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Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Trump Ballot Ban; U.S. Strike Kills Iran-Backed Militant Leader in Iraq; Blinken Still Optimistic about Hostage Deal. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 08, 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.

It is a huge day. We are hours away from historic oral arguments at the Supreme Court. And the big question this morning: can the -- Colorado keep the former president off the ballot for his role in the January 6th Capitol riot?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And the U.S. says the target was responsible for attacks against U.S. forces in Jordan. Now he's been taken out by a drone strike in Iraq.

Delusional, that's how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describes a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza. Now the U.S. and other nations in the region scrambling for a solution to stop the killing of civilians.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: Here's where we begin. We are just four hours away from the Supreme Court hearing arguments in one of the most extraordinary and consequential cases of our lifetime. Can Donald Trump be disqualified from running for president after the January 6th Capitol riot?

Trump is urging the high court to overturn Colorado's Supreme Court ruling that found he engaged in an insurrection and then removed him from the ballot in their state under the 14th Amendment, which bans insurrectionists from holding office.

MATTINGLY: So there are a couple of key questions you really need to keep your eye on when it comes to what the Supreme Court's going to be considering.

First, does the 14th Amendment apply to Trump and the presidency? It was designed after the Civil War to stop traitorous confederates from being elected to office.

Another: did Trump, in fact, engage in the insurrection? We all saw what happened on January 6th with our own eyes. A mob of Trump supporters savagely attacking Capitol Police and storming the Capitol as Congress was certifying Joe Biden's election victory. And we heard with our own ears what Trump said at a rally right before

the attack.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to walk down to the Capitol. You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

We're going to try and give our Republicans -- the weak ones, because the strong ones don't need any of our help -- we're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.


HARLOW: Big question also: should it be up to Congress to decide who is eligible to run for president?

So let's bring in Katelyn Polantz. She joins us this morning. It is such a huge day, not just for this presidential election; for the country going forward. Talk about how much this is a test, particularly for Chief Justice John Roberts.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is a test for the entire court, because they are looking at a question that we haven't seen before. It's this test of this law passed after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment.

And it is one of those moments where the Supreme Court is going to be thinking about the office of the presidency and how to define that in the laws.

Now, one of the things that is happening today is you're going to be hearing very forceful arguments about how much the courts should even be involved here and how much authority individual states have over their ballots, who is on the ballot. Can they remove someone like Donald Trump under this law?

Trump's attorneys have been quite clear that what Colorado has done, saying in their Supreme Court at the state level, that Trump should not be on the ballot. Maine has done the same.

Trump's attorneys have written so far in their written arguments to the justices this "would promise to unleash chaos and bedlam" if other state courts and state officials follow Colorado's lead and exclude the likely presidential nominee from their ballots.

So there is going to be this emphasis on what the country wants, what the voters want, that Trump's team is -- has already said they're going to be pushing before the justices today. And then on the other side, there are voters, lawyers for voters of Colorado that are going to be arguing, as well as the Colorado secretary of state. And in this Colorado secretary of state's written arguments, Jena Griswold, the secretary of state, say, "The facts of this case are unprecedented, but the legal mechanism is routine. This court should affirm and uphold Colorado's right to exclude from its presidential ballots ineligible insurrectionists."

And so we are going to be watching what the chief justice says here. He has tried to lead the court over several years in a way where it rebuilds or keeps the trust of Americans and how the government functions. He's not wanted the court to look partisan at times.

He's also not wanted him to do anything too hastily. He wanted -- he wants them to be a very careful institution, weighing these huge questions.

But there are really important questions about Donald Trump right now, guys. One of those things is a question -- and this is what I'm looking at specifically today -- how many of these justices are going to want to poke into this question of defining the insurrection and defining what Donald Trump did after the insurrection? Are they even going to go there?

HARLOW: Yes, well, that's a great point. They don't have to go there. Will they go there? Katelyn, thank you. We'll get back to you very soon.

MATTINGLY: Let's bring in CNN political analyst and historian Leah Wright Rigueur; CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; and CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers.

I want to start where Katelyn ended off. Because there has been an assumption that the Supreme Court is not going to touch that area. If they can find a way around it, they're going to.

Do you think they're going to try and define, or try and at least look into how to define insurrection, whether it was one?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think so. I mean, they have given such a broad mandate to the parties about what they can argue. I think there will be argument about that question. But ultimately, I think they're going to try to avoid it.

I think they'll focus on the two purely legal issues: the issue of whether the president is an officer.

And then probably what they'll end up deciding on is the issue of whether it's self-executing or not. Whether the states can kind of do their own thing -- 50 states, 50 standards, 50 procedures -- or whether they actually have to wait for Congress to weigh in about that.

HARLOW: I would be remiss not to go to John Avlon with a question about self-execution. This has been something that -- It's like your middle name. OK. Talk to us about this. JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: Look, I -- since the

spring of 2021, I've been talking about the importance and the validity and the relevance of 14th Amendment Section 3.

It was put in place after the Civil War, and explicitly in the ratification debates at the time, applied forward, not just retrospectively. Explicitly in the Senate ratification debate at the time, it was clear that the president was included in the statute. Debate between senators in which this was clarified.

HARLOW: As an officer?

AVLON: As an officer, any officer. Right?

The other thing is that, you know, the language is not simply engaging in an insurrection. That can be a high bar. The language, notably, is "give aid or comfort to," much broader.

And the Constitution says what it says. It's in the Constitution. Ignoring it a la carte is a huge mistake, if you believe an originalist, contextualist, or any interpretation of the Constitution.

Descending into 50-state chaos is a separate thing. But listen to Mike Luttig (ph). Listen to a federal society legal experts who said that this should apply to Donald Trump.

HARLOW: Section 5 says Congress enforces.

AVLON: Congress also impeached Trump the first time, the House, with the majority vote in both houses. Under -- insurrection was one of the criteria in that impeachment category.

HARLOW: But that's political.

AVLON: It -- is it political? Or does it create a standard of conviction?


LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND HISTORIAN: So actually, I think it's a little bit of both, you know? And I want to thank John for actually doing the history work for me today so I don't have to lay it out.

AVLON: I like -- I can dig some history work. I like that.

RIGUEUR: History is good. We love history.

But I think there are a couple of things -- I think there are a couple of things to address.

One, I think I agree with John that I think Congress has already given several standards and several indications that this was either an insurrection -- an act of insurrection, and/or, that Trump participated in it. Right? They've actually given -- they've pretty much given an out as to say whether or not he was the ringleader or was he just a participant.

So under those grounds, this can go forward.

They've said that the states can bring this forward and decide whether or not, and I think this is what the court has to take up, and this is what the court will be deciding.

But I also want to, I think, bring up this idea that the court is this really impartial ground right now. That it's this idea -- or the idea that the court can, you know, put forward these ideas. When we actually actively have someone in the court whose wife participated in the insurrection.

And so I do think this idea --

HARLOW: Justice Thomas.

RIGUEUR: And I'm talking about justice Clarence Thomas.

And I think the idea that the court -- you know, I know that they rise above -- that they're going to kind of weigh in and give these impartial, either opinions or dissents or whatever have you, is actually at complete odds with what is the current -- the current tenor of the court. The court has become very political.

So we're not just -- we're not just jumping into these questions of, you know, constitutionality of the law and things like that. The court is actively taking on political questions, and these larger political questions, and wading into the debate in ways that are going to, you know, I think ripple across.


We have to address them, right? They're going to keep coming up. There are -- these issues around Trump are going to continue to find themselves in front of the Supreme Court. And I think what's also true is that the Supreme Court is going to continue to muddle the water between what is legal, what is constitutional, and what is political.

MATTINGLY: Jennifer, with that as the context, this moment for the court, this is a day and age where the combination of churn and velocity of news cycles, it's pretty easy to kind of gloss over what's happening right now.

What does this mean for this court in this moment in the country?

RODGERS: Well, eyes -- all eyes are on the court, of course. And this is a matter of first impression. You know, we've never had this question before.

And I think John Roberts wants to do his best to make this as unanimous an opinion as possible. I don't know if he can get there.

I actually agree with John that, on the legal and technical merits of this, intellectually, Colorado should win. I mean, I really do think that that is the right decision on the law. But the court is going to consider practical considerations, as well. I think he might try to pull Kagan, who's also an institutionalist. I'm predicting, probably, by my crystal ball, a 7 to 2 on this. But he's going to try to make it so that it's a strong statement from as much of the court as he can muster, that it's try not to be partisan and to be purely constitutional.

MATTINGLY: I would just say take the win. She agrees with you, and like, wrap it up, walk off. Like, you're good.

RIGUEUR: No words left.

HARLOW: Can I just counter that with what the Supreme Court said, it was a long time ago, but in 1964, Reynolds versus Sims: "The right to vote freely for a candidate of one's choice is the essence of a democratic society, and restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government."

AVLON: Except there are restrictions on the right. People need to be 35. They need to be natural-born citizens of the United States. And can't have engaged in or given aid or comfort to an insurrectionist.

HARLOW: So this won't work.

AVLON: It's in the Constitution. Ignoring it for political convenience is a fundamental mistake.

HARLOW: Stay with us. This is fun.

All right. We have a lot ahead. You should stay with CNN all morning, because you'll be able to listen live as attorneys on both sides argue this before the nation's highest court. Join Jake Tapper and Kaitlan Collins. Our special coverage of that begins 9 a.m. Eastern today.

MATTINGLY: Well, the U.S. drone strike in Iraq takes out a Hezbollah leader responsible for the attacks on American troops. Kataib Hezbollah, that is. That's next.

HARLOW: And a search right now for five Marines missing after their helicopter went down in California in the middle of the forest. Why are these crashes becoming more common?



HARLOW: Welcome back. This morning, the Biden administration tells CNN, an official there, that the strikes against Iran-backed militants are not over. It comes after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed the Kataib Hezbollah commander believed to be behind those attacks on American forces in the region.

The U.S. has blamed the group for the attack last month in Jordan that killed those three U.S. service members and wounded dozens more.

Kataib Hezbollah confirmed its commander's death in a statement, writing in part, quote, "It calls us to remain steadfast in the jihadist approach."

Let's go now to Natasha Bertrand. She joins us live at the Pentagon.

What more do we know about the strike itself and the commander that was killed?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this was a response that President Biden authorized last week in order to retaliate for the attack in Jordan that killed three Americans that the U.S. has pinned on these groups, these Iran-backed militant groups inside Iraq, under this umbrella called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

And the most powerful among them is Kataib Hezbollah. And according to officials, one of the commanders of Kataib Hezbollah is who was targeted in this strike, a very precise strike on a vehicle in Eastern Baghdad that was carrying both this commander, Mohammad Sabr al-Saadi (ph), as well as at least one other individual, according to Iraqi police.

Now, it is not clear at this moment must whether -- you know, who that other person in that vehicle was, but Central Command did say that there were no civilians that were killed in this strike, and we are told that it was a drone strike.

You can see from the video there that it was a very precise strike on this single vehicle, and it does not appear that there was any other damage here.

But Kataib Hezbollah had actually said just last week that they were going to cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in the region in response to pressure from the United States and from -- pressure from the Iraqi government to stop these attacks so that the U.S. would not retaliate.

But clearly, that did not work, and the Biden administration tells us that this is not the last of the methods that the U.S. Is going to employ to respond to that attack that killed three Americans.

MATTINGLY: Natasha, you mentioned the Iraqi government. They have been furious with past U.S. strikes within their country. They're obviously -- there's an agreement that they want kind of relitigated at this point, U.S. forces in the country. What are they saying about this?

BERTRAND: Well, they are not happy, Phil. And they released a statement just last night saying that the strike was, quote, "a new aggression by the United States," and they added that the move acted to, quote, "undermine all understandings between Iraq and the U.S."

And they went on to reiterate their long-standing position that these strikes by the U.S. inside Iraq are, quote, "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty."

Now, as you said, the U.S. and the Iraqis are discussing right now the future of the American troop presence in Iraq. There have been very loud calls in light of these strikes by the Iraqi government for the U.S. to withdraw completely.

HARLOW: Natasha, thank you so much for the reporting at the Pentagon.

MATTINGLY: Well, right now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken continuing his trip in the Middle East. Earlier today, he met with Israel's war cabinet minister and opposition leader in Tel Aviv. Blinken still seems optimistic, at least based on what he's saying, about a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, despite these comments from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We haven't committed to anything. We haven't committed to any of the crazy demands of Hamas, the numbers of terrorists with blood on their hands. There is not a commitment. There has to be a negotiation. It's a process, and at the moment, from what I see from Hamas, it's not happening.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations, to see if we can get to an agreement.


MATTINGLY: Joining us now from Jerusalem, an unofficial Israeli negotiator, Gershon Baskin.

Gershon, we always appreciate you coming on, sharing your expertise.


Those sound like two very different statements. Is there somewhere in the middle of the two statements where you see a possible path forward?

GERSHON BASKIN, UNOFFICIAL ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Netanyahu pretty much closed the door on negotiations, but there's a little crack, and I think that Secretary Blinken was relating to that little crack in the door.

We know that Yahya Sinwar's deputy, Khalil al-Hiya, traveled from Doha to Cairo today to continue talks with the Egyptian intelligence on a possible deal.

If there is a possibility of separating phase one of the three phases that was proposed originally in Paris and then picked up by Hamas, to separate to enable the release of civilian hostages in exchange for a reasonable number of Palestinian prisoners -- not with those with blood on their hands as the Israelis call them -- there could be a deal. That would engage also with a 45-day ceasefire, which I think everyone needs right now. Everyone needs a cooling off, an opportunity to rethink the future plans.

Both the Israeli army is experiencing fatigue, as well as the civilian population in Gaza, which is devastated. So there is a small opening. It's not a very big one, and we have to

hope that the negotiators are smart enough to find the ways of pressuring the two parties -- the Israelis and Hamas -- into an agreement.

HARLOW: How much, if at all, should Netanyahu's political future be factored into what he is willing to agree to here, Gershon? Because the questions of responsibility that lays at least in part on him, he has said he will address after this ends. So when this ends, he has to face those consequences, no?

BASKIN: Next Friday, I'm sure as well as many others, realize that the prolong of the war is part of Netanyahu's strategy to delay having to face his day of reckoning in front of the Israeli people.

Once there is a calm or an end to the war, there will be the establishment of a national commission of inquiry, headed by a Supreme Court judge in Israel, and there will be calls from the Israeli public to go to elections.

Netanyahu has lost more than 50 percent of his base, according to all public opinion polls in Israel. He stands no chance of coming back to government. And quite frankly, he will go down in history as the worst leader of the Jewish people in the history of the Jewish people for the devastation that took place on October 7th and everything that led to it.

MATTINGLY: Gershon, on -- on the kind of subject of public sentiment, there was a striking moment yesterday where former hostages held a press conference, really calling out the prime minister. Listen to this.


SARAH CALDERON, FORMER HOSTAGE (through translator): And don't talk to me about morality and that we can't give them more terrorists because you know what, it doesn't (EXPLETIVE DELETED) matter. There are 135 human beings still breathing who are in horror, and this is not moral. So please save those who are alive. Because we won't be able to bring back the dead.

ADINA MOSHE, FORMER HOSTAGE (through translator): I'm very afraid and very concerned that if you continue with this line of destroying Hamas, there won't be any hostages left to release.


MATTINGLY: You have spoken often over the last several months, when you've been on, about the importance of public sentiment, ABOUT how public sentiment can drive political action, CAN drive hostage negotiations further along. Is what we saw yesterday an example of that?

BASKIN: It was a very compelling press conference. It was very sad. I don't think anyone could watch it with a dry eye. And yet, they haven't managed, I think, to bring along enough public support for their demands to make an agreement with Hamas that would leave Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu's argument that we must defeat Hamas, we must kill their leaders, is seemingly more compelling to the majority of Israelis at this point; without taking into consideration that the killing of the Hamas leadership will end up with the killing of many hostages and probably not bringing the hostages home.

In my mind, Netanyahu's words last night were essentially telling the Israeli public that we have decided to sacrifice the hostages in favor of the war effort.

And there isn't a mass call-out on Netanyahu to change his direction, which is very sad, and I think very much against the ethos of this country, which has been that we don't leave anyone behind.

MATTINGLY: Gershon Baskin, we always appreciate your time and expertise. Thank you.

Well up next, how President Biden trying to switch from defense to offense after Republicans tanked a bipartisan border deal.

HARLOW: And Republican Party dysfunction raising doubts about the political future of Mitch McConnell and Mike Johnson.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends. It's time for Republicans in the Congress to show a little courage, to show a little spine, to make it clear to the American people that you work for them, and not for anyone else.


HARLOW: A bit of a new campaign message from the president there, making it clear he will remind Americans, probably a lot, that Donald Trump and Republicans killed bipartisan legislation that would have strengthened border security.

Biden echoed that message to Democratic donors yesterday during his campaign stop right here in New York City, hours after Republicans blocked a bipartisan bill that they had been pushing to help address the border crisis. Back with us: political analyst and historian Leah Wright Rigueur; and CNN senior political analyst and anchor John Avlon.

Lankford, an architect of this, a yes vote on this, along with Murkowski and Mitt Romney. And what he said, that whole speech, as you pointed out, was pretty remarkable yesterday. But let's listen to this part of what James Lankford said.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): I had a popular commentator four weeks ago that I talked to that told me, flat-out, before they knew any of the contents of the bill, any of the contents -- nothing was out at that point -- that told me flat-out, if you try to move a bill that solves the border crisis during this presidential year, I will do whatever I can to destroy you. Because I do not want you to solve this during the presidential election.