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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Detroit News: Recording Reveal Trump Pressured Two Michigan Republicans To Not Certify 2020 Vote; Biden Campaign Central Theme: Trump Threat To Democracy; Secy Yellen: "Bidenomics Is Working For Middle Class"; DeSantis Attacks Trump On Abortion As "Not Dependable" On GOP Causes; Rams Boost Playoff Hopes With Win Over Saints; Shaq-A- Claus Is Coming To Town. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 22, 2023 - 05:30   ET




JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST: Good morning. Thanks for getting up early with us. Grab a cup of coffee. I'm John Avalon in for Kasie Hunt.

Now, a brand new example and a clear pattern of behavior into just how far former President Donald Trump went to overturn an election he lost in 2020. The Detroit News reporting that Trump pressured two Republican election officials in Wayne County, Michigan, that's Detroit, to not certify the vote there. That's according to audio recordings from a phone call that Trump made in November of 2020.

For more, let's bring in Senior Politics Reporter from Axios, Eugene Scott. Eugene, good morning. Great to see you. Look, we've known that Trump courted state lawmakers in his effort to overturn the 2020 election, but help us understand what's new and legally significant here.

EUGENE SCOTT, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, we know that this is different from what we've known for a fact in the past, one, because we have these recordings. But in this case, which we did not know before, we have the GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel on the cause as well, promising these individuals that if they found themselves in legal jeopardy, that they would be provided with attorneys, they would have protection.

And so, this pressure seemed to move a bit further than what we maybe known about -- knew about the meeting that Trump had, like in the Oval Office with some head lawmakers, Republican lawmakers from the Michigan legislature.

AVLON: Yes, I want to focus on that point of the offering of a lawyer, which was done by RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, but reaffirmed by President Trump on that call that the Detroit News has published the transcript of. I mean, offering someone a lawyer is not only offering someone legal protection, but there would seem to be an assessment that there's some legal risk or jeopardy in doing what they're asking them to do, knowledge that perhaps it's not proper. [05:35:14]

SCOTT: Absolutely. And we saw in Trump's response to Axios that he denied that he was, of course, doing anything illegal, but was, in fact, trying to make sure that election integrity was taking place and investigating, he would say, the 2020 election.

But this seemed to be an awareness, indicate an awareness that the law might not be on his side. And that is perhaps what led these two individuals to not move in the direction Trump wanted them to, but to, in fact, certify to avoid the legal risk that they were facing.

AVLON: Yes, we should say that Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel has also responded to Detroit news article saying, "What I said publicly and repeatedly at the time, as referenced in my letter on November 21, 2020, is that there was ample evidence that warranted an audit." I think that begs the question, what was the evidence?

SCOTT: Well, there has been none, at least not now. And D.C. and the former president did not make that clear to these individuals. And that's the question that many of us are still asking that just hasn't come forward.

AVLON: Well, Eugene Scott of Axios, thanks for joining us early. Be well.

All right. President Biden's 2024 campaign is laying the groundwork in key battleground states now, arguing that Trump is a threat to democracy while also touting his record versus his predecessors. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He always talked about infrastructure week. Four years of infrastructure week, but it failed. He failed. On my watch, instead of infrastructure week, America's having infrastructure decades, decades. Trump just talks the talk. We walk the walk.


AVLON: But President Biden has privately been impatient as big projects funded by his legislative accomplishments have been slow to materialize in real time. Joining me now is the chair of the editorial board and the U.S. editor-at-large of the Financial Times, Gillian Tett.

Good morning, Gillian. Thanks for getting up with us. I appreciate it.


AVLON: All right. Gillian, first thing is sort of a year-end accountability. Economists and analysts seemingly everywhere, were warning at the beginning of this year that America was bound for a recession. But by all indications and indicators, that didn't happen. So how'd they get it so wrong?

TETT: Well, in many ways, as you say, John, the administration has been given a Christmas present or a holiday present because at the beginning of the year, people thought that inflation would stay super high and growth would collapse. And in fact, what's happened is that growth has remained pretty strong, and inflation has come down a lot faster than people expected.

Now one of the reasons they got it so wrong is that central banks traditionally look at economies just in terms of what they call demand, how many goods people want to buy or consume. They don't look at it in terms of supply, the ability of factories and other companies to actually produce those goods.

And what's happened is that the demand for goods has remained high, but the supply has essentially increased dramatically fast after the supply chain problems. And that's kept essentially the economy afloat. Inflation falling and growth so good.

AVLON: I mean, that sounds a lot like the soft landing scenario that seemed like fantasy. That's -- that was a great explanation, by the way. I appreciate. That's why we love having you on, Gillian.

I want to ask you about this letter that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen published in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday titled "Bidenomics is working for the middle class." In it, she cites these stats that you're referring to, steady growth, reduced inflation, rising wages. The question is why polls show that these middle class voters don't feel -- seem to feel the same way?

TETT: Yes, this is one of the great paradoxes or mysteries around the economy right now, because on the one hand, you have a pretty good looking economy, a so-called soft landing. On the other hand, though, consumer confidence is at remarkably low levels when you look at people's description of what they expect to happen to the economy in the future.

Now, the strange thing is that if you ask people right now in America how they feel about their personal finances, for the most part, the picture is quite good. It's more a case of having a lot of gloom about the future overall. That may be down to politics. There's a very, very big partisan split in that Democrats are much more optimistic about the economy than the Republicans.

It may also be because essentially after years and years of price rises, inflation, which have become such a shock, people are still worrying about that rather than the availability of jobs or growth and all the things that economists look at, not ordinary households.


AVLON: I think there's no question. We've learned the dangers of taking low inflation environments for granted. I want to ask you about your most recent FT column, which you read that U.S. policymakers are turning up the heat on TikTok because they increasingly viewed as a tool to manipulate American minds. Our previous guest, David Sanger, said he was stunned that the Biden administration hasn't moved more quickly with regard to TikTok. What do you see happening with TikTok in the New Year?

TETT: Well, TikTok is definitely facing a lot of questions, and there's going to be hearing in Capitol Hill in January about the social media impact on teenage mental health, which is one of the areas where many policymakers are concerned. But right now, the bigger question that's worrying the foreign policy establishment, the national intelligence establishment, is a question of manipulation.

Because there is some evidence of a skew in some of the results. And when you look at the content being discussed and being promoted or those videos between TikTok and Instagram, now, people argue about the methodology of this research. But it looks as if pro-Palestinian videos are much more common on TikTok than Instagram, as conversely, videos criticizing China, content criticizing China is less common.

Now, there may be all kinds of explanations for that. It may be a question of correlation being confused with causation, meaning that there's any pre-existing pattern there. But what it's going to stoke is a lot more debate in Washington about whether the Chinese government is finding some way to manipulate the algorithm to essentially influence the content.

As I say, there's absolutely no hard evidence for that right now. But the pattern right now, particularly around the content to do with the Israel-Palestine war, is sparking more questions, and those are going to get more intense.

AVLON: Dig into the algorithm. Gillian Tett from the FT, thank you so much for getting up early with us. Appreciate it.

TETT: Thank you.

AVLON: All right. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attacking former President Trump on abortion. What he says Trump's positions say about him as a conservative, next.



AVLON: One of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's latest presidential campaign strategies is to attack former President Trump's position on abortion. DeSantis claims Trump's opposition to a six-week abortion ban disqualifies him from identifying as pro-life. He also says it means Trump would, quote, not be dependable on other conservative causes as president.

For all this, let's bring in Matt Lewis, senior columnist at the Daily Beast. Matt, good to see you. You are a conservative of a true blue stripe, and I'd like your take on that basic assertion. When Trump was president and given the policies he's proposing now, in what ways do you consider him or not a dependable conservative? MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: I think the key word there is dependable, John. You know, look, Donald Trump is not a movement conservative. He is not philosophically conservative. He's not temperamentally conservative. He really doesn't have a commitment to conservative ideology, and he doesn't live a conservative life.

And I would say further what he did as president, the big advances he made for the conservative cause were picking Supreme Court justices with the help -- a lot of help from the federalist society. It seems likely that in a second term, he would not appoint the same kind of justices and judges. He's not been happy with them entirely.

And here we have Donald Trump in recent months distancing himself from the Dobbs decision, right, that overturned Roe versus Wade. So I think on the merits, Ron DeSantis does have a point. I don't think if you were a ideologically pure conservative, I don't think you could rely on Donald Trump to be as conservative in his second term as he was in the first term.

John, the question for me is, does anyone care other than Ron DeSantis? And if anyone does care, presumably might be in Iowa, right?

AVLON: Well, maybe. I mean, you know, Iowa and New Hampshire, you've got distinct brands of conservatives, slightly more libertarian leaning in New Hampshire, more evangelical influenced in Iowa. I want to bring us back to the state of the race because that sort of Reagan conservative mantle, how it applied to domestic and importantly foreign policy, is something Nikki Haley and Chris Christie are trying to claim.

And Haley's been criticized for not criticizing Trump as much. A voter yesterday, really tried to push her to say why Trump could be a danger. I want you to watch and get your reaction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to support you. I also want to hear from you that you also think there's a danger here. Because this is not good for our country and it's not good for the church. And I want to be able to support someone who agrees with that.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wouldn't be running if I didn't think that he's not the right person at the right time. I have said multiple times I don't think it's good for the country, for Donald Trump to become president again. I've made that very clear.


AVLON: Is this balancing act working for Nikki Haley?

LEWIS: I think it actually is, right? So on one hand, I sympathize with this, you know, voter and the audience there. I wish Republicans in general had been tougher on Donald Trump and the landscape, if more, not just Nikki, if Ron DeSantis, if other Republicans.

I mean, frankly, they could have prevented him. If Mitch McConnell had been tougher on him, we wouldn't be sitting --


LEWIS: -- here today having this exact conversation.


LEWIS: So I sympathize with the voter and sort of the frustration. But, look, if criticizing Donald Trump were the answer today, the electoral answer today in the Republican Party, then Chris Christie would be the one who is in second place, not Nikki Haley.


So I think in the context of where we are today, Nikki Haley has played her cards well and I will extend her grace to do and say kind of what she needs to do and say in the next month or so.

AVLON: You know, in so many ways, I think one of the challenges of Trump is what he's planning, what he says his record is contrary to a lot of conservative values as previously understood. And a recent New York Times/Siena poll released this week revealed that 62 percent of Republican voters say that Trump should be the Republican nominee even if he's convicted of a crime, if he receives the most votes. What does that do, do you think, to the GOP's law and order reputation that they've cultivated effectively for decades?

LEWIS: Yes, I mean, look, I think Donald Trump has in so many ways undermined conservative philosophy, a lot of assumptions that we had. I mean, look, we can look at Russia, you know. I grew up a Ronald Reagan conservative, you know, watching Red Dawn and all the assumptions that we had.

So Donald Trump has been part of this reordering. Some of it is healthy. I think most of it is unhealthy. And -- but, yes, I mean, the Republican Party, I think, has squandered some very high -- the high ground that they once had. And, you know, there's going to be -- if and when Donald Trump ever exits stage left, there will be a lot of -- a lot to clean up.

AVLON: All right, well, clean up on aisle Trump predicted by Matt Lewis, senior columnist at The Daily Beast. Great to talk to you, as always. Be well.

LEWIS: Thank you.

AVLON: All right. Now, the Supreme Court has some big decisions to make about former President Trump. When to expect the rulings on whether he has immunity in the election subversion case, and whether he gets to stay on the Colorado ballot. All that's ahead on CNN This Morning.


[05:56:12] AVLON: The L.A. Rams boosting their playoff hopes with a big win against the New Orleans Saints. Carolyn Manno has This Morning's Bleacher Report. Carolyn?

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. A lot of people wrote off the Rams after they started the season three and six. But since that time, they have now won five out of their last six games and they have a realistic shot at reaching the postseason. It's a crazy story.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford had the Rams offense rolling under the Thursday night light throwing for 328 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints. His favorite target rookie wideout Puka Nacua, who had nine catches for career high 164 yards and a score. L.A.'s 30-22 win giving them a winning record for the first time this season as they continue to vie for a playoff berth.


MATTHEW STAFFORD, LOS ANGELES RAMS QUARTERBACK: It's been a lot of fun. We got a lot of work left to do. There's no question about it. Everybody's, you know, playing for their playoff life at the moment. But, you know, playing meaningful games in December is a whole lot of fun.

I love playing this game. I love being in the locker room with those guys leading the team. It's a whole lot of fun. And that's what brings me back, you know, trying to do that year in and year out.


MANNO: And look who else was in the locker room after the win. The Dodgers new superstar, Shohei Ohtani, sporting a number 17 Rams jersey. The two time AL MVP will play his home games about 13 miles from SoFi Stadium after agreeing to that record setting $700 million contract earlier this month.

And things are getting even better for Dodgers fans. The team's going to be good. Team reportedly agreeing to sign Japanese pitching sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The deal reported by ESPN for 12 years, $325 million, and is the largest for a pitcher in league history. It beats Gerrit Cole's contract with the Yankees by $1 million. So that would mean that the Dodgers have now spent over $1 billion in free agency this offseason.

Elsewhere for you this morning, the Pistons are on the brink of an NBA record that nobody wants. Detroit fell to the Utah Jazz last night, their 25th straight loss. One short of the single season record. Fans who were in attendance voicing their displeasure chanting, sell the team in the final minutes.


CADE CUNNINGHAM, DETROIT PISTONS GUARD: To be on the wrong side of history, I mean, nobody wants to be there. We're not -- two and 26 bad. You know what I mean? Like, no way are we that bad. So yes, I think we can turn it around. I think we can play a lot better brand of basketball.


MANNO: What's the old saying? You are what your record says you are. Detroit going to try and break the losing streak tomorrow night in Brooklyn.

Now to a really fun story. Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal once again helping to make Christmas special for kids in need. He is just the best. Recently transforming an Atlanta area elementary school into a winter wonderland for his annual Shaq-a-Claus event. Hundreds of children were surprised with gifts and clothes and meals and more.

The event began 22 years ago when Shaq's mom visited a boys and girls club and asked her son for some help to make the season brighter.


SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, BASKETBALL HALL OF FAMER: I wish I could sit here and take all the credit, but Dr. Lucille O'Neal is the founder of Shaq-a-Claus. And me being her baby, she wanted me to do something nice for the children in need.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the best day of our life.

O'NEAL: You know, it was a stat a couple years ago that 15 million children would wake up on Christmas and not receive one single toy. I know how that feels. The feeling I had when I thought I wasn't going to get one toy. I don't want children to go through that. So, here at McDonough (ph), this is cool. Make sure the babies get what they need.


MANNO: So nice. Shaq-a-Claus will deck the halls across the United States with more parties in Las Vegas, New Jersey, and Orlando. He has a really philanthropic heart. Great to see him out there this holiday season, John.

AVLON: It's great. Shaq-a-Claus is the spirit of Christmas. It's giving is even better than receiving.


AVLON: You know, it's all about the joy of kids and that spirit. And I love that he's leveraging his celebrity for something more important than celebrity. Carrying it forward. It's beautiful. It's really great.

All right, thanks, Carolyn. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Avlon. CNN This Morning starts right now.