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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

GOP Impeachment Inquiry Into President Biden Now Official; Supreme Court To Decide Fate Of Major Abortion Drug; Trump Makes His Case To Iowa Voters Ahead Of Caucuses. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 14, 2023 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good Thursday morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Republicans and Democrats in Washington are reacting this morning to yesterday's vote in the House officially authorizing an impeachment inquiry against President Biden. The probe, so far, has focused on claims the president was involved in his son Hunter's allegedly corrupt foreign business dealings.

The probe came hours after Hunter Biden defied a congressional subpoena demanding closed-door testimony to investigators. He told reporters yesterday that he'd be willing to testify in public where he says Republicans couldn't cherry-pick his words, and he said his father had nothing to do with his business dealings.


HUNTER BIDEN, PRESIDENT BIDEN'S SON: And in the depths of my addiction I was extremely irresponsible with my finances, but to suggest that is grounds for an impeachment inquiry is beyond the absurd. It's shameless.


HUNT: Republicans now say they'll move to hold Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress.

Let's bring in Mychael Schnell, congressional reporter for The Hill. Mychael, good morning. It's always great to have you on the show.

So the investigation has not yet shown any proof of wrongdoing by the president specifically. House Republicans are saying they need this inquiry in order to find the evidence.

What happens next?

MYCHAEL SCHNELL, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE HILL: Yeah. Look, Kasie, like you mentioned, we haven't seen that smoking gun conclusively connecting President Biden to these allegations against Hunter Biden.

But essentially, what House Republicans had said was they needed to hold a vote on authorizing this impeachment inquiry at this point to bolster the investigative effort and -- as they head into a more combative phase of this impeachment inquiry, which includes trying to enforce subpoenas, land high-profile witnesses. They say they need more legal weight behind the inquiry.

And I'll note it comes after the White House responded to subpoenas essentially saying that -- arguing that the impeachment inquiry was not legitimate because it hadn't been backed up by a formal House vote. We remember back in September then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy opened the impeachment inquiry on his own accord, directing House GOP chairmen to continue their investigations.

So yesterday, we saw that vote ultimately come to the House floor and pass in a party-line vote. All Republicans lining up behind this inquiry. And I'll note a lot of these Republicans are saying this was just a vote to expand the investigative powers. This by no means is a vote on impeaching the president.

HUNT: Right, and moderate Republicans -- I mean, I think the question I have is just kind of what changed their minds because there had been sort of this reticence to do it because they were worried about the political implications.

Jamie Raskin -- he's the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee and he was obviously very involved in the Democratic impeachments. He had this warning for them. He said, quote, "Once you get on the train at the first stop" -- being the beginning of inquiry -- "you're pretty much going to take the whole ride."

What do you make of this?

SCHNELL: Yeah. This is something we've been asking those moderate Republicans and, quite frankly, all Republicans, Kasie, is the idea that authorizing this impeachment -- taking this politically difficult vote for a number of these moderate Republicans doesn't make them nervous that this will inevitably end with voting on impeachment articles. Because look, if the House Republicans don't end up voting on impeachment articles it's kind of acquitting the president of any wrongdoing. Saying hey, we did this investigation. We didn't find anything. He's off the hook. Let's move on.

And Republicans have been insistent that there is some wrongdoing. They're just looking to find it.

Essentially, these moderate Republicans had said look, this is not a vote on impeaching the president. They have really been trying to differentiate between voting to authorize the inquiry, which would be bolstering the legal weight behind the impeachment probe. It would be expanding their investigative powers, saying that this is by no means a vote on impeaching the president. This is a step that is far -- that comes far before voting on impeachment articles.

They are really trying to draw a line in the sand between voting on the inquiry and voting on articles. But you see Democrats are saying look, if you take this first vote it's probably likely that we're going to see votes on articles later on. HUNT: Yeah.

So, Mychael, I want to put up a handy little graphic that we made of all the times that there have been impeachment inquiries throughout American history. As you can see, many of them are in black and white, minus the portrait of Thomas Jefferson -- those photographs from later on. But it shows you how rare this has been, really until recently -- obviously, Watergate, in 1972.

But I think one of the things we're seeing here is something of a normalization of the use of impeachment as a political tactic or tool.

Is there anyone on the Hill that you talk to on a regular basis who is kind of warning about that?

SCHNELL: Yeah. Look, Kasie, it's a rarity using impeachment. And I'll note something that Speaker Johnson has said time and time again is that impeachment is one of the greatest and most important powers that Congress -- specifically, the House -- has behind declaring war. So they know that there is significant weight behind the powers of impeachment that Congress has.

But as that graph shows right there, it's becoming much more frequent. And I think this just comes along with this increase in polarization and partisanship in Washington and, quite frankly, across the country. We're seeing more of these bitter political battles. These fights break out between Republicans and Democrats. Lawmakers are escalating their tactics and that includes an increase in the use of impeachment, as we've seen in recent years.


If we sort of zoom into just the House this year, we've seen an increased number of censure resolutions. We've seen an increased number in trying to expel members -- obviously, that being successful last month.

So I think that we're seeing lawmakers and individuals utilize these tactics more often. Whether or not that's good or bad that's for others to decide. But it's definitely becoming more frequent and it's happening as this polarization -- as this partisanship increases. As these battles between the parties really accelerate.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, some of these other impeachment inquiries also are back from an era of incredible divisiveness in American history as well.

So, Mychael Schnell, of The Hill, thank you very much for being up with us. I really appreciate it.

All right. The stage is set for another dramatic ruling from the Supreme Court on abortion. This time justices will decide on access to the abortion pill and the decision will come down from the court this summer, just months before Election Day.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst, acting professor at NYU Law School, and former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. Jennifer, good morning to you.

This is a very significant development because the Supreme Court is going to consider whether to restrict access to this drug -- it's called Mifepristone -- even in states where abortion is still legal.

And one thing that I think is important to note, too, as someone who is -- I have -- I'm right in the -- my daughter is nine months old. I know -- I have a lot of friends who are in their childbearing years. This is also a drug that is used in miscarriage care. And this decision could have far-reaching ramifications for women. And it's going to come right ahead of the presidential election.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, ACTING PROFESSOR AT NYU LAW SCHOOL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, it's a -- it's a huge potential ruling, Kasie. The Supreme Court is poised to say whether or not they meant what they said in Dobbs that this should be an issue for the states. There are at least half the states that want to continue having this drug be accessible to women for a variety of purposes. It's been proven safe and effective for over 20 years.

And one judge in Texas decided that it shouldn't be available anymore. And so, they're now up on appeal saying whether the Supreme Court agrees with that premise.

But it's really important to women all over that now accounts for more than half of abortions -- these medication abortions. So we're all waiting to see what the court is willing to do and how far they're willing to go to say that, in fact, it's not up to the states to use the safe and effective drug. That really, it's up to legislatures -- is what they would be saying in my view -- if they decided that it wouldn't be available I think more so. We'll see what they do.

HUNT: For sure, and it could have -- I mean, we've seen just how potent the abortion issue is at the ballot box and ahead of a presidential election very significant potentially.

All right, let's switch gears because I want to ask you about the judge overseeing Trump's 2020 election interference case.

So we had previously expected this to start March 4, the day before Super Tuesday, but they've now temporarily hit pause. She says that she doesn't have jurisdiction over what's going on now because of the Court of Appeals. It's going to consider whether or not Trump has immunity. And, of course, the special counsel has asked the Supreme Court to step in and speed up the process.

How does this potentially benefit the former president?

RODGERS: Well, the court does lose jurisdiction when an appeal happens before the case is resolved. I mean, if courts were allowed to go ahead and do their business and try the case before an issue on appeal were decided that would kind of undermine the reason for letting appeals happen before everything is finalized. So, she doesn't have jurisdiction to continue for the moment, at least with much of the run-up to the trial. And the problem is as we move along there are things that need to be

done, right? There needs to be rulings on what evidence can come in, for example, and other rulings that need to happen before the trial. And if you lose too much time in the run-up to March 4 you're not going to have time to fit that all in. So you may end up with a delay, which ends up benefitting the former president who, of course, wants nothing more than to have this pushed back beyond the election if at all possible.

So that's what the judge and the special counsel are up against is this notion of just a delay that ends up pushing it beyond the election. So we'll see what happens. I think the special counsel is doing what he can to move things along. And the Supreme Court looks like they're going to take it up, at least in some degree -- so hopefully, they'll be able to resolve this efficiently.

HUNT: The Supreme Court also said on Wednesday that they are going to consider whether the federal obstruction statute -- whether that can be used against January 6 rioters and against President Trump in establishing their intent. This is what makes it against the law to obstruct an official proceeding.

What does this mean for those that have already been convicted and, potentially, for the former president?


RODGERS: So, if this statute -- which, as you say, has been used in hundreds of these January 6 cases -- and is charged against the former president, two of the four counts in his indictment in D.C. charge this offense if it were, for example, overturned as unconstitutional. That, of course, would mean it's out of play for Trump and would be problematic for all of those who have been convicted on it. It would overturn those convictions as well.

I don't think that's likely to happen. At most, I think what the court is likely to do is question whether corrupt intent must be proved and perhaps, narrow the definition of corrupt. So it could still be problematic for some of those defendants who have been convicted of it. It could require new trials. Any time a statute is taken up by the high court and things are changed with it you have potential problems for those who have been convicted of it.

But this happens all the time with criminal statutes. So we'll just have to see exactly what they do and then that will dictate to prosecutors what they have to do next with respect to those cases that have been charged with this offense.

HUNT: Interesting.

All right, Jennifer Rodgers. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

RODGERS: Thanks.

HUNT: Up next, a high-profile abortion case in Texas putting Republican presidential hopefuls in the hot seat. How Nikki Haley says she would handle it.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking right now at his first end-of-the-year news conference since invading Ukraine.



HUNT: We are less than five weeks from the Iowa caucuses and Trump's final argument to Iowa voters -- we're beginning to see it. At a rally there yesterday, Trump laid into Biden's economic policies and talked about Ronald Reagan.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Were you better off four years ago, or are you better off today?


HUNT: Or invoked him, I suppose.

The former president also coming after rivals Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis and their big endorsers. The latest polls show Trump maintains a commanding lead in Iowa.

Let's bring in CNN politics reporter Alayna Treene. Alayna, good morning.

So we heard his usual attacks on Biden and his opponents. Trump also had this to say to Iowa voters. Take a look.


TRUMP: We are leading by a lot but you have to go out and vote because so much means -- you know, going out -- the margin of victory is very important. It's just very important -- even for foreign countries watching. But it's very important. That margin of victory is so, so powerful.


HUNT: So I found this focus to be illuminating. It's clear that the campaign must be focused on this because I'm not sure they've gotten enough credit, frankly, for making sure that they stay on Ron DeSantis in Iowa. They're clearly watching it carefully.

What did you hear there

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICS REPORTER (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah. You know, it's really interesting. This is a tactic that Donald Trump has employed in the last couple of events that he has done in Iowa, which is essentially to try and teach caucusgoers how to caucus in Iowa and ensuring that -- you know, come out and vote. Do not get complacent. Do not think that this is in the bag. I remember when I first heard this a couple of weeks ago at one of his speeches in Iowa it was the most explicit language that he had used yet -- really motivating voters to get out and vote on January 15 and to not stay home. And he's continuing to do that.

And I do think what's interesting is yes, Donald Trump has a commanding lead in the polls. He's doing very well in Iowa above his challengers. But his campaign also recognizes that they cannot take their foot off the gas pedal when campaigning there. And they've still been very --

HUNT: Yeah.

TREENE: -- aggressive about his -- he's going to have a very aggressive schedule as they head into January.

And so I think it's them recognizing that they need to show up really big in Iowa. They don't just want to win it, they want to win it with a lot of numbers. Because they do think that if they can win in Iowa and win in New Hampshire, and in a big way, that will force people like Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley --

HUNT: Right.

TREENE: -- to ultimately drop out of the race.

HUNT: Right.

So, speaking of Haley -- I mean, I do think it's interesting how both Trump, himself, and also the campaign have turned focus to her in recent weeks.

Here is what Trump had to say about her. Take a look.


TRUMP: They've been talking about the Haley surge. So she goes up two points, I go up I think 10 points -- nine of 10 points -- and they say that's the Trump surge. But they don't want to say that. They said she's surging against him, but he's gone nowhere.


HUNT: What are you hearing behind the scenes from campaign aides about how they view Haley right now?

TREENE: Yeah. I mean, that was really interesting last night. As someone who goes to nearly all of Donald Trump's rallies and hears his speeches, he never talks about Nikki Haley. It's always about Ron DeSantis. He always is attacking Ron DeSantis mostly.

He spent the most time than he ever has going after Nikki Haley. And I think one, that shows how much of a threat she's become in this race.

But behind the scenes and in my conversations with Donald Trump's allies and advisers, they argue that they're not that worried about Nikki Haley. They completely dismissed the endorsement from Chris Sununu, but that's what they want us to know.

I think when you really get them to open up about it they recognize that she is doing very well and that if she can do well in New Hampshire, specifically, that's where they're more worried about her. How she will do in New Hampshire.

HUNT: Right.

TREENE: If she would win New Hampshire or even take a lot of the support -- the support that Donald Trump has, that could be problematic.

And so, they are beginning to really turn their attention to Nikki Haley in a way that they haven't done before.

HUNT: Right. And, of course, New Hampshire rolls right into South Carolina, which Nikki Haley was once --

TREENE: Right.

HUNT: -- the governor of.

So, one other thing that caught my ear. Nikki Haley has been out talking about abortion, especially in the wake of Kate Cox's case in Texas and the ruling there. Take a look at what she had to say most recently.



NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When it comes to abortion, quite honestly, I don't think the fellows have known how to talk about it properly.


HUNT: What do you make of that?

TREENE: I mean, I think she is messaging-wise pretty on point. As the only woman candidate right now in that race that does give her a lot of credit.

And I'll say this. Nikki Haley is very pro-life and she's said that. She is someone who would sign a 15-week federal abortion ban. But she's also recognized the realities of Congress and the government and that something -- a federal ban like that after 15 weeks isn't likely to pass. And she's been very open about that.

So I think what worked with her, particularly with women --

HUNT: Yeah.

TREENE: -- suburban women -- the type of voters that we know Donald Trump and other candidates are really trying to target and go after -- they see her more nuanced take as something that is more realistic, and they like that.

And I think the thing about abortion is it's obviously a huge threat to Republicans. Democrats are making it the centerpiece of the election --

HUNT: Yeah.

TREENE: -- next year. They want it to be a fight about this. And her being a little bit more open about the realistic ways that they can move about abortion if she were to win office -- would a federal ban be in place? Probably not. That's something that I think a lot of people respect that she's saying and find it to be more realistic than what some of the other candidates are talking about.

HUNT: All right, CNN's Alayna Treene. Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

And coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" a federal judge hits the brakes on Trump's 2020 election interference case. What that means for the trial and for him.

And calls to poison control centers soar after Americans overdose on injected weight loss drugs. We're going to have a report from CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to reporters right now. This is a live look at his end-of-the-year news conference. He usually does it every year, though he skipped it last year.

Putin said that if Ukraine does not stand down and accept Russia's terms, Moscow will have to quote, "solve the problem by force."


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Either we will agree on demilitarization, agree on certain parameters. And, by the way, during the negotiations in Istanbul, we agreed on them and they threw these agreements into the oven -- but we had agreed on them. Or there are other possibilities either to reach an agreement or to resolve it by using force. This is what we will strive for.


HUNT: So, as we said, he skipped it last year after ordering troops into Ukraine.

All right, let's go now to sports where we had a wild game in Milwaukee last night that included a fight over who got to keep the game ball.

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

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

You know, you don't see this very often. Game balls are usually a thing in football normally. In basketball, players generally want them when they have an incredible game or they reach some sort of milestone.

Well, Giannis did have one incredible game against the Pacers last night. He was just dominant in this game pouring in a career-high and franchise-record 64 points.

The tempers were flaring there in the fourth quarter. Giannis got flung to the ground, but that was just the beginning.

After the Bucks 140-126 win there was a fight over who got to keep the game ball. The Pacers apparently took it for a player who scored his first NBA basket. Giannis wasn't happy about that. He darted into the tunnel to try to get that ball. Some pushing and shoving happened there. Then Giannis came back to the court and had some heading words with Tyrese Haliburton.

So Bucks' security later retrieved the ball for Giannis, but he doesn't know if it's the right one.


GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, FORWARD, MILWAUKEE BUCKS: I have the ball, but I don't know if it's the game ball. It doesn't feel like the game ball to me. It feels like a brand-new ball. The ball that I have, which I'll take and I'll give to my mom for sure, but I don't think it's actually the game ball. But it's OK, you know. Life continues. This is -- unfortunately, I've never seen -- I've never seen this before. I feel like you -- I don't know -- I won't comment on that.


SCHOLES: All right. Well, the NBA announcing last night that Draymond Green has been suspended indefinitely for clocking Jusef Nurkic in the face on Tuesday. The league office saying the outcome takes into account Green's repeated history of unsportsmanlike acts. In order to return to the court, Draymond is going to be required to meet certain league and team conditions.

Now, this is Draymond's second suspension of the season. He was banned five games earlier this year for putting Rudy Gobert in a chokehold.

All right. The NFL, meanwhile, is expanding its international presence starting next season. The league announcing on Wednesday that it's going to play a game in Sao Paulo, Brazil for the first time ever.

And we also found out that SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California has been selected to host Super Bowl LXI in February of 2027. It's going to be the second time in five years that the big game is going to take place there in Los Angeles. The Rams -- they won Super Bowl LVI there in 2022. This season's Super Bowl is going to be played in Las Vegas for the first time ever.

All right. And finally, with a record of 3-10, Bill Belichick is struggling through the worst season of his 24-year Patriots coaching career. And yesterday, he was asked three times about a report that team owner Robert Kraft has already decided to part ways with the six- time Super Bowl-winning coach after the season ends. Take a listen.


REPORTER: Do you have an understanding that Robert will not ask you to be back next year?

BILL BELICHICK, HEAD COACH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Yeah, getting ready for Kansas City. That's what I'm doing.


BELICHICK: Yeah, I'm getting ready for Kansas City.

REPORTER: While I understand you're getting ready for Kansas City, have you and Robert discussed your future beyond this season?

BELICHICK: I'm getting ready for Kansas City.



SCHOLES: Yeah. So, Kasie, Coach Belichick is getting ready for Kansas City. But, yeah, it certainly seems like it's going to be an end of an era there with the Patriots if Belichick does, indeed, leave after the season.

HUNT: It certainly would be the end of an era. And honestly -- I mean, you could barely hear him right there, you know? It's kind of like -- the writing seems like a little bit on the wall in that.

SCHOLES: Classic Belichick, though -- on to Kansas City.

HUNT: Indeed.

All right, Andy. Thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: 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.