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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump: I Would Not Be a Dictator, "Except on Day One"; Biden: "If Trump Wasn't Running, I'm Not Sure I'd Be Running"; State Department: Russia Rejects Offer to Free Whelan & Gershkovich; 1 Dead in Oregon as Rain, Flooding Swamps Northwest. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 06, 2023 - 05:00   ET




Donald Trump asked point-blank if he will be dictator if he wins back the White House -- his unsettling answer, ahead.

Plus, Joe Biden backtracking just hours after an off-the-cuff admission about the 2024 race.

And what the FBI calls blinking lights everywhere. Troubling revelations about possible Hamas-inspired attacks.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, December 6, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, 4:00 a.m. in Davenport, Iowa, where former President Trump said exactly what he would do and exactly who he would be if reelected president.

Now it's up to us to believe him.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: You are promising America tonight, you would never of use power as retribution against anybody.


HANNITY: Except of what?

TRUMP: He's going crazy. Except for day one.

HANNITY: Meaning?

TRUMP: I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.

HANNITY: That's not --


HUNT: So again, it's up to us believe him when he says that.

This came after as President Biden said the quiet part out loud to donors in a Boston area fund-raiser. This is what he said, quote: If Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running. But we cannot let him win.

That very candid remark caught his campaign aides off guard to put it mildly, yikes, said one. The president later tried to clarify.


REPORTER: Would you be running for president if Trump wasn't running?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd expect so, but look, he is running and I have to run.


HUNT: Very illuminating about the president's state of mind, but also underscores the risky ground that he is on.

Former Representative Liz Cheney told Anderson Cooper last night that she might enter the race as a third party candidate if it was necessary to stop Trump.


FORMER REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think there's a huge amount of work to be done after this election cycle, whether it's rebuilding the Republican Party, which increasingly looks like, you know, maybe an impossible task, or helping to begin a new party that's very focused on what the Republican used to stand for before this cult of personality. But right now, and in this election cycle, I'll do whatever I have to do to make sure Donald Trump is not elected.


HUNT: Helping us break down this remarkable series of events that played out over a couple hours last night is CNN national political reporter Daniel Strauss.

Daniel, good morning.

I -- these Trump comments when Sean Hannity was pressing him last night, clearly trying to give them as many opportunities as possible to tell the country that he would not be a dictator, instead getting Trump to respond by saying, well, only on day one would I be a dictator.

I feel like one of the lessons I covered every single day of the Trump administration for Capitol Hill, one of the lessons that we struggled to learn and covering him was to dismiss some of the things he said, a lot of Republicans repeatedly say, oh, you know, it's going to be fine, it's going to be fine, and then, of course, this term was capped by January 6.

What is your reaction? How do you understand what he said last night?

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, look, part of it was his idea of what staying on message was about, and you can hear from the audience that they were cheering when he responded, close the border, drill, drill, drill.

But at the same time, it's deliberate, clearly, that he did not deny what the proposal about being a dictator on day one. And what we've learned from a first Trump administration is to take him seriously. That what he says on the campaign trail, he is going to do in the Oval Office.

I mean, he's been pretty -- he's pretty clear in 2016 about what he would do, and some voters were surprised when he took office, and there is no reason to think that he's being disingenuous here.

HUNT: So, Daniel, let's also -- it's remarkable actually how President Biden's off the cuff remark, Donald Trump put it immediately into context for everyone, because, initially, of course, eyebrows were raised, oh, Joe Biden is acknowledging he wouldn't -- there is a scenario where you might not run for reelection.


And, of course, it underscores voters telling their main concern about him is he's too old to get re-elected.

But the comment really and some of the -- you know, anonymous comments from his aides afterward underscored this as well, it really tells us about his worldview, which is that he views Donald Trump as so dangerous that it presses him into service, in a way that he might not otherwise have been pressed. And, of course, this came in a forum where Biden has been repeatedly more candid, because there were no cameras, it's a private fund-raiser. It's a group of people who are supporters of him.

How do you view Biden's comments?

STRAUSS: I mean, they are in line with what from the beginning -- his candidacy for president in 2020. His rollout video was very much about a counter to events in the Trump administration. And, like he said, I mean, Trump is running low, so the point is sort of moot.

But, yeah, I mean, he -- we've heard there been reports Biden I'm solve has said or indicated time and time again, that his motivation is partially the existential threat he sees from Trump and a Trump presidency. So, this is somewhat in line for that.

And it's just the -- the confluence of events here that have led Biden to the White House. I've talked to former Democratic aides, to both Biden and his late son Beau, who said if Beau were still alive, he would probably be running for president and Biden would be supporting him.

To me, this is very much in line just the circumstance that has brought Biden to the White House. HUNT: Yeah.

Let's also broaden out the conversation, too, because part of it is if Donald Trump were elected to a second term, and I think the Biden team knows this as well. He's already had four years of figuring out how to pull the levers of power inside the government, that's knowledge and expertise he didn't have when he started on day one in his first.

This man Kash Patel -- his face is likely not terribly familiar to viewers, but he is somebody who served in Donald Trump's administration, he also had previously served on Capitol Hill, in the Intelligence Committee. He became someone who was kind of embedded inside these efforts that Donald Trump had late in his term to remain in office.

He made some comments the honestly raised some eyebrows just yesterday. Take a look at what he had to say.


KASH PATEL, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHRISTOPHER MILLER: We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government, but in the media. Yes. We're going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections. We're going to come after you, where it's criminally or civilly, we'll figure that out. But, yeah, we're putting you all on notice.


HUNT: And this guy also served in the Defense Department and in the National Security Council. Again, should we be taking this seriously?

STRAUSS: It's clear that Trump's most die hard supporters, the folks that Trump and his team and the think tanks and organizations looking to lay the groundwork for another term presidency are very eager to use the levers at their disposal to follow through on statements like this.

So, yeah, I mean, you know, Kash Patel has been in federal government and the Trump administration in the final days of his presidency which were chaotic. And this falls in line with Trump and the overall theme of taking him seriously, and his word on the campaign trail.

HUNT: I think this is why you have people like Liz Cheney, you know, she used the phrase sleepwalking towards a dictatorship because, of course, Donald Trump is far and away leading in Republican polls, even as, you know, we expect this debate between his rivals down in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, tonight -- well, on the one hand, that's what playing out politically. And he has -- you know, as good a shot of any, 50/50 shot, if he becomes the nominee to be president. You have kind of how this is all unfolding behind the scenes, they are telling us exactly what they would do if that were to happen.

CNN's Daniel Strauss, thank you very much for starting us off this morning. I really appreciate it. All right. Still ahead here, an alarming report from the FBI director

about Hamas-inspired terror threats inside the United States.

Plus, what's behind Russia's rejection to free two wrongfully jailed Americans?

And why Speaker Mike Johnson is drawing scrutiny over his comments about insurrectionists from January 6th.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Americans Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich remain in Russian custody despite the ongoing efforts by the Biden administration to secure their release.

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller talked about those efforts on Tuesday.


MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: In recent weeks, we made a new and significant proposal, to secure Paul and Evan's release. That proposal was rejected by Russia. We shouldn't have to make these proposals. They never should have been arrested in the first place. They should both be released immediately.


HUNT: Monday is going to mark the 250th day of imprisonment for Gershkovich, a "Wall Street Journal" reporter. It's five years this month for Whelan. The U.S. has designated both of them as wrongfully detained.

Joining us from London is CNN's Bianca Nobilo.

Bianca, good morning. It's always great to have you. So, Matt Miller didn't detail what this new and significant proposal was, but sources are telling CNN the deal included offering to trade a large number of Russian nationals detained on espionage charges, it seems like the question now if that is not enough, what is?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Clearly, Russia has specific individuals in mind.


We know, for example, that Vadim Krasikov, what we understand, was not one of the names that was discussed because he is held in Germany on a life sentence. He is an assassin that German court determined, that Russia had ordered to assassinate a former Chechen commander in broad late in the middle of a park in Berlin. We know that Russia highly prices him as an asset. But the U.S. revealed that they were -- to our sources, that they were

specifically looking at a number of individuals who are being held on espionage charges, but no other crimes. Of course, we could interpret that as being something of a like for like offer, given that Evan Gershkovich, and Paul Whelan are being held on similar charges. Even though the U.S., of course, disputes both allegations and says it is ridiculous, and neither are guilty of that.

It's also the issue with Evan Gershkovich, so his detention is being extended until at least the 30th of January, next year. And Russia will likely not count it as an idea of an exchange until he has a verdict in his case. This was the same for Brittney Griner.

So, that hasn't happened yet. So, that maybe a condition of his release, or an exchange, Kasie.

HUNT: Yeah. Bianca, do you have a sense of the timing on that, how long such a verdict might take?

NOBILO: It's really as long as piece of string. Obviously, these matters are highly politicized. Indeed, the entire detention of Evan Gershkovich, the U.S. said this is politically motivated, and diplomats have long speculated that perhaps it was Russia's intention, to make a number of arrests of U.S. citizens to shore up people that they could then exchange for the assets that that they wanted.

So, all of this will depend on politics, and obviously goes without saying that this absolutely no goodwill between the two countries, even though despite heavily -- heavy deteriorations in their relationship after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a prisoner swap was possible at the end of 2022.

So, in terms of timing, we would want to hear something around the end of January, and it can take up to a year, a year and a half to get a verdict, but these things are very unpredictable, Kasie, especially with such a notable individual, somebody who is the highest priority for the U.S. The return of him and Paul Whelan, they've said that.

Russia knows that there's a lot of leverage here, and they'll be wanting some of their most highly prized assets and individuals back in return.

HUNT: All right. Bianca Nobilo for us, thank you very much for that report. We really appreciate you having this morning.

And still ahead here, the U.S. taking a rare stand against Israel over violence in the West Bank. And major flooding in the Northwest, after powerful storm slammed the region. That's next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Quick hits across America now. The U.S. is imposing visa bans on Israeli settlers who commit extremist violence in the West Bank. The follows the president's warning last month about sanctions against anyone there who's involved in violence against Palestinians.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says her comments about alleged Hamas sexual assaults were, quote, not intended to minimize to rape, end quote. It comes after intense blowback following her appearance on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION", where she advocated for a more balance approach in Gaza, when she was asked about the use of rape as a tool of war.

U.S. students' performance in math is -- lags behind their peers for many of the world's richest countries, even as math scores fall around the world. The assessment, part of an international exam taken everywhere three years, to measure education systems.

All right. At least one person has been killed after being swept away by fast-moving floodwaters, in Portland, Oregon. The result of the powerful atmospheric rivers pummeling the Northwest this week, drenching the region with more than eight inches of rain over a 24- hour period.

Our weatherman, Derek Van Dam, joins us now.

Derek, wow, those waters behind you.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, it's really incredible. I remember yesterday at this time, we had talked about this being a warmer atmospheric river events the previous ones we have the season -- well, that came true and unfortunately more rain fell that snow.

So, what happened is that liquid precipitation fell on top of early season snow pocket. Of course, it kind of sped up that melting process, that water has to go somewhere. And, unfortunately, it filters into the rivers and the streams and over floods the banks, and it causes the flooding.

We've had nearly ten inches of rainfall. That's liquid precipitation. Here's Granite Falls. That's the same location you saw the video a moment ago.

And just looking at some of that individual rain gauges, or river gauges I should say. There's actually several minor to moderate river gauges at the moment, but one major flood stage recorded at the still Squamish River at Arlington, this is in the state of Washington, actually recording a record level crest.

So, yeah, that's significant considering what's going on. Still, our flood watches and flood warnings in place, for millions of Americans as the fire hose of water still aims itself at the coast of Oregon, spills over into Washington as well.

Look at the precipitation. It all passed through over the course of the weekend, and it will bring in cooler weather behind us. So, we'll see that drop in our freezing level. That means more snow than rain, at least for the higher elevations.

So, this weather map, the accumulation looking different than it did yesterday, because we're going to start seeing the temperatures drop below freezing, there's the snowfall across the spine of the Rockies, throughout the Cascades, Sierra Nevada range, but also along the coastal regions where we'll stay warmer than average. And that's where we'll start to see a few more inches of additional rainfall, all the way into the north California coastline.

But these pictures speak a million words here.


Really, just incredible to see what's happening.

HUNT: Yeah. Well, a message to all those living through this, we hope -- we hope you stay safe and this wraps up without any further loss of life.

Weatherman Derek Van Dam, thanks very much for being with us this morning. I'll see you tomorrow.

VAN DAM: All right.

HUNT: President Biden trying to clarify the headline-grabbing offhand comment he made what he's saying about it now.

Plus, what happens when Fox asks Donald Trump if he plans to be a dictator if he wins back the White House.



TRUMP: I'm going to begin, oh, he keeps -- I love this guy. He says, you're not going to be dictator, are you? I said, no, no, no, other than day one. We're closing the border, and we're drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I'm not a dictator.


HUNT: Good morning. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's just before 5:30 on the East Coast, 2:30 out West.

That was Donald Trump with a truly remarkable admission on Fox.