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CNN This Morning

Biden Hits Campaign Trail In South Carolina; Biden Calls Trump Defeated And A Loser In Fiery Speech; Biden Vows Tougher Border Measures, Backs Senate Deal; Trump Campaigns In Nevada, Takes Aim At Biden; Trump Bashes Proposed Bipartisan Immigration Deal; Haley Courts Home State Voters, Doubles Down On Targeting Trump; Nikki Haley Targets Trump In South Carolina Campaign Speech; CNN Witnesses Palestinian Detainees Blindfolded And Barefoot. Aired 6-7a

Aired January 28, 2024 - 06:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to CNN THIS MORNING. It is Sunday, January 28. This month is flying by.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it really is.

BLACKWELL: I was just drinking champagne celebrating the New Year and here it is.

WALKER: Isn't that like an hour ago.

BLACKWELL: Here it is. Almost Valentine's Day. It's good to have you along. I'm Victor Blackwell.

WALKER: Yes, thank you so much for spending a part of your Sunday morning with us. I'm Amara Walker. And here is what we are watching for you.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What Joe Biden is doing is a crime against our nation. It's an absolute betrayal of our country.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president.


WALKER: President Biden and Donald Trump taking direct aim at each other in a preview of what a bitter 2020 rematch could look like, but Nikki Haley says she is not done yet. The major points each candidate is trying to drive home ahead of the next of primaries and caucuses.

BLACKWELL: More countries are suspending aid to an U.N. agency because of allegations that some staff members were involved in the October 7th attacks on Israel. The plea that we're hearing from the head of the U.N. this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a year later. We are still paralyzed that we cannot do anything. This is really frustrating for us.


WALKER: One year after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in east Palestine, residents say they're frustrated with the pace of the recovery. You will hear more of their concerns.

BLACKWELL: And Detroit, I mean, they got to do it today. The Lions want to advance to the Super Bowl it has to happen today. Will this finally be the year? We'll take a look ahead at today's critical matchup just ahead.

President Biden, former President Trump, they are on the campaign this weekend offering a glimpse of the likely fight ahead. Former President Trump made a campaign stop at Nevada last night. He's looking to shore up support ahead of that state's caucuses in 10 days.

Meanwhile, President Biden was in South Carolina ahead of that state's Democratic primary next Saturday. Nikki Haley also held a pair of events in South Carolina. She's hoping to keep her campaign going.

WALKER: Speaking to South Carolina voters last night, President Biden said he supports an emerging bipartisan border deal in the Senate saying he would shut down the border if he's given the authority -- if given the authority. He also attacked his main Republican rival, calling Trump a defeated former president and a loser.


BIDEN: You're the reason I am president. You're the reason. Kamala Harris is a historic vice president. And you're the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president. You're the reason Donald Trump is a loser. And you're the reason we're going to win and beat him again.


WALKER: CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is travelling with the president. She has more.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Victor and Amara, President Joe Biden drawing a sharp contrast from former President Donald Trump here in South Carolina in what was a preview of his general election arguments casting the former president as -- quote -- "defeated" and a "loser." President Biden also making the case that Trump is only thinking about himself and not the country. Saying -- quote -- "what's good for America is bad for him politically."

Now, President Biden also was making the connection between what the administration has done in a range of issues and how that's affecting communities day to day. Be it funding for HBCUs, driving down insulin cost, but also spending time talking about student loan debt relief which was earned applause in the audience. But notably, he also talked about border security. President Biden putting his support behind an emerging border deal that Senate negotiators have been working on in the last two months, and saying that if given the authority to shut down the border he would do it and do it quickly. ' (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: If that bill was a law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.


The bipartisan bill would be good for America and help fix our broken immigration system.


ALVAREZ: Now, as President Biden has faced in other remarks in the last few days and weeks there were also protesters in the crowd calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. They were escorted out. The president did not engage with them but it was yet another example of the splits within his own coalition that he's also having to navigate.

But bottom line, the point that the president was making here is that he needs South Carolina. This is the state that he credited in 2020 for turning the tide and one that he's looking for support for in the upcoming primary next week, the first in the Democratic after the Democratic National Committee overhauled the schedule with President Biden's support. Now, President Biden noting it's not a competitive primary, but still it's going to be one that tests his standing with Black voters. Victor, Amara.

WALKER: All right. Priscilla Alvarez, thank you. Now, former President Trump campaigned in Nevada yesterday looking to put his legal issues aside and focus on the general election.

BLACKWELL: Now, he's virtually assured to sweep the state as Nikki Haley is not competing in those caucuses. CNN's Alayna Treene was in Las Vegas with the former president. Alayna.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, good morning, Victor and Amara. Nevada is a state that Donald Trump and his team already feel like they've won. And that's because Nikki Haley is not participating in the caucus here. Instead, she's on the ballot for the primary.

But the caucus is really where the states -- a crucial delegate will be awarded. And so, that was a key part of Trump's message on Saturday. He was telling voters to go out to the caucus, skip the primary and really focus on the race for Donald Trump will matter.

But because they don't see Nikki Haley as a player here, it also allowed Trump to shift his messaging towards a general election rematch with Joe Biden. And the key issue was talking about the border. Part of that is because the border is a very important issue to Nevada. It's a state with a very large migrant population. But it's also the timing that is noteworthy.

I think, you know, in Congress there is this bipartisan immigration deal that Donald Trump has privately and publicly been urging lawmakers to reject. And he went further than he had yet with his rhetoric on Saturday declaring that there is -- quote -- "zero chance I will support this horrible, open borders betrayal of America." Take a listen to how he put it.


TRUMP: It's tough when you have a very small majority, very tough. Mike Johnson, speaker, he just said, it's dead on arrival in the House. It's dead on arrival. We want either a strong bill or no bill and whatever happens happens.

But this is the single greatest threat to our country right now is the people pouring into our country because we have no idea who they are. The fact is that if Joe Biden truly wanted to secure the border, he doesn't really need a bill.


TREENE: Now part of the reason Donald Trump is urging lawmakers to reject this is because it's an issue that he wants to continue talking about on the campaign trail. But it's also an issue that he thinks Joe Biden is very vulnerable on. And so, he told the crowd on Saturday that he's fine taking the blame if this deal goes down and is a failure in Congress.

Now, just one other thing I want to mention, Victor and Amara, that I found very noteworthy on Saturday. He did not mention once the $83.3 million that a jury ordered him to award E. Jean Carroll on Friday. I think that's something that some people had anticipated he might bring up, but he did not discuss it. Victor, Amara.

BLACKWELL: All right. Certainly, notable there. Alayna Treene, thanks so much. So, Nikki Haley, the former president's competitor, loops us back to South Carolina, where she is campaigning this weekend, and she is ramping up her criticism of Donald Trump.

WALKER: And over the weekend she actually did mention the $83 million verdict. CNN's Eva McKend was at her rally. She has more from Mauldin, South Carolina.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Victor, Amara, Nikki Haley, now the last Republican standing in this fight against Trump, and you can tell that she is relishing this. Many may wonder where was Nikki Haley a few weeks -- a few months ago. Well, now she is taking the fight directly to Trump personally. Saying that he is thin- skinned, unhinged, a bit sensitive, throwing temper tantrums, overly concerned about revenge. And suggesting that all the time that he is spending in the courtroom is time that he is not spending concerned about the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Only two states have voted. There are 48 more that have to vote. No matter what Donald Trump thinks, he can't bully his way to the White House. It's not going to work. And after he did that, we raised another one $1.4 million. So, Donald, keep them coming because it's great.



MCKEND: And she does have an audience for this message. I spoke to a woman from here in the Greenville area. And she told me that she did not like that she felt like Haley was being bullied and said that Trump has a history of bullying women. She also said that she felt like the political establishment was piling on Haley as well.

Another woman at one point yelling out, keep going. And then Haley responded to that that she hopes that the political establishment hears this. So listen, she does have a base of support here in South Carolina. The question now is in the weeks ahead, can she pull off an upset in this state and really continue to shakeup this contest? Victor, Amara.

WALKER: Eva McKend, thank you very much. Let's dig deeper now with CNN political commentator, Errol Louis. Good morning, Errol.

Let's start with President Biden and his campaign speech last night in South Carolina. So, the president -- I mean, embracing this bipartisan Senate bill. It's really a striking shift in his stance on immigration. Listen.


BIDEN: It'll also give me, as president, the emergency authority to shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill was a law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.


WALKER: So, President Biden knows that he is politically vulnerable when it comes to immigration and border security. But he also risks angering fellow Democrats or at least alienating them. What's the calculus here?

LOUIS: Well, the calculus, Amara, is that this is a three-legged stool, this deal. It's not just the border security, but it's also support for Israel. It's also support for Ukraine. It's something that's been worked on for quite a while by his former -- his fellow former senators.

The reality is that when it comes to this particular issue, he's banking on the idea that being a responsible leader of his party and being a responsible leader of the government is going to -- is going to pay off. That sooner or later some kind of deal is going to get struck that he will have the support of the Senate, that he will isolate Republicans who want no deal whatsoever, and then he will not be able to explain to the American voters that this was pure politics that stopped it from getting done sooner.

WALKER: Yes. So, I guess, the question is, is there a way forward for this bill? I want you to listen to Trump now, who is in Nevada as we saw keeping up his attempts to try to sabotage this bill. Listen.


TRUMP: I noticed a lot of the senators -- a lot of the senators are trying to say respectfully they are blaming it on me. I said, that's OK, please blame it on me, please. Because they were getting ready to pass a very bad bill. And I'll tell you what. A bad bill is I'd rather have no bill than a bad bill.


WALKER: So, I mean, not only do you have Trump and this bill politically having to get past Trump, but also House Speaker, Mike Johnson, as you said, he's been saying that this bill is dead on arrival. But also, you know, he's been attacking President Biden's endorsement of it. I mean, does the Senate proposal have any chance in the House?

LOUIS: Well, I would reverse that, by the way. It may not have a good chance in the House, but there's going to be a much tighter margin in the House. Keep in mind that Mike Johnson can talk all of the extreme rhetoric that he wants. But he's only got a majority -- a handful of votes. And he's got a number of members. At least, what? Fifteen or so who are in districts that Joe Biden won and who are not necessarily going to sort of run with the extreme with that -- an obstructionist stance just to please Donald Trump politically.

And once the stakes become clear and the time goes on and we've got footage of battlefields and footage of the border and footage of the stakes that are involved here, I'm not sure it's going to be all that easy to do Donald Trump's bidding purely to help him on the campaign trail.

WALKER: Let's pivot back to South Carolina, where Biden was. Because, you know, we do want to point out that, you know, he was interrupted several times by protesters in South Carolina twice by pro-Palestinian protesters. President Biden did not react to that.

But, I mean, it obviously puts a spotlight on just how unpopular Biden's stance is when it comes to supporting Israel in this war against Hamas. How much of a liability could this war be for Biden and, you know, will he change course as a result?

LOUIS: I can't imagine a change of course. This is part of a larger diplomatic question that the president has been solid on from the very beginning. That what they want in the Middle East is a two-state solution that obviously involves support for Israel. There's no way the president is going to walk away from those foreign policy and diplomatic commitments.


On the other hand, politically speaking, this could go away at any time. Israel is conducting operations because they are in a shooting war right now. They lost 21 military members in a single day, just the other day. If and when it calms down, and there's a good chance that that could happen in the next six months, much of this issue is going to go away and they can shift away from military operations and more toward diplomacy. That's not under control of the White House and I think most people understand that.

WALKER: What about Nikki Haley who is also in South Carolina? You know, we've heard her over the weekend, you know, ramping up her attacks against Trump calling him unhinged, obviously, talking about that $83 million verdict against him and how he has to focus on that more than fighting for Americans.

But, you know, she's behind Trump by a wide margin according to polls there in her home state of South Carolina. And on top of that you had two prominent donors who have pulled out -- pulled funding. I guess, what's the way forward for her? Can she do anything between now and then to, I don't know, up her chances?

LOUIS: The handwriting is on the wall. It's going to be a very difficult couple of months. It's unclear that she's going to win her home state or be able to hang in the race for very much longer. I think everybody understands that. She's making an effective argument, but it might be too little too late at this point.

WALKER: Errol Louis, appreciate having you on. Thanks so much.

LOUIS: Still to come, new CNN video captures more than two dozen Palestinian men sitting and kneeling blindfolded and barefoot as Israeli soldiers stand guard. We will show you the footage and we'll tell you how the Israeli military is explaining it.

Plus, we take you to the community in Ohio that is still dealing with the aftermath of a devastating train derailment. We'll see the challenges people there are facing almost a year later.



BLACKWELL: There is a new CNN video that shows more than two dozen Palestinian men sitting, some kneeling on the ground near the Israel- Gaza border. In the video, the men are blindfolded and barefoot with their hands tied behind their backs while Israeli soldiers stand guard.

WALKER: The Israeli military said the men were -- quote -- "suspected" of terrorist activity and were arrested in Gaza and transferred Israel for further investigation. CNN's Jeremy Diamond was on the Israel-Gaza border where he witnessed the disturbing scene.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: While we were in southern Israel on Saturday morning near the border with Gaza when we spotted more than two dozen men sitting or kneeling on the cold wet ground. Israeli soldiers standing guard near them.

Now, we now know that those men were Palestinians who were arrested by the Israeli military inside of Gaza and brought to Israel for questioning. Now, these men were blindfolded. They were barefoot. And if you look in this video, you can see their hands are tied behind their backs and all they are wearing are these disposable white coveralls.

Now, it's important to keep in mind that it was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees Celsius and quite rainy when we filmed this video. And the men in this video seem to be physically exhausted. You can see them kind of swaying around their heads bobbing as they seem to be falling asleep. One man was actually lying on the ground before an Israeli soldier came to rouse him and prop him up.

Now, the Israeli military for its part said -- quote -- "The individuals shown on camera are suspected of terrorist activity and were arrested in Gaza and transferred to Israel for further interrogation. Relevant suspects are taken for further questioning within Israel. Individuals who are found not to be taking part in terrorist activities are released back into Gaza as soon as possible."

Now, the Israeli military also addressed the condition in which we found these Palestinian detainees. They said that they were wearing these white coveralls because they had been stripped and searched to ensure that neither they nor their clothing had any explosive devices or weapons on them. And they said that they were about to be placed on a heated bus and taken to a detention facility where they would be provided with actual clothing.

Now, we were not able to verify exactly how long these men were sitting outside in the cold because an Israeli soldier came to us and directed us once he saw we were filming to leave the premises. Now, as it relates to this -- claimed by Israel that these men are suspected of terrorist activity, it's important to note that while this is the first time that we have actually been able to directly document the detention of these Palestinian men from Gaza, there has been a lot of footage circulating from Gaza of Palestinian men being detained. And in many cases, those men actually turn out to be civilians. They are spotted by their relatives or their friends as civilians.

And in December we actually spoke with 10 Palestinian men and boys who had been detained by the Israeli military, held for five days, and ultimately released without charge. Now, these men and boys all of them had swollen wrists. Some of them bruises on their wrists from having their hands tied behind their backs for five days. Now, the Israeli military for its part maintains that it treats all of these detainees in accordance with international law.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Tel Aviv.

BLACKWELL: Jeremy, thanks. Joining me now is CNN military analysts Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, good morning to you. Let me start with your reaction to the video and the explanation. Do you have any greater concerns? COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning, Victor. These scenes never look pretty and it's always a difficult thing when Israeli forces or any other force comes in and takes prisoners. But this is basically what we're seeing so far based on what I've seen in the video it does not appear as if there's any violation of international law or anything like that in these scenes.


But, you know, this is obviously tough stuff. And the Israelis are clearly concerned that any of the Palestinians that they pick up might be members of Hamas and that those members of Hamas might have explosive devices in their clothing. And that's why you see them wearing those white coveralls.

BLACKWELL: Let's turn to the effort to release the hostages. Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Qatar should be putting more pressure on Hamas to release those hostages. We have the video and we can hear what the prime minister said that he wants Qatar to do. Let's play it.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Qatar hosts the leaders of Hamas. It also funds Hamas. It has leverage over Hamas. Qatar committed to make sure that the medication will reach the districts of Hamas to our hostages. And Qatar said that it can help bring them back. So, therefore, to put pressure on them they positioned themselves as mediators. So, please go right ahead and prove it. Let them be so good as to bring back our hostages.


BLACKWELL: Of course, Netanyahu himself is facing domestic pressures to get these hostages home. Is this attempt to, I guess, transfer that pressure to Qatar reasonable? Something we should expect?

LEIGHTON: Yes. It's kind of a deaf political move by Prime Minister Netanyahu, at least an attempted deaf political move where he is trying to remove the pressure that he's feeling and put it on -- putting it on to the country of Qatar. But Qatar has hopes to release hostages before they've been a very important bridge really for Israel to talk to Hamas. And in this particular case I would say it's very unwise for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go in and make these kinds of criticisms when these negotiations are incredibly sensitive and they could fail at any moment. And that could, of course, endanger the lives of the hostages.

Qatar has -- it is absolutely true has funded Hamas. But they've done that with the recognition by the Israelis that was in fact what was going on. And it is pretty clear that the Qataris want to serve as that bridge. In many cases they've been very effective doing that not only for Israel, but also in other situations for the United States.

BLACKWELL: Nine countries now, including the U.S. have suspended contributions to the U.N. aid agency UNRWA, the Relief and Works Agency, because Israel alleges that at least a dozen of its staff workers participated in October 7th attacks. The U.N. secretary- general says nine workers had been filed to or being clarified. He's asking countries to reconsider the pause on funding. First, your reaction to the allegations and then also what this pause in funding means for the eight into Gaza.

LEIGHTON: Yes. Victor, this is a very difficult issue because the Israeli allegations are actually quite plausible. There have been other instances where UNRWA or similar to U.N. organizations have actually been used by a local group such as Hamas to infiltrate. And they have used that capability to gain intelligence, to help protect their operations, and do things like that.

So, from an operational perspective, it would make sense for Hamas to use the UNRWA offices in order to make their efforts on October 7 work. When it comes to the humanitarian aid for Gaza however, UNRWA is basically the only agency that has -- got real inroads into Gaza and if they're not allowed to move forward and if they lose their funding, there's a very great risk that famine or other bad situations could really occur in Gaza. We are talking not only famine but disease, things of that nature, that could really complicate the Israeli situation in Gaza as well as a lot of the Palestinian people there.

BLACKWELL: Both the IDF and the Palestinian ministry of health said that there is heavy fighting around these hospitals and medical facilities Khan Yunis and al-Amal hospitals. The IDF says that there are Hamas fighters who are operating in and around those campuses. The facilities say that there is a depletion of oxygen supplies, blood supplies, anesthesia, other medications.

Now, Israel has said that the operations in the south will look different than they did in the north. And these are similar stories that we have covered several months ago. When it comes to Hamas' MO of using these civilians as human shields, can they look different? How can they look different if possible? Because we are just switching in the names of facilities and the same thing has happened more than a month ago.


LEIGHTON: Well, Victor, one of the key things that could happen here is the Israelis could use Special Operations forces. Right now, what they're doing is they're seeming to use those as well as air power to go after some of these targets. So, some of it looks the same like it did in the north, but in this particular case I think they're being a little bit more surgical than they were before.

BLACKWELL: Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Still to come, this week marks one year since a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. And one year later, the community is still dealing with the impacts.


WALKER: It's nearly a year later and many residents of East Palestine, Ohio are still reeling from that catastrophic train derailment. A Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed last February 3rd igniting a fire that burned for days spewing dangerous gases into the air and chemicals into the soil.


BLACKWELL: The crash forced families out of their homes. Some reported health problems, rashes, bloody noses, trouble breathing. The company says the disaster has cost it more than $1 billion so far. CNN's Jason Carroll reports.


EDMUND WANG, BUSINESS OWNER, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: Every time I saw the train like this running behind my building, I feel scared now.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Norfolk Southern's train steadily running right behind Edmund Wang's plant that makes parts for steel mills in East Palestine, Ohio. The rail cars got back on track days after the catastrophic derailment nearly a year ago. The crash just feet from the back door of Wong's plant.

WANG: Now, we are still living in nightmare, basically.

CARROLL: Even after all this time?

WANG: Yes.

CARROLL (voiceover): We first interviewed Wong last March when he voiced concerns about his future.

WANG: And I'm not sure the impact will last for how long. That's the uncertainty.

This is a year later. We are still paralyzed that we cannot do anything. This is really frustrating for us.

CARROLL (voiceover): Just last week, Wang's operation manager says there was another check for possible contaminants.

DAVID CHICK, FACTORY MANAGER, EAST PALESTINE: They're testing the soil that's underneath the foundation. I'm not happy that it's taken them this long to get to this stage of checking to see how things are.

CARROLL (voiceover): Throughout the past year, Ohio's EPA says continued testing has shown the air, water, and soil in East Palestine is safe. And as of January 10th, more than 42 million gallons of liquid and 176,000 tons of soil waste have been removed.

Norfolk Southern says it made a promise to make things right and that under the overside of the USEPA, it has completed the majority of remediation work as well as invested more than $103 million into the community. Norfolk also announced long-term programs supporting home values and water monitoring and working toward a long-term health fund. That's little comfort to Jessica and Chris Albright.

CHRIS ALBRIGHT, RESIDENT, EAST PALESTINE: I'm boiling with anger over the whole situation.

CARROLL (voiceover): The Albrights evacuated in the days after the derailment and moved into a hotel for four months. That bill covered by Norfolk Southern. But since returning home, Albright says he was diagnosed with a heart disorder and has been unable to keep his job as a gas pipeliner.

ALBRIGHT: We're doing the best but we're treading water right now.


ALBRIGHT: I mean, you know, we're barely paying the bills.

ZSUZSA GYENES, RESIDENT, EAST PALESTINE: That was kind of cool though.

CARROLL (voiceover): Like the Albrights, Zsuzsa Gyenes left home with her 10-year-old son, but a year out they are still living in a hotel.

GYENES: I still wake up every day and I'm in disbelief a year later.

CARROLL (voiceover): Gyenes is afraid to go back to East Palestine but says she has had a tough time finding permanent housing elsewhere.

GYENES: It's going to take me a long time as a single mom to rebuild everything. There are signs many others want to stay. The slogan, East Palestine Strong, is planted throughout town including on Misti Allison's property.

MISTI ALLISON, You know, either you can have like a victim mentality or have like a victor mentality. You can't choose the cards that you're dealt.

CARROLL (voiceover): Allison testified last March during Senate hearings on rail safety.

ALLISON: My seven-year-old has asked me if he is going to die from living in his own home.

CARROLL (voiceover): Allison wants to see the Rail Safety Act become law. It calls for tougher regulations and it's now stalled in Congress.

ALLISON: Just like with anything else, let's find a way not an excuse. I think that we can make it happen because I want East Palestine to recover and thrive.

CARROLL (voiceover): The Albrights aren't sure if it will ever be the same.

ALBRIGHT: Our middle daughter was getting nose beds as soon as she would come into this house. The youngest daughter was getting rashes.

JESSICA ALBRIGHT, RESIDENT, EAST PALESTINE: It's -- I worry about the kids and their futures.

CARROLL (voiceover): Jason Carroll, CNN East Palestine, Ohio. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Jason, thanks.

Up next, once a power player in GOP politics, the group Moms for Liberty is now facing growing challenges in Schoolboard elections. A look at the group, its future, and the sex scandal that plagues the organization.



BLACKWELL: Pushback is intensifying against the right-wing group Moms for Liberty. An ongoing sex scandal drew national attention and schoolboard candidates it endorsed suffered big losses late last year.

WALKER: Moms for Liberty has been involved in clashes over how race and gender issues are discussed in classrooms while also pushing for book bans in schools across the country. And as the criticism mounts, some opponents of the group see an opening. CNN's Carlos Suarez has more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Masks do not work.

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

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have taught the radical left Marxists and Communists a lesson. You're the best thing that's ever happened to America.

SUAREZ (voiceover): The joyful warriors as they call 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 (voiceover): 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 (voiceover): Their critics however say their objective is very different.

JENNIFER JENKINS, SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: 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 u.

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

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

SUAREZ (voiceover): Virginia Hamilton was a public school teacher for 31 years. She joined the group Stop Moms for Liberty because she feels Moms for Liberty isn't about Liberty at all.

HAMILTON: Then it went further. It went into next the book banning. Now, Moms for Liberty is pushing for curriculum changes. But now, amid a slew of recent salacious news stories featuring the Conservative group including a sex scandal involving the husband of co-founder Bridget Ziegler, some say the group's influence is waning.

JENKINS: People are seeing, you know, news cycle after news cycle, the hypocrisy of the things that they advocate for and they say they stand for.

SUAREZ (voiceover): Moms for Liberty insist none of that is hurting their cause.

DESCOVICH: I think that was a very sensational headline that went around the world very quickly. That's not you know, who Mom's for Liberty is. We stay focused on defending parental rights.

SUAREZ (voiceover): But the numbers tell a different story. According to Mom's for Liberty, in 2022, 55 percent of the 500 candidates the group endorsed won their race for school board, while in 2023 only 43 percent of 202 endorsed candidates won seats. They insist they're not losing traction.

DESCOVICH: To say it's waning, I think that's ridiculous. We are just doing the work that we're doing.

SUAREZ (voiceover): The group also says they are a grassroots organization not politically motivated at all, yet nearly every Republican presidential candidate attended a summit they held last summer in Philadelphia.

DESCOVICH: It's because they know that moms are passionate about these issues. SUAREZ (voiceover): Despite their insistence they're not losing ground, the Conservative group has recently tried expanding into more Liberal states, just last week holding a town hall meeting in New York City which was met by a protest from local parents.

Back in Florida, educators like Jenkins and Hamilton both happy the group's influence seems to be waning, are still worried about the long-term effects of what the group started.

JENKINS: They infiltrated that state legislature. Those laws are not going to just go away because Moms for Liberty goes away.

HAMILTON: We want the teachers to feel like they can teach again. And it's -- it was all taken away.


WALKER: That was CNN's Carlo Suarez reporting.

Up next, four teams buy for a spot at Super Bowl 58 but who has the edge to head to Las Vegas? Your Championship Sunday preview is just ahead.



WALKER: Chiefs or Ravens.


WALKER: Lions or 49ers.


WALKER: Really? Yes, I would hope Lions. By the end of the day, we will know who is playing in Super Bowl 58.

BLACKWELL: Carolyn Manno joins us now. So, this is a once in a life -- once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of Detroit Lions and their fans.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: I'm getting my pad right now so I can write down all your predictions. I mean, this is the greatest day for football fans. And for Lions fans, this could be dreams coming true here. They've never played in a Super Bowl. This is just the second time they've reached the NFC Championship, Fans have been waiting for decades.

It's going to be a tall task tonight as touchdown underdogs on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. But after nearly seven decades of futility as a franchise, Detroit has the feeling of a team of destiny. Listen to this. A watch party at their home stadium has completely sold out with tickets selling on the secondary market for over a $100. That is just to watch on a giant TV. One fan got a tattoo way back in August before the season began proclaiming that they would be Super Bowl champs. And safe to say that this team has the full support of its city.

Meanwhile, a couple of MVPs squaring off in the early game. Lamar Jackson leading the Baltimore Ravens to the AFC Championship for the first time, while Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City are back for a sixth straight season. Jackson and Mahomes both saying that they have the ultimate respect for each other's game but that their coaches know just how hard it will be slowing them down.


JOHN HARBAUGH, HEAD COACH, BALTIMORE RAVENS: It's pretty hard to pick one the biggest challenge versus Patrick Mahomes, I mean, I think it's the whole package. Everything he does. He's a -- he's a playmaker. He runs that offense. He is the center of the offense in every way.

ANDY REID, HEAD COACH, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: I've always had a ton of respect for him from the time he got in the league on. He -- he's just -- he's playing good football. He's been doing it all year and has just carried it into the playoffs.


MANNO: So, Victor, you have your picks already but has this matchup already been decided. That is what conspiracy theorists are thinking. Our Coy Wire investigates.


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: All right, something's going on with the Super Bowl logos. Is this magic, coincidence, something supernatural, or maybe it's part of this giant League-wide conspiracy. As some have said, are the NFL seasons scripted? What's going on here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the table read for the 104th season of the NFL. Let's get to work.


WIRE: At the start of the season, the NFL launched an ad joking that the games were scripted, but many online they think it's true. For the last two seasons, the Super Bowl logos match the color schemes of the two teams playing in it, but the League tells us they designed these logos up to 2 years in advance.

In 2022, the Super Bowl 56 logo had the orange of the Cincinnati Bengals and gold of the LA Rams. The following season, the colors were replaced by Philadelphia Eagles green and Kansas City Chiefs red. Is this some master plan and we're all just drinking the Kool-Aid? Was I predetermined to play for the Falcons and the Buffalo Bills before that? No, some online are calling foul suggesting some nefarious conspiracy theory that the league already knows what teams it wants to make the big game and they formed a predetermined outcome right in our faces.

This year's Super Bowl logo colors, purple and red, leaving only one possible outcome for this weekend's conference championships. Time will tell if the Ravens and 49ers prove the Super Bowl logo right yet again. The NFL has denied any conspiracy theory. They would say that, wouldn't they?


MANNO: I think Coy has a future as a P.I., you guys. I'm not buying this conspiracy theory. What about you? I mean, I will be watching closely but I think is a stretch.

WALKER: I don't think they decided two years in advance. I bet you they change it really quickly at the last minute and you know, color in the --

BLACKWELL: I don't buy the conspiracy, but it is eerie coincidence.

WALKER: It is eerie.

BLACKWELL: And that just is amazing. Well, at least the Ravens are in.

WALKER: What about that Kool-Aid he was drinking? It didn't look very good.

BLACKWELL: It was crystal light.

MANNO: Wast it yellow?

BLACKWELL: It was crystal light.

WALKER: It should be red or purple.

MANNO: I'm going to investigate that, I think.

WALKER: You should.

BLACKWELL: Carolyn Manno, thanks so much.

WALKER: Thank you, Carolyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, still to come, Trump rallies in Nevada, Haley looks to gain some momentum in her home state, and President Biden takes aim at former President Trump. You follow? The latest on the race for the White House is next.

And she was an influencer, an inmate, and an icon. CNN is unraveling The Many Lives of Martha Stewart in an epic four-part television event starting tonight at 9:00 right here on CNN.