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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Ethics Committee: Santos Used Donor Funds On Botox, OnlyFans, And More; IDF Claims It Found Tunnel Shaft On Hospital Grounds; Special Counsel Using A California Grand Jury To Probe Hunter Biden's Taxes. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 17, 2023 - 05:30   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He lied to everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we deserve better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's something wrong with the guy.



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: That says it all. Good morning. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Those were some of embattled Congressman George Santos' constituents reacting to the House Ethics Committee's scathing report on him. It reveals that Santos repeatedly used campaign funds for personal expenses, including thousands of dollars spent on the luxury brands Hermes and Ferragamo, multiple Botox treatments, and an OnlyFans subscription.

The committee voted unanimously to refer its findings to the Justice Department and now, Santos says he will not be running for reelection.

After the report was released many lawmakers who had previously voted to protect Santos indicated they now support his removal from Congress.

Let's bring in Mica Soellner, congressional reporter at Punchbowl News. Mica, good morning. It's always great to have you.

There's a lot here. I want to show everybody a little bit of how George Santos has justified this -- just get his side of the story on the record. Let's take a look at that and then we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): Were there mistakes made on those forms? I'm -- now I know they were. Was I -- were they malicious? No. Did I understand the reporting dates? So, this is from last year to current date this year? No, I didn't -- I didn't understand how that worked. And I'm a new candidate and I'm sorry that, like, mistakes were made.


HUNT: Sorry that were mistakes were made. And unfortunately for him, ignorance is not actually a defense most of the time in a court of law.

What do you make of how Santos is handling this? He's already announced a press conference for when he comes back and he's refusing to resign on his own.


We've seen George Santos be extremely defiant throughout all of his time in Congress. I think leading up to the Ethics report he was doing his own media more and more. He's been very active on social media. But he's been also doing sit-downs with big media networks and telling his side of the story. So he's been trying to get his side out there.

So it's really no surprise that he announced a press conference to defend himself as he has done. So expect nothing less than him being very combative and defensive about this report, and he's already done that so far on his online presence.

HUNT: Let's talk about the possibility of an expulsion because look, the reality is expulsions are incredibly rare and they almost always involve an actual conviction, right, and he has not been convicted at this point. The reason we're here though -- I mean, normally, these things can be dealt with by leaders in parties who would sit down and have a tough conversation and you'll see a resignation, et cetera.


Do you think there is an appetite to actually expel him before his case goes forward? What is the kind of sense around this, especially among House Republicans?

SOELLNER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we saw a number of House Republicans, who initially voted no to expel Santos in the times that it's been attempted to bring that to the floor earlier, flip their vote and say they've waited for this ethics report to come out and now they're ready and prepared to expel him based on its findings.

So I think a lot of lawmakers were already uncomfortable with him being in Congress, but now that the report has corroborated their concerns they're ready to make that move on him. So I think we saw a dozen or so -- perhaps more -- lawmakers say that yeah, they're ready to expel him. And I spoke with one congressman, Don Bacon of Nebraska, who expects this vote to come very quickly after the Thanksgiving break. HUNT: Yeah, we'll see.

Let's talk a second -- for a second about his district. I mean, this is a pretty swingy district in New York and it was his fellow New Yorkers who honestly were mounting part of the most aggressive push to get him out.

What does it mean for control -- for party control of his district?

SOELLNER: This is going to be a tough race. You mentioned yourself that it was some of his New York colleagues that were really pushing the expulsion effort. I'm going to add that New York Republicans are among the most vulnerable members in Congress, so George Santos was just another distraction for them. So it's no wonder that they were really trying to push and get him out of the way to score some political points for themselves.

But Santos' seat is going to be highly contested among both parties. Republicans are going to try to keep it, which is going to be difficult after the challenges faced by Santos. But Democrats are really going to have an opportunity here, too, for another pickup to flip that seat back.

HUNT: All right, Mica Soellner, congressional reporter for Punchbowl News. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

All right. New overnight, the Israeli military says its search of the Shifa hospital complex has found the bodies of two Israeli women. The IDF says 65-year-old Yehudit Weiss and 19-year-old Army Corporal Noa Marciano were retrieved from a structure near the hospital. The IDF did not disclose the circumstances of their deaths. A few days ago, a Hamas video claimed Marciano was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

The IDF also claiming its search of the hospital complex revealed a Hamas tunnel shaft. This is IDF footage of what they say they found. CNN has not been able to independently verify the military's claims and Hamas calls them baseless lies.

CNN's Scott McLean joins us live from Istanbul. Scott, good morning. Good to see you again.

Let's -- pull this all together for us. I mean, what is the significance of what the IDF has discovered and what have they proved, if anything?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. So let's remember the accusation that the Israelis have made, Kasie, is not that there are tunnels in the vicinity of the hospital. The accusation is that there is a sophisticated multilevel underground command and control center underneath the Al-Shifa hospital.

What they have shown so far -- what they have claimed to have shown so far is videos showing that there are weapons inside of the hospital. And others released yesterday shows that there is what appears to be a tunnel shaft about 30 meters away from the main building of the hospital. CNN, by the way, isn't in a position to be able to verify what these videos purport to actually show.

And while the U.S. says that it is confident in its intelligence that there is, in fact, a Hamas control headquarters underneath of the hospital, the publicly available evidence thus far does not support that claim. It is possible that it's there. And the Israelis say that, look, it could be days, it could be weeks before we actually are able to fully prove the accusations that they have made.

And the Israelis say that they have already justified -- or the evidence that they found has already justified their decision to go in, but there's plenty of critics from the international community who would disagree with that. And that is why Israel is under so much pressure internationally to actually prove these allegations, especially in this region in the Middle East.

You have the Turkish President Recep Erdogan saying just recently that Israel, in his mind, is a terrorist state.

You have the Jordanian foreign minister saying that this conflict has set the region on fire in his words. He also described the backward progress -- the progress that's been made over the last few years in strengthening ties with Middle Eastern countries and Israel, and now they've just simply gone up in smoke. He said that, at least in his country, there is no -- people just don't see value in actually doing business or trying to strengthen ties with Israel right now.

HUNT: All right, Scott McLean for us in Istanbul. Thanks very much for that report. I appreciate it.

All right. Up next, special counsel David Weiss issuing new subpoenas in the Hunter Biden tax probe. Who's the latest on his list?

Plus, Donald Trump leads in the Granite State, New Hampshire. And there's a candidate in spot number two. We're going to have the latest poll numbers up next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Now to a CNN exclusive. The special counsel overseeing the federal criminal investigation into Hunter Biden is using a California grand jury to try to obtain more documents and issuing subpoenas to several people, including James Biden, the president's brother, who was once a business associate of Hunter's.

The probe is focused on Hunter Biden's alleged failure to pay taxes. But his legal team says he's fully paid his debts.

Joining me now is Katie Cherkasky. She's a criminal defense attorney and a former federal prosecutor. Katie, good morning. It's always great to see you.

The use of a grand jury indicates that the special counsel David Weiss might be preparing new charges against Hunter Biden. What do you make of this latest twist?

KATIE CHERKASKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (via Skype): Well, the news that there is this grand jury in California indicates that there is certainly a possibility Hunter Biden will be charged in that district.

After his plea deal fell apart, essentially what happened is that the charges that were at issue in the deal were on the table but also, potentially, other charges. So we don't really know the extent of the exposure that Hunter Biden has at this point. The other thing that we need to keep in mind is that he still has the possibility of entering into some sort of plea deal.

So we don't know for sure what the outcome will be here but as of right now, the investigation remains open and the charges look like they could be coming in another district.

HUNT: Interesting.

All right. So a New York appeals court judge also has temporarily lifted a gag order in Donald Trump's civil fraud trial after an emergency hearing on Thursday.

Can you help us understand why and how this happened?

CHERKASKY: Well, the gag order was lifted by an appellate court judge in New York, essentially based upon significant constitutional considerations like First Amendment rights.

When you have defendants in trials -- civil or criminal trials -- the extent to which a judge can control their speech has to be really strongly balanced against their constitutional rights of free speech on their own. And here, the appellate court judge was concerned that the gag order prevents Trump from really, as a candidate but also just as a citizen, being unable to express his First Amendment rights here.


And that's particularly important when he is the leading Republican candidate for the presidency and in conjunction with the fact that there's no cameras in the courtroom, Trump needs to be able to characterize, at least according to the appellate court judge at this point, his perspective, his perceptions of the proceedings.

This is not a final order. The government A.G. has until December 8 to submit a response to that and then there will be a final decision from the court in terms of whether they will reimpose the gag order. But at this point, the appellate court thought that there was significant concern about its enforcement that they've temporarily lifted its enforcement at this point.

HUNT: So, Katie, this is slightly a political question so forgive me if you're not 100 percent comfortable with it. But I think -- I guess I can turn it into a legal question by asking it. Hunter Biden is taking on some of his challenges in a much more aggressive way lately, trying to subpoena Donald Trump, among other things. It's almost like he's taking a page out of Donald Trump's playbook in how Trump is really, really aggressive with the courts.

Do you see that there? And how do strategies like that typically work out for people?

CHERKASKY: I think anybody that's in a position to defend themself against criminal charges has to make very specific strategic decisions. And certainly, different cases call for different decisions in that respect.

You know, it really depends on each individual case. I know that's a very legal answer -- a lawyer answer to give. But it really is the case that you have to make those decisions about where strategically you see things going because -- especially when you have potential plea deals that could be on the table you really want to put the pressure on the government to show them that this is not going to be an easy kill. That there's not going to be some sort of guaranteed conviction of some sort to put yourself in a better negotiating position.

So, certainly, I don't think it's a bad idea and I think that it can be very favorable for a defendant.

HUNT: All right, very interesting.

Katie Cherchasky -- Cherkasky -- I'm so sorry -- thank you very much for being up early with us.

CHERKASKY: Thank you.

HUNT: Happy Friday.

All right. A new CNN poll seeing leader, former President Donald Trump, continues to dominate his GOP rivals in New Hampshire. Trump is polling at 42 percent. But look at this. He is trailed by a new number-one runner-up, Nikki Haley, at 20 percent. The former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor has surpassed rival Ron DeSantis in that race for second place.

So how real is this? Let's bring in CNN national political reporter Daniel Strauss. Daniel, good morning.


HUNT: It's always great to have you.

Look, the timing for this, for Haley -- if you're Haley -- couldn't be better. We're two months shy of the caucuses in Iowa and Nikki Haley is seeing new gains in all of these polls. And we're also seeing some consolidation on donors, too, especially after Tim Scott dropped out of the race and some of these big-money people like Spencer Zwick have gotten behind her.

Honestly, one of the more interesting things is that Chris Christie is there right behind here, running in New Hampshire.

What do you make of these numbers? STRAUSS: I mean, it depends on the candidate here.

For Christie, let's remember that the last time he ran for president there was a strong focus of that campaign on New Hampshire. But he, in the end, fell woefully behind -- not just Donald Trump, not just Ted Cruz, but also John Kasich.

At the same time, though, let's move over to Nikki Haley here. Haley has really, from the beginning, taken a slow and steady approach to this race. She has not come in with a huge amount of fanfare compared to her rivals. She did not spend a huge amount of money. She did not come with the biggest war chest, and that has been to her benefit.

She has run a lean and mean operation. She's benefitted probably the most from all of her debate performances where she's really shown sort of a fighting spirit. And this is what the result is. Republican voters want to see some kind of candidates who have that fighting spirit in them, and I think that's what we're seeing in this polling.

She's focused on New Hampshire, too -- a state where there is a strong Independent streak and a strong curiosity for alternatives to frontrunners, and Haley is fitting that bill right now.

HUNT: It makes sense.

Daniel, the one thing when I look at these numbers is Iowa -- Trump is a little bit more dominant in Iowa. New Hampshire, there is clear -- it's clear that there is an -- you know, Trump's below 50. He's at 42 percent, right? That's much lower than he is in most national surveys.

And Christie, if he were to get out, 14 percent, right? That's a significant chunk of the vote -- likely, a chunk that's never going to vote for Donald Trump. Likely, a chunk that's going to go a Haley or a DeSantis. If he were to drop out, there's potential consolidation there that might allow Haley to actually break out and beat Donald Trump.

But I talked to him a week or two ago and asked him directly is there any world in which you drop out before New Hampshire? And he told me absolutely not -- there is no way that he does that.


I mean, does that just ensure that we end up with Trump?

STRAUSS: You have to be very -- you have to pay close attention to the kind of campaign Christie is running and the voters he's attracting. From the beginning of this cycle, Christie has run notably an outspoken race as an anti-Trumper -- someone who is willing to take Trump head-on. So the Republican support he's has in New Hampshire is going to be highly skeptical of Trump or any Trumpian candidate.

So if he were to drop out it would likely go to someone like Haley who has shown more of a resistance to Trumpism than Ron DeSantis.

I'm still skeptical at the end of the day that any consolidation of support is going to be enough to, like, dramatically surpass Trump simply because Trump has been this dominating force in almost every poll within this Republican Party for years now. And even if you --

HUNT: Right.

STRAUSS: -- consolidate a lot of those numbers it still leaves Trump with some kind of lead.

HUNT: Yeah. I will just say anything can happen in New Hampshire. It's --

STRAUSS: Sure, yeah.

HUNT: You just never know. It's like the -- you know, just ask Bill Clinton. Everyone thinks he won in 1992 because he was a comeback kid. He actually came in second but it changed the narrative that much.

STRAUSS: Thank you.

HUNT: Daniel, before I let you go --


HUNT: Before I let you go -- yes, I know, because -- I won't -- I won't -- I won't joke about your age. I'm sorry.

But look, before I let you go, one of the reasons I love having you is that you are a fellow Michigan fan and we have a big, big, big rivalry game coming up not this Saturday but next. It's always the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

There is a competition going on between the two student newspapers here. Tell us why we should be supporting Michigan Daily.

STRAUSS: Well, despite the fact that our otherwise totally respectable colleague Phil Mattingly is a fan of Ohio State University, that school down south --

HUNT: It really is a knock against him. Yeah, I know, unfortunately.

STRAUSS: -- and he, himself, has given a shoutout to his school's alma mater and the college newspaper.

I want to give a shoutout to The Michigan Daily where I worked as a student in college and has a robust alumni network. And I want to just say that The Daily has helped train with hands-on experience some of the best journalists in the country. Alumni include Dan Okrent, Mara Gay, Daniel Strauss, Andy Kroll, Jonathan Chait. I could go on and on.

HUNT: So humble.

STRAUSS: Yeah, so humble.

And -- but look, I would not be here without Michigan and Michigan's alumni network, and the resources that the school offers to aspiring journalists. It is a great school and a great program, and it's a great student newspaper. And these days, we've seen student journalists really break big stories that have national impact, including out in --

HUNT: Yeah.

STRAUSS: -- Stanford with Theo Baker.

Right now, Michigan, strangely -- despite the fact that Michigan football usually has beaten Ohio State in the past few years -- is behind in this fundraising effort.

HUNT: All right.

STRAUSS: So if you are a Michigan fan please donate. This is for a good cause. And Go Blue!

HUNT: All right. All right, Go Blue.

CNN's Daniel Strauss.

STRAUSS: Thanks so much.

HUNT: Thanks very much for that.

All right, a Fox Sports host under fire after admitting she used fake quotes when she was a sideline reporter. Why she says she did it, ahead.



HUNT: Welcome back.

A tough night last night for injuries on "THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL." Both the Ravens and the Bengals saw top players go down.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

So the Ravens got the win easily but hard for them to be too happy about it because they lost their top receiver. We'll show you where it happened in the first quarter. Mark Andrews going to make this reception and going for the end zone and gets tackled from behind. His ankle gets rolled on. You could tell he was in immediate pain. He left the game and is now expected to miss the rest of the season.

So then, in the second quarter, Joe Burrow in obvious pain after throwing this touchdown pass. He would not return to the game after that. Coach Zac Taylor said it looked like a sprained wrist after he had fallen on it.

Now, without Burrow, the Bengals just unable to keep up with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Lamar, despite an injured ankle of his own, leading the Ravens to a 34-20 win. They're now 8-3 on the season. The Bengals falling to 5-5.

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, meanwhile, not going to be going to court this morning after all. The school announced yesterday that Harbaugh will serve the remainder of a three-game suspension from the Big Ten and return for the conference, ending its investigation into an alleged scheme to steal opponents' signals. The NCAA's investigation into the Wolverines remains ongoing.

Now, Harbaugh has repeatedly denied any involvement in the scheme.

The Big Ten said in a statement that Michigan's decision to withdraw its legal challenge, quote, " indicative of the high standards and values that the conference and the university seek to uphold."

Harbaugh will miss tomorrow's game at Maryland and the huge rivalry game at home against number-three Ohio State a week from Saturday. He will be able to return for the Big Ten championship game if the 10-0 Wolverines should qualify.

All right, the first practice session of F1's highly anticipated Las Vegas Grand Prix was halted after less than 10 minutes last night due to a loose manhole cover. So the red flag came out after Carlos Sainz's Ferrari was damaged after he rolled over the drain cover on the street course that stretches down the famed Strip. Organizers had to then inspect all the other manhole covers.

Practice, though, did resume. It's ongoing right now, actually. The race set for Saturday at 10:00 p.m. local Vegas time. It's the latest start time ever so they can take advantage of the awesome scene on the Vegas Strip.

All right. And finally, for the first time ever, both of baseball's MVPs were unanimous.


The Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. winning the award in the NL for the first time after a historic season that saw him be the first ever to hit more than 40 home runs and steal more than 70 bases.

And Shohei Ohtani winning the in AL despite missing 27 games. And he accepted the award on MLB Network alongside his dog, who he gave an adorable high-five to right there.

Kasie, whenever you accept awards on television I think it should be a requirement that you do it with your pet alongside you.

HUNT: I mean, is that just not the sweetest thing? Oh my gosh.

SCHOLES: A high-five. It's great.

HUNT: I love it. I was really lucky enough to see Ohtani play at Camden Yards this season, actually. It was awesome.


HUNT: Thank you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: Have a wonderful weekend.

SCHOLES: You, too.

HUNT: And thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Have a great weekend. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.