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Willis Not Stepping Down; Campaign Trail Headlines; Voters Cry Foul in Nevada. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired February 01, 2024 - 06:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Fani Willis does not plan to step down from the Georgia election subversion case after allegations emerged that she's had an inappropriate relationship with the lead prosecutor she hired on the case, Nathan Wade. She's faced intense scrutiny and calls to resign or pull herself off.

Our Zach Cohen has some really interesting reporting on this. He joins us this morning.

It isn't just about a relationship. What it's about is payments. How he was paid with taxpayer money. But she's standing her ground? She's not going anywhere?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's exactly right. Multiple sources are telling me that Fani Willis is digging in. She's going to take her chances arguing this in court. It's going to now be up to the judge to decide whether or not to disqualify her.

And as you mentioned, these are not just allegations about an improper romantic relationship. Trump and several of his co-defendants are claiming that Fani Willis improperly, you know, used taxpayer dollars to, you know, fund vacations through her lover -- alleged lover, Nathan Wade.

Now, she's going to have to potentially address all of these questions in open court. She weighed and several others were subpoenaed to testify publicly on February 15th when there's a hearing about this entire issue. So, you know, it remains to be seen. But as of right now, Fani Willis not voluntarily taking herself out of the game.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Zach, when you say she's going to take her chances, what kind of risk is that? Are the chances high that everything will go the way she wants it? Is this a 50/50? Where does this stand right now?

COHEN: Yes, Phil, I talked to sources on both sides of this case and they all say that, look, it's an uphill battle to try to get Fani Willis disqualified from this case, but, you know, this -- that doesn't mean that they can't hurt her politically, they can't try to undermine the credibility of this case by attacking her personally, by attacking her romantic life allegedly, by, you know, raising these questions, even if the evidence doesn't necessarily prove what the allegations are.

So, really, at the end of the day, the legal ramifications here, you know, it's a low risk, but the political ramifications could be very high for Willis specifically.

HARLOW: Thank you, Zach. Great reporting.

MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, three people have died, and nine others were injured in Idaho after a Boise airport hangar that was under construction collapsed late on Wednesday. The city released a statement saying five of the survivors are in critical condition and described the scene as catastrophic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what caused it. But I can tell you that it was a pretty global collapse that occurred in the main structural members came down is fairly catastrophic.


MATTINGLY: Now, first responders worked through the night to rescue those who were trapped. We will keep you posted as we learn more.

HARLOW: Wall Street was hoping for an interest rate cut yesterday from the Fed after 11 straight hikes. That didn't happen. What the Federal Reserve says they're waiting for, that's ahead.

MATTINGLY: And Congressman Matt Gaetz plans to introduce a symbolic resolution next week, declaring that Donald Trump never incited an insurrection. Trump was impeached by the House and is facing multiple criminal charges over his actions on January 6th. An important note, the resolution means absolutely nothing. It is purely for show, and to suck up, to some degree. It would send a message.

We'll be right back.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON": Former President Trump has been telling people that he's more popular than Taylor Swift and has more committed fans. I'm not sure Trump has more committed fans, but he definitely has more fans who have been committed.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": I have to say, if Taylor Swift told her fans to storm the Capitol on January 6th, they would have succeeded. They would be running the country right now.




HARLOW: The Federal Reserve holding interest rates at a 23-year high for the fourth time in a row. It comes after the central bank raised rates 11 times since March of '22 to combat record high inflation. Fed Chair Jerome Powell says he is now pretty confident inflation is moving toward that 2 percent target. Still, he wants to see more certain that it will continue in that direction. That has investors wondering when the central bank will finally begin those rate cuts. Officials have rejected the cuts would begin in this first quarter. Yesterday, Powell pushed back on those expectations.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Based on the meeting today, I would tell you that I don't think it's likely that the committee will reach a level of confidence by the time of the March meeting to identify March as the time to do that. But that's - that's to be seen. So, I wouldn't call -- you know, when you said - when you asked me about in the near term, I'm hearing that as March. I would say I don't think that's - that's probably not the most likely case.


HARLOW: Powell said it is not -- doesn't look like the Fed -- the Fed is, I should say, looking for better data, but instead a continuation of this better data. He also says lower rent costs could help make the case.

MATTINGLY: Well, also new overnight, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says shareholders will vote immediately on moving the company's legal home to Texas. This is after a Delaware judge rejected his nearly a $56 billion pay package in a court decision. The lawsuit was, in fact, filed by a shareholder who argued for - over payment. It's not clear when that vote will be held. Musk lashed out in a social media post, quote, "never incorporate your company in the state of Delaware." Tesla's corporate headquarters were moved from Texas to - moved to Texas from California in 2021.

HARLOW: Fair to say we're both kind of obsessed with this story.

MATTINGLY: Very fascinated by this story. We're going to -

HARLOW: This is what we talk about, by the way, folks.

MATTINGLY: We're going to do more on this at some point.

HARLOW: OK, but just really quickly -


HARLOW: Explain to people the back story here on why Elon Musk took a pay package like this. A big risk.

MATTINGLY: Yes. Structurally, it was designed in a way that was giving him money to take risks and hit high, hard to reach incentives.

HARLOW: Almost impossible to reach goals.

MATTINGLY: And he hit them, which should be how you should structure a pay package, I would think.

HARLOW: Yes, for most CEOs. The court disagrees. The judge disagrees.


HARLOW: We'll keep following it. It's super interesting. You can geek out and read about it if you're as interested as we are.

Meantime, the 2024 presidential candidates might be running different styles of campaign, but they all require the same thing, money. Donald Trump's campaign cash reserves to the end of the year were more than double Nikki Haley's. Super PAC money will continue to play a big role for both of them, but there are questions in the main one backing Haley. The SFA Fund will continue its support. Federal filings show that SFA raised $50 million in the second half of last year, but spent $63 million, ending the year with just $3.5 million in cash.

MATTINGLY: Now, the group has said, however, that it continued to spend, in January, nearly $9 million in independent expenditures, including TV time in South Carolina. Also in the midst of a major fundraising push right now.

This comes as Haley tries to build her national presence. She appeared on The Breakfast Club Wednesday, hitting a wide range of issues including the boarder and what's happening in Texas between Governor Abbott and the Biden administration.


Haley was asked about her views on Texas seceding. Here's part of that.


NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let's talk about what's reality. Texas isn't going to secede. I mean that's not something that they're going to do.

I do think that laws should be made as close to the people as possible because it empowers the people. If Texas decides they want to do that, they can do that. But I don't think that if - if that whole state says we don't want to be part of America anymore, I mean that's their decision to make.


MATTINGLY: Let's bring back our panel, Natasha Alford, Lee Carter and Shelby Talcott.

We'll get to the secession, I guess, while -- secession.

HARLOW: Well, she was asked about it.

MATTINGLY: No, I know she was asked about it.

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE). MATTINGLY: It's like bizarre that we're talking about it in general not -

HARLOW: But she was - right, but she - yes, true, but she asked.


HARLOW: Yes, you are right.

MATTINGLY: She was asked. We'll get to that in a second.


MATTINGLY: I want to ask you about the campaign money, because we all scour FEC filings every single quarter for signs of things. The Haley super PAC, it's burn rate, where it ended the year at, I know they're raising right now. What did that tell you when you look at where SFA was and where Haley's campaign is right now?

SHELBY TALCOTT, REPORTER, "SEMAFOR": Well, I think Haley's campaign is obviously in a better position. I think it was $14.6 million.


TALCOTT: Compared to her super PAC. But the - the funding with the super PAC is a really big red flag to me, particularly when you see that despite Donald Trump's spending a huge amount of money with some of his PACs for his legal fees, he still has a substantial amount in the bank from a campaign perspective to go up against her in this primary. And so it kind of indicates that, yes, Haley still has all of this support and she is riding or has been riding some of this momentum, but it seems more limited than Donald Trump, which is exactly what we're seeing with the results in Iowa and New Hampshire.

At the same time with - what I'm -- the takeaway for me is with Donald Trump's legal bills, it just is - is representative of how big of a problem these legal issues are for him, and are going to continue to be. I mean, in 2023, he spent $50 million. That's $50 million that he could be spending against Joe Biden or against Nikki Haley in this primary. And so that's a huge deal. And I think it's going to continue to be a huge deal.

HARLOW: He -- he could also use, if he wanted to, his personal money to pay his lawyers, just point of fact there.

TALCOTT: Of course.

HARLOW: What's interesting about Nikki Haley fundraising, if this is going to change for her. She'll be able to raise more. Some big donors who were maybe on the fence, the reporting was, like Ken Langone (ph), have now gotten in behind her, right? Just held another big fundraiser for her. So, is that emblematic of what she could see going ahead in this quarter and the next?

LEE CARTER, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: Well, I think that there's a lot of mixed - I mean there's not momentum behind any one candidate, it doesn't seem. The millionaire class seems to be going different directions and we're watching Donald Trump, we're watching Nikki Haley sort of - sort of court these.

HARLOW: The question was, were her big donors going to pull back after her not winning Iowa or New Hampshire.

CARTER: Yes. And some seem to have, and some not to. But I do -- I'm - I'm with you, that the super PAC at only $3.5 million is a surprise to me. I expected to see more than that. And I expected to see a little bit more momentum there.

But I, you know, it's hard to say. And Donald Trump, I think, you know, to the point about the $50 million that he's spending on court cases, he's running his campaign from the courtroom. And so as much as he is spending all this money on it and could be spending it in other areas, when I talk to voters, there's so many - I mean I had this one voter that I was talking to who said he fought for me, now it's my time to fight for him. Like, they're looking at this as something to like get behind. And he's rally people around this idea. And it's so fascinating. So we think, wow, he's spending all this money on court cases, but it's actually working to his advantage with some of his base.

MATTINGLY: Yes, his biggest fundraising days are on days where he's at courthouses. And my initial thought was, man, if you're a small dollar donor and you think your $20 is going to a legal defense fund, you're probably pissed. And it's the opposite.

CARTER: Absolute opposite.

MATTINGLY: Which is fascinating to me.

TALCOTT: At least from the primary perspective.

MATTINGLY: At least from - exactly. Exactly.

All right, let's get to Charlamagne and The Breakfast Club. I found it to be a very interesting interview, as Breakfast Club interviews generally are when they talk to political candidates. The question that he asked related to secession to Nikki Haley was, would you use force against Texas if they tried to secede over the border issue. Haley very clearly was like, this isn't going to happen. And then said, if they want to they can. I'm not really sure what to read of it.


MATTINGLY: Do you have insight?

ALFORD: I mean - well, it's important to note, you know, Texit (ph) is not new. Texit (ph), like Brexit.


ALFORD: It's a movement that's actually been around for a while. So the - and, also, Nikki Haley has addressed this question before in 2010. She gave a similar response in terms of whether state haves rights to secede. I think the bigger moment is, you know, we are in a very divided time in the country. We're hearing talk of national divorce, right? Marjorie Taylor Greene has also introduced the sort of rhetoric. And so Nikki Haley had an opportunity to be unifying in that moment and instead she gave this pandering answer about state's rights when we know that states rights are often used to defend things like segregation in the past -



ALFORD: Or even now, taking away voting rights, taking away abortion rights.

So, in that sort of -- I see the answer as pandering and I see it as a missed opportunity if she is the unifying candidate to give that message.

HARLOW: Such an interesting point, especially with the person who delivering it was the governor of the first state to secede, you know? And so I just think that adds to what her answer could have been.

ALFORD: That's right. Whoever is preparing her around these questions regarding history, American history, where we stand, I mean she is missing opportunities to really make strong statements, and, again, to be a unifier and is coming across as somebody who's really going to lead us backwards and not forwards.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys.

This morning, Margot Robbie opening up about not getting that Oscar nod for best actor for "Barbie."

Also this.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is very much like the ballot you just turned in, right?


LAH: And what do you notice about this ballot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person I wanted to vote for wasn't on this ballot.


MATTINGLY: I keep getting asked, why are you talking about Nevada? Well, there's a lot of confusion in Nevada this morning. Why the Republican frontrunner is not on the state's upcoming primary ballot. We're going to explain it all, next.


MATTINGLY: By all accounts, Donald Trump is going to win Nevada's presidential delegates but a contest between a state run primary and a Republican Party run caucus, well, that's creating confusion.

HARLOW: Yes. It's really confusing. Some say that because of a - that because of clever maneuvering by the state's Republican Party that adds up to, quote, "vote rigging."

Our Kyung Lah investigates.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is going to be very confusing for people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't understand why we're doing it that way.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Nevada's primary, Republican voters are finding there's something missing, Donald Trump.

LAH: This is very much like the ballot you just turned in, right?


LAH: And what do you notice about this ballot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person I wanted to vote for wasn't on this ballot.

LAH: So, do a lot of people understand what's happening this time in Nevada?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so. I don't. I didn't.


LAH (voice over): At his Nevada rally, former President Donald Trump said no need for concern, just go to the caucuses.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do the caucus, not the primary. The primary is meaningless.

LAH (voice over): Nevada passed a law in 2021 that switched from caucuses to a primary system that Trump didn't want to run in. So now Trump is participating in the party-run Nevada caucuses on February 8th. Nikki Haley is running in the state-run primary two days earlier. Outside of this Trump rally, his voters were still trying to make sense of the duel system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Nevada, I think it's going to confuse a lot of people.

LAH (voice over): Only the results of the caucuses award delegates towards nominating the Republican presidential candidate. The state party sets that rule. It's why Trump's campaign is pushing the caucuses. If you're lost, you wouldn't be the only one.

LAH: We're trying to talk to people about the caucus versus the primary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there's a lot of confusion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is confusing because I got the information but it does not tell you when to vote.

LAH: You're looking up the difference between the two?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. Like, caucus, primary, different stuff like that.

I still don't know why he's not on there.

CHUCK MUTH, FORMER CHAIR, CLARK COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: It's hypocrisy that you - you couldn't cut with a chainsaw.

LAH (voice over): Former Clark County Republican Chairman Chuck Muth voted in the primary, but knows it doesn't matter.

MUTH: I believe that they set up the caucus because they wanted to assure that Donald Trump was not embarrassed in Nevada and secured Nevada's vote. This definitely smells of rigging the caucus on behalf of Donald Trump.

LAH (voice over): He's talking about the leadership of his state Republican Party. Some of those leaders just happen to also be criminally indicted by the state for attempting to falsely certify that Trump won Nevada in 2020. He did not win. All six fake electors have pleaded not guilty to felony charges.

Michael McDonald, Nevada Republican Party chairman and close Trump ally.

MCDONALD: And we will deliver you 100 percent of delegates for the state of Nevada to Donald J. Trump.

LAH (voice over): And Jesse Law.

JESSE LAW, CLARK COUNTY REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN (singing): That our flag was still there.

LAH (voice over): Clark County Republican chairman, who sang at Trump's last Nevada rally.

Last November we caught up with a caucus road show held by Republican Party leaders Jim Degraffenreid and Jim Hindle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But as a party, make sure that we're choosing the most competitive, the most representative candidate to be our nominee.

AMY TARKANIAN, FORMER CHAIR, NEVADA GOP: It's completely misguided.

LAH (voice over): Amy Tarkanian, former state GOP chair and lifelong Republican, doesn't buy any of this.

LAH: What does it mean, though, if you have these indicted fake electors who are also behind pushing this caucus?

TARKANIAN: How do you trust it? How do you trust it? To me it comes across as a complete pro-Trump scam. That's it. Plain and simple.

It's sad. And it's - it's disappointing. I think really they've disenfranchised the Republican voter.

LAH: Since Nevada's Republican primary doesn't award any delegates, the best that Nikki Haley can hope for is bragging rights. Donald Trump, he's the only major name left in the caucuses, which will award 26 delegates.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Las Vegas.


MATTINGLY: Our thanks to Kyung for a great piece, which is still kind of confusing to be honest with you.

HARLOW: Everyone should be slightly less confused this morning thanks to Kyung.

MATTINGLY: Slightly, though. Slightly being the key word.

Well, up next, we're going to dig in a little bit deeper into the new poll that shows President Biden leading Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election matchup. Where those polls show the president struggling, ahead.

HARLOW: Also this just in, the European Union has reached a deal on a $50 billion economic aid package for Ukraine. This comes after the sole holdout, Hungary's Viktor Orban, finally signed off on that agreement. EU diplomats say that it includes a yearly review if needed. Meanwhile, additional Ukraine funding from the United States continues to be stalled in Congress.

Back in a moment.



HARLOW: So, Margot Robbie is opening up about her Oscar snub. The "Barbie" star didn't get nominated for best actress this year. Confounding, I agree. "Barbie" was 2023's biggest blockbuster, earning $1.5 billion around the world since its release in July. It was produced by Warner Brothers Pictures, which like CNN is a subsidiary of Warner Brothers Discovery.

According to "Deadline" at a special SAG-AFTRA screening last night, Robbie said, quote, "there's no way to feel sad when you know you're this blessed." "Barbie's" global success also made Greta Gerwig the first solo female director with a billion dollar movie. What as equally shocking to some people is that Gerwig didn't get nominated for best director. Robbie weighed in on that too, saying, quote, "obviously I think Greta should be nominated as a director because what she did is a once-in-a-career, once-in-a-lifetime thing, it really is."

MATTINGLY: Now, "Barbie" wasn't complete snubbed. The movie earned eight Oscar nods, including best picture. Ryan Gosling and America Ferrera were nominated for best supporting actor and actress. They both said they're disappointed that Margot and Greta were left out. According to "Deadline," Robbie remained positive about the whole thing, you know, kind of her approach throughout, and also kind of similar to what "Barbie" would do in this situation.

HARLOW: Such a class act.

MATTINGLY: The whole team I think.

HARLOW: The whole team.


HARLOW: The whole team.

All right, CNN THIS MORNING continues now.