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Trump: I Would Not Be A Dictator, "Except On Day One"; U.S. Officials Think Gaza Ground Operation Could End By January; FBI Director Warns Of Elevated Threat Level. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 06, 2023 - 05:30   ET




DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to be -- you know, he keeps -- they love this guy. He says, "You're not going to be a 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."


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: 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 last night that he would be a dictator if he wins the White House -- although only on day one, he says, so he can open up drilling where it's banned now and close the border.

That was just one in a series of surprising admissions yesterday. It started with President Biden telling donors at a Boston area fundraiser, quote, "If Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running. But we cannot let him win."

That confession surprised some of his campaign aides, to say the least. One of them said "Yikes" when he was told about it. But later, the president seems to walk it back just a bit.


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 just -- I have to run.


HUNT: "He is running so I have to run."

Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney suggested she might get in the race. Certainly, she is leaving the door open, telling Anderson Cooper she would consider a third-party run if it would stop Trump's reelection. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIZ CHENEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSWOMAN: 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 maybe an impossible task, or helping to begin a new party that's very focused on what the Republican Party used to stand for before this cultive 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: Whatever I have to do to make sure Donald Trump is not reelected. There are, of course, many questions about how a Cheney bid might impact whether or not Trump was reelected.

But setting aside that for a moment, I do want to underscore this morning what we saw play out last night with the former president, Donald Trump. He was given multiple opportunities to say unequivocally that he would not be a dictator if reelected.

This, of course, taking place as there is increasing coverage from The Atlantic, The New York Times, and others about the dark warnings that are playing out right before our very eyes about what a second Trump term would look like if he were a potentially convicted criminal who then was reelected and able to potentially pardon himself, et cetera. We would be in incredibly unprecedented territory.

I want to underscore this and just show you all of the opportunities that Trump had last night to answer this question in a different way than the did. Take a look at the full exchange.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Under no circumstances, you are promising Americans tonight you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody.

TRUMP: Except for day one.

HANNITY: Except for --

TRUMP: He's going crazy. Except for day one (audio gap) and close the border. And I want to drill, drill, drill.

HANNITY: That's not a -- that's not --

TRUMP: Oh, no.

HANNITY: That's not retribution. I got --

TRUMP: I'm going to be -- I'm going to be -- you know, he keeps -- they love this guy. He says, "You're not going to be a 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." HANNITY: Well, that --


HUNT: So you saw there just how many opportunities Sean Hannity gave him. He was almost urging him to say no, I won't be a dictator, and Trump would not take the opportunity. Obviously, he was playing to the audience there and you heard that in his response. But instead, he said, "No, I won't be a dictator except on day one."

If we learned anything from the first Trump term it's that when he says he is going to do something we should believe him.

All right, let's go overseas now to our other big story this morning. U.S. officials predict the current phase of Israel's ground invasion of Gaza could end by January. They expect Israel will then transition to a lower-intensity strategy that narrowly targets specific Hamas militants. This, as the U.S. warns Israel time is running out to end its current operation, which has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians, if they want to maintain meaningful, international support.

Let's bring in Avi Mayer, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. Avi, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you on the show.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- he called again yesterday for post-war Israeli military control in Gaza and he said only the IDF can do it because what happened in other places where international forces were brought in for disarmament purposes it didn't work.

What did he meant -- mean by that?

AVI MAYER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JERUSALEM POST (via Skype): Well look, Kasie, Israel has no desire to control the Gaza Strip or to administer civilian affairs there. They are very happy for the Palestinians to take those matters into their own hands or for an international force to come in and do that. At the same time, we know that there are likely to be pockets of Hamas militants who will remain in the Gaza Strip even after this campaign is concluded?


Israel needs to have the ability to intercept those threats and to ensure that nothing like the October 7 massacre can ever happen again. That's what the prime minister meant and I think that's what is really at the core of the debate between Israel, the United States, and other countries, but what happens in the Gaza Strip after this military campaign is concluded.

HUNT: OK. So let's pull back from what happens after a little bit to what happens in the immediate months. This January suggestion that they could stop -- that Israel could stop the bombing campaign and this suggestion -- and I think this is something U.S. officials are increasingly pushing on behind the scenes. And some, like Lloyd Austin, the Defense secretary, are saying it increasingly in public that there is a loss, potentially, of support for Israel in the international arena based on how this campaign is being conducted.

Is there a recognition of that inside Israel? Is there a rejection of that idea? Do you think that the January timeline to see this war continue for another month, month and a half, two months is the likely outcome? And do you worry at all about Israel's standing in the world if that's how it plays out?

MAYER: Look, I think Israel entered this campaign with two stated goals.

The first, of course, to bring the hostages home. We see that 118 hostages have, indeed, been brought home, and in Israel's understanding it was the military campaign that applied the pressure necessary to force Hamas to essentially release those hostages. And, of course, the second piece is to eradicate Hamas' ability to ever carry out a massacre like October 7 ever again.

Those remain the two central goals and Israel will continue to do whatever it has to do for as long as it has to do them in order to bring those goals to fruition. I think we've seen a great deal of understanding by the U.S. administration and by other allies in the West and elsewhere that Israel needs to pursue these goals. That Israel has been the target of an unprecedented massacre, which is why it had to set about this campaign.

There have been various timelines that have been discussed, including by military officials and diplomatic officials about what might that look like and how long it might take. I have heard a similar timeline that we could see an end to the current round of hostilities in Gaza by sometime in January.

But I think what we'll have to see over the next two weeks is how that campaign proceeds. How Israel is able to specifically intercept those Hamas threats and militants and their weapon storages in Gaza before we're able to sort of figure out how we can move on to the next stage of the campaign.

HUNT: All right, Avi Mayer, of the Jerusalem Post. Always very grateful for your time, sir. Thanks for being on the show.

MAYER: Thank you for having me.

HUNT: All right.

Still ahead, what House Speaker Mike Johnson said he's doing to protect January 6 Capitol rioters. And a scary revelation from the FBI director about potential Hamas-inspired threats inside America.




JIMMY FALLON, HOST, NBC "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": Watching these debates is like watching a middle school play. It doesn't really matter, you just hope that they're having fun up there, yeah?


HUNT: Tonight, the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses with these four GOP presidential contenders. You'll notice that former President Trump is, once again, not among them. It's Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy.

Let's bring in Republican strategist and former RNC communications director, Doug Heye. Doug, good morning.


HUNT: Thank you for being here.

Just on this debate, I guess, Trump's still not there. It doesn't matter or is Fallon right? Is this just a middle school play?

HEYE: Well, both can be true at the same time. And the reality for these candidates are they've spent over a year not going after Donald Trump. Every time Donald Trump gets indicted they back up Donald Trump. They reinforce his messaging.

So we see Donald Trump get indictment and then we wonder two weeks later why they haven't moved his poll numbers. And it's because Republican candidates haven't given Republican voters a place to go. This is maybe their last opportunity to give those voters a place to go.

We've seen good debate nights from Nikki Haley. But essentially, Nikki Haley did better than Ron DeSantis, or Ron DeSantis did better than Asa Hutchinson, which leads to the question: who cares? It's up to these candidates to make voters care and they do that by understanding that the nomination does not go around Donald Trump, it goes through him.

HUNT: Right. Well, and Doug, you and I both know that the conversation right now is about what a second Trump term could look like.

HEYE: Yeah.

HUNT: The Atlantic magazine has devoted its entire issue. They just called it a warning.

HEYE: Um-hum.

HUNT: Liz Cheney out on a book tour talking about the threat he would pose, in her view, to democracy.

And then, last night with Sean Hannity, Donald Trump was pretty straightforward --

HEYE: Um-hum. HUNT: -- about what he would do. He was asked directly and I think Hannity was trying to get him to say that he wouldn't be a dictator if he was elected. But this is actually how he answered the question. Take a look.


HANNITY: Under no circumstances, you are promising Americans tonight you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?

TRUMP: Except for day one.

HANNITY: Except for --

TRUMP: He's going crazy. Except for day one. I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.

HANNITY: That's not a -- that's not --

TRUMP: Oh, no.

HANNITY: That's not retribution. I got --

TRUMP: I'm going to be -- you know, he keeps -- they love this guy. He says, "You're not going to be a 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."

HANNITY: Well, that --


HUNT: Doug, that crowd's laughing. What's your reaction?

HEYE: Yeah. Well look, that's what we've come to expect from Donald Trump. He always says the quiet part not out loud -- very, very loud.

And I think we know that you can't be dictator on day one and then day two revert back to democracy. Day one is going to last for a long time. Think of the book of Genesis. Day one goes on for a very long time.


That's where Donald Trump's mindset is. I think we know that. His core support backs him every step of the way on that whether it's closing up the border or drilling, or whatever else that may be.

This is where Republican candidates could and should separate themselves from Donald Trump and also say not only can he not be a dictator on day one, he can't really be a president on day one because he's going to be fighting these court battles. He can't go after Joe Biden on day one the way any other candidate should.

It's up to these Republican candidates who say that they're running against him to actually do so and time is running out, Kasie. We're six weeks away from the Iowa caucuses.

HUNT: Yeah, we are.

And, I mean, do you -- do you anticipate any of this is going to come up on the Republican debate stage? Do any of those other Republican candidates have concerns about Trump essentially saying yeah -- on day one, I'd be a dictator? Maybe not after that but on day one.

HEYE: Yeah. If -- you know, you watch these -- you watch these debates. It's essentially a game of T-ball. But you have a young son. If your son is playing T-ball, you have to swing the bat at the ball that's on the tee.

And what we've seen from these Republican candidates is you're given a huge watermelon -- not a baseball -- that you can swing at. Your opponent has been indicted multiple times. But you have to then use that to say that he's unfit to serve or can't campaign against Joe Biden, or whatever else it may be. The reality is they're saying oh my gosh -- oh my goodness. They can't go after Donald Trump because Donald Trump's a victim. There's a two-tiered system of justice and all this other nonsense.

Use this opportunity and the other opportunities that you would against any other candidate for any other office.

HUNT: All right, Republican strategist Doug Heye. Thank you very much for being here this morning. I really appreciate it.

HEYE: It's good to be with you. Thank you.

HUNT: All right. We had an unsettling warning yesterday from FBI Director Christopher Wray. While he was testifying before the Senate, Wray said that the Bureau has been, quote, "working around the clock" since October 7 to thwart potential attacks inspired by Hamas.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: I've never seen a time where all the threats or so many of the threats are all elevated all at exactly the same time. That's what makes this environment that we're in now so fraught.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Would you say that there's multiple blinking red lights out there?

WRAY: I see blinking lights everywhere I turn.


HUNT: Among the threats that Wray identified, lone offenders aiming to harm Jewish, Muslim, and Arab-American communities.

All right, let's bring in CNN's senior national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Juliette, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you -- JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning.

HUNT: -- on the show.

You have -- you are a former national security official. You have been in these rooms --


HUNT: -- where things like this are explained and laid out.

How much does this concern you?

KAYYEM: It's concerning, particularly because Wray does not tend to be hyperbolic. He basically is sort of a flat FBI director. And so for him to come out not just this time -- this is his third time he's testified on this sort of elevated threat level since the Israeli- Hamas war -- is a -- is a warning sign. And it's particularly a warning sign to local and state police departments as well as communities who may see radicalization.

What he was describing -- that sort of everything is elevated simultaneously -- it's consistent with what you even see online. The language -- a lot of it has to do with the language that is being utilized.

It's the language of annihilation, whether you look at Hamas and them annihilating Israel or, in many instances, you -- Israeli senior leaders who seem to talk in a way that would suggest that ridding Gaza of all Palestinians is a legitimate response to the Hamas terrorist attack. That language of annihilation is interpreted by people here as a sort of go card, so to speak, that they -- that they can seek violence against particular communities.

HUNT: Very, very troubling.

Juliette, while I have you I want to ask you about something else that has some troubling implications.

The House Speaker --


HUNT: -- Mike Johnson -- he said last month that he wants to release Capitol Hill security footage from January 6.


HUNT: Yesterday, he said this during a press conference about why -- honestly, why that hasn't happened yet -- watch.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don't want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.


HUNT: So, Johnson later walked back those comments -- at least a little bit.


HUNT: He said the faces are blurred to protect them from retaliation from non-governmental actors. We do know, of course, the Department of Justice already has access to the raw footage.


HUNT: This is something Liz Cheney has basically said this is -- it needs to come out immediately.

I mean, what do you make of what he had to say here?

KAYYEM: That's exactly right.


Look -- I mean, he's not hiding what Trump is, in fact, saying -- which is that you sort of excuse the January 6 insurrectionists. And the reason why he wants to excuse them is that it's a forgiveness. It is that this was a legitimate conduct that will be tolerated by GOP. This is what Liz Cheney is warning -- that it's not over.

This is an ongoing insurrection and we know this because simply, Donald Trump is legitimizing the conduct of January 6. And now, the House Speaker is somewhat forgiving this. And this is a danger. It's not just oh, the past. This is a danger because one of the tactics that has worked since January 6, 2021 to minimize the threat of insurrection in this country and minimize political violence has been these convictions, and we know this.

And we're following -- people like me follow members of terrorist organizations. We know what they're saying. We know how hard it is for terrorist groups here in the United States to recruit when people worry that they will be going to jail.

So this forgiveness is actually a way of energizing terrorist groups and others who would use violence to support their democratic -- or to support their political party. So this will be -- I have to warn that this is going to be the background of the 2024 election is violence and the threat of violence, in particular, if Donald Trump is the GOP nominee is part of his strategy. And the House Speaker seems to be, although he took it back, conceding to that strategy.

HUNT: Well, we know something about Mike Johnson and how he wanted to insinuate himself into Trump's circles --

KAYYEM: Yeah, absolutely.

HUNT: -- and played a key role in crafting the lawsuits that were aimed at keeping Donald Trump in office.


HUNT: Juliette Kayyem, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate --

KAYYEM: Thank you.

HUNT: -- your perspective.

All right. Just ahead here, what's behind Russia's rejection to free two wrongfully jailed Americans?



HUNT: Welcome back.

Vice President Kamala Harris making history by casting her 32nd tie- breaking vote. That's the most tie-breakers ever cast by a V.P.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): No one deserves this more than she does. It is my honor to present the golden gavel to Vice President Harris on this great day for 32 tie-breaking votes.


HUNT: She broke the record voting on a judicial nomination on Tuesday.

All right, LeBron and the Lakers on to the final four of the In-Season Tournament after beating the Suns. The win was not without controversy.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning,

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

You know -- so this is such a great game. It's unfortunate that a questionable call played a role in determining the winner.

And you had LeBron and Kevin Durant going head-to-head in this one, both having great games. LeBron, here with the lay-up, put the Lakers up five with just over two to go. Durant, meanwhile with multiple clutch buckets down the stretch. Both he and LeBron had 31 points.

And with the Lakers up by one with under 20 seconds on the clock, Austin Reaves hits this huge three to put the Lakers up by four. Then after Durant scored, the Suns pressing Reaves -- it loses the ball. But LeBron called a time out and the refs gave it to him even though he -- it was clearly a loose ball. And the Suns couldn't believe it.

The Lakers go on to win 106-103 to advance to the final four in Vegas.


DEVON BOOKER, PHOENIX SUNS GUARD: The whole world seen that I just got off social media and other players around the league seen it. So it is what it is. You know, refs miss calls sometimes but when they're that obvious it's tough.

KEVIN DURANT, PHOENIX SUNS FORWARD: That's not the game -- that's one play. It was a 48-minute game. And like, I don't like to complain about calls. You know what I'm saying? So sometimes, the ref ain't going to get it right all the time. Sometimes it's on us to play through all that stuff.


SCHOLES: All right. And the other matchup of the night -- it was an offensive showcase. The Bucks led the Knicks 75-72 at halftime before pulling away in the third quarter. Giannis and Damian Lillard combined for 63 points as the Bucks have their highest-scoring game of the season, winning 146-122.

The semifinals are going to take place tomorrow in Las Vegas. The Pacers and Bucks are going to get things started at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. That's followed by the Pelicans and Lakers at 9:00 on our sister channel TNT. The winners will then play for the NBA Cup Saturday night.

All right, hockey. It was a Hughes family reunion on the ice. Jack and Luke's Devils facing off against Quinn's Canucks, and all three of the brothers got points in this sibling rivalry. Jack had a goal and two assists, and his younger brother Luke also scored in the New Jersey 6- 5 win. Quinn, the oldest brother, picked up two assists.

Their parents were in the stands to watch their family become, amazingly, the ninth in NHL history to have at least three brothers play in the same game. That's pretty incredible.

All right. And finally, the outrage and disappointment over undefeated Florida State's College Football Playoff snub is spreading into the world of politics. While announcing his state's budget yesterday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to fund any potential legal action.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My first-grader, my fifth-grader, and my preschooler -- what they know is Tallahassee. And so they are all Noles and they are big-time fans, and they do the tomahawk chop, and they were not happy.

But what we decided to do -- we're setting aside $1 million for any litigation expenses that may become as a result of this really, really poor decision by the College Football Playoffs.



SCHOLES: Yeah. So, the Florida legislature would still have to approve any budget items, Kasie. Their annual session begins next month.

And I definitely feel bad for those kids at Florida State, but I think the committee made the right decision.

HUNT: Ah, Andy -- oh, no. I -- look, I'm just -- let's just say the system is changing next year, right? But this -- I mean --

SCHOLES: Yes, everybody gets in next year. We're going to have 12 playoff teams so we don't have to worry about it.


All right, Andy Scholes. Thank you very much --

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: -- for that.

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