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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Thousands Join Migrant Caravan Making Way To U.S. Border; Alexey Navalny Claims He's In Good Spirits On Social Media; Trump Takes To Truth Social In Angry Christmas Posts. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 26, 2023 - 05:30   ET




OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. Thanks for getting up with us. I'm Omar Jimenez in for Kasie Hunt.

Thousands of migrants spent their Christmas in very tough conditions yesterday as part of a new caravan marching toward the U.S-Mexico border where authorities have been slammed by a weekslong surge in migrant encounters. This comes ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's meeting with Mexico's president on Wednesday and as the administration grapples with what's become a persistent political problem for the president.

So let's bring in Bloomberg national political reporter Christian Hall. We're going to talk about all of this. Christian, good to see you.

So, President Biden -- he just spoke with Mexico's president on Thursday, and we've obviously got a series of meetings coming up with Blinken and Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas. What is the White House hoping to get out of this series of meetings?

CHRISTIAN HALL, POLITICS CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Well, I think that the president is really looking for a win here. I'm sure that this conversation about border politics and immigration will be a huge part of 2024 -- the 2024 conversations.

I mean, the GOP -- right now, they're really comfortable talking about immigration -- much more so than issues like abortion. I think that the large part of the Republican coalition is very unified on the issue and they've seen growth from Latino voters in recent elections.

I also think that it's a little bit difficult for Democrats because they are trying to find messaging. President Biden is trying to find some type of messaging that will resonate with moderates who are concerned about the border, but also younger voters who are very critical of President Biden's positions on immigration and concerned that he might be moving too far to the right on the issue.

[05:35:09] So, I definitely think that President Biden's conversation will try to give him an opportunity to find some more clarity as to how he can bring together his party on this issue.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And look -- I mean, according to Homeland Security officials we are seeing record numbers of migrant encounters at the border. You see some of the numbers on your screen going -- just in November, 6,800 weekly encounters to December, up just about 40 percent there.

How much more pressure does a dynamic like that put on someone like Biden to help push through a border security deal when Congress returns, even if it potentially means compromising some of the positions they've had in the past?

HALL: I mean, an immense amount of pressure it places on the president. I mean, we have even seen Democrats -- top Democrats in the Senate -- Chuck Schumer just said that he acknowledged that the border situation is a growing concern for Democrats. So this puts a lot of pressure on the president and he's going to have to figure out a way that he can handle the situation but also not alienate key voters in critical states ahead of the election in '24.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And one of the things that -- you know, you talked about alienating some of those key voters. I mean, what are some of those headwinds that he's facing here that, of course, the border is tied up with?

HALL: Yeah. Well, I mean, if you just take a look at the polling itself, President Biden should be a little concerned. I mean, he is underperforming with Black voters in Michigan. Underperforming with Arab voters in Michigan. In Arizona, he is losing wind with Hispanic voters. In Georgia, you're seeing that a lot of the president's standing on the economy isn't really resonating with voters.

So he has a lot of reasons to be concerned. I think that the Biden camp, right now, is hoping that Trump becomes the nominee in 2024. And they believe that when voters get to the polls and they see it's an option between President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump the decision will be clear and they're going to go with Biden. Strategists are saying that might be a little bit of a passive strategy and that the numbers that we're seeing right now are alarming. But, yeah, President Joe Biden has definitely, reasons to be concerned.

I do think that Democrats, though, since --

JIMENEZ: And you can keep going but I was just saying --

HALL: Right.

JIMENEZ: -- we are showing a graphic on the screen there that was just polling on who voters think is better able to handle border security. And 54 percent said Donald Trump and 24 percent said Joe Biden. That was from a Wall Street Journal poll.

Sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off. Keep going. HALL: No. I was just going to say that I think that when Trump entered office in 2016, Democrats have experienced win after win in the elections, so that might be the most redeeming news for them. And I think that they are hoping that they can continue those wins as we head into 2024.

JIMENEZ: And I think on the campaign trail it's a dynamic that we're going to see play a huge role. I mean, even on Trump's side of things he has used this rhetoric even to use -- I mean, his phrasing saying that these migrants are poisoning the blood of this country. And he's said that over and over again so clearly, leaning into some sort of strategy there.

I've got to leave the conversation there. We're out of time. But Bloomberg's Christian Hall, thank you so much.

HALL: Thank you.

JIMENEZ: All right.

Putin critic Alexey Navalny claiming on social media this morning he's in good spirits and was able to see one of his lawyers. He's now turned up at a Siberian penal colony after nearly two weeks without anyone knowing where he was. But that's not easing concerns about his well-being or what he might face next.

CNN's Nada Bashir has the latest.


NADA BASHIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, news of Alexey Navalny's whereabouts has come as a huge relief after his legal team lost contact with the jailed Kremlin critic more than two weeks ago where there was still deep concern over the situation he now faces after he was located on Monday at a penal colony in northwestern Siberia described as the Polar Wolf colony.

In a statement on Monday, the director of Navalny's anticorruption foundation said that Navalny's lawyer had been able to visit him at the penal colony, adding that this particular colony is one of the most remote with conditions known to be harsh and restricted contact with detainees.

Navalny was sentenced back in August of this year to 19 years in prison after he was found guilty of extremism-related charges. He'd already been serving sentences of 11 1/2 years in a maximum security facility on fraud and other charges. He was believed to be held at a penal colony 150 miles east of Moscow until now.


These are charges he and his legal representatives have consistently denied. Supporters believe his arrest and incarceration are a politically motivated attempt to stifle his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny has, of course, posed one of the most serious threats to Putin's legitimacy during his rule, known for organizing antigovernment street protests and using his blog and social media to expose alleged corruption in the Kremlin.

His incarceration has drawn widespread international condemnation. The White House, earlier this month, reiterating its call for Navalny's immediate release.

Nada Bashir, CNN, in London.


JIMENEZ: All right. Coming up, former President Trump spent some of his Christmas attacking people on social media. Plus, what could happen when AI enters the political race? What could go wrong? That's next.


JIMENEZ: So we all know it's Christmas but instead of spreading Christmas cheer yesterday, Donald Trump celebrated what seemed more like the Festivus airing of grievances. The former president took to social media in a series of bitter posts raging against, quote, "Crooked Joe, deranged Jack Smith," and various people that said can, quote, "rot in hell."


I love a good Christmas message.

The posts, many of which focused on Trump's legal issues, could be a preview of the personal attacks and the divisive year of politics to come.

So let's bring in senior political correspondent for Puck News, Tara Palmeri. Great to see you.

So if you read through these all-caps posts, in many cases, Trump was clearly upset about the legal cloud that's hanging over him right now, especially the cases related to election interference. So his legal issues clearly weighing on him. But how much should we expect this to be the tone of his campaigning?

TARA PALMERI, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, PUCK NEWS, HOST, "SOMEBODY'S GOTTA WIN" PODCAST (via Webex by Cisco): I think it is exactly what we're going to see for the next year -- a chaotic, angry, desperate campaign from a man who does not want to go to prison. This is his only hope of staying out is winning the election. So you're going to see a lot of these tirades. I mean, we saw them in the White House when he was president.

He's even going after green cars, calling them a hoax. I mean, it's just so random. He says Israel, Hamas -- like, he's just not really even specifying it. It's so broad. But to hear him say "May they rot in hell."

And then you have a split screen of President Joe Biden with the first lady leaving a Twitter video very Christmasy. They're reading a Christmas -- a Christmas story. And it's just -- it's just a different campaign.

And it's like what is Joe Biden supposed to do? He's being called the corrupt -- the most corrupt president in history by Joe Biden (sic). Should he actually address that in a statement on Christmas day?

And I think the White House and the campaign are going to have to decide when do they go on defense, when do they go on offense with Donald Trump because he will continually be on offense and his message will be consistent that Joe Biden is using the Justice Department to stop him from running for office.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And look, I mean, that's why there are a number on the Republican side -- a number of candidates trying to unseat Donald Trump. At this point, though, polls have shown they haven't really been able to make up too much ground outside of maybe New Hampshire a little bit.

But The New York Times posted a pretty scathing article about the status of Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign on Sunday. They wrote that --


JIMENEZ: -- within the governor's private circle, people are saying his fan base is, quote, "drained and demoralized." That a close adviser told people privately it's just about making the patient comfortable at this point. Though the campaign did send a statement --


JIMENEZ: -- from the adviser denying he said that.

But given all of that, are you hearing some more things about the DeSantis campaign?

PALMERI: Yeah. I mean, it's been a mess since, I would say, July, August. It was just a mix of people that were either loyalists to Ron DeSantis, outsiders, people who had worked with him in the past seemingly directionless with this very large super PAC which consisted of the same group of people, and they didn't seem to be working in tandem. All the money was in the super PAC. The campaign had run out of cash.

But I think mostly, people saw Ron DeSantis for what he was -- a candidate that really wasn't ready for primetime. And there was a lot of hope placed in him, especially by the party leaders, that he might be the young, white knight who could come and take on Donald Trump. But it turns out he just doesn't really have it. Like, he doesn't have that charisma. He doesn't have that solid base that Donald Trump has.

And also, it took him about -- I'm thinking about how many months it took him. Trump announced that he was running for president right after the midterm elections around November-December and Ron DeSantis waited until May and Trump just spent those months completely tearing Ron DeSantis apart. So by the time he announced his presidency -- his run for president, he was already suffering greatly. Because around the time that Trump announced, he was ahead of Donald Trump in the polls -- or at least in New Hampshire.

So it's sort of just been a tumble for Ron DeSantis. But I think his campaigning skills, his lack of retail politics, a lack of defined message, a lack of charisma, his kind of disorganized campaign, a gang of rivals -- it's all created this soup of problems for a candidate that's now --


PALMERI: -- sadly, like, in third place in Iowa at this point, kind of competing for second against Nikki Haley --

JIMENEZ: Well, and --

PALMERI: -- and about 40 points behind Trump.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And you mentioned a time where everyone thought -- or many people thought that Ron DeSantis, based --

PALMERI: Um-hum.

JIMENEZ: -- on how he was polling, was going to be the white knight, as you said, to come through. And now, we seem to be looking at a scenario where the best case is potentially a strong second place in a place like Iowa, for example.

I mean, what do you see is the best-case scenario for him at this point? Is there a best-case scenario?

PALMERI: I guess Iowa because Nikki Haley is polling really well in New Hampshire right now. Trump, I believe, at 44 percent, according to some really reliable polls up in New Hampshire, and Nikki Haley is at 30 percent. And then you have Ron DeSantis behind her at like 12 percent. So -- or no, sorry, nine percent behind Chris Christie.


So, yes, he would have to perform in Iowa. But right now he's even polling behind Nikki in some polls in Iowa in the teens while Trump is in the high 40s. Some have him at 50 percent in Iowa.

I don't know how he's going to be able to pull it out in Iowa to at least claim momentum or support to get to New Hampshire. Maybe he goes to New Hampshire but I don't think it makes much of a dent in the -- in the outcome.

If anything, Nikki Haley really needs anti-Trump voters to be a part of her coalition to take on Trump, and those people are -- a lot of them are with Chris Christie who is at about 12 percent in New Hampshire. But he doesn't seem to be anywhere -- at least not for now. And a lot of Ron DeSantis voters may end up going to Trump anyway and helping him.

But I don't see -- where the polls stand right now, I don't see the path for Ron DeSantis. There would need to be something major that happened, like Trump getting out of the race. JIMENEZ: Yeah, yeah. And look, we've only got three weeks until Iowa so a lot would have to happen --


JIMENEZ: -- in three weeks. We will see.

Tara Palmeri, of Puck News, thank you so much.

PALMERI: Thank you.

JIMENEZ: All right. Concerns are rising for how the rapid growth of artificial intelligence could impact elections around the world. The technology -- I'm sure you've seen it in at least some way at this point -- it can generate text, images, audio, and even build deepfake videos. That means it could also fuel some dangerous information that just isn't real in an already polarized political landscape.

CNN's Simon Cullen has more.


SIMON CULLEN, JOURNALIST (voice-over): Twenty twenty-four is shaping up to be an election year like none other.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want to make sure that we have a big victory. It's going to be -- it's going to be all over the world they're going to be watching this.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're at an inflection point in our history where the decisions made in a short period of time are in now. Are going to determine the course of this country and the world for the next six or seven decades.

CULLEN (voice-over): While the U.S. presidential election might be the highest profile, it's not the only consequential contest taking place.

OLIVA O'SULLIVAN, UK PROGRAMME DIRECTOR, CHATHAM HOUSE: This is a hugely significant year for democracy and it depends how you counter or exactly what you classify as an election, but by some measures there are at least 40 national elections happening in 2024.

CULLEN (voice-over): In absolute numbers that's more than two billion people eligible to cast a ballot.

Among those up for reelection, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is also expected to call a 2024 election. Taiwan, Indonesia, and Mexico are going to the polls, too, although their incumbents won't be candidates. And in Europe, hundreds of millions of voters will elect a new EU Parliament.

O'SULLIVAN: For many countries, the health of their democracy itself will be being put to the test. CULLEN (voice-over): And the results have the potential to reshape international affairs on a scale rarely seen from international trade and climate change to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

CULLEN (on camera): While the results of some elections are all but guaranteed others will be a genuine contest, meaning a relatively small shift in voter support could affect the outcome. That amplifies the potential impact of disinformation and experts warn that risk is made even more significant by the fact that these elections are coinciding with a boom in artificial intelligence.

CULLEN (voice-over): That brings with it the prospect of deepfake content like this.

BIDEN: This is an AI-generated video showing just how far technology has come in recent years.

CULLEN (voice-over): Even Vladimir Putin, who is all but certain to be reelected Russian president in March, appeared momentarily surprised when confronted by a computer-generated version of himself.

DARRELL M. WEST, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: People should be scared because the technology is enabling the creation of fake videos that could be very persuasive with the ordinary voters. People are not going to be able to distinguish the fake videos from real ones.

CULLEN (on camera): Are governments ready for what's coming down the line?

WEST: Governments are not ready. There are literally no guardrails in place.

CULLEN (voice-over): That puts more of an onus on technology companies to step in. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, says it's adapting its approach to deal with the challenges posed by artificial intelligence. TikTok has announced partnerships with external fact-checkers to combat misinformation. And X, which drastically cut staff under CEO Elon Musk, increasingly relies on users to flag misleading content.

SASHA FEGAN, CENTER FOR HUMANE TECHNOLOGY: The fact that there has been such massive cuts to content moderation teams pretty much across all the big U.S. social media platforms is evidence of the fact that they don't really take it seriously enough. And that will have concerning effects in the 2024 elections.


CULLEN (voice-over): A record year for elections could also prove to be an unprecedented challenge to the electoral process.

Simon Cullen, CNN, London.


JIMENEZ: Something to watch in this election. We will see.

All right. Coming up, authorities are reporting threats against the judges who ruled to remove former President Trump from the ballot in Colorado. We're going to tell you how law enforcement -- how law enforcement is stepping in, ahead.


JIMENEZ: It was a Christmas Day delight for sports fans like myself. Five NBA games and a football triple-header, including a nightcap with the two best teams in the NFL and someone who was supposed to look like an MVP.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good to see you.

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

So, you know, it was a Christmas Day sports bonanza and it ended with arguably the best two teams in the NFL. Maybe a little Super Bowl preview here with the 49ers hosting the Ravens. It was a rough start though for Baltimore. Lamar Jackson, on this play earlier in the game, ended up going the wrong way. He's going to trip over the ref in the end zone. He gets called for intentional grounding. That would be a safety. The 49ers led this one 5-3 after the first quarter.

Now, coming into this game, Niners quarterback Brock Purdy -- he was the frontrunner to win MVP, but no anymore. He had a nightmare game. Purdy throwing a career-high four interceptions, three of them in the first half. He left the game in the fourth with a shoulder stinger.

The Ravens would end up winning this one easily 33-19.

Afterwards, Purdy said he knows he has to be better.


BROCK PURDY, QUARTERBACK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: I have to look at myself in the mirror and ask myself why or how that happened and why I made those decisions. And so, our team came ready to play and for me to make some decisions like that, it pains me and it's not fair to these guys. So I have to realize that and understand that and I have to get better for my team.


SCHOLES: All right. Taylor Swift, meanwhile, on hand in Kansas City, arriving with Santa, but there was no win for the Chiefs in that bag. They had a disastrous center quarter. The Raiders scoring two defensive touchdowns in a seven-second span -- the first coming as the Chiefs botched this trick play right here. The Raiders scooped up the fumble to score.

Then, Patrick Mahomes threw a pick-six on the very next play. The Chiefs never able to recover from that. They get upset by the Raiders 20-14. Kansas City has now lost three of their last four. All right. And it was also not the Christmas Giants quarterback Tommy Devito was hoping for. He had become one of the best stories of the season -- undrafted from Jersey, still lives with his parents, 15 minutes from MetLife Stadium. But Devito got benched after mustering just 55 yards passing and three points against Philly's defense in the first half.

Head coach Brian Daboll saying not sure who the starter is going to be next week.

Tyrod Taylor -- he made a game of this in the second half. The Giants were only down five after this 70-yard touchdown to Darius Slayton. And the G-Men actually had a chance to tie this game on the final play but Taylor's pass here picked off in the end zone.

The Eagles hold on to win that one 33-25.

All right, to the NBA where Luka Doncic had a Christmas to remember. The Mavs star reaching 10,000 points for his career against the Suns, and he did it in 358 games, which is the fastest to reach 10K since Michael Jordan. Luka also becoming just the fourth player ever to go for 50 on Christmas. His Mavs beat the Suns in that one 128-114.

And finally, Celtics and Lakers playing on Christmas for the first time since 2008. This game was tight in the third before Boston pulled away. Jayson Tatum, the alley-oop there in the fourth. And then a little later, Kristaps Porzingis -- he had a nice game -- the put-back slam here. He led the way with 28.


All five Celtics starters scored at least 18 points in this game as Boston beat the Lakers 126-115.

And Omar, after this Christmas sports bonanza I've kind of got the post-Christmas blues, you know?

JIMENEZ: I know.

SCHOLES: Not a whole day of sports to watch and it's always a little sad the day after Christmas.

JIMENEZ: I know. You know, I've gotten into debates with people -- you know, do you watch sports on Christmas? Do you not? How could you not watch sports on Christmas? It's just an amazing experience and you just encapsulated it so perfectly. Thank you, Andy Scholes.

SCHOLES: All right, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Of course.

All right. And thank all of you for joining us. I'm Omar Jimenez. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.