Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Michigan Supreme Court Keeps Trump on Primary Ballot; Israel Warns Lebanon: Time for Diplomacy is Running Out; Blinken Set to Visit, Mideast in Early January; Rain Brings Flood Threats to 10M+ Across Northeast. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 28, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Thursday, December 28th. It is 5:00 a.m. here in Washington.

It's also 5:00 a.m. in Michigan where the state Supreme Court rejected an effort yesterday to ban Trump from the 2024 primary ballot under the 14th Amendment's insurrectionist ban. It's a decision that differs from the one that was reached by the Colorado Supreme Court last week.

Trump responding in an interview, he was not surprised by the ruling.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It's very bad for Colorado, very, very bad for Colorado. But we just had a big win in Michigan today and that was a good one. And we have 31 -- and we have 33 wins, and this is not a loss, because we'll have to see what happens. This is not a final determination of the bill.


HUNT: So, Trump also demanded Wednesday that the secretary of state in Maine recuse herself from a similar ballot eligibility case over her past statements about the January 6th riot. She is set to issue a decision in the coming days.

This is all, of course, as DOJ prosecutors in Trump's federal election subversion case moved to block him from using the court as a form to sow disinformation.

Let's bring in senior politics reporter from "Axios", Eugene Scott.

Eugene, good morning to you. I hope you had a wonderful holiday week.

So, let's talk about these dueling decisions about Trump's eligibility. Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court is likely going to have to weigh in on this. Can you help us understand the Michigan Supreme Court reasoning for the rejection and why it is different from what we saw in Colorado? EUGENE SCOTT, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS: Sure. In Michigan

there is no qualification that requires a candidate proves certain things to actually be on the ballot. Whereas, in Colorado, you do have to meet a certain qualifications in terms of the Constitution. And so, these cases never were going to be the same.

Trump is hoping that most of these cases rule the way that Michigan does and don't have a requirement regarding qualifications. That would work in his favor, just like this one did. But, we'll see what the Supreme Court says.

Ultimately, that will influence all of these cases in terms of what can actually happen.

HUNT: Right. And, in Maine, I mean, this is obviously a little bit different here because of the role the secretary of state plays. What is your view of the pressures on her right now?

SCOTT: Well, the pressure on her, coming from Trump, and the right, is quite frankly understandable considering that she has been vocal in terms of whether, and what she believes happened on January 6th and she believes that the former president played a role in this insurrection. And Trump is understandable.

His concerns, his fears are understandable because she is the most powerful election official in the state and what she has rules, what she says can be based on, or will likely be based on what she has said in the past regarding his role in this incident.

HUNT: Eugene, let's talk about this special counsel Jack Smith. He asked the court yesterday, were said in a filing, quote, the court should not permit the defendant to turn the courtroom into a forum in which he propagates irrelevant disinformation and should reject his attempts to reject politics into this proceeding. Trump responded by calling the motion a pathetic attempt to take away his First Amendment right. Okay, rights to, again, we are focusing on irrelevant disinformation.

How do you see this playing out?

SCOTT: I think the prosecution is sensitive and understandably so. I, mean what they decide, what jurors, what they decide will be based on what they hear in this courtroom and if they hear misinformation coming from the former president, that could lead to a mistrial and disrupt the entire case that Smith is bringing forward. Ultimately, that is part of the goal of Trump's defense team, in part, because he has been making the argument since all of these were put forward that he is the subject of partisan attacks.

And so, if you can get that message through well in court, there is a chance that his team hopes that someone in the jury will hear that, believe that, and vote accordingly.

HUNT: Eugene, if you're Jack Smith here, what exactly, I guess -- as I think about how this is going to play out, I'm thinking about the election, right? [05:05:02]

Because we're going to be past Iowa, past New Hampshire. We may get delayed past Super Tuesday, or the trial may be starting right around then. There are no cameras in this courtroom, but you can see Smith's point in saying that this is going to be a forum in the middle of an incredibly tense moment for the country, for the president to be able to say these things or not.

I mean, what do you think the ramifications are of the Trump team potentially having this platform?

SCOTT: Well, one of the main ramifications, of course, is that he could get more misinformation out as we head into the election, which is a real concern for people on both sides of the aisle, but to certainly smith, whose team as worked incredibly hard to bring this case forward and could have it ruined if there are no controls put on the former president. As you know, this has been a real issue and concern for him, for him being Trump, has when he is appeared in court, when he's been on campaign rallies and not being able to stick to facts.

And therefore disrupt what has been put forward as reasons and justification for why he should be, in this case, in the situation in the first place. And this case is as a result, it could be a whole mess as he has pulled back. And rains aren't put on him.

HUNT: Well, of course, the challenge being that there are a lot of people out there who we have seen are willing to believe Donald Trump, regardless of what he says and what others say about the truth of the matter. They are also willing to act on that information, as we saw on January 6th.

All right. Eugene Scott of "Axios", thank you very much for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.

All right. Still ahead here, President Biden under intense pressure as the migrant crisis grows at the southern border.

Plus, Secretary Blinken heading back to the Middle East next week as the war in Gaza continues to rage.

And later, Nikki Haley taking some heat for how she answered this question on the campaign trail.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the cause of the United States civil war?




HUNT: Welcome back. Israel's foreign minister has issued a warning to Hezbollah that the

time for diplomacy is running out. Tensions on Israel's northern border with Lebanon continue to escalate. Hezbollah says that it fired 30 rockets, but it was in response to an earlier IDF airstrike on a Lebanese village. In Gaza, nearly 200 more Palestinians have been killed following Israeli strikes over the last 24 hours, according to the Hamas health ministry.

A warning, the images you're about to see are disturbing. Families mourning their dead at one of the few working hospitals in Khan Younis. Others preying ahead of a burial amid ongoing shelling.

Also, this new video on social media appears to show Palestinian men and at least two children detained and stripped by Israeli forces. All of this as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to head back to Israel in the next week with visits planned to the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar.

CNN's Nada Bashir joins us now from London on this.

Nada, good morning to you.

Blinken's trip comes after he and senior U.S. officials met with Ron Dermer, of course, a close confidant of the Israeli prime minister. The White House says that talks included a transition to a different phase of war. What do you take that to mean? Because Israel's military chief, just yesterday, said, quote, the war will continue for many months.

What do we expect?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, Casey, we are suddenly hearing very different messages from U.S. officials and those from the Israeli government. We have heard that repeated lineup from the White House saying that they have been calling on the Israeli governor and the Israeli military to move to another phase two of the war, to move to a lower intensity phase as it has been described. And, of course, there is mounting concern, not least from the U.S. government and Biden administration with regards to the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza and the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

We know, of course, that there has been ongoing conversations between U.S. officials and their Israeli counterparts over the course of the war. President Biden, of course, just a few days ago speaking with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. Again, no call for a cease-fire, there but the focus has continued to be on phasing down the intensity of this war.

As you, mentioned, Ron Dermer meeting with U.S. officials. He is, of course, someone with a lot of experience in dealing with the U.S. He was a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. under Benjamin Netanyahu. He met with the U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

And, according to the White House, those conversations lasted for hours focusing on five key points. Transition to a different phase of the war, again, that lower intensity phase as it is being described, maximizing a focus on high value of the targets, and taking steps to increase aid and minimize harm to civilians, so, moving towards a more targeted approach when it comes to the military operation, both with regards to the air campaign and on the ground, securing the release of the remaining hostages, of course, a key priority for the Israeli government as has been stated repeatedly, now, and planning for post- conflict Gaza.

Now, of course, there is mounting concern over the different messages that we are also hearing from the White House. As we mentioned, the Israeli government has been clear, they don't see this war ending anytime soon. Benjamin Netanyahu himself saying just a few days ago that they anticipates the war will continue, that it is not nearing an end. And, in fact, just yesterday we heard from Israel's chief of general staff saying that the war will continue for many more months and, in fact, they will be moving into new areas, including a focus on southern Gaza.

That has certainly raised alarm bells given the fact that we have had those repeated calls for civilians to plea to the south for safety.


And, of course, as we know, there are hundreds of thousands of civilians now taking shelter in southern Gaza.

HUNT: Indeed there are. And, you know, overshadowing this, of course, are questions about whether this war might expand. An Israeli war cabinet member said that time is running out to reach a diplomatic solution in terms of the fighting on the northern Israeli border with Lebanon.

Take a look.


BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI MINISTER (through translator): The stopwatch for a diplomatic solution is running out. If the world and the Lebanese government do not act in order to prevent the firing on Israel's northern residents, and to distance Hezbollah from the border, the IDF will do it.


HUNT: Nada, what is your take on those comments and how critical dealing with this is to avoid opening a second front and widening this war?

BASHIR: Well, the widening of this war is a huge concern, of course, we have seen an escalation in hostilities along the Israel-Lebanon border, that has really been concerned -- the hostilities, rather the piece of the border has been tenuous to say the least underpinned by U.N. resolutions established following the 2006 Lebanon war. That certainly is in jeopardy.

Now, just in the last few days, we have seen, of course, an intensification of those hostilities in exchange for shelling. Hezbollah saying they have targeted Israeli military positions across the border and, of course, we did see those airstrikes, as well, carried out by the Israeli military in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli military say they had carried out strikes against Hezbollah positions along the border. Lebanese national media reported that at least three people were killed and Hezbollah later claiming that at least one of those was a Hezbollah fighter.

Now, there is serious concern, the Israeli officials and Israeli military officials have said that they are looking at options on the table, as you heard there from Benny Gantz, or cabinet member warning that time is running out. The foreign ministry, as well, say they are looking at their options, the first being a political solution, but the second being a military solution in which they say the Israeli military would seek to remove Hezbollah from the region entirely along that border region, more specifically.

And, of course, there is concern about the spilling of this war, the overspilling of this war across the region. We have seen hostilities intensifying the U.S., of course, raising concern around the targeting of U.S. military positions, both in Iraq and, of course, in Syria, by what they say to be, they are Iran-backed proxy groups in the region.

HUNT: All right. Nada Bashir for us in London, Nada, thank you very much for your reporting.

Still ahead here, what's happening to the Idaho home where four university students were murdered last year? And, Apple said to resume sales of his new watches in the United States. That's next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Quick hits across America now.

Families of the University of Idaho stabbing victims are now asking officials in the town of Moscow to stop the demolition of the house where the four students were murdered. They say that it can still provide evidence in the trial of suspect Brian Kohberger. The university plans to raze it at 10:00 this morning.

The latest models of the Apple Watch are back on sale today in the U.S. after an appeals court paused the import ban on the devices, amid a dispute with Biden administration. They can be bought line starting at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

And the person who won the market mega millions jackpot, $1.6 billion in August, using a shell company called Saltines Holdings, LLC, with the apparent goal of protecting him or her from the spotlight. The lottery says that the anonymous winner got a lump sum of almost $795 million. A smart way to start off there. All right. Let's get now to weather. Heavy rain triggering flood

threats for more than 10 million people across the Northeast this morning. And rain and snow possible for parts of the Mississippi River Valley and into the Appalachians, as well.

Our weatherman Derek Van Dam tracking all of it.

Derek, I hope that you have a very merry Christmas. It's the first I've seen since the holiday.


HUNT: It is going to be a tough day for a lot of folks out on the East Coast.

VAN DAM: It is. We have been focusing on the Northeast because of so many millions of travelers coming in and out via roads, trails, you know, rails, also on the airways, as well. And, you know what? It's been a tough go, a slow go for many because of the heavy rainfall.

And, look at this. We showed this yesterday, but this is just a superb view of New York City. You've got the Brooklyn bricks, the East River, and just about 15 minutes ago this was socked in with a cloud. There was raindrops on the screen, and that is since cleared up.

The heavy rain has moved away from New York City, that's the good news. But, nonetheless, there is still the kind of the raised river levels, the urban rivers, and, you know, across this particular region, there is the 10 million Americans that Kasie mentioned under some sort of flood alert this morning. We have flood advisories for parts of Long Island, Connecticut, with flood warnings extending a little further towards the west of New York.

Here's a look at how much rain has fallen. This is the overnight period. We've had widespread 1 to 2 inches of rain, but there has been a few pockets of areas over 2 to 4 inches of rain locally. Look at Monroe, Allentown, so up the Hudson Valley, that's where we saw the heaviest precipitation and it is where we have seen some of the highest river gauges that have been plotted here across the warning area.

So, you can see minor to moderate flood stages for many river gauges across Philadelphia and just outside of New York City. You mention of the rain is coming to an end in New York.


There it is. There is the Big Apple. There's the back edge of the heaviest rain. But now we focus our attention at Hartford, Providence, Boston, you've got a wet and slow go for your Thursday morning. This is part of a larger storm and it is kind of meandering over the eastern third of the country.

The back side of it, cold enough to drawdown some cooler air and that has transitioned our precip over to snowfall, just south of St. Louis. Indianapolis still light rain for you, so we're not going to relieve that snow drop that we have ongoing across the city.

And, as we advance this forward going over the next 36 hours, some light snow showers anticipated across over the Appalachians, maybe a band of heavier snowfall 1 to 3 inches north and west of Chicago through the next day and half.

Here's a quick look at your temperatures, Kasie, above freezing, wow, this is just abnormal for this kind of, year, we want to see those in the 32-degree mark so we can get snowfall, but it's just not in the future forecast. So, we're going to continue our snow drought here in New York City.

Kasie, welcome back.

HUNT: It was not a white Christmas. Thank you very much for that, Derek. I really appreciate it, we will see you tomorrow.


HUNT: All right, still ahead here, how Nikki Haley answered a question about slavery at a campaign stop. It's not what she said, it's what she didn't say.