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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: House Vote To Formalize Biden Impeachment Inquiry; Biden Tweaks Language On U.S. Commitment To War; Jury Hears Voicemail Threats In Rudy Giuliani Defamation Trial. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 13, 2023 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: 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's 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.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): The impeachment inquiry is necessary now as our -- as Whip Emmer 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 now. They're not allowing witnesses to come forward and thousands of pages of documents.

So we have no choice. To fulfill our constitutional responsibility we have to take the next step. We're not making a political decision -- it's not. It's a legal decision.


HUNT: So, Democrats call the inquiry a baseless political stunt. They're pointing to the lack of evidence from Republicans despite their months of investigations.

Also today, the president's son Hunter is scheduled to appear before lawmakers for a closed-door deposition as part of this escalating inquiry into the family's business dealings. Hunter Biden is in Washington today but it is unclear if he will actually show up. His lawyers want him to testify in public.

Let's bring in the co-founder of Punchbowl News, John Bresnahan. Bres, good morning. Always good to see you.

What's really going on here? I mean, Republicans haven't had the votes for this impeachment inquiry and now they seem to. At the very least, Johnson is going to the floor with it. What has changed, and how much of it is about the White House's stonewalling strategy?

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CO-FOUNDER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS (via Skype): Yeah, Johnson and the rest of the House Republican leadership has pretty much leaned all their moderate members -- all the members who are sitting in districts that -- Republican members sitting in districts that Biden won in 2020 and saying look, this is an inquiry. We are not impeaching Biden. We are not voting on impeachment. So they're trying to separate this -- the inquiry from a potential impeachment vote.

Now, we all know that if they begin the inquiry they're very likely to vote on impeachment at some point. But they're playing this game with their own members, saying this is just an inquiry. We're not voting on impeaching the president. And that seems to have convinced enough moderates to say yeah, we'll go along with something like this.

Somebody like Don Bacon, in Nebraska, who has been very reticent to vote even on an inquiry, so far. He says look, there's enough there to go forward.

Now, stonewalling -- the White House has tried to rely on what the past precedent was, including former President Donald Trump and how his White House responded to an impeachment inquiry. Including how former President Clinton's White House responded to an impeachment inquiry, saying we'll give you these witnesses but not these witnesses.

There is presidential privilege that we have to deal with here. They're relying on the past precedent. So they're not trying to make new ground here. They're just saying look, this is what previous White Houses did and this is what we're going to do. If you want to take us to court, take us to court. That's why Republicans say they need to go with this resolution today to help themselves in court.

HUNT: Right, because the reality is without the formalization there, all but destined to lose in court.

So, speaking of past precedent and how presidents handle these kind of investigations, Hunter Biden, the president's son, was subpoenaed for a deposition today. There's a threat that he'll be held in contempt of Congress if he doesn't show, but it does seem like we expect him not to show up.

I mean, what are the -- do you expect a contempt move? Do you expect to see him? How do you see this playing out?

BRESNAHAN: Yeah, I would expect them to go to contempt.

Now, we could not get an answer out of Hunter Biden's lawyer, Abbe Lowell. I think you all tried. I think every reporter in D.C. probably called or --

HUNT: Yes.

BRESNAHAN: -- (audio gap) yesterday. Yeah, he won't say.

They do have cameras set up inside the committees if he shows up today. I'm not sure it will happen. As you noted, he's in town. He's just -- no one knows whether he's going to go to the Hill.

Now, there could -- there's two types of contempt Congress could pursue against -- that the House could pursue against Hunter Biden -- criminal contempt and civil contempt.

Criminal content would have to be they'd have to prosecute -- the Justice Department, actually -- to bring charges against Hunter Biden. Now, he is already under indictment in Delaware on a gun issue. He is in an indictment in California on a federal tax issue. So it's very likely that the Biden Justice Department will go after Hunter Biden criminally on contempt.

Now, they can sue Hunter Biden in civil court -- in federal court in a civil case. That would take time. That's what they're -- that's what the whole argument will be about -- whether they -- whether Hunter Biden can drag this out beyond the end of this Congress, which is a possibility he could drag it out for a while.

So there's two types of contempt. We don't expect criminal charges against Hunter Biden on this but we could see a lawsuit over this.

HUNT: So dragging out your subpoena for --


HUNT: -- congressional testimony in the courts. Who does that remind you of, Bres?

BRESNAHAN: Yeah, that reminds me of Donald Trump and everybody else. Every other president who has ever done anything. This is the way the presidents and White Houses deal with this stuff. The Congress has a deadline they have to -- this Congress could -- will end at some point. They're probably just going to lose their majority. They know that -- the White House knows that they can drag this out when 2024 takes over and the election takes over, and then people are focused on something else.


HUNT: Yeah.

BRESNAHAN: But both sides here -- you know, even not showing up could suit both sides. Republicans get to beat up the president over Hunter not testifying, and the White House gets Hunter Biden not to testify.

HUNT: Right. The incentives are a bit crisscrossed.

Bres, quickly, you guys have some new reporting in Punchbowl out this morning on the status of these border security talks. It seems like the White House is willing to go pretty far in making border security changes.

Do you think this is going to move the needle and get this national security bill Israel and Ukraine aid out the door?

BRESNAHAN: I don't know. It's -- the White House did come in at kind of the last minute after Ukrainian President Zelenskyy was up on the Hill yesterday. It looked like Republicans were going to say you can't get a deal on the border. We're not going to pass a Ukraine bill. The White House came in with some new offer last night. There were talks last night. There's definitely progress.

Is there a deal yet? No. Can there be a deal? I don't know. The White House still has to -- in reality, the White House is talking to the Senate, which is Democratic-run, but it has to talk to Mike Johnson. It has to talk to the speaker. That's where the real test is. Can Biden make a deal with Speaker Johnson to pass an immigration bill that will unlock the Ukraine aid? I don't know. I don't know if it's there. There's definitely talk.

I don't think it happens this week. I think lawmakers go home for the holidays. If there is a deal, they'll come back. But it's a very -- it's very up in the air.

But this is desperate times for Ukraine and I think the White House knows how bad it is. And I think the president is willing to go a long way to try to get where the Republicans are.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, not to mention, it would solve -- it could solve some political problems he's got in dealing with the border, too.

John Bresnahan of Punchbowl News. Thank you very much, Bres. Always appreciate you.

All right. President Biden changing his tune a little bit when it comes to U.S. funding for the war in Ukraine. Here's the president at the State of the Union.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because we're going to stand with you as long as it takes.


HUNT: "As long as it takes."

And here he is yesterday.


BIDEN: The American people can be and should be incredibly proud of the part they've played in supporting Ukraine's success. And we'll continue to supply Ukraine with critical weapons and equipment as long as we can.


HUNT: It takes "we can." The difference is two words but it's a pretty significant shift.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live for us in London. Clare, what's the takeaway, and how are the Ukrainians doing this? CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kasie. I think the Ukrainians, right now, feel that they are essentially a hostage to U.S. partisan politics heading into an election year. You know, I think expectations were relatively low going into this visit by President Zelenskyy. The -- nothing really ended up that different. But he used it, obviously, as a way to build relationships and to reinforce his message.

But obviously, it's not about just money. This is about time. That was one of the points he made. Things are urgent. And right on cue, there was another Russian missile attack on Kyiv overnight -- the third in five days. Fifty-three people were injured. The Air Force managed to shoot down all 10 ballistic missiles.

But this is the point. If those missile attacks get bigger, which Ukraine expects they will as Russia targets critical infrastructure going into the winter, they will not have enough munitions, they say, to be able to counter them. President Zelenskyy reinforced that in his visit. His call for more air defense munitions.

And I spoke on Tuesday to a Ukrainian MP who handles a commission that sort of organizes the aid -- the military aid deliveries into the country. This is what she told me about these critical shortages of air defense munitions.


OLEKSANDRA USTINOVA, UKRAINIAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Kyiv can be turned into the second Mariupol and totally erased because we see hundreds of drones fly into Kyiv every day. But they are not using (INAUDIBLE) a lot yet. So we are waiting for a massive attack of hundreds of drones then following the hundreds of missiles, and if there is nothing to put them down with, that's it. We're done.


SEBASTIAN: So, President Zelenskyy continues his travels today. He's in Norway -- another major donor.

This visit and the lack of results not lost on Russia, Kasie. Just quickly, the Russian ambassador to Washington calling it a failure, saying that no one wants to see the "Kievan beggarman" as he called him. The U.S. is tired, is what he said.

HUNT: All right.

Clare Sebastion, thank you very much for that report. I really appreciate it.

All right. Up next here, powerful evidence is coming to light in the defamation case against former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. A jury is going to decide how much he will pay two former Georgia election workers who are suing him for spreading lies about them after the 2020 election.

One of those workers, Shaye Moss, has explained how Giuliani's conspiracy theories led to violent, racist threats against her.

On Tuesday, jurors heard some of those threats on voicemail. I do want to warn you some of this audio is really disturbing.



Voicemails received by Georgia Election Workers:

Lady Ruby, you're going to prison you f**king c***! You're going to go to f**king prison and you're going to sit there and you're going to live with the rats and the f**king maggots. Eat sh** and die you f**king racist c***.

We are going to burn your store down and we are going to burn all those n***** clothes that you sell that nobody wants. Oh, and your daughter, she's a f**king w**** prostitute crackhead.


HUNT: Joining me now, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson. Joey, really hard to hear some of those voicemails.

A judge has ruled already that Giuliani is liable and he's on the hook for $230,000. The workers are asking for between $15 million and $43 million.

What do you think happens next here?


And so, the relevance of those particular messages that we heard is the following. We're at the damage stage, right? The damages stage of this particular litigation. We know that the judge already concluding that Mr. Giuliani defamed them.

And so we go to well, how was your reputation impaired and how did it affect you? And you could see based upon the nature of those messages how it could and would have affected, right, both Shaye Moss and her mom. And so, the reality is that actions have consequences.

In terms of what we'll see, I think we'll see the continuing pursuit of the litigants in this case who are the election workers again trying to establish the damages that they endured as a result of the lies about what they did. And some of that testimony can be very compelling whether -- in terms of the jury hearing it and evaluating it. When you're asking for between $15 million and 40-some-odd million dollars, Kasie, the jury is going to want to know why, and part of that is not only damages but it's part to punish, right, Mr. Giuliani for what he's doing.

So I think we'll see continuing testimony by Shaye Moss and her mom with respect to how this impaired them and others who have been deposed. That means depositions that are taken prior to the trial and played before the jury, right, to determine the role that Giuliani had. And really, the nature and consequences of his actions so that they can arrive at a reasonable and fair conclusion in terms of what the damage value should be.

HUNT: Yeah, consequences of actions. I think this is a really good example of how the escalatory nature of the rhetoric and the violence in our political system that words do result in these kinds of threats to people who, in the case of these two workers just trying to do their job in a small part of our -- small but important part of our democracy.

On another topic, Joey --


HUNT: -- Senate Democrats -- there are -- there are a couple of them that want the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from ruling on Donald Trump's claims that he's immune from prosecution. This is, of course, in the context of Jack Smith, the special counsel, who has asked for this expedited ruling to try to keep the election subversion federal trial on track for early March.

What do you make of these recusal calls? Is there any chance that actually occurs, in your view?

JACKSON: Yeah. You know, Kasie, it will largely be up to him based upon Supreme Court rules. But if you really follow and look at the law itself, and you look at precedent, and you look at the nature of what should happen, the Democrats have a very significant argument. If your impartiality can be reasonably questioned then perhaps you should step aside.

And the argument that is being made is that your wife was in the forefront of the whole January 6 issue. She attended the rally. She is an election denier. And so, to what extent, if you have that close relationship, will you as a sitting justice be impaired to vote a particular way?

And so, in order for -- the argument is for our democracy to work -- in order for people to have trust in a system of government they have to trust the people who are making these decisions. And are you really making the decision in the interest of the Constitution, in the interest in America, or in the interest of your wife?

And so, that's the argument being made and I think that it's an argument that could resonate and certainly result in his recusal. But again, it will largely policed by himself based upon the precedent we've seen in the Supreme Court when they actually decide to recuse.

HUNT: Indeed, because it really is all up to them.

All right, Joey Jackson. Thank you very much for being up with us this morning. I really appreciate it. See you soon.

Up next, the Biden campaign sharpens their attacks on Trump after a high-profile Texas abortion case.




GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the first three years of the Trump administration, the economy is better than it has been. But that last year with COVID, I think was mishandled dramatically.

I went to the rallies with Donald Trump. He said he was going to build the wall and have Mexico pay for it, and that didn't happen.

I think, though, one thing in this race that I think is important to point out is Donald Trump flip-flopping on the right to life.


HUNT: Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis last night with some of his toughest attacks yet on GOP frontrunner Donald Trump at a CNN town hall in Iowa. DeSantis ripped Trump's record on the economy, the border, abortion, and Obamacare. But, of course, he steered clear of hitting Trump on what is likely to be his biggest vulnerability in a general election -- those four criminal indictments.

Let's bring in CNN political reporter Daniel Strauss. Daniel, good morning. Always good to see you.

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning.

HUNT: What does it tell you that DeSantis was on stage hitting Trump here in Iowa as opposed to Nikki Haley, who the super PACs -- she's really been the focus of the attacks on the airwaves and elsewhere in Iowa as we are in the closing weeks here?


STRAUSS: I mean, two things. One, it's that time is running out and DeSantis is very aware. And his direction or his trajectory in most recent polling, both statewide and nationally, is not what he would like. He is still slipping farther and farther behind Nikki Haley, relatively, and he hasn't been able to win over a large proportion of Trumpian voters.

At the same time, though, I think it's important to once again highlight and point out what you noted earlier in the intro that DeSantis is attacking Trump on COVID, on finishing the border wall, but not on the criminal indictments. And that's because he still has a sense of where these early primary voters are most interested in hearing another candidate and they, frankly, just feel that all of the criminal indictments against Trump are a "political witch hunt."

So what we know is that DeSantis has some sense of what the grassroots and activist base of the GOP wants; he just hasn't been able to win them over yet or convince them to support him over Trump or Nikki Haley.

HUNT: Right. Well -- and it's clear Iowa is his best shot at doing that. I also think that the fact that he's going after Trump in Iowa says they feel like they're on a little bit more solid ground there.

The question, of course, is New Hampshire for Nikki Haley, where -- I want to show you a little bit from the Chris Sununu endorsement of her -- and he, of course, is the governor there -- last night -- watch.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: -- who is a sweet older woman who has come to a lot of events. And I saw her coming in here and she said, "So, are you going to finally endorse Nikki Haley for president?" You bet you (bleep) I am. Let's get this thing done.


HUNT: So, endorsements don't always make a huge difference but Sununu does have a pretty unique profile in the state and I do think that this is something that at least adds to the feeling that she's on track in New Hampshire.

She is, of course, though being attacked as an establishment candidate. You can see it if you watch Fox News in their primetime hours. Ron DeSantis said that on stage with Jake Tapper last night.

One area where she is staking out kind of some different ground from her Republican rivals is on the issue of abortion, and that has been front and center with this Texas case. Take a look at what Haley had to say at an event yesterday about what happened there.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is exactly why I've said you have to show compassion and humanize the situation. We don't want any women to sit there and deal with a rare situation and have to deliver a baby in that sort of circumstance any more than we want women getting an abortion at 37, 38, 39 weeks.


HUNT: I mean, you contrast that with how Ken Paxton is handling this and you look at how voters have reacted in the wake of the fall of Roe versus Wade.

What do you make of Haley's situation here as we're just weeks out from Iowa and then New Hampshire?

STRAUSS: I mean, it's pretty clear what Haley's real argument is that Republicans aren't winning on putting abortion and strict restrictions on abortion front and center in recent elections. So her sort of -- her arguments -- her methods for addressing it is really an acknowledgment that there needs to be some kind of option that leaves wiggle room to allow Republicans to at least have some kind of argument to appeal to a broader constituency nationwide and in very -- in whatever states where abortion is on the ballot.

HUNT: Yeah.

STRAUSS: You know, it's an interesting approach because right now, there isn't very much of a robust discussion within the GOP about whether they need to really fine-tune how they talk about abortion or really change their general approach to it. But Haley's argument here, both subtextually and on the surface, is pretty clear -- that they need to address it in a different way if they want to win elections all the way up to the presidency.

HUNT: All right, CNN's Daniel Strauss. Thanks very much for being with us today. I really appreciate it.

All right, coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING a landmark deal at COP28 to move away from fossil fuels, but does it have any teeth?



HUNT: The Warriors Draymond Green was ejected yet again, this time for throwing a backhanded punch.

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


You know, Draymond was already suspended five games earlier this season for putting Rudy Gobert in that headlock, and he could now be facing yet another suspension for last night.

In the third quarter against the Suns, Draymond and Jusuf Nurkic -- they were jockeying for position on the inbounds play here and Draymond spins and nails Nurkic with a wild backhand. The refs review it and they give Draymond a flagrant two, ejecting him from the game. This was Draymond's third ejection of the season.

The Warriors were up five when this happened. They would go on to lose 119-116.

After the game, Draymond said the punch was not intentional.


DRAYMOND GREEN, FORWARD, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: As you know, I'm not one to apologize for things I meant to do, but I do apologize to Jusuf because I didn't intend to hit him. I sell calls with my arms, so I spun away and unfortunately, I hit him.

JUSUF NURKIC, CENTER, PHOENIX SUNS: What's going on with him? I don't know. Personally, I feel like that brother needs help. I'm glad he not try to choke me but at the same time, it had nothing to do with basketball, man. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: All right. It was also an early evening for Nuggets star Nikola Jokic in Chicago. In the second quarter, Jokic thought he was fouled here and he had something to say to the officials as they ran up the court. Well, he got a technical for that. And then moments later, the ref ejected him. And get this -- it was Serbian Heritage Night in Chicago. Jokic, the most famous Serbian NBA player and all the fans there not happy to see him ejected.



FANS: (Booing)


SCHOLES: They were booing in Chicago.

The Nuggets would end up actually winning that game 114-106.

But, Kasie, Jokic joked after the game a good thing this game was actually not in Serbia because all of the Serbian fans may have handled it a little differently if that was the case.

HUNT: Um, yikes -- yeah, OK.

Andy, thank you very much --

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: -- for all of that. I'll see you tomorrow.

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