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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

National Security Adviser Meets with Israeli Leaders; Putin Projects Confidence at Annual News Conference; Rain, Wind, Flood Threats to Hit Florida and East Coast. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 15, 2023 - 05:00   ET




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives.



Joe Biden sends his top security adviser to Israel with a message about bombs, and the people of Gaza.

Plus, a jury could decide today how much Rudy Giuliani's lies about two Georgia election workers could cost him.

And --


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's why I think you need a bad ass woman in charge of the White House.


HUNT: Nikki Haley's latest pitch as she tries to close the gap with Donald Trump.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Friday, December 15th. Happy Friday, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington. It's noon in Tel Aviv, where U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has been meeting with Israeli leaders in the midst of a growing rift between U.S. and Israel.

Sullivan conveying President Biden's escalating message about the importance of protecting civilians, at the same time the Israeli military tries to smash Hamas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: Do you want Israel to scale back its assault on Gaza in -- by the end of the year? Do you want them to tone it down? Move it to a lower intensity phase?

BIDEN: I want them to focus how to save civilian lives, not to stop going after Hamas, but to be more careful.


HUNT: Be more careful.

Sullivan met with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, and this morning, he met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

And just an hour ago, Sullivan held a news conference where CNN asked him about the timeline that the U.S. is pushing for Israel to shift from high intensity warfare, to lower intensity, intelligence driven fighting.


JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: And I think it's really important that those discussions take place. First, here in the spirit of partnership, we're not here to tell anybody you must do X, you must do Y. We're here to say this is our perspective as your partner, as your friend. This is what we believe is the best way to achieve your tactical, and strategic goals. And then, second, it has to take place in private because we can't telegraph for the enemy what the plan is.


HUNT: International diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is live for us in London on this.

Nic, good morning. It's always good to see you.

Very careful answer there from Sullivan. What do we know what's going on behind the scenes? This does seem like a notable shift in public from the president?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It does, and I think that gives you an indication of what maybe happening behind the scenes. But as you said, that was very sort of diplomatic and careful answer by Jake Sullivan there. And we had a similar answer earlier in the week from State Department spokesman Matt Miller when he was asked what -- what can you do? Can you sort of control and influence the way the war is being fought?

President Biden, of course, earlier in the week at a donor rally speaking about indiscriminate bombing. Not something it's done before, that's pretty strong and stuff language for the president to put out there, publicly.

So what can be done, and this is what Matt Miller wouldn't discuss, is could the United States put some controls on Israel and the way that some of the weapons that is -- that are being given to Israel are used in the same way that they do with Ukraine. That was no comment from Matt Miller on that.

So we don't know what is happening behind the scenes but the fact that Jake Sullivan is there at a time when clearly the diplomatic word is between the United States and Israel, not only on the way the war is being fought, but on how the outcome of the war, and what happens next is going to look like, shows you that there is a bit of discord, disunity, disquiet behind closed doors.

But really, we don't -- we're not getting a good look at what is actually being said, and the pressures that are being used. But there are some available, and that's clear.

HUNT: Yes, it is. I will say, you know from reporting on Capitol Hill. The White House right now is urging the White House not to place restrictions on this aid. But there are restrictions they can use to get this out of the door, in the wake of congressional authorization. Nick, Netanyahu's domestic pressures on this are remarkably different so far, that they're sticking there saying, they're sticking to their script, they are not going to ease up on Gaza until Hamas is destroyed.

What does this say about the pressures on Netanyahu inside Israel right now?

ROBERTSON: Yeah, there's really sort of a real politic thing that's happening in Israel. That is -- this is a very right wing government of Prime Minister Netanyahu.


But the other real politic of the situation is that Israelis were traumatized -- are traumatized by the brutal events of October 7th, and to look to a government to provide a immediate security solution. How can people return to the sort of border communities, the farming communities that are along the border of Gaza? How can people rest assured that the rockets aren't going to rain down them five months from now, a year from now?

So there is domestic pressure, a security issue, a real security issue that has never been realized to be at this level, the scale. And it has to be addressed. So there is the pressure of the government, and there is also the pressure of the opposition who would like to take the prime minister down, but there is a -- if you like -- a gut feeling across the country that this Hamas threat has to be tackled.

HUNT: Yeah. Nick, the sort of long game for Gaza, it seems like the U.S. and Israel have different visions for how any sort of permanent security solution and government solution is going to play out there, how much do you think that that is sort of coming to the forefront as the U.S. grapples with how to support Israel and obviously, the time of pain, while also dealing with, I mean, Biden has a difficult domestic political situation here in the U.S. on its hands as well?

ROBERTSON: Yeah, there's a real political cost, potentially for President Biden and that apathetic segments of the electorate that won't go out, won't vote Democrat, may not vote Republican, but they're put out from the politics of the presidential campaign in terms of Biden, because there is this high death toll, civilian toll in Gaza. And there's a segment of the population that is not going to support that.

I think Israel is still driving the narrative here. What we are hearing at the moment's transition from high intensity, to lower intensity, whether it'd be intelligence driven operations that the IDF could launch against Hamas inside Gaza. I mean, this is something that I was hearing two weeks after October 7th from government ministers in Israel.

They were saying, we want to have a scenario whereby in the future, we dominate the security landscape and we have a situation like the West Bank, where if we have intelligence about a Hamas, or Palestinian, Islamic, jihad, or whoever, we go after them, like we see them doing in Jenin at the moment, and other places in the West Bank.

So, this scenario of what the next phase looks like, this is a scenario that Israel has been talking about for several months now. So I think the narrative is still being driven by Israel but the United States, obviously, for those domestic and political reasons would like it to look less bloody and more controlled.

HUNT: For sure.

All right. Nic Robertson for us in London -- Nic, thank you.

All right. Still ahead here, Rudy Giuliani's defamation case now in the hands of the jury. We're taking a look at the evidence there considering.

Plus, a brand new ad from Chris Christie's campaign for president attacking Trump directly.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin confident on doubling down on his war in Ukraine.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Russian President Vladimir Putin projecting conference at this annual news conference, suggested weakening support for Ukraine aid in Washington means time is now on his side.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Today, Ukraine produces almost nothing. They are trying to preserve something, but they produced nothing. They get everything, excuse bad manners, for free. But this freebie may end someday, and apparently it is ending. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: So, the carefully stage-managed four-hour news conference and town hall, was the first occasion where Putin has ever mentioned the detention of American journalist Evan Gershkovich, "The Wall Street Journal" reporter was arrested in March on espionage charges that he and the journal has strenuously denied.

Putin said negotiations with the White House for Gershkovich's release are ongoing, but that a solution, quote, must suit the Russian side as well, end quote.

CNN's Max Foster joins us now live from London.

Max, good morning. Always good to see you.

So, Putin has this every year although he did skip it last year. Perhaps because of the special military operation in Ukraine, as the Kremlin calls it, wasn't going so well. It obviously came back this year, why? And what did we see in Putin's tone that reflected this?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you said it there. He had these annual conferences. They are marathon affairs, and they were very much a private diary. And there was that one last year and the interpretation of that is because the war wasn't going in their direction. Now, clearly, Putin thinks it is.

You can argue that he has already won, of course, but I think what happened in America has given a huge amount of confidence, because if Ukraine doesn't get that American money, it will not have the same momentum. And I think today, this event, it would've been even more interesting because we also have the European Union failing to agree and given Ukraine more money as well.

And if they don't get European or American money, it's a massive problem for Ukraine and very good news for President Putin, which is probably why he looks so confident.

HUNT: And the fact that the European Union stop sending money as well, it's going to make it even, it's going to the political atmosphere in the U.S., being able to make it more difficult for Ukraine. If politicians can argue, European Union isn't helping and if it's in their backyard, why should we be doing it, too? That's challenging.

So, in addition to answering journalist questions, there were questions from the public for Putin? And these were all quite respectful. But there are these screens behind Putin, obviously, the words are in Russian but the questions are things like when will the Russians stop killing Russian? When will we live better?


And when will the real Russia be more like TV Russia? Why was this allowed do you think? FOSTER: I think it's -- I don't know, I mean, I -- none of us really

know. This is Kremlin stuff, and this is Putin stuff. My interpretation, my personal interpretation, is that this is smoke and mirrors. I think he recognizes that many people feel the way these questions were posed.

And then he was answering, he was giving the impression that he's answering tough questions without asking tough questions. What he's really doing is connecting with the local people as well, by showing that he is aware of how they really feel without having to address it properly. I think it was very clever communication strategy actually.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, it's an interesting window as well into kind of what the actual challenges on the minds of Russians are right now. I'm not sure that I've had a better window into it to be quite honest with you.

So European leaders, we mentioned the challenges on the eighth however, they did just agree to open E.U. membership talks with Ukraine. And that would be a really big deal for Kyiv. But, of course, as we have talked about, this critical aid package was blocked by Hungary.

How do you see -- you know, there is tension inside of the bloc? How does that play out?

FOSTER: Well, yeah, I mean, it's difficult, isn't it? It's similar to the U.N. You need unanimity to vote for this package to Ukraine. Viktor Orban is probably Putin's closest ally within the European Union. Oppose it, so it has not gone through.

So you have to be aware that there is only one country, and not one of the biggest countries that objected to this. Everyone else agreed to it. So this is not a massive divide between the European Union, but it is a problem, and there are complexities around it, because Viktor Orban wants certain things in the E.U., most notably money that he thinks is being held up and not received. So there will be a way to negotiate through this with him.

This is politics perhaps, but also just the view of one country within the E.U. I don't think it's reflective of the entire E.U.

HUNT: Yeah, no, it's very important -- very important point, and Hungary, obviously, a unique profile in terms of who Viktor Orban is. And kind of the things that motivate him, and how he governs.

All right. Max Foster, thank you very much, my friend. Have a wonderful weekend.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie. And to you.

HUNT: All right. Still ahead here, that nation's highest court refuses to block one states ban on high powered guns.

And powerful storm in the Gulf of Mexico heads north, what will the East Coast face this weekend? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


HUNT: All right, quick hits across America right now.

A 13-year-old boy is facing charges after allegedly planning a mass shooting at a Canton, Ohio, synagogue. According to court documents, the team posted the detailed plans on social media.

The Supreme Court has refused to block a new Illinois law that bans high powered, semiautomatic weapons. It takes effect January 1st. Gun rights groups and others have filed a lawsuit to stop the ban.

The first postpartum depression tablet now available to take in the United States. But it will cost almost $16,000 per treatment course before instruments. The treatment requires two capsules per day, for 14 days. Some doctor says it can improve symptoms as quickly as three days.

All right. Now to weather -- a powerful storm from the Gulf of Mexico is moving north, bringing heavy rain, strong winds, and flood threats to millions. That's in Florida tomorrow, and much of the East Coast over the weekend.

Meteorologist, the weatherman, Derek Van Dam, here to break it all down for us.

Hey, Derek, good morning.


You know, this, by no means, will be a tropical storm, but we want to try it like it will be because it will have similar characteristics to it. The flood threat will be there, the wind threat will be there, and so will the coastal flood threat, along with the surge of moisture that is going to come off of the ocean.

So, let's break it down by the threats and the possibilities here. This is for Saturday's, we're talking about tomorrow. You can see the entire Florida peninsula under this slight risk of excessive rainfall. It could lead to flooding that even spills into portions of southern Florida, and then look at how that spreads on the Eastern Seaboard, by the end of the weekend, and the start of the work week.

So, to get a better understanding of what is happening, we need to see all of the little pieces of the puzzle that fit together to form the storm through the course of the weekend. One being this low pressure that's forming. We've been talking about it, moving across the four corners, and into the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle.

There it is, as they look towards the future. Watch what it does. I'm going to advance at this. It moves eastward, to help spin up the low pressure system that will likely strengthen and deepen through the course of today and into tomorrow. We do expect that to kind of almost, quote/unquote, make landfall near the Big Bend of Florida. It will surge in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Bring in significant rainfall and help bring that's coast as well.

So, how much rain are we talking about? Several inches, 4 to 5 inches possible from Daytona, all the way to Miami, and then check this out, Savannah into Charleston. Eventually the outer banks, and across the Mid-Atlantic, all the way to New York City by the end of the weekend. This is going to put a large swath of heavy rainfall.

Just think, if temperatures were below freezing this would be a major event. But, of course, well above freezing this weekend. So plan on this for the weekend, and as you start off the work week, this will impact travel conditions for many, wind gusts here will exceed 40 to 50 miles per hour, especially in some of the higher elevations.

So it's going to be a rough go from Florida, through the southeast, all the way to the east coast. Here is a look at the immediate threats, Kasie, we can see coastal flood warnings and watches in place across the Florida peninsula. Not much on the radar right now, but that is going to change here within the next 12 to 24 hours.

Look at how this low starts to form, heavy rainfall for Tampa, and even coastal rain flooding as well.

Back to you.

HUNT: All right. Our weatherman, Derek Van Dam, thank you very much, my friend. I hope you have a good weekend.

VAN DAM: You're welcome.

HUNT: Stay dry.

VAN DAM: You as well. Thank you.

HUNT: All right. See you soon.

Up next here, President Biden facing intense pressure, both domestically and overseas.

Also under pressure? Rudy Giuliani, as the jury considers deliberations in the defamation case against him.


HUNT: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.