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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Appeals Maine Decision Disqualifying Him From Ballot; U.S. Official: Israel Carried Out Beirut Strike Killing Hamas Leader; Israel Defense Minister: Ops in Gaza Will "Change"; Rain Across West Coast, Heavy Snow in 4 Corners Region. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 03, 2024 - 05:00   ET




Just a dozen days until Iowa caucuses and Donald Trump's team is focused on legal appeals, not campaign promises.

Plus, Joe Biden focusing his campaign message. New details not only what he plans to say to voters, but where he'll go to say it.

And, with time running out for Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis to take down Trump, why won't either of them hit the former president where it could hurt?


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers around the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, January 3rd, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington.

Also 5:00 a.m. up in Maine where Donald Trump's legal team just struck back in their battle to stay on the state's primary ballot. They have now appealed a ruling by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows that disqualified him from Maine's GOP ballot under the 14th Amendment's insurrectionist ban.

Trump's lawyers arguing in their appeal that Bellows was a, quote, biased decision-maker with no legal authority. Here's Bellows last night on CNN.


SHENNA BELLOWS, MAINE SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's really important to note that my sole obligation is the oath I swear to uphold the Constitution, and to follow Maine election laws. I was duty-bound by the election laws which require this process of holding a hearing and issuing a decision to ensure that every candidate on the primary ballot needs the qualifications of the office they seek.

I did my duty. Now it goes to the court, that's why I stayed, suspended the effect of my decision, pending court appeal. And I will uphold whatever the courts determined as appropriate. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: So, Trump is also expected to appeal a similar ruling from Colorado Supreme Court. That sets up a potential showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court over his eligibility.

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor, Seth Waxman.

Seth, good morning. It's wonderful to have you on the show.

Let's start with what's going on in Maine, as well as what's happening out in Colorado.

What do you see in this appeal? And how does this play out next?

SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the secretary of state in Maine has assessed the case and has found that the matter needs to be moved over to the courts. So, now, it will be in the main court to the superior court level, it can go up to the main judicial Supreme Court, and, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court can weigh in.

The difficulty here is you have states across the country who have kind of a patchwork of decisions on this. And so everybody is holding their breath waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to chime in on this and set the stage nationally.

HUNT: So, Seth, we still have not seen the Trump team appealed the Colorado ruling. There is an appeal from the Colorado Republican Party to the Supreme Court. What's with the delay there?

WAXMAN: Well, Trump is going to appear on the Colorado primary ballot because of that appeal that you just mentioned. So, practically speaking, he is going to get his right to be involved in the primary.

We do expect a decision, or rather an appeal from Donald Trump. Why it has not been filed at is not quite clear, although I think he is coming up on the deadline as soon as tomorrow for that appeal. So maybe we will see something soon.

HUNT: Yes, I mean, it's been quite a while out in Colorado, so especially considering how much their legal strategy is part of their political strategy, I find it a bit head-scratching.

Let's talk about the federal election subversion case playing out here, in Washington. So far, a lot of the strategy has basically been to delay, delay, delay, right, because that could push it. I mean, the deadline that really matters for him is that November 2024 general election.

But we are seeing in some of these recent filings that some other strategies, contours of the defense, are emerging. What are you seeing there?

WAXMAN: Yeah. So, Donald Trump is trying to get into the evidence that there were foreign actors who try to influence the election. That somehow would negate his criminal intent. The problem here is that the charge is that he tried to prevent the certification of the 2020 election. The fact that some foreign actor, or third party, was also potentially trying to sow doubt about the election was not only an offensive the charge in this case.


Donald Trump had an opportunity through the courts to challenge the election results. He, of course, lost that. So having lost that effort, you cannot then do a legally what he was not able to do legally.

It would be as if a taxpayer here in the United States, didn't like the IRS agent, and the way that they assess the taxes, went to the IRS, went to the courts and lost that battle, and then decided to go out and shoot the IRS agent. It's obviously a crime. And the fact that a third party, a neighbor was saying while the IRS has got this wrong, that is not a defense, it's not relevant evidence to the shooting of the IRS agents.

Similarly here, Donald Trump had his chance it challenge the election and he can't then afterwards take a legal route like hiring or trying to put in place a slate of fake electors to certify his supposed win when we all know Joe Biden won those controversial states in the election, and, of course, the election as a whole.

HUNT: Fair enough.

Let's also talk about this E. Jean Carroll civil trial because, you know, we could -- we could have many questions here about the various legal matters because this is what it is like to beat Donald Trump. And the Republican front runner for president in this 2024 year, the federal appeals court denied Trump's motion to delay this defamation trial. It is set to start in two weeks.

What is your reaction to that? Also into weeks we have the Iowa caucuses, and then, of course, we have the New Hampshire primary.

WAXMAN: Yeah, it's a mess for Donald Trump, he's got yet another legal battle that he is going to have to fight. The key about this case is that this judge has already found that he is liable for the defamatory statements that he made in 2019, that was based on the jury, a separate jury's decision back in May about related false statements that he made, so in that jury trial back in May, the jury found that he was liable for $5 million in damages.

And so the judge now that's presiding over this case that is coming up says, look, that issue has been decided. He is liable for defamation, so the only question that is going to be handled by this new jury here in January is just how much Donald Trump has to pay in damages for his misconduct. So it's really a much more narrow trial that's focus just on damages.

HUNT: All right. Seth Waxman for us this morning, thank you very much for being here.

WAXMAN: Thank you! HUNT: All right. Up next here, a key Hamas figure taken out of

Beirut. New CNN reporting from Tel Aviv on how that went, next.

Plus, New Year, new indictment -- embattled New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez.

And details on when Harvard's president made the decision to quit.



HUNT: Welcome back.

New fears of yet another escalation this morning in the Israel-Hamas war after the deaths of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut. A U.S. official tells CNN that Israel carried out the deadly airstrike which killed Saleh al-Arouri. He was the deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas. That official also says the Biden administration was not told of the operation in advance.

Reporter Elliott Gotkine is live for us in Tel Aviv.

Elliott, good morning to you. What are you hearing about this? Are there signs of retaliation for what Hamas is now calling an assassination?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, REPORTER: No signs yet, Kasie, and the big concern is not so much that Hamas will return. Let's not forget that Hamas and Israel is engaged in a war ever since the militant group carried out its massacre of October the 7th. So, I don't think the fear is the retaliation from Hamas, but mostly from Hamas.

Let's not forget that this attack, which Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for, took place in the southern of Beirut, in Lebanon, which is usually where we have flare-ups between Israel and Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy which is based in southern Lebanon, and which has been firing rockets and drones and missiles towards Israel since October the 7th. And to which Israel has been responding in kind.

So, I think the concern is that this could escalate what's already what's already a kind of simmering war on the border between Israel and Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah, and turn it into an all out war. But, of course, the question is, does Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, really want to expand its arsenal and its intentions on escalating here, because of this assassination of Hamas leader.

And I should also point out that it's something that Israel seemed quite keen to avoid. We heard from Mark Regev, one of the spokesmen of the Israeli government saying, without taking responsibility, that this appear to be a targeted strike aimed at Hamas and wasn't aimed Hezbollah. The implication being this should not be seen as a reason to escalate.

But it's so interesting that we do hear these from U.S. officials, from Israeli officials, and yet the official Israeli line is -- well, you know, we're not saying we did not do it and yet you heard also from Danny Danon, this is a former Israeli envoy to the United Nations. He's from President Benjamin Netanyahu's own Likud Party, posting on X, formerly Twitter, of his congratulations to the Israeli security forces. And saying that they were responsible for the massacre of October 7th, you know, Israel will close accounts with them.

And it's also worth noting, Kasie, that as well as having the means and motivation, Israel has made threats to take out Hamas leaders wherever they are in the world -- Kasie.

HUNT: Indeed. Elliott Gotkine for us in Tel Aviv -- Elliott, thank you.


And let's bring in now CNN's Max Foster who is back with us today.

I know you had -- you had a marathon New Year's Day for us, Max, but I'm happy to have you back.

Let's talk about what -- let's pick up kind of where Elliott left off, which is this idea of a wider conflict. I mean, this is far from the first time that Israel will have, you know, pulled off on an operation like this in Lebanon but obviously, the tensions are particularly high right now. I mean, how much does this contribute to fears of sparking the wider conflict that we have talked so much about?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have to look at the players that would be involved in that sort of wider conflicts. So, for example, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned -- previously warned Israel against carrying out any assassinations on Lebanese soil. And there would be a severe reaction.

So this concern that about this reaction from Hezbollah, but also crucially Iran that backs Hezbollah and is a big player really in that region. A big concern when it comes to regional war.

A spokesperson to the foreign ministry saying, I will give you this quote. The killing would undoubtedly ignite another surge in the veins of resistance and the motivation to fight against the Zionist occupiers, not only in Palestine but also in the region, and amongst all freedom-seekers worldwide.

So concerned that it would stoke tensions in the sort of places where a regional war could potentially explode. But this is all words and we have a lot of words certainly over this war. It's whether or not it translates into action.

HUNT: Right, and that's, of course, what we've been so wary all the way along.

Max, let's talk more specifically about the conflict in Gaza because it does seem to be involving. I mean, we've had developments here. The Israeli defense minister has said that there will be some change, and also, interestingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was saying that there had been ultimatum from Hamas on the release of hostages that are still held in Gaza. It's not clear to me exactly what that ultimatum was, but he does say it is now, quote/unquote, soften slightly.

What does that mean to you?

FOSTER: Well, I think -- so there's part of the ultimatum that we think Netanyahu was referring to there was this precondition in the talks, that Israel would withdraw its forces from Gaza and agree to a permanent cease-fire. He seemed to refer to that position being soft and we haven't heard from Hamas on that.

Again, very difficult to get confirmation on all of that we just have to look at really what Qatar is saying and whether or not there's any progress in hostage negotiations. That could be the source of that. So, there's some hope obviously amongst the families that could lead to some progress on hostage negotiations.

On the war itself, thousands of troops being brought back into Israel, so the suggestion from that is that they are tamping down the aggression. I don't think that's true. We've heard the defense minister and Netanyahu say they are in for a long war.

I think, effectively, they're bending in. They need to retrain troops, perhaps. Or give them in. There was a lot of pressure on the economy right now with all these reservists in actions. So, they need to bring them back to help with the economy.

But, certainly, the war isn't ending anytime soon, but it might be entering a different phase, I guess.

HUNT: Yeah. All right. Max Foster for us, in London -- Max, thank you. We'll see you tomorrow.

All right. Still ahead here. A man breaks into Colorado's Supreme Court, opens fire, and then sets a fire. What police say happened.

And after two years without a snowflake, parts of the Northeast could see some actual snow this week. My son will be very excited. We'll be back in just a moment.



HUNT: Quick hits across America now.

Federal prosecutors now accusing Senator Bob Menendez of receiving guests from Qatar in a new indictment. It also accused the New Jersey Democrat of acting as a foreign agent for the Egyptian government. Menendez's attorney calls it a, quote, string of baseless assumptions.

Police in Denver say interest was made in connection with a middle of the night break-in and fire set inside the Colorado Supreme Court. Preliminary investigation suggests the incident is not connected to recent threats made against the states Supreme Court justices.

CNN has learned Claudine Gay made the decision to step down as Harvard's president late last week. The timing indicates was already planning to resign before new plagiarism allegations emerged on Monday.

All right. Now to weather. Storm brings rain and mountain snow to the West Coast, heavy snow in the Four Corners region as well, and this storm could also travel coast to coast, bringing the first chance of snow to parts of the Northeast in nearly two years.

Weatherman Derek Van Dam is tracking all of it for us.

Derek, good morning. It's always great to see you.

What do we got?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: OK, I'm hoping you can humor me this morning.

HUNT: Always.

VAN DAM: Because I'm not going to forecast, I'm going to -- I'm going to wish cast this morning. Because we want the snow, I want to be on the side of the snow lovers, the kids who love to get outdoors, go sledding when they can.

So we're going to break it all down for you here. And it is this storm that you mentioned, as you are tossing that to me, that it's actually the energy that's responsible for the potential East Coast snowstorm.


Now here it is. You can see it traverse across the entire country. Going to pick up a bit of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, emerge off the East Coast, in enough cold air behind it will bring in some snow. But exactly where, still up in the air. So, we'll call this a wish cast.

We want the snow, obviously. Not too impactful of snow, but we want snow, because it has been two years for many locations, nearly 700 days. The possibility is certainly there, the details still need to be ironed out as we get a better handle.

Remember that storm I showed you on the radar just a moment ago is just now entering the West Coast. So, a lot could happen between now and then. But it's been nearly 700 days since we've had one inch of snowfall on the ground in New York City. Other cities in the same snow drought situation.

Now, in a more immediate sense, this is a current radar. So, you are looking at what's happening right now across the Gulf Coast, it is a weak disturbance that is going to bring rain to the Southeast today. But that is going to exit quickly off the East Coast. More rain for the Carolinas, but not really a major weather maker. It's this energy, the storm system we saw traversing from the West

Coast to the East Coast. That's first going to bring some snow into the mountains of the four corners, perhaps the Sierra Nevada. We'll start measuring that from about 6 to 18 inches, depending on where you're located.

And again, that is going to pick up some energy across the Gulf Coast. Potentially bring us our weekend snowstorm.

And, unfortunately, Kasie, this is not going out time for weekdays. So, the chances of canceling school, nada, unfortunately. So we'll just be realistic about that one.

HUNT: Well, luckily, my son is still young enough that he just absolutely loves going to school and would be sad not to go. But has been asking me repeatedly when he gets to go sledding. So, hopefully, we'll have a good answer for him this weekend.

Our weatherman, Derek Van Dam -- Derek, thank you very much. We'll see you tomorrow.

VAN DAM: All right.

HUNT: Just ahead, Chris Christie fails to qualify for the next debate in Iowa. So what is his path forward? Does he have one?