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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Airstrikes Hitting More Than 200 Targets in Gaza Overnight; Biden to deliver remarks on Hamas Attack in Israel; White House Lights Up in Colors of Israeli Flag; Interview with Washington Post The Early 202 Author Leigh Ann Caldwell; Biden interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Hur; Hezbollah Hits Israel; Interview with Democratic Congressional Candidate and Legislative Affairs Former Obama Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joel Rubin; Hezbollah Hits Israel After Three Fighters Kills in Israeli Raid. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 10, 2023 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being with us at 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast. I'm Kasie Hunt.

This morning, noon in Israel, they are warning that punishing strikes against Hamas and Gaza are just the beginning, as its military retaliates against the group's surprise attacks which killed more than 900 Israelis. Hamas is threatening to execute hostages they've taken if Israel continues its strikes without warning. The IDF says it hit at least 200 targets overnight. CNN's Wolf Blitzer spoke with an American pediatrician on a humanitarian mission to Gaz who is now trapped there.


DR. BARBARA ZIND, AMERICAN PEDIATRICIAN: Whenever you go to Gaza you always know that there's danger and some violence while you are there. But, no, I wasn't -- sorry -- prepared for this.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let us know if you need to go into some sort of bomb shelter or whatever because I could hear the explosions going off right near you.

DR. ZIND: There are no bomb shelters here.


HUNT: There are no bomb shelters here. Wow. On another front, the IDF has sent additional troops to its border with Lebanon in case of attacks from Hezbollah. CNN's Becky Anderson joins us again live from Tel Aviv. Becky, so there are up to 150 hostages under Hamas' control right now. This ground -- potential ground incursion would be incredibly difficult. Where do plans and discussions stand right now?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, CNN ADU DHABI: Yes. A ground incursion does seem highly likely at this point. The IDF has, to quote their spokesman, saturated the southern border with troops, Kasie. Reports of as many as 300,000. Although, I can't confirm those numbers, but reports that as many as 300,000 troops are now on that southern border. And they continue with the intensity of these targeted strikes, which is seen as sort of military sort of parlance or terms as softening up the ground for a ground attack or incursion.

But the IDF has also said, and I quote them here, "The issue here is that we have been tasked with mitigating or making sure that Hamas doesn't have any military capabilities at the end of the war. And that will be achieved," the IDF spokesman said. And he went on to say, what happens on the way and how we implement that task will be seen. But at this stage, we continue to strike from the air and there are plans to, of course, expand that. And the troops, the reserves and the regular units that are amassing along the southern border are readying for their tasks, he said.

So, I think to answer your question, a ground incursion does seem very likely. Everybody that we've spoken to, both on and off the record here, has said that that is very much on the table. I think what's going on here is that the IDF, the Israeli authorities, are just not releasing their plans at this point.

HUNT: Right. So, Becky, as we were talking about this, and thank you very much for that reporting, some new information just crossed here at CNN. We have got news Iran's supreme leader says that Tehran was not involved in the Hamas attack on Israel. So, this is the first televised speech from the ayatollah, Khomeini, since these attacks happened.

Now, he did apparently, in this speech, were reporting praise the acts. Supporters of the Zionist regime and some from that uprising regime have said some nonsense, these past days, the Islamic Republic of Iran was behind this attack. They are mistaken. Those who say the acts of the Palestinians come from non-Palestinians don't have a true understanding. And it did say that, I guess, Khomeini praised those who did plan the attack, he just says, Iran was not involved. What's your takeaway here?

ANDERSON: So, look, I think it's absolutely clear that Hamas has huge contact with military and financial advice from the Iranians. So, the question here is, is there a direct line between Iran and Hamas with regard this event, this huge, I mean, devastating event that happened on Saturday morning, sea, air, land, the infiltration of the Israeli border, the massacre at the music event, the kidnapping of and the massacre along the southern border and the communities there, and the kidnapping of these hostages?


This is a hugely well-planned event. And, you know, I don't have to tell you that the sources are saying this must have been months in the making. The question is, and we're hearing a lot of noise about this, you know, was Iran directly involved? Did they pull the trigger on this? Did they tell Hamas, you know, here we are, this is the date we want this to happen, you are ready, go for it? I can't stand that up and I'm talking to a lot of sources both here and around this region, and nobody is drawing that direct line. So, it is really important that we report on what the supreme leader is saying, we will continue to do that. But let's be quite clear about the sort of context for this. We know that there is -- yes. I mean, there's no doubt that there is military and financial assistance for this group from the Iranians. But is there a direct line? Not something that we can stand up at present.

HUNT: No. It is an extremely -- it's extremely important context to have here that Iran has been deeply involved with the Palestinians for quite some time in terms of supplies and money, et cetera. But of course -- and from our end as well, U.S. officials have not been able to find, as you say, a direct link. It does seem rather predictable. The Iranians would deny any involvement but they have not officially. Becky Anderson, thank you very much. I'm sure we'll see you much more throughout the day.

And President Biden is set to deliver new remarks on Israel today. involvement. Becky, thank you very much.

And President Biden set to deliver remarks on Israel today. It will be the second time he has done so since the launch of Hamas' surprise assault Saturday. Biden says 11 Americans have been killed in Israel and it's likely that some are being held by Hamas. The White House also showing solidarity overnight by lighting up the White House itself in the colors of Israel's flag.

CNN's Zachary Cohen is joining me now. Zach, good morning. What can we expect to hear from the president today?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. Kasie, the White House has been working to assess how this attack has impacted the U.S. and U.S. families. As you mentioned, that includes determining the number of Americans killed and potentially taken hostage. I think you can expect the president to address both those topics when he speaks today.

Now, we also know that there is this question still of a U.S. repones or U.S. support for Israel. You know, NSC Spokesperson John Kirby making it clear yesterday the Biden administration has no intention of putting American boots on the ground. But I think that there are still questions about the details of Biden's plan to provide aid to Israel in response to this attack.

Take a listen to what John Kirby said yesterday as far as the president's willingness to defend American interests in the aftermath of this attack.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR: We'll certainly do what we need to do to look after the safety and securities of the American people. You saw yesterday, we moved the carrier strike group into the Eastern Mediterranean as a measure of reassurance but also, deterrence. So, without speaking to specifics or hypotheticals, this president will do what he has to do to look after our national security interests. And that's just the way it's going to be.


COHEN: And Kirby added that that includes asking Congress for more aid to provide to Israel in addition to what they can give right now under existing authorities. Now, obviously, there's no speaker of the house which may complicate things. So, we'll have to see how that plays out, but Biden expected to address all these topics today.

HUNT: All right. Zachary Cohen here in Washington. Thank you for being with us. Appreciate your time.

And as Zach noted, the House is speakerless but members of the House will still receive a classified briefing on Israel tomorrow with questions about what they can actually accomplish without a leader. Joining us now is Leigh Ann Caldwell. She's the author of "The Washington Post's" "Early 202" newsletter. Leigh Ann, good morning. Thank you for being with us.

There are real questions here about what Congress is capable of doing because of the situation with the speaker of the house. Now, that said, deadliness and crises sometimes do cause this town to move and operate in unexpected -- with unexpected speed, I suppose. What is your sense of how this crisis has affected the race for the next house speaker?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, THE EARLY 202 AUTHOR, WASHINGTON POST: Good morning, Kasie. So, members of Congress, Republicans say that this absolutely accelerates the urge to elect a new speaker. That is pretty widespread among the Republican conference. But the problem is they have to agree on a speaker first. And that's where the challenge comes.

So, there is not yet any connectability between the understanding of the need for the speaker and the actual election of the speaker. There's a closed-door meeting last night where they came just to air their grievances. An aide who has briefed on that meeting, because there is no staff allowed in the room, called it a blood bath. Said members were attacking each other, lots of feelings are still very raw after the ouster of McCarthy. And so, still a very high bar to elect a speaker in this House of Representatives, Kasie.


HUNT: Well, and Leigh Ann, it does sound like that Kevin McCarthy might also be keeping the door open to possibly coming back and that that might be related to the fact that this crisis has unfolded. I mean, is there any chance that we see Speaker McCarthy again?

CALDWELL: I don't think so. But in speaking to a lot of my sources, everyone says even though they don't expect McCarthy to become speaker again because he has done nothing to change the minds of the eight who ousted him, there is no change of posture there. But what this has done is this has confused the conference, this has further divided the conference, and it has complicated the task of electing a speaker. People are unsure about what McCarthy is doing, what he means, and what is going to happen.

And so, last night, again, in this closed-door meeting with no cellphones and no staff, there were people who stood up and said that they would only elect Kevin McCarthy as speaker. And so, while there is -- I would put the chances at pretty much zero that he is going to be speaker again. It has just made everything much more complicated and the choices they face, Jim Jordan or Steve Scalise.

HUNT: Right. Because, I mean, we should underscore 217 is the magic number this time because of vacancies, but that means only a handful of votes could be lost. And if there are who'll say, I'll only vote for Kevin McCarthy, that actually makes it really hard for anyone else to get to 217. The math is just really tough.

But let's turn back to Israel for a second, Leigh Ann, because there is this issue on the other side of the capital in the Senate where Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama has this blanket hold on military nominees, ambassadors. And right now, there are a number of incredibly important national security positions that are unfilled because of this, whether it's top generals or the ambassador, you know, the U.S. doesn't currently have confirmed ambassador to Israel. And when we have people in these positions who are acting, their powers are limited. It does seem to be tying our hands in this conflict, no?

CALDWELL: Yes, it absolutely is. The Biden administration and Democrats and even some Republicans have warned about these challenges that these holds have placed on military readiness, military effectiveness. And so, it is an issue.

But Congress is working the Israeli ambassadorship. The White House just nominated this person a few weeks ago. I'm told by my sources that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to hold a hearing, expedited hearing and hold that hearing on Wednesday and they hope to move it very, very quickly. But absolutely, the gridlock in the Senate is making anything pertaining to Israel much more challenging.

HUNT: Yes. And of course, very briefly, the White House has floated, it sounds like, potentially tying more aid to Israel to aid with Ukraine, to try to get that across the finish line, as well?

CALDWELL: Yes, absolutely. They think that because there is such overwhelming support for Israel right now, this is an opportunity to tie Ukraine aid, which is much more controversial. I'm interested to see today how closely, when President Biden speaks, he ties Israel and Ukraine together, that both countries need to protect their borders to try to make that case that they are not much different in their plight and that aid for both countries is necessary, Kasie.

HUNT: Yes. You know, that's actually -- that's a really great point to listen to how closely he ties those together to see if these two things unfold simultaneously. And Congress, of course, bottom line, they need a house speaker if they're going to pass anything at all. Leigh Ann Caldwell, thank you very much for being here this morning. I really appreciate your time.

And the White House has revealed that President Biden was interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Hur as part of his classified documents investigation. Hur was appointed after secret documents were found at Biden's former office in Washington as well as his home and office in Delaware. The White House says the interview took place Sunday and yesterday, and was voluntary. A spokesman for the Special Counsel declined to comment.

All right. With Israel at war with Hamas, there are worries about a second front opening up with Hezbollah. That is next.



HUNT: One of the Unites States' closest allies is at war and one of the U.S. chambers of Congress is without a leader, and that has led to visible frustration from some members of the House.


REP. DON BACON (R-NE): 4 percent of the House took the wheels off our car and we need to be acting right now on Israel, but it hurt our country, it's hurt our Congress, it's hurt our party. We should be talking today about how we'll help Israel. Instead, we're trying to figure out a new speaker or maybe perhaps still discuss, you know, Speaker McCarthy. But it's wrong.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in Joel Rubin, former deputy assistant secretary of state for Legislative Affairs in the Obama administration. He also is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Maryland. Joel, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

Let's just start with the White House proposal -- I was just speaking with "Washington Post" reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell about this. The White House wants more aid out the door to Israel as fast as possible. Obviously, that's not easy to do without a speaker of the House. But they also, it seems, are suggesting that Ukraine aid should be tied to aid to Israel in order to expedite that piece of funding, which is, of course, run into opposition from Republicans.

If you were elected to Congress, I mean, would -- do you support doing it that way or do you think that the aid to Israel should out by itself with no strings attached?


JOEL RUBIN, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE AND FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: Look, Kasie, it's great to be with you. And the aid for Ukraine should have been passed long ago. So, absolutely, that aid should be tied to supplemental package that may support additional aid to Israel.

You know, to what Congressman Bacon is talking about as well, this is a disaster. When I served in the Obama administration as their senior liaison to the House for the State Department, and the idea of not having a speaker functioning effectively is just unthinkable. We would have to go provide classified briefings to the speaker, the speaker would make decisions right there with direct committees what to do and how to do it.

And so, this speaker, currently the acting one has national security background, is not clear if legal divisions can fully be made. And in a time of crisis, it really undermines our ability to project strength and power and be effective on the global stage. So, absolutely move these bills through and get the speakership completed and done, move it off the table. Republicans really need to come together for the sake of the country and our allies abroad.

HUNT: As someone who has been in those rooms when you have taken -- you know, from a national security and foreign policy, the State Department, when you go into those rooms and you try to negotiate these things, can you give me an example of a decision that would be impacted by not having a speaker?

RUBIN: Yes, absolutely. For example, back in 2014, 2015 in Iraq when ISIS spread across Iraq and was attacking, there were moments when we, in the Obama administration, needed direct support for military operations to combat ISIS, and that meant briefing the speaker and telling the speaker, Speaker Boehner at that moment, that it is crucial that you and Congress support these efforts, that any kinds of approvals be expedited. And the speaker said, yes. And that meant that the committees, Foreign Affairs, Armed Service, our Intelligence, other committees that had impact, that had oversight of those issues were read in and were able to make decisions quickly and work closely with the Pentagon in that case and our allies.

You take that away, it's like you are unplugging the tub and the water is going right down the drain, and we don't know how to ensure that decisions are fully made. So, appropriators now are in the same conundrum. What does the speaker really want? How do we organize with other communities? How do we make decisions about priorities for the funding? It's chaos. And that just can't happen in a crisis.

HUNT: Yes. I know, chaos in this kind of a situation is -- makes it much harder to actually execute on foreign policy goals. Before I let you go, the -- there is a wider range of opinions about Israel inside the House Democratic Caucus than there have been in previous decades. And some members, including Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush, put out statements that have come under intense criticism for saying -- for example, Tlaib said that she continues to "grieve the Palestinian and Israeli lives lost today" before calling for dismantling what she calls the apartheid system. She has come in for criticism of this.

Do you agree with Rashida Tlaib's characterization of what is going on in the Middle East?

RUBIN: There is no equivalency between Hamas terrorists entering Israeli villages and slaughtering innocent civilians in their sleep and the Israeli Defense Forces defending their people right now to prevent that from happening again.

So, no, I don't agree with that at all. I think it is deplorable language and I, frankly, am shocked that in a moment of crisis when those who advocate for human rights and global human rights look at the facts and they see what we're waking up to today, for example, kibbutz bury over 100 Israelis slaughtered in the (INAUDIBLE) in Southern Israel right alongside Gaza, peace loving people, to try make an equivalency between that and the legitimate suffering of Palestinian civilians, and there is true suffering for Palestinian civilians that needs to be discussed consistently, but there is no equivalency between what we're seeing now and what we saw from Hamas and what the Israeli Defense Force is doing to protect its citizens right now after this horrendous heinous attack.

HUNT: All right. Joel Rubin, thank you very much for spending some time with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

RUBIN: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Iran-backed Hezbollah also striking Israel after it says three of its members died during an Israeli air raid in Southern Lebanon. Now, concerns are rising that this could be the opening of a new front in Israel's war against Hamas. But Hezbollah has much more strength and capability than Hamas does. CNN's Nada Bashir is live in London with more. Nada?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Look, Kasie, this will certainly be a huge escalation if that were to be the case. We heard this morning from an IDF spokesperson saying that the Israel Defense Forces are moving tens of thousands of additional troops to the border between Israel and Lebanon, including reservists and regular units in preparation for a possible potential attack by Hezbollah.

Now, of course we have seen exchanges of fire over the last few days along the border. We've heard on Monday evening from Hezbollah saying three of their members were killed in Israeli airstrikes carried out in Southern Lebanon.


The Lebanese national news agency reporting that there were hours of explosions being heard as Southern Lebanon came under aerial bombardment by Israeli helicopters. And the Lebanese army, for its part, has said that Southern -- parts of Southern Lebanon are on the border faced by the artillery fire and aerial bombardment.

Israel, for now, saying that things are quiet, but they have warned for Hezbollah not to escalate things further.

HUNT: All right. Nada Bashir in London for us. Thank you very much for that report.

And Israel is pounding Gaza with air attacks as gun battles break out in Southern Israel. We're going to give you a closer look at exactly where all this fighting is taking place, ahead.

And one Israeli man says six of his family members have been kidnapped by Hamas. The harrowing story of their abduction, coming up on "CNN This Morning."