Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: House Vote to Formalize Biden Impeachment Inquiry; Hunter Biden Deposition Scheduled for Today; DeSantis Ramps Up Attacks on Trump at CNN Town Hall; Israel Begins Flooding Some Gaza Tunnels with Seawater; Rifts Between Biden and Netanyahu Spill Into Public. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 13, 2023 - 05:00   ET




Republicans on Capitol Hill taking aim at the Biden family on two fronts today.

Plus, Israel now deploying a new weapon in Gaza. Will water help flush out Hamas from the tunnels?

And --


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When gets off the teleprompter now, you don't know what he's going to say. It's a different Donald Trump than '15 and '16.


HUNT: Florida's Ron DeSantis not holding back, hitting Donald Trump at every turn in a live CNN town hall.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It is Wednesday, December 13th, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, where just hours from now, the House GOP's investigation into the Biden family reaches a critical juncture.

A full House vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry is planned after a resolution passed yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine yeas, four nays.

REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): The ayes have it and resolution is ordered to be reported favorably to the House.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: The GOP alleges that Joe Biden benefited from his family's foreign business dealings. The problem, of course, is that their investigation has struggled to uncover any wrongdoing by the president, which is why it hasn't garnered the unified support of the full Republican conference.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're the rule of law team. So, tomorrow, we'll be voting on the inquiry. Why are we doing that? Because it's the next necessary step.

REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-MA): Donald Trump says jump. MAGA extremists say, how high? Donald Trump asked them to impeach Joe Biden and here we are. There is nothing there, there is no smoke. And so, this is a colossal waste of time.


HUNT: On another front, it remains to be seen whether the president's son, Hunter, is going to appear before lawmakers today for a closed door deposition. Hunter Biden was in Washington yesterday ahead of that scheduled deposition on the Hill. But his lawyers want him to testify in public, not behind closed doors. If Hunter doesn't show up, Republicans have promised to hold him in contempt.

Let's bring in, Farnoush Amiri, congressional reporter for "The Associated Press".

Farnoush, good morning to you. Always good to see you.

So, the former Speaker Kevin McCarthy had announced back in September that the House would be launching this impeachment inquiry into Biden, but he did not hold a formal vote. What has changed to get us to today?

FARNOUSH AMIRI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Not a lot has changed, but what has made the difference is the campaign that House Republicans led now by Speaker Mike Johnson have employed in order to get those vulnerable Republicans who won in districts that Biden won to get on the side of the inquiry. I think the case they have made repeatedly for the past few weeks is you will not be voting today to impeach President Joe Biden. You are going to be voting today to simply continue the investigation that they have effectively been investigating since January.

So that's the case that they have been able to make and they have been able to unify the party very specifically and narrowly on continuing with the inquiry. But there is no unanimous support for impeaching Joe Biden at this point.

HUNT: So, obviously, this has all brought up -- we've been combing through the archives to see what Republicans said about the Donald Trump impeachment, specifically the first one that kicked off back in 2019. And our investigative unit, the KFILE, they found this clip of Speaker

Mike Johnson, he was rank and file congressman at the time, and he was warning that an impeachment inquiry into Trump would set a dangerous precedent. Take a look at what he had to say back then.


JOHNSON: The Founding Fathers warned us. I mean, they feared a single party impeachment. And the reason they said that is because they knew that it would bitterly divide the country. And they openly said and wrote about, spoke about how it might be irreparable damage to the country.


HUNT: Irreparable damage to the country. Now, of course, it does seem as though Republicans are going to go ahead with a single party impeachment inquiry in this case.

How are they explaining that at this point?

AMIRI: What -- you know, as you just played, as Speaker Mike Johnson on Fox News yesterday saying this is just them going through the procedure. You know, the argument that going new the impeachment inquiry without, you know, unanimous support of the House of Representatives with Democratic support is an argument that the White House made, which is why we're on this road.

They sent a letter to Republican committee chairs a few weeks ago saying we don't take your impeachment inquiry seriously, it has not received a full vote by the House of Representatives.


Also, additionally, they quoted Mike Johnson back when he was a rank and file member of Congress, saying that any impeachment inquiry that is opened without a House vote is a sham.

So, that -- you know, there has been a level of public pressure both from the White House and from their own moderate members saying that if we want to legitimize this and more importantly fight the subpoenas that they are refusing to cooperate with in court, we need to have a formal authorization of this inquiry in order to move forward.

HUNT: Well, and that's a critical piece of this, right, that the formal vote affords them legal tools and does in the eyes of the court to legitimize what's going on.

Very briefly, Farnoush, if Hunter Biden doesn't show up today to this committee, for the behind doors deposition as planned, what happens?

AMIRI: You know, the Republican committee chairs, Chairmen James Comer and Jim Jordan, have already sent a letter to Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden's attorney saying we'll hold him in contempt. And once they authorize the impeachment inquiry, they will have the legal standing to be able to push back on any sort of -- in cooperation with their subpoena. So he would be held in contempt of court.

But it is unlikely that they will jump to that conclusion. Usually they like to go through the negotiations with the lawyers to see if they can have a more positive outcome.

HUNT: All right. So, a little bit of a Trumpian strategy here we're seeing from Hunter Biden in terms of how they are handling both his legal troubles as well as now, his interactions with Congress.

Farnoush Amiri of "The Associated Press", thank you very much for kicking us off this morning. Really appreciate it.

AMIRI: Thank you for having me.

HUNT: Last night, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ramping up his attacks on Donald Trump, seeming to attack the former president and Republican presidential frontrunner at almost every turn at CNN's presidential town hall in Iowa.


DESANTIS: Donald Trump, so he's -- when he gets off the teleprompter now, you don't know what he's going to say.

Donald Trump has refused to debate throughout this campaign.

When Donald Trump ran in '16 that he was going to repeal and replace Obamacare.

I'm the only one running that can beat Trump one-on-one.


HUNT: So we counted a total of eight attacks on the former president over the course of the hour.

And tonight, Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy joins our Abby Phillip for another CNN presidential town hall, also live from Iowa. It's going to air at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

All right. Still ahead here, Biden and Bibi Netanyahu at odds over Israel's war in Gaza. Their rift now spilling into the public eye.

Plus, how Rudy Giuliani's lies led to terrifying threats. We got those recordings, just ahead.

And Nikki Haley gets an endorsement before the pivotal primary in New Hampshire.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Israel turning to a new weapon this morning in their effort to defeat Hamas. A U.S. official says Israel informed the United States they have begun flooding some of the tunnels in Gaza with seawater.

Reporter Elliott Gotkine has more for us from London.

Elliott, good morning. Tell us more about this strategy, how risky is it? How does it work?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, REPORTER: Kasie, it's one strategy among many that Israel is either employing or looking at employing to try to destroy this labyrinth of tunnels that Hamas has constructed underground the Gaza Strip. Now, it uses those tunnels to store weapons, to store its leadership, to store goods and other things like that. And even hostages, where many of the hostages, 135 still being held captive by Hamas, believed to be held.

Now, how does it work? Israel has about seven pumps. It's going to pump water, seawater from the Mediterranean Sea into those tunnels. It is just at the testing phase right now. What Israel wants to see is if it works and if it will be a good addition to its arsenal of ways to try to destroy those tunnels and potentially kill militants and put things like rocket launchers out of commission.

Will it work? Well, there is precedent in that Egypt in 2015 flooded some of the tunnels that ran from Egypt into the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Again, in order to clamp down on smuggling going from Egypt, weapons and the like going from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

Now, that worked for a time. But as we can see with the massive arsenal of rockets, rocket propelled grenades and other equipment that Hamas has amassed and been using against Israel since it carried out the massacre in October 7, it was only a short term fix because Hamas is quite able to still continue to smuggle weapons and other things into the Gaza Strip.

What are the risks? Well, there's a danger to the water supply, the environment, farmers complained in 2015 and, of course, ultimately, Kasie, the big concern is that it could also kill some of those hostages.

HUNT: Yeah, of course.

All right. Elliott Gotkine for us in London, thanks very much for that report.

Tensions between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becoming increasingly public over the war in Gaza. The president speaking to Democratic donors in Washington repeated that international support for Israel's war with Hamas would diminish if they were not, quote, careful.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STASTES: The actions they are taking must be consistent with attempting to do everything possible to prevent innocent Palestinian civilians from being hurt, murdered, killed.


HUNT: And CNN's Max Foster joins us now.

Max, good morning.

This obviously increasingly out in public that the Biden administration is pushing a little harder on Netanyahu. And Netanyahu meanwhile was asked of his vision of a post-war Gaza. And what was his response on the two-state solution and how are these two men negotiating this in public now?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're never quite clear on the two-state solution, a part from if you look at all of Netanyahu's actions, he is against it.


So talking about what happens to Gaza after the war, we haven't had very much on that. But he has said that he wants security responsibility of Gaza but not governance. That doesn't mean independence. So not an independent Palestinian area.

And we were also talking, Kasie, weren't we, earlier in the week, how Israel was -- or Netanyahu's government was allowing Qatar to send caseloads of cash into Gaza for Hamas. And thinking behind that was keeping -- or propping up Hamas as a political group as opposed to a counter balance really to the Palestinian Authority.

If you have that split in authority, it's very hard to negotiate a two-state solution.

So, not entirely clear, but he is not for a two state solution. So that is why President Biden also called for a change in government, saying it was too hard line.

HUNT: Max, the Biden administration has been very careful about what they have said in public about Netanyahu and when you talk to administration officials about why that is, they say it is because it preserves their leverage with the Israeli government. Should we see the increasing willingness to -- for the president to be public about this as a sign that they feel that leverage is waning?

FOSTER: It's interesting. I mean, you're better positioned than me to talk about whether or not it is a reaction to domestic pressure he has received particularly within the Democratic Party about the number of civilians that are dying in Gaza. So is he responding to that?

If you look at the vote of the United Nations last night, the U.S. voted against this motion for a ceasefire. And that is a very clear position right behind Israel. And obviously that was welcomed in Israel.

But if you look at the broader vote, it was an overwhelming vote for a ceasefire in Gaza. And that is most of the world calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. So that was a very strong message. But also very strong message from the United States to vote against it as opposed to abstaining even.

HUNT: Yeah, I think that it is -- I think that you are right to point out that there is this element of domestic political pressure obviously on Democrats. But Biden has personally been so staunchly supportive of Israel for so many years, I think if anything that has been a frustration for progressive Democrats.

And I do wonder if more of it is not actually about what is going on with their conversations with Israel more than anything else.

Max Foster, thank you for being here with us this morning.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: Always great to see you. See you tomorrow.

Still ahead here, Arizona's Supreme Court reviewing an abortion ban from the 1800s. We'll have details on that next.

And Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is in the hot seat again. We're going to tell you what's at stake this time.



HUNT: Quick hits across America now.

Arizona Supreme Court hears arguments on the state's near total abortion ban which dates back to the Civil War. At issue is whether Arizona completely bans abortion or maintains a ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A decision expected early next year.

President Biden meets with families whose loved ones are being held hostage by Hamas at the White House today. At least eight American, seven men and one woman, have been missing since the start of the war.

New York's highest court has ordered the state's 26 congressional districts to be redrawn. The long awaited decision could help Democrats flip a number of Republican held seats in the House next year and possibly regain control of the narrowly divided House.

All right. Let's go now to weather. Storms are going to bring heavy rain and snow to the southern Rockies and Plains and apparently another storm is developing in the Gulf of Mexico that could bring flooding to Florida and the Southeast later on this week.

Let's get straight to our weatherman Derek Van Dam with the latest.


HUNT: Derek, good morning.

VAN DAM: Yeah, great to see you.

And you know what, the storm across the Rockies is just going to be the icing on the cake across parts of let's say northeastern New Mexico into southern Colorado, right where we need the snow, we have the winter weather advisories, winter storm warnings in place. Look at this, the potential for over a couple feet of snow possible especially in the higher elevations.

So, ski resorts -- yeah, you'll take it. Of course, on the warm side, this is all rain, where you see that shading of green and blue. The Interstate 40 that runs between Amarillo and Oklahoma City, it will be a wet slow go for the next few hours as the storm traverses the region. It's trying to draw in the cold air from the back side of the system. So we'll eventually see a transition to snowfall late in the day on Thursday.

So here is the accumulation totals we're expecting, Amarillo northward, we could get a few inches of snow. Higher elevations again measuring feet, not in inches -- snow not in inches, but in feet rather. And so mountain snow, clear and cool, maybe a few lake-effect snow showers.

Kasie, you mentioned the potential of some wet weather across southern Florida. What we're concerned about here is several days of wet weather as a stationery boundary sets up that is creating flood watches, flood concerns going through the rest of the workweek.

Check out the forecast rainfall for Miami, could exceed 4 to 5 inches of rain.

Here is a quick check of your temperatures, 41 for the Windy City, 75 degrees for Miami. Hate to be the Grinch, Kasie, but I got to show you this because it's trending on Twitter, the blow torch that is Christmas, above before average temperatures expected for the entire country through Christmas week.

HUNT: No white Christmas for us I guess.


HUNT: All right. Weatherman Derek Van Dam -- all right, thank you, my friend.


I'll see you tomorrow.

VAN DAM: You're welcome. All right.

HUNT: Up next here, House Republicans subpoenaed Hunter Biden for a closed door deposition today, but his lawyers want a public one. So, who's going to blink?

And President Biden's interesting new choice of words about the U.S. commitment to Ukraine.


HUNT: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Just before 5:30 here on the East Coast.

The House GOP investigation into President Joe Biden reaches an inflection point just hours from now. House Republicans set to debate and vote on a resolution to formalize the impeachment inquiry into the president.

Speaker Johnson continues to defend the effort as the next necessary step.


JOHNSON: The impeachment inquiry is necessary now as Whip Emmert just explained because we've come to this impasse where following the facts where they lead is hitting a stone wall, because the White House is impeding that investigation.