives hope to all the Trump alternative voters who want someone else.


LEON: But that's exactly -- that's exactly the point (ph). JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: Look, I think the -- I think the underlying issue here is that first of all, our analysis, I think, about the primaries was a little bit off from the beginning, which is that Trump was an incumbent, right, even though it was a crowded field.

Now Nikki Haley has a two-person race. And you can see, she's liberated by that. Right? It's not only that campaigning has made her better, but she's actually taken -- she's taken punches at Trump, which I think all of the candidates should have been doing from much earlier on, not named Chris Christie. May his campaign rest in peace.

And now I think the challenge is getting a win in South Carolina is going to be tough for Nikki Haley. That's why she's sending the message about open primaries. And in return, you get that retribution from Donald Trump, those cult-like tactics that say, if you don't rally around us now, we'll punish you then.

But she's got to have the courage to her convictions and realize that the party is divided over Donald Trump, and so she can coalesce that, and she should try.

CUPP: Yes.

LEON: But just to that point, look, guys, we all just watched that package. There's a woman there that said she may have been influenced, or she's worried about other voters being influenced. We just watched in a state where 40 percent are undeclared. Forty percent are undeclared. And she did not --

HARLOW: Yes, it was the most favorable terrain.

LEON: Exactly. The most favorable terrain. That is so well said, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thanks. I got the words out at 6:10 in the morning.

LEON: Exactly. That is the -- that is the biggest issue. Because now you go to more conservative-leaning states. You're not going to make it to Super Tuesday. If you can't win the state where it's kind of a lay-up, in essence, how are you going to --

AVLON: A million dollars, small donors, in the wake of New Hampshire is not nothing. That's a sign of grassroots support and people showing up for it. That's not just big donors trying to prop up. So -- so that's a sign that there's oxygen, that there's a supply and a demand for this campaign.

CUPP: And the woman who you're referencing, the perception that it's over, I mean, I feel like the media plays into that, too. When we sit here and we say, it's over, or, you know, she can't win in New Hampshire, she can't win anywhere else.

Well, she has made a convincing case that enough Republican moderate independent voters want someone else. There's an audience for her. If there weren't, she wouldn't have the money. She wouldn't have the -- the runway. She wouldn't have the momentum. There's a buyer for Nikki Haley still.

Just because we're telling her it's over, she's supposed to say to all of those buyers, Sorry, I'm leaving. You've got to choose between Trump and Biden now.

AVLON: I'm going to be the latest person to go kiss the ring and take the knee, which is what Republicans do, which is why we're in this mess to begin with.

LEON: I'm not telling her it's over. I'm saying, as everybody knows, John Kasich is a perfect example. Another famous John.

You go 2016, you go to Ohio. You win the state where you were the governor. She can't win that, what happens on February 25th? What's the conversation like on February 25? Do you wait until March, until Super Tuesday, to March 5, after losing South Carolina?

CUPP: I mean, she -- that's Trump's -- that's Trump's gambit, that she's going to be embarrassed in South Carolina. If she's got nothing to lose, and she still has buyers, so what? She can keep going for a growing audience, an audience that might grow if, every time there's a primary, they see, Well, actually the party isn't coalesced around Trump. Actually, that's not true. That's -- that's a narrative. That's his spin.

And by the way, Joe Biden's spin, because it's beneficial to Joe Biden to get Nikki out of the race. He wants to face Trump.

LEON: They want it. No question. The polling shows that.

MATTINGLY: Can I dive in a little bit on this? Because, to your point, campaigns can't finance themselves.

CUPP: Yes.

MATTINGLY: She's still raising, she can go into Super Tuesday. There's no question.

But what she did last night was a very kind of balanced approach to not going full "light the world on fire," but lay some attacks down that people hadn't been laying in the past.

There's usually one or the other. Like the Rubio, I'm about to lose, so I'm just going to say all the things about Trump, and then eventually kiss the ring and endorse him -- and endorse him again, and endorse again.

And inevitably, they end up losing and kissing the ring.

AVLON: The word choice is --


MATTINGLY: She has a balanced approach last night, which I thought was actually pretty effective. But is it? What I think isn't going to carry the day. But should. AVLON: I think it is, right?

HARLOW: Obviously.

AVLON: Look, first of all, I think the contrast to that ritualistic humiliation cycle, you know, that Republicans put themselves through.

MATTINGLY: We've seen it a thousand teams.

AVLON: It's pathetic, and it's groveling.

But I think the contrast is standing on a stage with a sense of humor, and showing that you can be a happy warrior and take the fight to him. But you know, not doing it necessarily -- you know, how do you de- radicalize somebody? I think this is an important concept to remind people, right?

You know, you need to create a clear alternative and remind people of what their original values were. Sometimes the direct attacks can backfire, because people are so invested in -- they're losing face when they admit they've been wrong.

Nikki Haley is showing some swagger on -- on the stage. That's helpful. You always want to be a happy warrior in politics.

And I think the broader message is you need to build a broad coalition to defend democracy right now. Nikki Haley is making that pitch. Democrats are going to make that pitch. Because it's about independents and moderates at the end of the day, and Donald Trump repels them, rightly.

CUPP: Well, and maybe one of the only people that can sort of sidestep the great emasculation of the GOP by Donald Trump is a woman.

AVLON: That's good.

CUPP: Maybe, just maybe Nikki Haley has more balls than the rest of them.

HARLOW: Title of your next book, S.E.?

CUPP: We'll see.

HARLOW: Yes, all right.


MATTINGLY: I want to keep this going, but I kind of also want to end it here. S.E., Mike, John, thanks guys, very much.

Well, Benjamin Netanyahu getting slammed by leaders in Qatar. The leaked recording that triggered all the criticism -- criticism.

HARLOW: Criticism. And a live look at Capitol Hill this morning. The sun is not up, but boy was it a day yesterday. Divided Senate. Senate Republicans can't seem to come together on a border security deal. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Chuck Schumer's enemies in Congress are conservatives in the Senate and our House Republican leadership. And sadly, Mitch McConnell's enemies are conservatives in the Senate and House Republican leadership.



HARLOW: Well, this just in. The United Nations says the number of people killed after one of its shelters in Southern Gaza was hit yesterday has risen to 12. Seventy-five other people injured.

The official says part of the center was hit by two shells. It caught fire. That is a facility that shelters thousands of people.

The IDF says it has currently, quote, "ruled out that Israeli forces caused the incident."

The White House, I should note, says it is, quote, "gravely concerned." They will continue seeking information on what led to that.

MATTINGLY: Well, we also have breaking news overnight from the Middle East. A leaked audio recording allegedly captured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticizing the Gulf nation of Qatar, which has been central, a key intermediary in the Israel-Hamas war.


The recording aired on Israeli television. A voice believed to be Netanyahu's calls Qatar, quote, "problematic" and says it's not doing enough to pressure Hamas to free hostages. CNN cannot verify the voice is Netanyahu's.

HARLOW: Qatar's foreign ministry called those remarks, quote, "appalling." Went on to say, if true, quote, "the Israeli prime minister would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process for reasons that appear to serve his political career instead of prioritizing innocent lives, including Israeli hostages."

Let's go to our colleague, Elliott Gotkine. He joins us now with many details. Really stunning audio. Clearly, Qatar, which has played the central role in these hostage negotiations, is anything but pleased.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is rather miffed, isn't it, Poppy?

And these comments that came out, it wasn't just that Netanyahu seemed to be blaming the Qataris for slow progress in getting the hostages released and saying to the families that they need to put more pressure on the Qataris.

At the same time, he said that he was angry with the U.S. for renewing its contract for the military base in Qatar and had told the Americans of that, as well.

So that caused a strong rebuke from the Qataris. And now we've got an official statement from the Israelis replying to that, saying -- not really backing down, saying, "Israel works with Qatar as a mediator with Hamas for the release of the hostages, due to its close ties with the murderous -- murderous terrorist organization. It is well aware of the complexity involved." So -- so no apologies there.

And you know, love him or hate him -- and according to opinion polls, more and more Israelis are in the latter camp -- but love him or hate him, Netanyahu is neither naive nor stupid. It's hard to imagine that he wouldn't have thought that this conversation or these words could have been recorded and that this wouldn't have resulted in a rebuke from Qatar. So perhaps he was trying to deflect blame, because he is widely blamed for being the man in charge when October the 7th happened, for not preventing it from happening. Or perhaps he was just trying to appeal to his base.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And also notably, no denial in the statement that you just read.

HARLOW: Right.

MATTINGLY: Elliott, I also want to ask: The International Court of Justice says it will deliver its ruling tomorrow on whether Israel has committed genocide in Gaza, in response to that legal action brought by South Africa.

For -- this is a huge story. For people who haven't been paying close attention, how is this likely to play out?

GOTKINE: So first of all, this -- there's a much lower bar for this provisional ruling that we're expecting tomorrow. It doesn't mean that Israel has necessarily committed genocide, just that it thinks that there is a possibility that it has a case to answer. And it could issue a provisional ruling that Israel should end the war.

Of course, let's not forget that it has no power to say that to Hamas, which isn't a state and therefore isn't a party to the Convention on Genocide.

I think either way, Israel, if it has held to be -- you know, that it does need to go forward with these claims and face these accusations, it will just ignore the ruling.

But what it could do, of course, is give succor to its -- those criticizing Israel's activity in the war. But I don't think it's going to change anything on the ground overall.

HARLOW: It could also put a lot of pressure on the White House in terms of what they say about all of this and the wording that it uses.

Elliott, thanks for the reporting on both fronts.

Well, a year ago, Moms for Liberty had a grip on hundreds of school boards across the country. Today, that group is dealing with a major scandal, losses in school board races. How they got there, that's ahead.

MATTINGLY: And newly released dash cam video shows the moment an Oklahoma highway patrol trooper was struck by a passing vehicle during a traffic stop. You see it right there. It's horrifying.

You see him walk up to the stopped car, and just 14 seconds later, another car crashes into them. The trooper was launched backwards, was able to get up and run away from the scene.

We're told all three people involved in this crash are OK. Thankfully. They were all treated and released. The investigation is ongoing. Stunning video. We'll be right back.



MATTINGLY: It's the wild story that has been rattling conservative politics the last several months. The right-wing group Moms for Liberty facing accelerating pushback amid an ongoing sex scandal that's drawn national attention. And after school board candidates it endorsed suffered big losses late last year.

Now, Moms for Liberty has been involved in clashes over how race and gender issues are discussed in classrooms, while pushing for book bans in schools across the country.

CNN's Carlos Suarez joins us live from Melbourne, Florida.

Carlos, this cloud has been hanging over the group for a while now, both the electoral losses, but also the wild personal life issues that they're dealing with. What's happening right now?


So Moms for Liberty is feeling these -- they're facing, rather, these new questions and this increased pushback from parents and educators and teachers who feel the group's influence on school districts across the country, the grip that they've had on them isn't exactly what it used to be.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Masks do not work.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Just a year ago, Moms for Liberty was wielding power over hundreds of school boards across the country, waging a cultural war, even garnering support from presidential candidates.

TRUMP: You have taught the radical left Marxists and communists a lesson. You're the best thing that's ever happened to America.

SUAREZ (voice-over): The joyful warriors, as they called themselves, uniting moms around the nation to join forces.

TIFFANY JUSTICE, CO-FOUNDER, MOMS FOR LIBERTY: But we are also warriors, meaning if someone is demonstrably harming our children, we are going to come together to fight to protect them.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Their mission, they say, to protect parental rights in public school education at all levels of government.

TINA DESCOVICH, CO-FOUNDER, MOMS FOR LIBERTY: It's either you're focused on protecting parental rights or you're going to improve education in your community.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Their critics, however, say their objective is very different.

JENNIFER JENKINS, BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA, SCHOOL BOARD: I think that things have gone too far, and people are finally standing up to say, you know, this is my choice. These are my kids, as well, too. You don't get to make these decisions for us.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Jennifer Jenkins, a school board member in Brevard County, Florida, unseated Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich.

JENKINS: This organization was founded by three school board members, and no one has ever asked them, what did you do while you were in -- in the school board, when you had the power and the opportunity to make these changes you claim are so important to you?

SUAREZ (voice-over): She and others say what Moms for Liberty do care about is control.

VIRGINIA HAMILTON, SCHOOLTEACHER: The first deal was with the masking. And Moms for Liberty didn't want the kids to be able to wear masks.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Virginia Hamilton was a public schoolteacher for 31 years.