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Trump Crushes Border Deal, Admits Political Motivation; RNC Withdraws Draft Resolution Making Trump the Nominee; ICJ Issuing Ruling on Genocide Case Against Israel. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2024 - 07:00   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: A good Friday morning, everyone. It's the top of the hour. I'm Phil Mattingly with Poppy Harlow in New York.

Well, there he goes again, Donald Trump saying the quiet part out loud, dropping a bomb on a bipartisan border deal.


He is not even trying to hide why, posting, quote, a border deal now would be another gift to radical left Democrats. They need it politically but don't care about our border.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: There it is in his own words, the former president trying to crush a border deal because it might help Democrats. Republican Senator Mitt Romney echoing disappointment and anger, felt by many of his fellow Republicans in the Senate.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): He doesn't want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.


HARLOW: Trump isn't just using his sway in that way. He's also calling on, quote, all willing states to deploy their National Guards to help repel migrants at the border, backing Governor Greg Abbott and his escalating battle with the Biden administration over the border.

Abbott is defying a Supreme Court ruling that allows federal border officials to remove razor wire from what Texas placed right there.

MATTINGLY: We start off this morning with CNN's Lauren Fox in Washington. Lauren, you have been talking to Senate Republicans, to House Republicans, to aides, many of them have worked on this issue for years. What are they saying right now?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's so important to remind people that we do not have text of this legislation at this point, and yet Donald Trump is out there assailing it, making it incredibly difficult to clinch this final agreement and to get the votes, even in the United States Senate, to actually get it across the finish line. Yesterday, you had a number of Republicans who have worked on this issue or have been on Capitol Hill for a very long time, who were arguing that Donald Trump is not helping. In fact, one Republican senator put it to me very bluntly, without Donald Trump, this deal likely would have passed with near unanimous Republican support.

That is how conservative so many Republicans who've worked on this issue for a long time believe that this legislation ultimately will be. And they're arguing that this is so many gains that Republicans have been fighting for, for years, and that this looks so different than past immigration proposals. This isn't even about DACA. This isn't about legalization. This is simply a border deal, and yet they're arguing that Donald Trump is out there attacking it for political reasons.

Senator Thom Tillis, who has been close to these negotiations, he's been talking very closely with Senator James Lankford, he told me yesterday, this moment is going to require a lot of Republicans to have courage to stand up against the former president.


SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): I think this is when members of the Senate have to show some courage and do something that at the end of the day will be very helpful to President Trump.

I hope that we have these tools available so that he can do what he demonstrated in 2017 he couldn't when he was expressing frustration over the lack of the very provisions that we're trying to get into law.


FOX: And there may not be enough Republican votes ultimately for this proposal, but one thing I did notice yesterday was the number of Republicans who are willing to at least create some daylight between themselves and the former president.

You know, Tillis said, I'm going to do everything I can to support the eventual nominee. And if that's Donald Trump, I'll be working hard for him. But we have a difference of opinion on this issue. And I do think that that is a moment worth noting, given the fact that for a long time, a lot of these members simply were falling in line when Donald Trump put down the marker.

MATTINGLY: It's also a moment that's just regular policy disagreements. It's not some objection or rejection of Donald Trump. It's normal and politics, or it used to be at least.

Lauren Fox, great reporting, thank you.

HARLOW: This morning, Donald Trump is again turning the courtroom into a campaign event in just over an hour. He is expected to head back to his defamation trial right here in New York City after he took the stand briefly yesterday. MATTINGLY: The jury will soon decide how much the former president needs to pay in damages for smearing his rape accuser, E. Jean Carroll. Trump was strictly limited on how much he could actually say on the stand. He testified for only a few minutes, telling the court he was trying to defend himself and the presidency. But overnight, he unloaded in a short video he posted on social media.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I have no idea who she is, where she came from. This is another scam. It's a political witch hunt. And somehow we're going to have to fight this stuff. We cannot let our country go into this abyss. This is disgraceful.

You have somebody running for office. The whole thing is a scam. And it's a shame. And it's a disgrace to our country.


MATTINGLY: Let's turn to CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig. Elie, can we take a step back for a minute? How did we get to this point? Remind people how this has all gotten here.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, this has been a legal saga, really, Important to remember, the trial that's happening now is the second trial involving E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump.

Now, the first trial happened last year, April and May of 2023, same courtroom, same courthouse, same judge, Lewis Kaplan, federal court here in Manhattan. In that case, a jury found Donald Trump liable -- it's a civil case, not a criminal case -- liable for sexual abuse, not rape as defined under New York law, but liable for sexual abuse, liable for defamation, and they returned a verdict totaling $5 million.


Now, this case involves certain defamatory statements that Donald Trump made after he was president. The trial that's happening now, trial number two, involves similar defamatory statements made while he was president. The reason it was delayed is Trump claimed he had immunity because he was president at the time, took time to appeal that. He lost, but that's why we're having a second trial now.

In this case, the judge, same judge, same party, said because of the first jury's verdict, sexual abuse, not contested. That is established. He sexually abused E. Jean Carroll. Defamation, not in dispute, that is established. He defamed E. Jean Carroll. The only question in this trial is how much does Donald Trump have to pay E. Jean Carroll in damages. That is the question for the jury.

HARLOW: So, Trump chose to take the stand yesterday. It was very short, his testimony. What was the significance of it and any legal impact?

HONIG: I think it was a world record, three minutes for someone -- HARLOW: And he was even cross-examined.

HONIG: And cross-examination. So, Donald Trump really only said a couple things.

First of all, he was asked, do you stand by your deposition? Honestly, that could have meant anything he said a lot of things in his deposition. I think the point they were getting at is his claim that he believed E. Jean Carroll's accusations were false.

By the way that's a great courtroom sketch right there. It's Donald Trump being looked at by his own deposition that's what that one means. Good work by Christine Cornell there.

The other thing Donald Trump testified to is that he only made his statements about E. Jean Carroll after she accused him of this sexual assault. That was not disputed anyway.

The most important thing Donald Trump testified to is that he intended not to harm E. Jean Carroll with his statements but to protect himself, his family and he claimed the presidency. That's what the jury is going to have to weigh do they believe that? And if so, how much credit do they give it?

MATTINGLY: And is that what are we watching today?

HONIG: Yes. So, a couple things, we will hear closing arguments from the lawyers. They say it should take about an hour each. Then the judge will give the jury their legal instructions. Then they will deliberate. We don't know how long juries can take. I've seen juries take 45 minutes. I've seen juries take two weeks. The jury in the first trial took about three hours.

And the question they will have is, again, how much damages. Think of it in two different categories, compensatory damages. Think of it in terms of E. Jean Carroll, how much is she owed for her economic damage, for her mental and psychological suffering and then, separately, punitive damages, how much of a message does the jury want to send to punish Donald Trump.

We don't know where they're going to come out E. Jean Carroll has asked for $7 to $12 million dollars. It could be less than that. It could be in that range. It could be more. Up to the jury.

HARLOW: Elie, thank you.

HONIG: All right.

MATTINGLY: Well, the Republican National Committee withdrawing a draft resolution that would have formally declared Donald Trump the presumptive nominee. The decision behind that withdrawal, next.

HARLOW: Also, the International Court of Justice about to hand down a ruling on a genocide case brought against Israel. The world is watching The Hague and CNN is there live. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIR, RNC: I'm looking at the math and the path going forward, and I don't see it for Nikki Haley. I think she's run a great campaign. But I do think there is a message that's coming out from the voters, which is very clear. We need to unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump.


MATTINGLY: The math and the path, the buzzwords, just after two primary contests, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel earlier this week pushing for the GOP race to be over already, and for Donald Trump to be declared the nominee even after just two states voted, and it got pretty close.

Yesterday, Republican National Committee member and Trump ally, David Bossy, floated, and then eventually withdrew a resolution that would have formally declared Trump the GOP's presumptive nominee. Trump himself now says he wants to win the nomination, quote, the old fashioned way.

Joining us now with some perspective from the RNC side of things, at least, former RNC Chair, former Virginia Governor, Jim Gilmore. Governor, I appreciate your time this morning.

Can you explain to people -- I was stunned when I saw this idea start to percolate. I was trying to think back to what would have happened had Hillary Clinton done this to Bernie Sanders back in 2016. As somebody who's worked on the committee, who's worked within the kind of Republican infrastructure, were you surprised?

FMR. GOV. JIM GILMORE (R-VA): Well, the RNC is a great group of people, and it's not insular. There are people from all the 50 states that are elected by their respective states. So, it's a good voice for the Republican Party. But it's perfectly clear at this point that Donald Trump is winning, is probably almost certainly going to be our nominee. And I think that the committee wants to move on and begin to run directly against President Biden as soon as possible. And I think that was what was motivating Dave Bossy.

But Donald Trump, I think, was wise. I don't think he wants to look like he's manipulating this. Let the people vote in the primaries. I think that Nikki Haley ought to be very thoughtful about how long she's going to stick with this. She's -- her next stop after Nevada, which she will lose, is going to be South Carolina, her home state. And if she loses big there, which the governor and the senators all against her there, then I think she looks bad. So, I think she should be thoughtful about this, but I think President Trump made the right decision.

MATTINGLY: It was a decision though he made after his campaign had signed off on Bossy, who was a close ally, just endorsed him a couple days ago, actually coming up with the resolution. And I think to your point, we all kind of know the math here, we know how this next month is likely to play out. What's the harm in waiting.

GILMORE: What's the harm -- there is no harm in waiting. And I think that's why President Trump decided to urge that the resolution be withdrawn. Well, once again, there's a case to be made for moving on, but, really, Nikki Haley can decide whether she's going to allow the party to move on and begin to run against President Biden.

But from her point of view, if she loses big in South Carolina, that really is damaging to her presently and in the future, but it doesn't damage President Trump.


He's going to demonstrate his strength in South Carolina. And when he does that, it's going to be perfectly obvious what's going on. And I think he'll move forward, as will we all, to run against President Biden, because it's urgent, urgent that the Republican Party win this next election. It's urgent that we do so.

MATTINGLY: To that point, one of the reasons why Republicans have made clear they feel that it's urgent is because of what's been happening on the border, there are negotiations ongoing, bipartisan negotiations, not led by moderates or squishes or RINOs or however pejoratively you want to call Republicans, James Langford is not that, that have moved in a direction that I've just simply never seen before in terms of a bipartisan negotiation for conservative wins or at least what appears to be conservative wins, the former president out calling allies telling them to sink that deal.

If this is an urgent crisis and it's urgent that President Trump become president why do you have to wait for a year?

GILMORE: Look, I think that the polling that we saw out of Iowa was made very clear that the people of the United States are very worried about this border issue and about President Biden's lack of leadership on the border issue. So, it does have to be addressed. But it may very well be that the proposal that was in the Congress is not satisfactory, and I think it isn't satisfactory. I don't think that it offers real change.

MATTINGLY: Which legislative text did you get to read on that, because it doesn't actually exist? So, I'm intrigued why you don't think it's satisfactory at this moment.

GILMORE: Because it allows 5,000 people to come in, I believe, every -- I believe it was every month. And that really is just sort of a lukewarm effort to try to reform the situation. And that may not be satisfactory.

The real issue here, though, that your viewers need to watch out for is the linkage to the Ukrainian and Israeli money. That is really a deep concern. As you probably know, I am a strong advocate for the support of Ukraine. I think it's the hinge of the future and its title for America.

MATTINGLY: Yes, there's a lot a lot of stake in these negotiations.

Governor Jim Gilmore, we appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

GILMORE: Good. Thank you very much.

HARLOW: Donald Trump's legal team is calling for the district attorney in Georgia, Fani Willis, to be removed from that state's election subversion case. The possibility of their filings actually moving forward, we'll dig into that ahead.

MATTINGLY: And a controversial execution overnight, Alabama has carried out the country's first known execution with nitrogen gas. More on this method of capital punishment, that's ahead.



MATTINGLY: We have breaking news out of The Hague. The International Court of Justice says it does have jurisdiction over the genocide case against Israel. And it says some acts could fall within the provisions of the genocide convention.

Now, this is not a ruling on whether the Israelis committed genocide, but instead focuses on whether emergency measures are needed to restrain the Israelis. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza now says more than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Melissa Bell is live for us, following all of this from The Hague. Melissa, what is the response you've seen? What does this all mean going forward?

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the very beginning of the ruling. And what you're seeing right now is the president of the International Court of Justice reading out that preliminary ruling.

But what you just mentioned a moment ago, Phil, is pretty significant. Israel had asked this be thrown out entirely, that South Africa's case was essentially a subversion of the idea of the 1948 Genocide Act.

What she has just announced is that the court does believe it has jurisdiction. This is a legitimate dispute between two nations and that there is evidence that some acts of genocide may have been committed, implying therefore that the broader case, the substantive case in South Africa's brought before the court can be considered by it.

Now, that substantive case will take years too long. What she's announcing, and we will hear from in a moment, from her about, is whether or not it will grant as a result of the fact that the court believes there is a case to answer and to investigate those emergency orders that South Africa's requested essentially that Israel suspend its operations in Gaza while this case can be considered here at the ICJ.

We don't know whether they'll go the entire way towards South Africa's calling that Israel be ordered to stop, that access be allowed, that aid be allowed in, that it cease to destroy any evidence, for instance, that may be considered by this court, as it considers the substantive genocide allegations or whether the court's president is going to go on to stop just short of that announcing, for instance, that the court would like to see more aid getting into Gaza. Then, of course, will come the question of what Israel does with the ruling.

Still, Phil and Poppy, so far, the fact that the court has accepted that it has jurisdiction, that there could be evidence of genocide that is worthy of consideration is significant and does not go in Israel's sense.

HARLOW: It is very significant. So, people understand, the loud speaker behind you that they're hearing is this court reading out its findings thus far, Melissa.

In defending itself in this case, Israel's attorneys said, essentially, because we warned and have been warning the civilian population in Gaza before strikes and telling them where to move, a measure they say, quote, meant to mitigate harm to the civilian population, they argue that is the opposite of genocide. What do we expect Israel's response to be now to this?

BELL: That's right, Poppy. We've already seen from Israel a 400-page document in defense of its position, not only that the idea of the case is a subversion of the idea of the 1948 Genocide Act that the South Africans in bringing it are corrupting the sense of the word, genocide, that it is, in fact, Israel that's trying to prevent a genocide against its own people. That was the substance of the arguments we heard here on the 11th of January when Israel presented its case for three hours.

What we will hear shortly, once we get an idea of these provisional measures, is what Israel is going to do about it. For instance, if the court orders, stops, just sort of a suspension, orders for instance that Israel take certain actions, allowing more aid in, how seriously, how quickly is Israel going to hear those, will it disregard them entirely?

So far, what analysts watching this court have been telling me, Poppy, is that the fact that Israel has come to the court, has chosen to defend itself, does suggest that it takes very seriously not just the jurisdiction of this particular court, but also likely what its rulings are going to mean for global public opinion and what further weight that might bring on it as it continues with its offensive in Gaza.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And that's such a critical point in this moment in particular. Melissa Bell, please keep us posted as we get more information. Thank you.

HARLOW: Hugely significant, we will keep you posted as this develops through the morning. Meantime, in Georgia, Donald Trump's attorneys are joining calls to dismiss Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in the election subversion case there. They have a new court filing and Trump's legal team is arguing the alleged quote, improper relationship between Willis and her lead prosecutor on the case, Nathan Wade, should disqualify her from prosecuting Trump and his co-defendants.

MATTINGLY: Trump's team also claims that remarks Willis made at a church earlier this month where she defended her team of prosecutors injected, quote, racial animus into the case. This comes as CNN reports the defense attorneys are looking to subpoena Willis, Wade, and several others in the February 15th hearing on the affair allegations.

Joining us now, Professor of Law at Georgia State University, an expert in legal ethics, Clark Cunningham. He wrote an essay in The New York Times titled, Why Fani Willis Should Step Aside in the Trump Case in Georgia.

We appreciate your time. It was a fascinating, really illuminating piece to read. But I want to start with what we're seeing from Trump's effort here and allies to get Fani Willis off the case. Do you think that will work?

PROF. CLARK CUNNINGHAM, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Are you talking -- if you're talking about the motion that was just filed yesterday by the former president's lawyer here in Georgia, Steve Sadow, the main significance of that motion is he simply says he's joining the existing motion to have the district attorney disqualified. So, that means if that motion is granted next month, it would not only apply to the original person who filed that motion, Michael Roman, it would also apply to Donald Trump. So, that's the major significance of what was filed yesterday.

HARLOW: One of the things that I find so interesting about your piece is the fact that you say, look, Fani will have stepping aside would be a public service, but it would also protect the integrity of the case. And you lay out some reasons why, given prior cases, and what has happened when D.A.s have not -- including her in a prior case, have not stepped aside and they really get, I don't know the better word, slowed down a lot.

CUNNINGHAM: Slowed down is exactly the word. So, about 18 months ago, District Attorney Willis was disqualified from pursuing Bert Jones during the special grand jury before indictment. He's now the lieutenant governor. He filed a motion to disqualify her because she had hosted a fundraiser for someone who became his political opponent in the lieutenant governor's race. She was disqualified by the judge at that time.

There's a process where a state agency is then supposed to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the case. 18 months later, still no special prosecutor at all. So, we could be looking at a very long delay if that motion to disqualify is granted.

MATTINGLY: The subpoenas that we've seen over the alleged misconduct for both Willis and Wade, what effect will they have and kind of how this all plays out?

CUNNINGHAM: Well, you know, I believe I said in my New York Times piece, I think she should consider taking a personal leave, not admitting wrongdoing, but just taking a personal leave, before February 2nd, which is when her response is due, and definitely before February 15th, when those subpoenas would require her and Mr. Wade to appear and testify under oath.

I don't think that that's going to go well for the district attorney's position, though we can only speculate at this point. And if the best thing for the case, really, and I think for the public, is for her to step aside, and Mr. Wade to step aside, hand it over to a career prosecutor, do it now. Don't do it later.

MATTINGLY: Clark Cunningham, we appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

CUNNINGHAM: Glad to talk with you.

MATTINGLY: Well, for years of calling for major policy changes to deal with the border crisis, why are some Republicans trying to sink any border deal before most of them even know what's in it? We're going to break down where things stand, next.

HARLOW: And just ahead, the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Kevin O'Connell, talks with CNN This Morning about things much bigger than football.


KEVIN O'CONNELL, HEAD COACH, MINNESOTA VIKINGS: There's times where I'm tired, I'm exhausted and all I want to do is just sit down and not think about football or anything like it, but then it's time to go play football in the basement. And that's their Super Bowl, that's what matters, it's their time with that.